Final Fantasy XI Premium Box Piano Collections
Final Fantasy XI Premium Box Piano Collections
March 28, 2007
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The first of two Piano Collections released for the Final Fantasy XI franchise was exclusive to the Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack Premium Box. It featured eight solo piano arrangements and two duet renditions of Naoshi Mizuta’s compositions for Final Fantasy XI and its first three extensions. The track listings featured predictable choices like “The Federation of Windurst”, “Distant Worlds”, and “Jeweled Boughs” but also more peculiar additions like “Tu’Lia”, “Faded Memories – Promyvion”, or “Battle Theme #2”. Given Naoshi Mizuta’s distinct musicality for the series, the CD took a distinct approach compared to other Final Fantasy Piano Collections by often abiding to harmonic and textural features of originals as well as their melodies. As well as the CD, the sheet music book was included in the box set. Were arranger Kaoru Ishikawa and performers Ayumi Iga and Kasumi Oga successful in bringing Final Fantasy XI to the piano?
The opening arrangement of “The Federation of Windurst” retains the equally important melodic and harmonic features of the original. The left hand features flowing tonic and dominant arpeggios that omit the third to give an ambiguous tonality, while the right hand interprets the jovial melody of the original using dotted rhythms in compound time. In combination with Ayumi Iga’s fluid performance, these transcribed features are sufficient to retain the Celtic mood despite the redunctionist instrumentation. With “Rabao”, an organic flavour is achieved by use of further arpeggiated harmonies and rhythmically complex melodies taken from the original. However, the more articulated piano performance by Kasumi Oga, deeper chord progressions, and integration of jazzy ornamentation in the melody create a subtly different character appropriate for the desert oasis. While these arrangements rely on original features for their flavour, their surprisingly elaborate and moody development sections mean they are interesting musical experiences in their own right.
There are arrangements that significant deviate from their original material. In “Moblin Menagerie – Movalpolis”, an impressionistic original introduction leads into a brooding chordal bass line that contrasts to the harmony of the original. While the playful calypso-flavoured melodies remain, the theme often diverts away from them to encompass new sections; for example, a quiet interlude at 2:20 builds into a lushly arpeggiated bridge to the climax of the arrangement. In “Faded Memories – Promyvion”, powerful imagery of insidious emptiness is recreated through subtle texturing and repetition of distant motifs. Wisely, Ishikawa maintains the interest of listeners and performers by gently decorating the theme with a mixture of superficial frills and dabs of impressionism. “Tu’Lia” also copes well despite the minimalistic material of the original. It initially reimagines the feathery soundscapes of the original, but eventually develops into something more substantial and almost ballad-like. Though Iga makes a clear decision to keep things subdued, some performers will wish to really emphasise the emotion of this one.
In a first for the series, there are two duets on the album for two of the more powerful pieces. The decision to use duets was a novel one that adds to the enjoyment and ease of performing the sheet music; however, pieces like FFVII’s “Fighting” or FFX’s “Assault” show heavier Final Fantasy pieces can still translate well to solo piano so perhaps Ishikawa should have stuck to the series’ tradition. “Battle Theme #2” offers the same heaviness and articulation of the original, but fails to use most of the parts interestingly. The result is a brief transcription dominated by repetitive and unpianistic harmonies, though it is still bearable on a stand-alone basis. Treasures of Aht Urhgan’s “Vana’diel March #4” is more successful. The striking melody carries the piece and is fluidly interchanged and sometimes doubled by the right hand of each part. Unfortunately, the harmony is dominated by triplets of single notes and lumpy chords being repeated to create a march rhythm. While enjoyable and novel enough, these duets could have been musical highlights if created by a more experienced arranger.
There are also some emotional entries to the CD. “Choc-a-bye Baby” is a unique arrangement of the Chocobo theme in the style of a lullaby. It features a soothing original melody interpreted at different octaves and dynamic levels interspersed with short but sweet renditions of the Chocobo melody. Wajaom Woodlands’ “Jeweled Boughs” is as sublime as the original. The arrangement focuses on a mild-mannered melody gently supported by arpeggio figures, but eventually enters a mysterious section featuring minor chord progressions and ethereal treble decorations. Once again, it is the carefully incorporated development sections that ensure this arrangement is especially appealing. The Chains of Promathia vocal theme “Distant Worlds” provides the emotional culmination of the CD. The arrangement itself is simple and understated focusing on Nobuo Uematsu’s warm melodies and using mostly functional diatonic harmonies. Much like the original piece, however, it becomes very expressive and lushly decorated towards the end. It a satisfying highlight overall.
This album generally does a good job of showing that the music of Final Fantasy XI can be presented elegantly on piano. For the most part, the pieces retain the style, mood, and colour of the originals but often add emotion and drama with elaborate development or new harmonisations. The approach to the album is often conservative, but this is often understandable given how important both the melodic and harmonic components of Mizuta’s creations are. In addition, the relatively simple arrangements allow beginner to intermediate piano players to perform the enclosed sheet music book. This album does fall short of its potential to be remarkable, but it also stays true to the musicality of Final Fantasy XI. It is thus overall an enjoyable addition to Final Fantasy XI‘s discography and a welcome bonus on a rather expensive box set.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.