Final Fantasy Guitar Solo Official Best Selection CD
Final Fantasy Guitar Solo Official Best Selection CD
KMP Music Publishing
September 20, 2008
Buy at KMP
This is a review of the Final Fantasy Guitar Solo Official Best Selection CD. Yes, I know, you already knew. It says so in the review title. But what that means is that what I am reviewing is the CD that comes packaged with the Final Fantasy Guitar Solo Official Best Selection Sheet Music. What I am getting at is that the purpose of this CD is to be a companion to the book and not vice versa; this is definitely not a guitar equivalent of the Piano Collections albums. In those albums you had a listener-friendly album that could be purchased with a sheet music book for piano aficionados who felt like trying the challenge of playing them, Here you have a book of solo acoustic guitar arrangements for intermediate guitarists which as a bonus comes with a CD which is a straight playthrough of the book to give you an idea of how it should sound. In that respect, I, being both a guitarist and someone who likes Final Fantasy’s music, say “count me in”. But, even if we agree that this CD is an instructional record rather than a bona fide album, does it still have something to say in a purely listening sense?
One of the first consequences of the nature of the album is that there is no sequencing as such. While usually arranged albums have the order of the tracks thought out to give the best listening experience, this simply follows the order of the tunes in the sheet music book, which in turn are simply ordered chronologically by game. The tunes come from the twelve main numbered instalments, most of which get two arranges, except I, IX and X, which get three, and XI and XII, which get one. Most of the selections are predictable, with the majority of the recurring themes appearing, and all the vocal singles getting their treatment. Arrangement wise, the fact that the book is not geared toward advanced players means that the tunes are not subjected to virtuosistic passages or variations and most of them get only one full pass of the melody arranged. Sadly, the recordings don’t even repeat them, which means that the most fast paced arrangements such as the battle themes (more on them later) are over before you can even notice.
To go deeper into the issue, I think the beginning is as a good place as any. The CD starts with FFI’s “Opening”, aka the “Final Fantasy” theme. The style in which is arranged will be very familiar to fingerstyle guitar players: melody accompanied with a bassline and chords on the beat, with occasional chord notes on the offbeat. Later it adds some backing arpeggios. Pretty much the standard guitar treatment; it reminds me a bit of the old piano arrangement of the theme in the Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections in that regard. That same “standard” arranging is more or less the same used for the sentimental themes for the rest of the games, as well as the vocal themes. Thus, themes like “The Water Maiden”, “Theme of Love”, “Aerith’s Theme”, “Eyes on Me”, “Melodies of life”, “Suteki da ne”, “Recollection” or “Kiss Me Good-Bye” tend to sound similar at first and might make listening to the CD a bit monotonous at times. However, some of those pull a couple of neat tricks, like how the melody of “Aerith’s Theme” switches registers throughout or how the instrumental break in “Eyes of me” is worked into a conclusion. Most of those sound like they would be enjoyable to play, anyway (I heard a couple of runs in “Suteki da ne” that made me want to grab the guitar and work on them).
Another set of arrangements would be those with a bit more of polyphonic texture in, even if it simply amounts to a slightly more involved bass line. Examples are “Matoya’s Cave”, in one of my favourite renditions of the tune, and “Rebel Army Theme”, itself rather reminiscent of the “guitar” section of Tsuyoshi Sekito’s arrangement for the Playstation version of Final Fantasy II. We could also count the arrangement of “Final Fantasy IV Main Theme”, even if the backing is mostly broken chords here, but it sounds not totally trivial to play with good balance between melody and harmony. A highlight for me among these would be the arrangement of FFVI’s “Searching for Friends”. It is simply wonderful to listen to, and it makes for a much better selection than the more predictable “Terra” or “Aria di Mezzo Carattere” would have been. On the other side of the spectrum, “Fisherman’s Horizon”, while pretty homophonic in texture, is very interesting harmonically. Even if I was never a big fan of the piece, its chords had me intrigued during a good part of its duration.
A thing I have noticed is that there’s virtually no transcriptions of tunes originally conceived with the guitar in mind. If you want to learn to play “Breezy” or “Spiran Scenery” you won’t find them there. The only exception would be “Dear Friends”, which receives an arrangement that, to me, sounds better than the Piano Collections one and which stays true to the original. It only needs the recorders to be a full-fledged version. In contrast, there are several transcriptions of solo piano pieces for guitar; of those, “At Zanarkand” will never outshine its original but it’s very cool to be able to play it. However, “Via Purifico” and “Rose of May” sound better as guitar pieces than as piano pieces, and I’m sure that a more advanced arrangement of any of those would be totally enjoyable on its own. The transcription of the “Prelude” with its harp-oriented extended arpeggios, in contrast, sounds a bit awkward and difficult to play, as the ungodly amount of fret noise (due to frequent hand position shifting) in the recording seems to imply.
Finally if you are tired of slow and moody pieces, there’s some rhythm and syncopation in store too. Those pieces were the most pleasant surprises for me, though the first one to appear doesn’t appear to be anything special. It’s an arrangement of the original “Chocobo Theme” which doesn’t groove as much as I would have liked; a bossa-nova style arrangement would have been better. But, just two tracks later, we do get a bossa-nova arrangement of FFIII’s “Eternal Wind”, which sounds spirited but calm. And, later, we get three battle arrangements, and those are easily highlights of the record. We get “Clash on the Big Bridge”, complete with the original intro, which sounds wonderful no matter how you arrange it. We get FFVI’s “Decisive Battle” coming on its heels, making one of the best two track sequences in the CD. And later, we get “J-E-N-O-V-A”, which although it has to drop the distinctive arpeggios after the intro, manages to keep the frenzy of the original with some shots of flamenco-style rasgueados.
There are a few selections that totally disappointed me. “Recollection” is too similar to all the other ballad-like selections, when you have a tune like “Ronfaure” in the FFXI soundtrack. Above all, “You’re Not Alone”, which in addition to not being a noteworthy arrangement, is taking a slot in the selection list that could have been filled with any of the themes from the FFIX soundtrack that are practically begging for a solo guitar treatment; for example, “The place I’ll Return to Someday”, “Eternal Harvest”, or “Vamo’ alla flamenco”, just to mention several of them. Last, but not least, the performances are correct but not especially outstanding. However, arranger and player Yuji Sekiguchi manages to separate voices and highlight the melody as required, which is more difficult than it sounds; the biggest challenge in playing solo guitar arrangements is avoiding it all turning into a mess. There’s a bit much too left hand noise for my liking (although the “Prelude” is the only piece where it gets really bad), but overall it’s a very decent performance. I wish I could do it that well, that’s for sure.
If you, as a listener, approach this the same way as you would approach a Piano Collections album, you’ll probably be disappointed due to the much more basic approach. But if you are clear about the purpose of this record, which is to demonstrate the arrangements in the book, you’ll find several bits here and there that you will like, once you tune in to the approach and shake the feeling of sameness that might very well pervade your first listening. That said, if you’re hearing this CD, chances are that you are a guitar player and you bought the book for the arrangements, in which case, if you’re a mid-level guitarist, I give it two thumbs up. And who knows, if you’re an advanced guitar player, you might even use them as a basis to create your own awesome arrangements.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Jaime Vargas. Last modified on August 1, 2012.