Duality: Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album
Duality: Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album
Square Enix Music
December 7, 2016
Buy at CDJapan
Duality: Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album is the second arrangement album for Final Fantasy XIV, covering tracks from the first expansion, Heavensward. Following the pattern of the first arrangement album, From Astral to Umbral, the album features both piano solo arrangements by Keiko as well as band arrangements for lead composer Masayoshi Soken’s band, The Primals. As before, the album is available in Blu-Ray and digital editions, with exclusive content for the Blu-Ray edition. The Blu-Ray includes mp3s of both the new arrangements and the original, unarranged tracks. Since the album follows so closely to the pattern of the first arrangement album, what sets this album apart is the relative strength (and weakness) of the tracks being arranged.
Whereas From Astral to Umbral featured piano arrangements of largely calm field and area tracks, Duality offers a more dynamic range. The opening “Imagination” is a battle track, though it starts off quietly enough before becoming more dramatic and assertive. Its melodies are some of the more prominent from the Heavensward expansion, but unfortunately it relies too much on the strength of the melodies and fails to produce a distinctive accompaniment. This is in contrast to the arrangements and compositions of From Astral to Umbral, where tracks had identifiable patterns and figures that gave each track their character, where in “Imagination” (and in many other piano tracks of Duality) the accompaniment is mostly just chords and flourishes without unifying ideas. That doesn’t mean that the track is bad to listen to, since it still has memorable melodies and dramatic progression, but it does mean that the track is rather forgettable as a piano arrangement. Later on, “Ominous Prognisticks” suffers from the same issue, and further makes missteps by transcribing elements of the original track that make less sense for solo piano, such as the upper runs. Keiko’s energy throughout is admirable, and there is some variation in the second half of the piece, but the arrangement is still largely faceless. “Heroes” fares much better thanks to a jittery bass line that informs much of the piece to make it more distinctive, as well as the slower, eerie midsection with slightly changed up harmony. It’s one of the few times where the piano arrangements feel fresh, since they otherwise follow the originals’ structures closely.
The remaining three piano tracks are for the area themes. Where the arrangements and compositions of From Astral to Umbral often had many distinct sections, the Heavensward area tracks are more focused with fewer melodies. The issue is however that some of these tracks already had piano arrangements on the Heavensward soundtrack. “Painted Foothills” was a lovely and emotional track on the original, and not much changes here. There isn’t a whole lot of melodic variation or development, and again the arpeggios and broken chords that make up much of the arrangement are rather generic. Only in the final third does it breaks into a new, exciting staccato variation that leads its climax, changing up rhythm significantly to give it dramatic edge over the original. But thankfully, Keiko’s sensitive performance throughout makes the track as a whole still worth listening to. “Borderless” is a pleasant and more invigorating piece, becoming quite forceful towards the end. There are some nice additions throughout, like hints of other themes and small harmonic shifts, but these are rather fleeting and don’t do enough for the rather long and repetitive track. “Night in the Brume” is the longest arrangement and closes out this section of the album. It again pairs its lovely melody with a conventional arrangement that gradually builds, but doesn’t offer much that the original did not. These three tracks are pleasant and very nice to listen to thanks to their melodies and performances, but as new arrangements they are rather unimaginative with little added personality.
As for the band portion of the album, Soken focuses as before on battle themes, though this time around there are more instrumental tracks. This section opens with “Unbreakable”, which was already a rock track to begin with. Although it is competently performed, the original felt more unique thanks to its mix of synth and jazz organ for the main melody, whereas the band version has only its guitars and is on the whole more straightforward and predictable without substantial countermelodies. Perhaps the largest omission here (and on the other band tracks of Duality) is that of a great guitar solo, which felt needed in the second half of the track since it is essentially a repetition of the first half. “Revenge Twofold” is a wonderful new track, and its original game version is a powerful orchestral and choral take on “Ominous Prognisticks” mixed with “Torn From the Heavens”, expertly arranged by Ken Ito. The band version does well enough thanks to some synths and aggressive percussion that expand the sound, though its a shame that the choir didn’t translate into vocals for the band in some manner. “Imagination” appears again for the band portion, and its band arrangement is also too straightforward, especially since parts of its melody appear in other tracks. The only melodic variation appears at the very end, but it’s too little too late. ”Heroes”, another repeat for the album, surprisingly does use the original choral vocals, but here they don’t really fit and even feel rushed at the new tempo. It does not help that again, part of the melody already appears in other tracks. Although the repeated use of motifs was great on the original soundtrack, here it becomes an issue because there isn’t enough sonically different between each track, resulting in mere redundancy.
Although the instrumentals tracks have an issue of being too similar, the remaining tracks are easily more distinct because of their focus on vocals. The band arrangement for “Unbending Steel” is quite a departure from its original orchestral arrangement, though the vocal is still the same incredibly low bass vocal. It benefits from a quicker tempo, accompaniment with melodic substance, and two guitar solos to boot. It’s a wonderful new version of a track that was already a highlight for the game, and should have been the pattern for the other band arrangements. “Fiend” is the other new track for the album, with both versions being industrial metal. The song is more about intensity than melody, and as such it works much more as background music than it does as a standalone listen. The band version does not feel much different from the game version; its an alternate drumming rhythm and reduction electronic elements makes it feel less distinctive, though the added guitars underneath give the song more harmonic structure so that the chorus works better. The band version of “Locus” is also not that different from the original, mostly just placing less emphasis on the pulsating techno beat and shifting it to the guitars. The only real advantage it has over the original is that it has a definitive climax and ending, rather than the excessive looping of the 8-minute original. It’s still a solid track on its own, but being billed as a new arrangement, much more needed to be done to differentiate it from the original.
One additional arrangement is present on the album, “Oblivion (Never Let it Go Version)”. Rather than being a piano or band arrangement, it is instead a softer acoustic version with redone vocals to suit the new tone. Ayumi Murata’s English is still not perfect, but the words are clearer here and the almost-whispered quality works for the track, though I wish there wasn’t an effect placed on her voice at various times since it doesn’t mesh with the acoustic instruments. The emotional accompaniment of light guitar, piano, and strings is on the other hand very lovely and even soulful, easily making up for shortcomings on the vocal. It would have been great to see more arrangements like this one, which actually comes across as a thoughtful re-arrangement rather than an autopilot piano or band arrangement.
As usual, the Blu-Ray has some exclusive content. Aside from having mp3’s of both the original and arranged versions of each track, there is also visual content to accompany each track, with options for either in-game footage or performances of the tracks. As with From Astral to Umbral, the in-game footage is actually nice since it at times offers angles of battles not normally seen during gameplay, but it still lacks the cohesion and excitement of a properly directed and choreographed cutscene. Likewise, the live performances videos are a nice bonus, but without the actual live audio or the production values of a standalone release, they don’t have too much appeal. There is also a bit of behind-the-scenes footage for the album, but ultimately none of the visual content is enough to justify the excessive price of the Blu-Ray, especially when the material that it accompanies is so middling.
Duality: Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album relies on the formula of the first arrangement album, but to its detriment. Whereas the field themes of the first album’s piano arrangements were more sprawling in structure with distinct segments and arrangements, the piano tracks of Duality, both of area and battle tracks, lack central ideas and identities outside of their admittedly strong melodies. This makes for arrangements that are fine to listen to, but are not very memorable. Likewise, the novelty of the first album’s band arrangements does not work for the instrumental tracks of Duality, and even the vocal Primal tracks have lost their edge, aside from “Unbending Steel” and “Oblivion”. The album is still fine and even enjoyable to listen to on its own terms thanks to the strength of the original compositions, but it all feels very basic and predictable as arrangements. The video content is serviceable, but does little to warrant the steep cost of the Blu-Ray edition. Unless you are a diehard fan, you’re likely better off picking up the few tracks that interest you from iTunes, since little of interest is added to the mostly wonderful originals from the mainline soundtracks.
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Posted on August 8, 2019 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on August 8, 2019.