Final Fantasy Orchestral Album
Final Fantasy Orchestral Album (Limited Edition)
SQEX-20010 (Regular Edition); SQEX-20008/9 (Limited Edition)
December 26, 2012
Buy at CDJapan (Limited Edition)
For 25th anniversary of Final Fantasy, Square-Enix released a number of products to commemorate the success of its prolific series. One such product is the Final Fantasy Orchestral Album, which includes some of the most memorable songs from the fourteen mainline titles released to date, all in orchestral arrangements. The collection recycles some older material, but also includes new and updated arrangements. The album is Square-Enix’s first Blu-ray audio disc release, which takes advantage of the extra space by placing a few extras on the disc, on top of the two hours of orchestral music. A limited collector’s edition also exists that includes an LP vinyl.
The album includes a number of unchanged, recycled tracks. “Liberi Fatali”, “Suteki da ne -Orchestra Version-“, and “Fang’s Theme” all come from their respective original soundtracks. Additionally, there are five tracks that are taken unchanged from old arranged albums. “Memory of the Wind ~Legend of the Eternal Wind~” from the Final Fantasy III DS soundtrack, “Balamb GARDEN ~ Ami” from Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec, and the three tracks for Final Fantasy VII which all come from the the Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks. Although their inclusion might be redundant and disappointing to some, the album would be incomplete without them and the arrangements are still spectacular with no need for an update. Other tracks on the album also use old arrangements, but these songs have been re-recorded with the FILMharmonic orchestra, since the previous recordings were not studio recordings. These arrangements were first used in the programs for concerts such as Distant Worlds or 20020220. The re-recordings include “Theme of Love”, “To Dear Friends”, “vamo’ alla flamenco”, “At Zanarkand”, and “Ronfaure”, and the two medleys of Final Fantasy I–III. Again these are all fantastic arrangements of the original pieces, which now can be heard in better quality than previously available.
Two tracks on the album make updates to their existing arrangements. The “Maria and Draco” opera uses much of the same orchestration as previously heard in live recordings and performances, but now has the addition of a choir, narration, an extension of the duel, and Japanese lyrics (where existing recordings are in English). These are mostly welcome changes that enhance the arrangement, which was astounding, moving, and epic to begin with. “Eyes On Me” also uses the same orchestral arrangement (the “Ending Theme” version), but this time with a new vocalist, J-Pop artist Crystal Kay. Although she is fluent in English, she does not fix grammatical errors in the lyrics as Angela Aki had done at the Voices concert. Unlike in the original, where Faye Wong sings light and airily, Kay sings stronger with a heavier vibrato, and also adds some runs. It isn’t necessarily better or worse than the original, but it will certainly appeal to some people more than others.
The remainder of the album is a set of new arrangements handled by a variety of arrangers. Final Fantasy IV’s “Dreadful Fight” is a fairly straightforward orchestral arrangement of the boss theme until it gets to a quiet interlude before building up again to a thunderous conclusion. The strings carry a lot of weight here, and thanks to their large number they feel fittingly thick and heavy. Definitely a highlight among the new arrangements. The “FINAL FANTASY V Main Theme” is charming and fluffy, making good use of the orchestra and passing the melody between a few different instruments throughout its duration to keep things interesting. “The Mystic Forest” is as atmospheric as the original but a tad repetitive, dragging with some unnecessary modulations and lacking a sense of novelty in the arrangement. Final Fantasy IX’s “Unfulfilled Feelings” is emotional and pretty, although the buildup to the climax could have been more steady rather than so sudden. The arrangement of “Dalmasca Estersands” is essentially the same as original Final Fantasy XII Sakimoto piece but performed with a live orchestra, which isn’t at all a bad thing. The strings and brass are much sharper now so they sync better, and the sound is generally much fuller and grand. The tempo is a tad bit slower as well, but not offensively so. For the most part these pieces don’t do anything unexpected or groundbreaking with textures or new melodies, but they are competent orchestral arrangements of the beloved pieces.
The final piece of the album is the grand Battle Medley arranged by Hiroyuki Nakayama, spanning each of the mainline titles from the original Final Fantasy all the way to Final Fantasy XIV. The medley starts with the prelude, then quickly moves into a battle theme from each game in order. The choices vary from regular battle themes to boss themes to final boss themes. The earliest games are probably the most exciting, since their themes are less often heard, and the arrangements here are a drastic change from their chippy-originals. The later pieces naturally don’t differ as much from the originals since the source tracks often used an orchestra or imitated one, but Nakayama does his best to add a few new elements to keep things fresh. The most curious arranging decision is with Final Fantasy VIII’s “Force Your Way” which brings the medley to a halt with a stripped-down arrangement that starts with just a light piano. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it is at least an interesting choice. Also worthy of note is Final Fantasy X’s “Otherworld”, which gets facelift from its screamo-rock source track. Unfortunately Final Fantasy XIV gets a bit of a shaft, as its section is simply the Final Fantasy “Prelude” at the end of the medley. It may be disappointing for some that a few of the parts are cut a bit short to keep the medley going, but focusing on what wasn’t included unfairly detracts from the brilliant medley already present.
Blu-ray appears to be controversial among album collectors, in no small part due to the incompatibility of the format with most audio players. While the Blu-ray offers higher quality audio in 96kHz/24bit, only 320kbps MP3 files are available to be downloaded from the disk, which can be done through a Blu-ray drive or by download from a PS3 connected to a wireless network. Aside from all of the high quality audio and MP3s that Blu-ray is able to carry, a number of extras are also featured to fill out the larger disk space. The original soundtrack versions of many of the tracks are available on the disk, although they are not available to be downloaded from the disk. Extensive photo coverage of the album recording is viewable on the disk, as well as a lengthy 20-minute making-of feature (Japanese, no subtitles) and trailers for other Square Enix products. These extras aren’t essential to the product by any means, but they are welcome additions. Anyone making the upgrade to the limited edition will get a larger box for the vinyl LP with five of the tracks, a larger booklet (but with the same content), and an alternate digipack case for the Blu-ray.
All-in-all, the 25th anniversary Final Fantasy Orchestral Album is a worthy collection, featuring many of the series’ iconic tracks with their definitive orchestral arrangements. Although there is a lot of recycled material, there is also a good selection of new content and nice extras as well. This album is admittedly fairly pricey and the Blu-ray format won’t be for all. Depending on each listener’s existing Final Fantasy collection or the sensitivity of their ear to higher quality recordings, this album may or may not be worth that cost. But as a singular showcase and celebration of Final Fantasy’s musical legacy, this album can’t be beat given it compiles so much of the series’ repertoire into a 2+ hour experience.
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Posted on June 2, 2014 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on June 2, 2014.