Final Fantasy VIII -Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec-
Final Fantasy VIII -Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec-
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
November 20, 1999; July 22, 2004
Buy at CDJapan
Final Fantasy arrangement albums have explored a wide variety of genres and approaches to treat fans of the series to more concert-oriented versions of their favourite melodies. From the numerous piano collections to the orchestral experimentation on Final Fantasy VI Grand Finale, the Irish sounds of Final Fantasy IV Celtic Moon, and even the few orchestrated pieces of the Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks, a wide variety of sonic material is available in Square’s arranged albums for their flagship series. Final Fantasy VIII -Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec- is one of the series’ more conservative arranged albums, as it is in fairly traditional orchestral format and resides very close to its source material. This is not a bad thing at all, however. The album works very well, and infuses new life into the ten tracks that were orchestrated especially for this album, and the three tracks off of the original soundtrack sound just as well in place, as they were orchestrated for the game.
Despite being directly from the Original Soundtrack, “Liberi Fatali” works perfectly as an opening for this album. It would be impossible to have a Final Fantasy VIII orchestral album without the theme, and though it is difficult to judge an original piece against a selection of arrangements, the quality of “Liberi Fatali” is striking nonetheless. Built around Uematsu’s chilling sorceress motive, the piece develops the theme in such a way that is never really realized elsewhere on the soundtrack. In addition, the piece does a wonderful job of saving its climax for the very end and keeping the listener anxious for the penultimate moment. It draws much of its strength through its performance, which is rousing on every plane. The choristers are superb, easily the best featured on the album, and the best that I have heard perform the piece. On top of the stellar choir, the orchestra gives a remarkable performance as well. The intensity of the piece is maintained from top to bottom, even throughout its dynamic shifts. This is naturally aided by a fine orchestration that adds razor sharpness and shine to the composition. The variation of instrumentation also helps keep the piece fresh with a fairly small amount of musical material.
“Blue Fields” is a success more as an arrangement than as a piece of music. Hamaguchi does a fine job of taking a theme that never impressed me and using its strengths to feed its orchestration. Hamaguchi’s orchestration removes the emphasis from the obstinate pizzicato strings that I found so obnoxious in the original version and fills the space with the luscious harmonic padding that never was able to fulfil that awesome sense of an all-encompassing world on the PlayStation synthesizer. Though I remain indifferent to the piece’s melodic material, the wonderful enveloping feeling of the harmonies is worthy of praise. Similarly “Balamb GARDEN ~ Ami” takes themes which did not especially appeal to me before, and injects them with spark. In this instance, however, it is not only Hamaguchi’s orchestration that makes these pieces sparkle, but also bits of change in the musical material. While the changes are generally subtle, they are very pleasing to listen to. For example, Hamaguchi’s transition at 0:35 is handled with sensitivity not found in the original and his addition of a chromatic conjunct harmony at 0:50 is equally intriguing. Overall, I find there is more to enjoy out of the accompaniments provided in this orchestration, where the original pieces were limited to their melodies for moments of interest. While the pieces never lose the calm feeling of the originals, they are stripped of their dullness.
Hamaguchi’s arrangement of “Don’t Be Afraid” is one of the weakest on the album. His orchestration never manages to take control of the dramatic power it seems to be reaching for. The brass seem half stuck between majesty and a ferocity that fails to leave me with any emotional reaction to their playing. I also feel that Hamaguchi’s added sections, despite their attempt to heighten the drama of the piece, fall short of their intent, and end up hindering the continuity of the piece in the end. This applies mainly to the section at 1:43, but the ending is equally disappointing and screams “I’m out of ideas!” rather than “This piece has reached its conclusion!” Likewise “The Man with the Machine Gun” doesn’t fulfil its promise on paper at least. There’s something about this theme that just works on electronic instruments and makes it sounds really cheesy when played by an orchestra. The piece is still fun, and nothing can diminish the quality of the melodies of the original, but this setting makes me feel more like going to the disco than fighting monsters. Not a standout on this album, and definitely not as remarkable as the original.
Against all the sensitive songs that were used in Final Fantasy VIII that I found unimpressive, “Eyes on Me” certainly takes the cake. Though it shows up many other places on the soundtrack, I find the main arrangement to be the least tolerable. Though I generally champion simple music, this piece is an exception, and exemplifies everything I dislike about pop music: overly dramatic, far from melodic, and a style of singing that doesn’t appeal to my ears. If you’re waiting for me to say, “but then Hamaguchi did it again and saved the track!” you will be as disappointed as I was when I hit this track on the CD, as it’s straight from the soundtrack. Next time I want a pop ballad, I’ll go searching for artists who specialize in the medium. Its partner arrangement “Love Grows” doesn’t reek nearly as badly of pop as “Eyes on Me,” mainly due to harmonic flourishes added by Hamaguchi on the piano. However, I still fail to find the core melody all that expressive, and there’s very little an arrangement can do about that.
For the third time on the album, Hamaguchi saves a track I found uninteresting on the soundtrack, “Fisherman’s Horizon”, and gives it real emotional appeal. It is also in this track that Hamaguchi plays the most with the original theme. He uses the choir tastefully right from the start to the very end, a climax to accent the humanity of the “Fisherman’s Horizon” locale. The a cappella styled statement of the melody directly preceding the close of the piece is truly relaxing and one of the best moments in the piece. The most impressive part is how well it manages to add some real emotional motion without sacrificing the sensitivity of the original theme. Likewise Hamaguchi gives exactly what is needed to redeem “The Oath”. The original possessed a melody good enough to be successful but was very static, lacked phrasing and did not really go anywhere with the melody. Hamaguchi’s arrangement gives the melody the phrasing it needed, and an overall drama for the piece that was missing. The arrangement is far from perfect. I think it throws out far too much of its heart early, and the percussion at 1:50 doesn’t do it for me. Still, it’s definitely an improvement on the original, and not an unpleasant listen. If every love theme in Final Fantasy VIII had the impact that “The Oath” has, I would be much kinder to the game’s soundtrack in general.
Moving to “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec”, though I doubt many listeners of this album are going to get their kick from this track over the opener, this is still an accomplished track. The choral performance, especially at the beginning, is a bit disappointing, but the orchestra is spot on. The instrumentation also does a good job of fulfilling the foreboding and seductive atmosphere of the track. The interplay between what sounds like a flute and dulcimer against an oboe and clarinet at 1:51 is very well done. The response sounds like a hand slipping up and down your body, seducing you into the sorceress’ control. The original strings do not manage to do this at all. My main complaint with the arrangement is the use of a singer that I find rather irritating at the end of the piece. I do not think I have ever heard singing more disagreeable since William Hung’s performance on American Idol. Still, the arrangement is nice, though not one of the standouts on the album.
“Dance with the Balamb-fish” is everything the original was and then some bars of a pretty neat coda. There’s not a whole lot to talk about here, you’re basically dealing with the original theme with better production values. The original’s a good one, but I thought more could have been done, and this theme isn’t as accomplished as “Liberi Fatali” that it can get off without any changes. More seriously, the charm of the music box arrangement of “Fragments of Memories” is lost in a string arrangement that I feel tries to do too much. I’ve liked most of Hamaguchi’s additions to the material over the course of this album, but I feel his additions take away from the sparkling simplicity of the original. It’s not a remarkably bad piece, but given it is awkwardly placed at the end of the album, I find this arrangement uninspiring.
“Ending Theme” sits right alongside “Liberi Fatali” for being the two Original Soundtrack pieces that really belong on this album. Unlike “Liberi Fatali,” “Ending Theme” develops much more slowly, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Though I can’t say I was pleased that “Eyes on Me” was sung, its presence here was much less intolerably under the constrictions of pop balladry, and thanks to some superb orchestral backing, actually had some emotional impact. I still don’t like the melody, or the singing, but its accompaniment is undeniably charming. The piece also does a fantastic job of incorporating “Final Fantasy” and “The Prelude” without making the two themes feel gratuitous. The pieces feel a part of “Ending Theme,” which is a remarkable accomplishment. It does a great job of tying the different aspects of the game together, and is one of the finest Final Fantasy ending themes. “Ending Theme” is as good, but not better than, “Liberi Fatali” and one of the top reasons to go after Final Fantasy VIII -Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec-./p>
Despite its conservative nature, I still recommend Final Fantasy VIII -Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec- as one of the stronger Final Fantasy orchestral albums. The arrangements routinely show how powerful a tool timbre is, and how even subtle harmonic changes can make a track many times more interesting. I would have liked to see more of Final Fantasy VIII‘s world represented on the album, although admittedly, a lot of the tracks I would have liked to see might not have been the best choices for orchestration. This album still hits the main line of Final Fantasy VIII though, and takes a lot of the tracks used to a level I would not have expected them to achieve.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Richard Walls. Last modified on August 1, 2012.