Fire Emblem Premium Arrange
Fire Emblem Premium Arrange
|Record Label: INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS|
|Catalog No.: QWCI-00004|
|Release Date: March 20, 2019|
Buy on CDJapan
At times, Fire Emblem seems split across a chronological line. Entries preceding Fire Emblem Awakening were little known in the west but revered all the same for their merciless challenge. By contrast, later titles propelled the series to newfound fame by emphasizing customization and accessibility. The debate over which direction best suits the franchise may spit the fanbase, but Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have given both sides plenty of reasons to love its tactical fantasy series.
In fact, earlier this month, Fire Emblem fans were treated to a special expo in Japan (as reported by NintendoSoup), culminating in a concert of fresh Fire Emblem arrangements and medleys. Fans to the west may have missed the concert, but an official arrangement album, released two months in advance, could give those would-be listeners a second chance. Is there enough on offer in Fire Emblem Premium Arrange to satisfy each faction of the fanbase?
Traditionally, Fire Emblem soundtracks strove to emulate the sense of orchestral optimism prevalent in the franchise’s anime influences. Lately, Fire Emblem composers have leaned towards electro-acoustic experimentalism and more complex musical structures. So it falls to Fire Emblem Premium Arrange to reconcile both approaches; and apparently, brass-heavy rock arrangements serve as the common ground.
The rock setup suits the old-school Fire Emblem arrangements perfectly. Take “Trouble” from Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, for example. Guitarist Takashi Nagasawa replicates the hypnotic riffs of the chiptune original with precision, and his solos – both acoustic and electric – compliment the composition’s feisty tone perfectly. Trumpet stabs and smooth saxophone phrases flesh out the arrangement, while Keiko’s masterful piano performances lend it a new level of depth. Think of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s “Mor Ardain” daylight theme: that’s the basic instrumental flavor of Fire Emblem Premium Arrange, plus a pinch of synthwork to taste.
Content-wise, Fire Emblem Premium Arrange has both its classic and modern soundtracks covered, front-loading colorful tributes to the former. For a while, the album continues to make a strong first impression with these tributes. Genealogy of the Holy War’s relatively mild “Final Chapter (The Final Holy War)” turns downright funky on Premium Arrange, with string swells and a grungy guitar undercurrent fit for Persona 5. “Beneath a New Light (Roy’s Courage)”, from The Binding Blade, takes the intro light and breezy with a pizzicato-piano pairing, and then lets loose with belting sax and shredding guitar solos. At all times, Fire Emblem Premium Arrange presents the classics with relentless enthusiasm and unbridled energy.
At a certain point, however, that relentlessness begins to lose its appeal. The Blazing Blade’s “Companions” and The Sacred Stones’ “Determination” can’t quite elicit the same excitement as the preceding arrangements when they play out more or less the same way. The slump highlights a curious issue with the Fire Emblems of old – Blazing Blade and Sacred Stones included – which boasted soundtracks so polished and uniform that they occasionally bordered on monotonous and generic. It also makes Radiant Dawn’s ever-commanding “Eternal Bond” (Ike’s theme, for Smash Bros. vets) that much more compelling as a follow-up.
On the other hand, the medleys toward the latter half of the album are absolute highlights. The “Recruitment Medley” is an immediate fan-pleaser, hitting listeners right off the bat with a castanet and acoustic guitar-driven cover of Shadow Dragon’s recruitment theme (again, Smash vets will know it when they hear it). Recruitment themes from Genealogy of the Holy War and The Sacred Stones are woven in seamlessly as well, and even though the Path of Radiance recruitment theme ultimately breaks the pace, the medley ends loud and proud nonetheless. The “Battle Medley” fares a bit rockier with its tempo transitions, but likewise presents a faithful overview of Fire Emblem battle themes from Shadow Dragon to Radiant Dawn. (Even Thracia 776 and Mystery of the Emblem get their time to shine here.)
Fire Emblem’s roots comprise only half of the album’s offerings; the other half deal in tunes from more recent entries. Even the arrangements for Fire Emblem Gaiden (game two in the series) are based on the reworked soundtrack for the game’s 2017 Shadows of Valentia remake. “With Mila’s Divine Protection” comes with the same compositional amendments as the Shadows of Valentia version, and the Valentia-exclusive “What Lies at the End” makes a triumphant return. Featuring flute and harp respectively, these two arrangements go the extra mile to incorporate elements from their original counterparts.
Yet Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates’ arrangements pack the album’s biggest surprise: an emphasis on vocal performance. Vocalist Yu Kobayashi** lends her talents to three of the five final tracks on the album, supplying each arrangement with lyrics even where their original counterparts had none. Awakening’s “Conquest (Ablaze)”, previously a purely instrumental affair, benefits from Kobayashi-san’s earthy vocals and a mesmerizing new electronic texture. Likewise, the medieval “Dusk Falls” from Fire Emblem Fates acquires newfound intensity thanks to Kobayashi-san’s robust vocal power.
If only the tracks that originally featured lyrics made as strong a transition. “Id (Purpose)” pairs Kobayashi-san with male vocalist Tatsuru Nagai for a climactic contrast of registers, but the instrumental support comes across campy and melodramatic compared to its source. “Lost in Thoughts All Alone” suffers the opposite problem: graceful piano-guitar interplay and lilting sax lines recreate the Fire Emblem Fates vocal theme in a beautiful new form, but Yumi Kawamura’s somewhat raspy and quavering technique may be an acquired taste compared to Renka’s pristine lyrical sensibilities.
Even so, Kawamura-san leads the charge in the album’s triumphant sendoff. “Fire Emblem Main Theme” gets as chipper a pop-rock cover as a fan could ask for, with Fire Emblem Heroes’ first map theme sprinkled in to tie the franchise’s past and present together.
Fire Emblem Premium Arrange makes good on its promise, delivering premium arrangements that will please Fire Emblem fans new and old alike. Once the album gets going, it doesn’t let up, but that unwavering excitement is also part of the charm. Hopefully one day Fire Emblem fans can celebrate the series’ legacy overseas. If Premium Arrange is any indication, such a celebration would be well worth the wait.
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Posted on May 29, 2019 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on May 29, 2019.