Journeys: Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album
Journeys: Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album
Square Enix Music
June 19, 2019
Buy at CDJapan
Journeys: Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album is the third in the series of arrangement albums for Final Fantasy XIV, here covering tracks from the Heavensward and Stormblood expansions. Half of the tracks are centred around Keiko on piano, though this time she is joined by some guest vocals and instruments. The band tracks remain what we are accustomed to, with performances handled by The Primals, the band created by lead composer Masayoshi Soken. As before, the album comes in two editions: Blu-Ray and digital, with the Blu-Ray edition featuring video content and additional bonus tracks. Although many of the tracks come from The Primals and the Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collections, Journeys is a great standalone package with wonderful tracks and solid arrangements, reflecting the growth of the game as its world moves forward.
Of the seven tracks of the piano portion, only four are actually for solo piano, and they all come from the Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collections. “The Worm’s Tail” is the weakest of the bunch due to its brutish arrangement and playing throughout, which does little for its decent composition and occasional Romantic influences. “Ink along Dry” is much better, with its disparate jazz segments that are stitched together in an abrupt but delightful manner. It stays very close to its original structure, yet it feels different merely by being a piano solo, and Keiko also introduces a darker atmosphere into the back end of the arrangement. “Westward Tide” takes things slower and more freely, and also introduces a new middle segment with watery textures drawing from 20th-century pianists. She gives a wonderfully clear performance throughout, and does a good job of balancing old and new. “Old Wounds” is more straightforward, mostly just increasing the dynamic range and the difficulty of the faster passages, but it is worth having since its sound is much less muddy than the original.
The remaining three tracks all have the piano serving as accompaniment. The first of these is “Crimson Sunset”, also from the Piano Collections album, where Keiko is joined by Yoshimi Tsujimoto on Japanese bamboo flute. It begins with a warm and resonant accompaniment by Keiko before ramping up the energy and even becoming jazzy. It’s nice to see new ideas added where it would have been easy for the duo to coast on the novelty of the pairing. The other two new tracks have the piano accompanying Susan Calloway on vocal. Although she often performs with piano accompaniment at Fan Festivals, these are the first official audio recordings to be released. The first track is “Beauty’s Wicked Wiles”, a track for which she was not the original vocalist. Although she does not carry the Eastern timbre of the original, she makes the track her own with a confident and powerful performance. Her clear enunciation is refreshing, and she even shows us new colours in her voice during her ad-libbed section. The piano here firmly takes a backseat, which is a shame, but Keiko still gets opportunities to display her capabilities, and the result is a very different, standalone arrangement. “Revolutions” is for me better than the original, due to its simplicity; a simple march is monotonous, whereas a simple piano and vocal piece comes off instead as minimalistic and intimate. The piano is able to add more weight to the phrases without constrictive percussion, and Calloway’s head voice is much clearer here, bringing vulnerability to the performance. These three tracks are an interesting direction for the arrangement albums to head in, and I’m excited to see where it will lead.
Of the band tracks, four were originally released on The Primals, each of them being part of the Alexander raid series. Although “Metal”, “Rise”, and “Exponential Entropy” have good ideas, particularly “Exponential Entropy”, the tracks suffer from repetition, as well as redundancy, since their arrangements are so similar to their originals. The exception to this is “Metal – Brute Justice Mode”, which ramps up the tempo effectively to give the track a sort of infectious, manic energy. The trumpets are a wonderful inclusion, and it’s neat to see Soken rework the other melodies from the raid series into a fairly different context.
The new band tracks begin with “eScape”, a track that could easily fit in with the Alexander tracks with its metal stylings and distorted vocals. Soken makes sure the arrangement keeps shifting before it gets monotonous, avoiding the mistakes he made on the Alexander tracks. However, this band version is disappointingly close to the original aside from an altered outro. “Amatsu Kaze” was a strong track already from Stormblood, but the band version here far outstrips the original through small changes. Most notably, the main vocal on the verses is now sung by the game director, Naoki Yoshida himself, who is much more clear and distinctive than the filtered vocal of the original. The arrangement loses the overtly Asian elements of the original, but this actually seems to work to the track’s favour since the arrangement feels less cluttered, and it helps the rhythmic variety of the track to stand out more. “Wayward Daughter” also simplifies its arrangement, but it retains its Asian feel thanks to the vocal led by Yoshino Nanjo. It has been tightened up in length, and the stripped back second verse does wonders for making the track more dynamic. The new track “Sunrise” completes these trial tracks, being connected to “Amatsu Kaze” and “Wayward Daughter” by a number of musical ideas, in addition to having Nanjo again for vocals. The simplified arrangement is again no problem, since the track’s excellence lies in its melodies, which are catchy and numerous, and the vocals are wonderfully coloured as well; it helps that Soken is finally here allowing his singers to sing in their native Japanese, in which their vocals shine the most. The originals were already very strong among the Primal tracks, but these arrangements are refined alternatives that fans should be happy to have.
As usual, the Blu-Ray release includes exclusive content. In a Blu-Ray player, the tracks can be accompanied either by in-game footage or concert footage from 2018 and 2019 Fan Festivals. The in-game footage is fine, showing some angles of battles not normally seen during gameplay, but otherwise not worth watching. The concert footage is better even though it is only the video, as the live audio is replaced by the studio recording. This means that some of the energy of the live venue is lost, but it is still neat to see the performers, particularly Yoshida singing “Amatsu Kaze”, or Soken goofily duetting with Keiko for “Ink Long Dry”. The quality and editing is also a step up from the video from the earlier arrangement albums. It’s the first time the Blu-Ray format feels justified, though there is still more scope for improvements.
In addition to the video playback, there are also three more tracks exclusive to the Blu-Ray release, each of which are piano and vocal, again with Keiko and Susan Calloway, though these have no video accompaniment. “Oblivion” takes cues and figures from the “Never Let Go Version” from Duality, but Calloway’s strong vocal performance is very different from Murata’s soft lullaby, and Keiko too goes for a colder atmosphere rather than the lush warmth of the acoustic version. This is not to say that the performance is not emotional; there is much more rubato and phrasing at work in this version, and the climax is more powerful. In a way it all feels more fitting for the character that the theme is for. Next is “Answers”, which I feel stays too close to the original, even though it cannot hope to match it. The opening choir segment is for example unimaginatively rendered as mere octaves, while the rest of the piece mostly relies on solid and broken chords. The piece is still alright in itself thanks to the intrinsic drama of the multi-movement piece, but it feels like a huge missed opportunity to do something fresh and interpretive and better adapted to the piano. “Dragonsong” is similar but is more naturally suited to solo piano, since the original utilized the piano so much. Although the piano part is disappointingly safe in both of these tracks, it is nice to be able to hear Calloway’s voice so clearly in both, and in “Dragonsong” the mere switch to piano-only accompaniment does make the track feel much more intimate.
Journeys Final Fantasy XIV Arrangement Album is easily the strongest yet of the band and piano arrangement albums, where not only are the original tracks great, but even the arrangements mostly bring improvements or new ideas. The piano solos feel more grounded, and the introduction of duets changes up the formula. The band tracks are among the series’ best, and it’s great to see Soken using new influences in the songs and arrangements. The Blu-ray exclusives are more substantial as well, with decent though safe bonus tracks and solid video accompaniments. There are still many recycled tracks, but taken in itself the album is a wonderful collection of some of the game’s most memorable themes. This album showed growth in both Keiko and Soken, and it is exciting to see where things might go next.
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Posted on September 3, 2019 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on September 3, 2019.