Review: SQUARE ENIX JAZZ -FINAL FANTASY VII-

Square Enix continues its most excellent jazz album series with a volume dedicated to Final Fantasy VII, which came just in time for the remake. It’s a classy way to relive many of the original’s most memorable melodies. The album starts with an uplifting “Opening” before a swanky and… explosive “Bombing Mission” kicks in with guitar and sax and plenty of solos. “Shinra Inc.” gets cool piano chords and bass, gritty distorted guitars, and a flurry of flute solos, while the sweet and smooth “Aerith” gets some contemplative sax across a poppy arrangement. There’s the swaying “On Our Way,” the bouncy “The Chase” with its dance-y piano work, and big brass and organ in the playful “Cait Sith.” Fan-favorite “Fight On” is piano heavy with funky bass, side sticks, and big brass, and obligatory guitar solo, while “Tifa’s Theme” is appropriately whimsical and floaty with beautiful interplay between saxophone and trumpet. The “JENOVA” arrangement is a bit of a surprise with its sweet piano work, “Cosmo Canyon” sports wailing electric guitar and gets its funk on with some unexpected excursions, and “One-Winged Angel” gets a faithful-yet-fun version with walking bass and extensive brass work. The final track, “Main Theme of FINFAL FANTASY VII” offers a smooth and warm ending to an excellent album, complete with many parting solos.

In addition to the excellent arrangements, the album comes housed in a thick cardboard jacket that opens just like a vinyl, and the CD is event printed to look like a vinyl. The booklet is thick with commentary in both English and Japanese explaining the arrangers’ takes and discussions about jazz, which is a real treat. I actually owned this album digitally before reviewing the physical edition, but I must say the physical edition has a lot to offer. While the Square Enix North America store doesn’t offer this particular version of the album, they do have the live recording released in September, and I recommend checking it out. If you want the original release that I’ve described, you can import it on CD Japan.

Piramirise (SRIN-1163)

SuperSweep Records is always full of surprises. These usually come in the form of long-lost videogame soundtracks released for the first time, but this time, it comes in the form of an original Japanese pop/rock album with SuperSweep artists on production duties recorded at MONACA STUDIO, home of the team behind the soundtrack of NieR. It’s quite a combination, although the album is strictly pop music.

Piramirise serves up a variety of styles, from the jubilant rock anthem, “JUMP!” and the hip foot-tapper, “For the Future,” to the sweet and bouncy “Dead or futarikiri” and the funky and uplifting “Flying High!” There’s the sweet “Maybe Maybee Maybe,” a beautiful acoustic guitar and piano ballad in “Kanji,” and the incredibly futuristic and cool “Secrets makes shapes of life.” EDM makes an appearance in “Ageha” and “Perfect Place,” whereas “Sainposuto” takes a turn for the dramatic, and “Emotion” closes things out with a sweeping string and brass arrangement.

There’s something here for everyone, and it’s a lot of fun to see SuperSweep artists take a crack at various pop styles. This is a rather unusual release from SuperSweep as it doesn’t feature any videogame music, but fans of the SuperSweep team may want to give it a spin. The album can be imported via CD Japan.

Review: Final Fantasy III -Four Souls-

Square Enix released an interesting album on vinyl dedicated to Final Fantasy III with the subtitle Four Souls. It features four new arrangements from the game and their original sound version counterparts on an A and B side, respectively, exclusively on vinyl. Fortunately the vinyl comes with an MP3 download as well. The four tracks include a lovely acoustic pop version of the overworld theme, “Eternal Wind,” with harmonica, xylophone, and acoustic guitar, a beautiful solo harp arrangement of “Elia, The Maiden of Water,” a spunky acoustic take on “Battle 2” which is really well done, and a grandiose piano arrangement of “The Crystal Tower.” It’s a nice collection of remixes of four key themes from the game. Find an unboxing video below after the jump.

If you want to pick up Final Fantasy III -Four Souls-, Square Enix offers it for $39.99 on the North America store.

Continue reading Review: Final Fantasy III -Four Souls-

R4 -THE 20TH ANNIV. SOUNDS- (SRNS-2004)

Can you believe it’s been over 20 years since Ridge Racer 4 was released? The soundtrack holds up remarkably well, combining sleek electronic, funk, and RNB sounds, which is why it’s wonderful to have a fully remastered version released by SuperSweep Records to celebrate this momentous occasion. The highlight of the R4 -THE 20TH ANNIV. SOUNDS- album, however, is the first disc, which features 16 brand new remixes. An all-star cast tackle the arrangements, including Ridge Racer alums Hiroshi Okubo, Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso, Kohta Takahashi, Ryo Watanabe, Nobuyoshi Sano, Tetsukazu Nakanishi, Takayuki Aihara, Jinbae “ESTi” Park, and many more, making for a wonderful reunion of sorts. The remixes are quite remarkable, fleshing out the original songs with additional instrumentation and upgraded production, liberated in a way without having to worry about infringing on the in-game action. Those who purchases this album on the SuperSweep store will also earn a special disc of extended-play mixes crafted by Okubo and Hosoe. The set comes with a cardboard slipcase and is adorned with the lovely yellow stylings and aesthetic of the original, including commentary (in Japanese) by some of the sound team and a sticker sheet. This is a collection any Ridge Racer fan will want to get their hands on. It’s available to import via CD Japan.

NJBP Concert Archives 1 ~ANCIENT FESTIVAL~ (SRVD-5001)

As a huge fan of Yuzo Koshiro and his work on ActRaiser in particular, I couldn’t be more excited that his 1991 Synphonic Suite from ACTRAISER got a 2018 update with new arrangements and a new performance by the New Japan BGM Philharmonic Orchestra (NJBP). The concert featured an original opening theme and Koshiro’s music from The Scheme, Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage 2, Etrian Odyssey, and of course, Actrasier. Most are presented as short medleys of a few songs from the game and are fantastic, but the highlight for me is the ActRaiser soundtrack performed in its entirety, re-establishing itself in my mind as Koshiro’s longstanding masterpiece. The CD presents the music as a tidy listening experience without the MC portions. It’s also a treat to watch the concert itself on Blu-ray, featuring an exuberant and enthusiastic concert master and a LOT of talking. There’s actually more talk by play time than music, so if you know Japanese, there’s likely a lot to glean from the MC/conductor and Koshiro’s on-stage discussions. Watching the ActRaiser suite brings a whole new appreciation for breadth and depth of the score and highlights the solo performances that are a part of the new arrangements. As usual, we have SuperSweep to thank for publishing the album which contains both the music CD and Blu-ray disc tucked inside a slipcase with snazzy artwork. As “Archives 1,” I hope there’s more to come from the NJBP in the future.

The NJBP Concert Archives 1 ~ANCIENT FESTIVAL~ album is an exclusive to the SuperSweep store, but it’s worth the trouble to try to get your hands on.

SOULCALIBUR VI ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK (SRIN-1161)

Listeners return to the stage of destiny with SOULCALIBUR VI by the Bandai Namco sound team and guest Yukihiro Jindo, courtesy of SuperSweep Records. Fans of the epic orchestral stylings of the series will feel right at home with four discs of music with Junichi Nakatsuru at the helm. Other Bandai Namco team members contributing are Yoshihito Yano, Rio Hamamoto, Syuri Misaki, and Yu Sugimoto, all of whom collectively provide most of the music from the first disc with Jindo handling the rest of the massive score, including much of the cinematic and story cues. I found myself enjoying the contributions by Nakatsuru and Hamamoto the most, but there’s a lot to like throughout especially with Jindo’s more emotionally varied contributions. Some of my favorites are Nakatsuru’s epic opening “The Brave New Stage of History,” Yano’s decisive and uplifting “Undying Legend” (which gets a lovely contemplative take by Jindo in “Fated Soul”), and Hamamoto’s terrifying and tense “Deadland Call” and searing and guitar-laden “The Evil Flame.” The booklet includes the track list in both English and Japanese, credits for every track including live performers, and commentary from all of the composers (in Japanese only).

The four-disc soundtrack is available via SuperSweep Records and can be imported from CD Japan.

GLORY OF HERACLES SOUND CHRONICLE (SRIN-1119)

You’re probably like me and don’t know a whole lot about the JRPG series Heracles no Eikou (Glory of Heracles). That’s because the games never left Japan. However, when our colleagues at SuperSweep, in their undying quest to release classic game music to the masses, announced this six-CD set, we definitely wanted to check it out. The box set includes the soundtracks to all four numbered games in the series (the first two on Famicom and the second two on Super Famicom), a Game Boy spin-off, a disc featuring a remastered arrange album and unused music, and a disc of all-new arrangements created just for this set.

Having zero expectations, I found myself impressed with the catchiness of many of the melodies and was particularly drawn to the Glory of Heracles II and IV soundtracks as they have a strong classical flavor not too unlike Dragon Quest, which is fitting given that many note that Glory of Heracles seems heavily inspired by Dragon Quest. How often is it that you get to hear an authentic Famicom or Super Famicom RPG soundtrack for the first time these days? Be on the lookout for “Mountain of the Spiraling Wind” and “The Wings of Pegasus,” among many others. The arrangements, performed by the Data East house band, GAMADELIC include jazz fusion and vocal arrangements. They’re expertly done and left me wanting even more! The included booklet (in Japanese) also has composer breakdowns and commentary from the music and game development team, which is a nice touch.

Pick up the album on CD Japan if you’re interested in giving it a spin.

Review: Mitsuto Suzuki’s New Unit mojera Releases Debut Album Overkill

We’re long-time fans of Mitsuto Suzuki, and particularly his solo works. Just as he’s completed his work on Final Fantasy VII Remake we get to hear the debut of mojera, a new unit comprised of Mizuto Suzuki and vocalist Non, who he’s collaborated with on the Final Fantasy Mobius soundtracks. This essentially acts as his long-awaited third solo album, following In My Own Backyard and Neurovision, and fans of those two efforts will feel right at home with mojera.

The album opens with the grungy rock and abstract electronics that we’ve come to know from Suzuki’s past solo works, weaving them into a dreamy and uplifting song accompanied by Non’s vocals. The titular track, “Overkill” is slow and contemplative before a super upbeat a pop-leaning chorus section begins with a bumping bassline and a sound highly reminiscent of the likes of Suzuki’s “New Bodhum” from Final Fantasy XIII-2, one of my favorite soundtracks. There’s the spacey electronics and heavily filtered vocals of “Pluto,” the droning and dreamy “Rain bringer” with pulsing synth notes that feel like raindrops, and “Mojera,” another standout with tweaky electronics in the vein of Katamari Damacy and clean acoustic guitar and vocals that are mega catchy… it’s unfortunate that this is the shortest track on the album as I found myself wanting more. “Master&Slave” slowly builds as an ominous electronic track with no vocals and feels like a sort of bad (but in a good way) trip in the midst of the largely dreamy and upbeat musical journey. “Prism” comes as a pumping dance tune that is chopped up and glitched out, whereas “Camouflage” is a gritty alternative rock/broody electronic track that would feel at home in Lightning Returns. Another highlight is “DJ non MachineLanguage,” a fun DJ dance floor track that Non, in a computerized voice, explains the various instruments being used and proceeds to cheer them on and scold them over the course of the tune before joining in to sing herself. “Many analog synthesizers are freaky, but Prophet 5 is a gentleman. But it’s actually badass because the sound is messed up with cross-modulation and noise.” That’s just a taste of her antics. “2019,” sports dreamy pads and sweet vocals for a nice easy closer.

There’s a free musical spirit within that blends styles which I thought was interesting given that Suzuki just collaborated at length with Masashi Hamauzu on Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Hamauzu’s unit, IMERUAT, is one of my favorites and has been covered extensively on our blog. With that, I hope we’ll see a lot more from mojera in the years to come.

Grab Overkill on iTunes or import the physical CD from CD Japan.

Review: A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY – Volume II

We recently had the pleasure of attending a stop of the A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY show and were impressed with the… intimate setting and very clever arrangements. Most of the games in the series get a moment in the spotlight, and Eric Roth, son of Arnie Roth, who many have come to know over the years, is a fantastic host, injecting plenty of humor into the evening. This past year saw the release of a second volume of music, and as such, we thought it would be a good time to give it a spin and share our thoughts.

The album begins with strings and woodwinds in a short arrangement of “A Place to Call Home” from Final Fantasy IX, perfect with its strong folk and fantasy vibes. Then next piece, “Chaos Shrine” from the original Final Fantasy, is a stunning take on the decisive dungeon piece with a slow build incorporating the entire ensemble that climaxes into a sweeping and beautiful take on the piece. Then it’s on to the wind-swept “Sarutabaruta” from Final Fantasy XI with swaying woodwinds and guitar, the playful and upbeat “Golden Saucer” from Final Fantasy VII with a solo piano arrangement, and a flamboyant “Lestallum” from Final Fantasy XV with lots of guitar and a strong carnival-like atmosphere. “Home, Sweet Home” from Final Fantasy V gets a determined and forceful performance, while two surprising pieces, the mysterious and tense “Tower of Magi” from Final Fantasy III and the mesmerizing “Danger in the Forest” from Final Fantasy IX come next. There’s more solo piano with “Final Battle” from Final Fantasy X, a sweeping medley of Final Fantasy XII themes titled “Ivalice Landscape” (one of the highlights at over eight minutes in length), and a solo guitar version of “Elia, Maiden of Water” from Final Fantasy III. There’s bossa nova with “The Yaschas Massif” from Final Fantasy XIII, the decisively swaying ballad, “Crimson Sunrise” from Final Fantasy XIV (an audience favorite at the concert), and a Celtic-tinged “Selbina” from Final Fantasy XI. The album closes out with the epic and desperate “Heroes” from Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward and the soothing “Save Haven” from Final Fantasy XV which is even more warm with the full ensemble.

In all, we highly recommend giving the second volume a whirl and checking out a show near you if you’re lucky enough to catch it. You won’t be disappointed!

CARAVAN STORIES Original Soundtrack Vol. 8 (BSPE-1081)

Basiscape is finally wrapping up their eight-disc CARAVAN STORIES soundtrack series.  While many of the earlier volumes focused on specific regions and races of the world, Volume 8 concludes with music from the game’s story. As such, this volume offers a more eclectic mix of music compared to past volumes, but that doesn’t mean the series doesn’t go out with a bang.

It begins with the bombastic and spooky-yet-comical “Assault on Enigma” before launching into the mechanical and piston driven percussion of “Demon Transformation,” the whimsical strings and woodwinds of “Claw Knights,” and the seriously spooky “Guriam Borderland.” It’s then on to the alternating determined and chill “Philosopher’s Tower,” the desolate “Ancient Fortress” featuring sitar, and the playful “Slapstick Castanet” with accordion, marimba, and bassoon. There’s the dancey “Jillian’s on Stage,” the rapid-fire Celtic strings and brass stabs of “Duel,” and the regal and sinister “House of the Lord.” “Crescent Hot Spring Town” is contemplative and features swaying strings and toy percussion, “Rallying Man” is energetic and adventurous with a signature Sakimoto aesthetic, and “Trumbull Dominion” is slow and brooding and includes tinges of jazz. The closer, “The Snow Girl and the Three Santas,” sports a huge big band with brass, tambourine, bells, and an appropriately celebratory mood.

The final album in the series can be purchased physically on CD Japan and digitally on iTunes. Feel free to catch up on the rest of the albums in the series here.