Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collections
Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collections
Square Enix Music
March 6, 2019
Buy at CDJapan
Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collections is the first official Piano Collections album for Final Fantasy XIV, with arrangements and performances by Keiko on two discs. This album is mostly a compilation album, recycling all of the piano arrangements on the From Astral to Umbral and Duality albums, while adding to them five new piano arrangements of songs from both the Heavensward and Stormblood expansions. All of the new arrangements would later become available on the third piano and band arrangement album, Journeys. Notably, the album is not available on the usual Blu-Ray format, but rather only on CD and digital.
Six of the tracks come from the first arrangement album, From Astral to Umbral, and they all are arrangements of area and field themes. Remarkable in these arrangements is their relative length (the longest is “I Am the Sea” at 9 minutes), which is necessitated by the sprawling compositions; unlike Soken’s tracks for later expansions which are more focused, these tracks have several distinct sections with completely different melodies and textures. The piano arrangements follow the structures of the originals very closely so there is not much very new or surprising, aside from the many added flourishes along the way. Even though the arrangements are very straightforward, each track has its charm; for example, the rolling chords beneath the melody of “Serenity” are very lovely, while the careful pedalling on the more active parts of “Wailers and Waterwheels” bring out the subtleties of the harmony. Often enough, I prefer these arrangements to the originals thanks to Keiko’s emotional playing, whereas the originals are limited by their sound libraries.
The six arrangements that come from Duality are more mixed. A few of these are more dynamic since they arrange battle themes: “Imagination”, “Ominous Prognisticks”, and “Heroes”. However, the first two especially seem to lack a cohesive idea needed to structure and propel the arrangements, and instead only offer various chords or arpeggios as the dynamics call for with little in the way of pattern. This results in arrangements that are rather faceless and unmemorable, although they are still fine to listen to. “Heroes” is better thanks to the recurring staccato bass elements, but it still could have been much better. The field tracks are better if only because their melodies are so great and the performances so sensitive. “Borderless” is a bit middling, but both “Painted Foothills” and “Night in the Brume” are very lovely to listen to, though both feel rather unnecessary since they are (aside from an energetic section at the end of “Painted Foothills”) quite similar to their original soundtrack versions which were already piano solos. As a whole, these tracks sound improvisational rather than thoughtfully structured, which works alright for the slower tracks but causes redundancy in the battle tracks.
Five new tracks were recorded for this Piano Collections album, all from the Stormblood expansion. “Ink Long Dry” is a highlight among the arrangements that stays much closer to its eccentric original than its smoothed-out sibling, “Bibliophobia”. The arrangement retains its sudden and even jarring shifts of tempo and texture, and the piano reduction allows the complexities of the harmony to come through much clearer. It cannot recreate the distortions of the original, so it instead plays around with the atmosphere, beginning more playful than the original but then ending darker and more dramatically. I still prefer the original, but this piano version is a wonderful addition to the canon. Also bombastic is “The Worm’s Tail”, but unfortunately it tends toward the formulas set by Duality. While some individual segments do show some clear Romantic influences, but the constant percussive hammering of bass octaves feels rather crude, and isn’t very pianistic. Even the more melodic sections with the main “Storm of Blood” melody are played too forcefully to rouse or inspire.
The other three new tracks are field tracks, and they are much more focused and structured than the Duality tracks. “Westward Tide” was originally a short piano track, and the essential parts of it are preserved here, though played a bit more freely. What is new is the new middle section of the track, which introduces apt watery textures that are quite lovely, giving the track a bit of a 20th century feel. Keiko gets to show off her dexterity here, keeping all of the notes crystal clear as they cascade by. “Old Wounds” was also originally a piano solo as well, and here is a bit shorter but more theatrical with its increased virtuosity. Since there is less reverb than the original version, the track sounds much less muddled, particularly in those busier passages. It’s overall quite a beautiful track that improves on the original, but I still would have liked to it take a more distinct direction from it. Closing out the album is “Crimson Sunset”, which is not strictly a piano solo but rather a duet between piano and a Japanese bamboo flute, the latter performed here by Yoshimi Tsujimoto. I’ve always thought the original to be a bit too simplistic, but the performance and the arrangement here elevate the track. The combination allows Keiko to provide a very warm accompaniment in the first half, as she fills out the harmony and counterpoint; Keiko rarely stays in such a narrow range in her solo arrangements, choosing instead to emphasize the extremes of the piano’s sound, but with Tsujimoto on the melody Keiko is free to focus her piano part more, to great effect. The second half changes gears and becomes more exciting, and it is particularly rewarding at the end when Keiko gets her turn to change up the rhythm of the melody and even make it a bit jazzy. These three new tracks are some of the strongest of the package, and bode well for future arrangements.
The Final Fantasy XIV Piano Collections, is enjoyable set of piano arrangements spanning several years worth of music for Final Fantasy XIV, succeeding mostly thanks to Masayoshi Soken’s strong compositions and melodies. The earliest arrangements from From Astral to Umbral are nice but add little to the original tracks, while those from Duality feel too improvisational with little conceptual ground. The new arrangements for this album are a step in the right direction, since they are more focused while introducing outside influences, particularly modern ones. Even if the arrangements don’t often reach the bar set by other entries in the Piano Collections series, the mix of arranging styles and memorable themes ultimately results in a worthwhile package for fans of the game that haven’t been keeping up with the arrangement albums.
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Posted on August 27, 2019 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on September 8, 2019.