Final Fantasy -Record Keeper- Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy -Record Keeper- Original Soundtrack
September 14, 2016
Buy at CDJapan
Final Fantasy Record Keeper (FFRK) is a recent installment in the legendary Final Fantasy series. This free-to-play mobile game was published by Square Enix, developed by DeNA (the same team behind Nintendo’s Miitomo), and premiered worldwide for iPhone, iPad, and Android last year. The soundtrack was released much more recently, on September 14th, 2016. In many ways, Final Fantasy Record Keeper’s soundtrack is rather what you’d expect from a game that concerns itself with revisiting famous scenes from the Final Fantasy series to restore tainted “records.” The Final Fantasy fans out there will doubtless be familiar with a number of these tracks—whether they’ll enjoy them or not is a different matter entirely. That’s not to say the penned compositions of Nobuo Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Naoshi Mizuta, Masayoshi Soken, and Masashi Hamauzu don’t hold up. It’s that the soundtrack’s seven arrangers (four of whom contribute only a single track each) aren’t always on the same page.
The opening track, “Mystic Misidia -Halloween-,” is a spookified arrangement of the Final Fantasy IV (II) track of the same name. But where the original plunks along in charming chiptune (all the rage in 1991), the FFRK arrangement splays the composition across a bass-forward orchestra of brass, percussion, and what I’m guessing is a glockenspiel. Naturally, the track is richer in harmony than the original, trading the melody from deep brass up into synth strings, which glissando and slide along as to imbue the track with “spookyness.” The track thrums and thumps along, spruced up by various synth effects as it goes, eventually including a synthetic chorus to really bring in the All Hallow’s Eve vibe. However, the composition runs out of places to go after about a minute and a half, clocking in at 3:07 (compared to the original’s minute and thirty seconds) and repeating itself note-for-note at least once over. It’s a bit difficult to maintain interest.
The next three tracks are arrangements of Final Fantasy V’s “Clash on the Big Bridge,” aptly named “Battle at the Big Bridge” Ver. 1, 2, and 3. Clocking in at exactly 4:12 each, I get the impression arranger Yoshitaka Suzuki simply couldn’t get all of his plans for Big Bridge out in a single version (though in fact, the various arrangements also accompany similar scenes that repeat throughout the game, making it an appropriate level of variation). Ver. 1 starts out strong, but leans heavily (and I mean heavily) on fabricated vocal effects that attack the melody, harmonic structure, and in-line scalar motion with almost comic levels of accuracy and range. The drama is all there, but the instrumentation really clips its wings. Ver. 2 is a much stronger entry (though it’s 75% identical to Ver. 1, which is to be expected) simply because it gives the melody over to an overdriven guitar, which lends enough edge to the music that the hyper-cheese vocals are less distracting. There’s also a lovely and unexpected in media res callout to the melodic refrain from “Ahead on Our Way,” the overworld music from Final Fantasy V. Finally, Ver. 3 maintains the guitar lead introduced in Ver. 2 as well as scaling back the vocals very considerably. Most notably, a drawbar organ now charmingly doubles the melody while sliding along through step notes and chromatic run-ups. It’s a much more adventurous arrangement overall. Here, again, the callout to “Ahead on Our Way” returns, handled by the drawbar/synth. Ver. 3 is my personal favorite arrangement, but none of them are jaw-dropping.
We’re treated to a huge tonal/timbral shift with the fifth track “Christmas Medley,” which as you might guess is a holiday-friendly take on a number of different Final Fantasy tunes, replete with incessantly jingling jingle bells (almost regardless of what the music is doing). At almost 5 minutes long, “Christmas Medley” is the album’s most ambitious entry so far. It samples familiar melodies and chordal structures from Final Fantasy VII in smooth transition, starting with a jaunty, major-key arranged version of “Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII” handled by a robust horn section, eventually segueing smoothly into a bluegrass-ified, banjo-heavy rendition of “Waltz de Chocobo.” The track wraps up with a fanfare: a chamber, dance-able rendition of the “Gold Saucer” theme. It’s a wild sleigh-ride for Final Fantasy fans, for sure.
Things are scaled back a bit moving into track six. The “Final Fantasy Main Theme” is exactly what it sounds like, a stately but familiar imagining of that familiar tune replete with snare drum rolls, tremolo-tongued flutes, and (eventual) melodic doubling by synth strings. I would describe it as perfectly agreeable. With “Special Arrange Medley,” track seven, Naoki Masumoto makes his first arrangement debut of the album with a slightly cumbersome but still charming weave of familiar Final Fantasy tunes. Highlights include a very dramatic rendition of “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI and a much less cheery version of ”Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII.”
Nasumoto also handles the next two medleys, “Valentine Medley” and “White Day Medley,” respectively tracks eight and nine. The former begins with a subdued, sweet violin rendition of “Eyes on Me” from Final Fantasy VIII, and (as the title might imply) revisits many of the memorable ballads and love themes from the series along the way. Fans will definitely recognize “Aerith’s Theme,” though the percussed violin/flute arrangement is a bit more muzak than they might like. With “White Day Medley,” Nasumoto ups the tempo (and instrumentation) with some rock ‘n roll inflected renditions of popular battle fanfares and boss fight themes that give way to a surprising, energetic version of “Tidus’s Theme” from Final Fantasy X. In all three medleys, the thematic material is given proper respect, but the transitions can feel very forced/jarring at times.
“The Decisive Battle” leaps into more familiar territory via a hard-rocking rendition of the Final Fantasy VI track of the same name. Likewise, “The Man with the Machine Gun” pays a similar level of respect to Final Fantasy VIII’s alternate battle theme, though it instead scales back the track’s original percussive sway, adopting a heavier dance/synth pop vibe. “The Highwind Takes to the Sky” from Final Fantasy VII is given an interesting jazzy/samba treatment, replete with a walking bass-line and swung brass lines. Final Fantasy XI’s “Vana’diel March” is stuffed with a dance-club beat and sawing strings. All four tracks are certainly welcome and familiar, but their particular genres seem almost picked at chance. “Prelude -Wedding-,” track 14, is one of my personal favorites on this album. It’s a stoic and fairly loose arrangement of the common “fanfare” (or title screen) music from many Final Fantasy games. Yuko Komiyama never bogs this track down with excessive instrumentation or a single synth vocal or percussive thump; she gives it room to breathe, and at 14 tracks in, it’s about time. Other than a couple of mildly indulgent ornaments, the introduction of the “Main Theme of Final Fantasy”—floating, soaring on violin over the top of the familiar seventh-chord arpeggio fanfare—is handled with equal amounts of integrity. This is one of the album’s better entries.
Next, we’re treated to Final Fantasy IV’s “The Dreadful Fight,” which is arranged amidst a flurry of sawing strings that manage to reimagine the track while maintaining its original tone—easier said than done. Masumoto’s next medley, “Tanabata Medley,” is a musical box-style flight through some of Final Fantasy XIV’s more popular melodies and motifs, while also sampling “Theme of Love” from Final Fantasy IV and. Clocking in at around two-and-a-half minutes, it’s a subtle, gentle tiptoe kind of music, swelling with emotion and moving smoothly in clean, musical transitions.
Tracks 17, 18, 19, and 20 were all single contributions from four “guest” arrangers, and it shows. With “Antipyretic,” Yoshimi Kudo’s only contribution to the album, die-hard fans will be psyched to get their ears on an arrangement from Final Fantasy Tactics. Kudo’s experience as a composer, arranger, and musical performer serve him well, making this one yet another standout track. The use of dynamics, contrapuntal melodic lines, and short bursts of dramatic tension in this track and extremely welcome, as a large majority of the album pay those musical facets little mind. Track 18, “Pa-Paya,” is likewise Masayoshi Soken’s sole contribution, and the man makes it count. It’s a very faithful rendition, only much more classically arranged, taking the original’s occasional pizzicato strings and spinning them into a full-fledged melodic adaptation. While the track lacks the pop sensibilities of the original, it’s respectably layered and spacious. With “Blinded By Light” and “Crazy Motorcycle,” we see further arrangements from Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy VII.
The other two “guest” arrangers, Tadayoshi Makino and Shohei Tsuchiya, lend their singular contributions and, like the last two they possess a certain care and craft that’s otherwise sadly missing. Despite its upbeat, synth-heavy approach, “Blinded By Light” achieves an interesting smattering of pounding drums, weeping legato violin, and percussive “tom” foolery that remains lithe and properly segmented, avoiding the messy loopability of some of the earlier tracks. “Crazy Motorcycle” takes a similar approach, crushing the low end with heavy, reverberating kick and bass. It makes unfortunate use of the album’s earlier foray into cheesy synth vocals (obviously a peeve of mine), but only briefly, making a successful transition into an organ/keyboard segment that exemplifies the motion and drive of the original composition. Finally, Yuko Komiyama wraps things up in a dour, majestic rendition of “Four Hearts” from Final Fantasy V. As it approaches overt pomp and circumstance, the track introduces playful elements and dynamic shifts that keep it feeling fresh. It’s a lovely way to go out, though like some of the other tracks, is a touch repetitive after the two-minute mark.
Final Fantasy Record Keeper’s OST is a pretty solid reflection of the game itself: A wide majority of the tracks and medleys here will titillate series fans with familiar motifs and fun shifts through the seasonal mirth of various holidays, and the music on a whole is certainly a Zantetsuken’s cut above the average free-to-play mobile entry. But digging deeper reveals a notable lack of substance for many of the tracks, making repeat listening unlikely (outside of gameplay). While the latter half of the album has some key entries, the majority of this 21-track OST may leave you pining for the original compositions. Appropriately, this is something Record Keeper already excels at, albeit for the original games instead. Dedicated Final Fantasy fans will get a kick out of most of the music here, even if these arrangements seem only to know where they’ve already been—and not where they’re going.
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Posted on October 14, 2016 by Lee Neikirk. Last modified on October 24, 2016.