A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy – Volume 2

 

Album Title:
A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy – Volume 2
Record Label: Square Enix Music
Catalog No.: N/A
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Purchase:
Buy on Bandcamp

Overview

We tend to cherish orchestral VGM concerts as the ultimate live expressions of our favorite soundtracks; but they aren’t the only expressions worth the buck. Exciting as a grand celebration like Distant Worlds can be, it doesn’t take a full orchestra to bring a beloved soundtrack to life. Sometimes even a small ensemble can pack a big punch.

Case in point: Distant World’s little sibling, A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy. A mere handful of musicians comprise the crew, but their imaginative sound and passionate performances make for a rare treat. You can read Josh Barron’s beautiful writeup of the first New World album here. Let’s dive into the second.

Body

A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy – Volume 2 wastes no time getting to the meat of its source material. As soon as the album begins, so does the melody of Final Fantasy IX’s “A Place to Call Home”. Clarinet leads the way, accompanied by lush strings and, a little later, flute. The blend is smooth and satisfying, but those hoping for compositional embellishment won’t get their fill here. The arrangement takes one full and faithful pass at the melody, and then closes out as abruptly as it began.

But in fairness, the first arrangement’s brevity doesn’t detract from its quality; nor is it a recurring quirk on the album. With the exception of “Victory Theme” fan service later on, most arrangements either spend more time developing their source material or have plenty to work with already. Final Fantasy I’s “Chaos Shrine” – a colorful collage of piano, flute, strings and guitar – falls into the first category, tripling the original’s length with an additional repeat and bridge. Final Fantasy XI’s “Sarutabaruta”, on the other hand, falls into the second. The track abides by its source with little deviation (aside from a few instrumentation switch-ups).  There’s practically no embellishment, but also no need for it.

More than anything, A New World prides itself on variety. In one moment, we’re bombarded with a faithful recreation of Final Fantasy XV’s festive “Lestalum”, right down to that wily trumpet solo. Moments later, we’re lulled to rest with a soothing guitar solo to the tune of Final Fantasy III’s “Elia, the Maiden of Water”. Along the way, the medieval waltz of Final Fantasy V’s “Home, Sweet Home” precedes a haunting piano-violin duet to the tune of “Tower of the Magi” from Final Fantasy II; which itself gives way to the alluring mystery of Final Fantasy IX’s “Danger in the Forest”. Throughout it all, the New World Players and Co. remain undaunted by the challenge of bringing this diverse setlist to life – few in numbers though the ensemble may be.

In fact, these players often excel at revitalizing the classics. “Ivalice Landscapes” covers much Final Fantasy XII ground, running the gamut from “Streets of Rabanstre” to “Eruyt Village” to “The Cerobi Steppe” and so on, with rich reinvention and mostly intuitive transitions in between. Final Fantasy XIII’s “The Yaschas Massif” remains breezy by comparison, but an enhanced sense of freedom in the players’ individual parts – and a sneaky Chocobo theme reference in the appended piano solo – elevate the track to a new level. “Crimson Sunrise” recaptures the most essential parts of the epic Final Fantasy XIV town theme and, impressively, achieves the same heights despite the ensemble’s relative limitations. “Selbina” is as free and fluid a jig as it ever was on Final Fantasy XI’s original soundtrack.

There’s not much at fault in A New World Volume 2, but certain aspects of the album may leave diehard Final Fantasy fans wanting for more. For one matter, A New World occasionally recycles old material. Final Fantasy VII’s frolicsome “Gold Saucer” piano arrangement matches the tone of the album well, as do the piano tributes to Final Fantasy X’s “Final Battle” and Final Fantasy XIV’s “Heroes (from Heavensward)”. But these aren’t fresh arrangements. Rather, they’re each reprised from their respective games’ Piano Collections albums, and while they’ve been rerecorded, their inclusion may leave longtime listeners itching for newer material.

The album’s un-celebratory conclusion leaves something to be desired as well. Final Fantasy XV’s “Safe Haven” is well-realized and a perfect fit for the New World project, but this last track doesn’t provide much closure.  Rather, like “A Place to Call Home”, it closes up shop too quickly. The New World series may not be designed to deliver sweeping musical narratives, but after the previous album clocked out with a heart-wrenching take on “To Zanarkand”, it’s hard not to wish for a final track with a similar conclusory effect here.

Summary

If A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy left you craving more of those compact acoustic Final Fantasy covers…well, here they are. Arguably, Volume 2 packs fewer standout hits than its predecessor, but the selection works and the execution continues to impress. For some of the best arrangements the series has seen this side of Distant Worlds, look no further.

A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy – Volume 2 Reilly Farrell

Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!

4.5


Posted on June 21, 2019 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on June 21, 2019.

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About the Author

Reilly Farrell is one part Bay Area electronic composer and one part capybara fanatic. He loves video game music and rodents of unusual size and wants the world to know how great they both are. Personal favorite soundtracks include The Legend of Zelda, The Legend of Legacy, The Legend of Dragoon, The Legend of Mana, and Katamari Damacy - which is also legendary. Drop a line anytime!



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