Final Fantasy Tactics Advance / White Melodies of
White Melodies of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
SME Visual Works
February 26, 2003
Buy at CDJapan
In the very same month that the rocking frenzy of The Black Mages started to conquer Squaresoft music fans, another Final Fantasy album featuring slow and quiet arrangements hit the market: White Melodies of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Strangely enough, the first musical release related to the game wasn’t its Original Soundtrack, but this arranged album. I would say that this release was a gamble, since it has been published by SME Visual Works (currently known as Aniplex Inc.), a company that had never released any Square-related soundtrack before, and arranged by three people totally new to the Square-Enix crowd (Yo Yamazaki, Akira Sasaki and Satoshi Henmi). So how did this gamble turn out? That’s what this review is aimed at showing.
The introduction to this album, “Magic Beast Farm”, starts with a typical South American feeling. Two soft guitars, a bass, and maracas are used to create a chill-out and nonchalant atmosphere. A few moments later, a bandneon and a flute join the flow to add a lively contribution to the main melody. I like to picture what happens in this track as someone taking a lazy stroll through a harbour, gazing at the sea at the 1:36 mark. There, a soft cymbal crash announces the best part of this track, bringing a bright synth pad and brass to change the mood into a dreamy, contemplative instant. Back to our strolling, the main melody is played again, ending on another synth interlude. But that time, a saxophone is added after a few bars. This new participant is used to end the track in a way that leaves a little something to be desired. I’m not sure about the choice of its position as the first track of the album, since it doesn’t especially stand out. Nevertheless, “Magic Beast Farm” is a decent and relaxing start.
“Mewt”, while being simple in its concept, is an efficient formula. When hearing these two guitars playing together, relying on each other like old friends do, a few words quickly crossed my mind: “Tactics Advance Unplugged”. What you have here is a genuine live guitar and bass improvisation on Mewt’s theme, backed with discreet soft drums. The shallow reverb of the track and the fancy style of the guitar performance create a soothing intimacy that is most welcome. Building on this unplugged style, Satoshi Henmi offers us a pop and folk rendering of “Unhideable Anxiety” later in the release. Piano and acoustic guitar start with a minimalist introduction, quickly followed by the main body of the track: piano chords backing an inspired leading guitar. After a few moments, a rock organ enters the scene, making the atmosphere wilder, but only for a short time. This very sequence appears two times again in this track, with a different leading improvisation each time it is repeated. While being based on a nice idea, this arrangement sounds like it has been composed in a hurry, leaving little place for enjoyable variations.
Further reflecting the diversity of the album, “Different World” is one these musical works where a piano and small reverb are enough to captivate the attention of the listener from the very beginning. Here, the track starts with hesitating steps, a few shy notes played almost accidentally as the piano takes consciousness of its existence. Confidence is quickly gained, and the performer starts playing with both hands. The mood is now curious, more confident, and soon backed by a distant warm synth. A tiny flute eventually joins the piano, allowing it to participate in a pleasant melodic duet. Pizzicato strings and oboe are the last ones to join the party, adding maturity and thus completing the picture of this new world. With its slow-paced and remarkable build-up, this track constitutes one of the main assets of the album.
Hold on, Uematsu fans! The main theme has its own piano arrangement too! This performance turns the opening march of the game into a pleasant track. The beginning introduces the main air with passion, in a much straighter way than “Different World Ivalice.” At 1:55, subtle backing voice pads and strings make their appearance, giving the piano the perfect playground to gain richness and flow. This second part has a strong dreamy and romantic feel that will probably remind some of you of the famous “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII. The classic mix between piano and mellow backing proves once again its efficiency. However, the synthetic nature of the accompaniment sounds sometimes disturbing (I’m talking about the brutal volume change at 3:31, for example). I’d say this one is potentially great, but needs a bit more work to become what it aims at.
Less impressive is “Crystal”. It opens as a guitar lament played in a minor tone introduces this piece of music as sounding cruelly nostalgic. However, the lead is quickly taken by a synthetic Quena. Its use may sound appropriate for the first minute, but as we expect another instrument to come in, it stubbornly continues to play. The sampled breathy sounds gradually become annoying, and the dramatic addition of mellow background strings in the middle of the track doesn’t change anything. You can tell my disappointment here… “Teach Me, Mont Blanc” doesn’t impress much either. The main body starts right after a bassoon introduction inspired by Scottish folklore. The same cartoon-ish air as in the original can be heard, but the pace of this arrangement is much slower. The backing flute is replaced by a synthetic sine pad, which disappears after one minute to make place for other instruments such as cellos, synthetic horns and voice pads, each of them quietly contributing to the main melody. While staying faithful to the typical Final Fantasy Tactics style, it sounds more like the arrangement was an excuse for Yo Yamazaki to experiment with various instruments without taking too many risks.
As for the first track of the album, we are once again provided with South American material for “Beyond the Wastleland”. Here, the original heavy battle track has been transformed into a soothing piece of music that keeps the same structure while rendering a totally different feeling. The sounds of the backing vibraphone and the bandneon contribute in giving a carefree feeling to the whole track, which ends on a pleasant acoustic guitar improvisation. So what lies beyond the wasteland? Sun, sand and idleness, of course! Akira Sasaki also provides us with a peaceful arrangement based on Marche’s theme. The live saxophone featured in this track is definitely a nice touch, and integrates quite well with the backing instruments (guitar, soft drums and chromatic percussions). At the 2:11 mark, a new looping drum motif is ‘pasted’ in the back, as the main theme is repeated once again. I must say that its integration into the track sounds artificial, but gives a tad more rhythm to the whole. Beginning from the end of the last saxophone part, the track ends progressively in an expectable chill-out jam led by a reassuring bass. I really like the beginning of this one, but its lack of dynamism doesn’t appeal to me.
Moving to the final trakcs, “The Place We Should Return To” was originally an epic-toned theme played near the end of the game. Its arranged version abandons the traditional strings and brass orchestration to give us a very peaceful track. Guitar and flute relay each other to take the lead, inviting you to chill out, to spend a nice moment going with their flow. Simple and efficient. The finale of the album is a surprising rendition of a fancy battle theme, “Amber Valley”, into a serene piece of music that sounds just like the kind of farewell tune that usually plays during the end credits of a movie. While piano lends the melody its refreshing energy and flute counterpoints it with grace, warm pads and excessive reverb give the whole much depth, as well as a certain new age, Enya-esque feeling. It definitely deserves its position, as I don’t see any other track that would end the album that well.
White Melodies of Final Fantasy Tactics has fulfilled the promise that lies in its name: most of its tracks convey a quiet mood, using light instruments and solid sound engineering. However, the arrangement sometimes leaves the tunes dangerously close to muzak, with too many synthesised instruments for too little live action and too little variations on the main melodic loops. My advice would be to listen to samples before getting this album, to make sure you are okay with the overall style.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Zeugma. Last modified on August 1, 2012.