Final Fantasy: More Friends -Los Angeles Live 2005-
Final Fantasy: More Friends -Los Angeles Live 2005-
February 15, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
This album is a recollection of themes which are rearranged splendidly in orchestra and rock form at a 2005 concert for the purpose of Final Fantasy music nostalgia. This 75 minute album records all of the tracks played in the concert funded by Square Enix for all FF fans across the US during May-July of 2005. All these tracks on the album were created from a live orchestra with authentic instruments, guest vocalists, and keyboard specialists. Each melody is filled with a deep emotion that is rarely absent from this album. This is the type of album which you would bring when you’re sitting quietly in deep in thought or reading a book to relax. Put Hamaguchi, the vocalists, and The Black Mages group altogether, and you’ve got a great coda for the American FF music concerts.
I must mention that Shiro Hamaguchi deserves substantial credit for making the 2005 concert work as well, as it could possibly be through his arrangements. Hamaguchi is one of the acclaimed partners of Uematsu in the Final Fantasy series. Without his arrangements, some of Uematsu’s well-known themes might not have left the same permanent impression over his listeners. I have a lot of respect for Hamaguchi’s symphonic arrangements and piano works that have contributed to the high watermark standard for the Final Fantasy album series. The three orchestral arrangements (F.F.VII Main Theme,” “Aerith’s Theme,” and “One Winged Angel) in the Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks was his first early work with Uematsu. Some may probably disagree with me on this statement, but those tracks were probably the best Final Fantasy arranged tracks simply featured on the wrong album. It was such a shame that Hamaguchi could not save the main theme for this concert and instead left on the deserted Reunion album.
Hamaguchi’s first seven tracks are masterfully arranged and their precise composition recaptures the essential magic of the original themes. You’ll hear first the antagonistic “Opening ~ Bombing Mission,” which reminds you of Cloud jumping from the train of the first scene in Final Fantasy VII, then you’ll get to Aerith’s sad theme reminding us of her untimely departure, which is directly rendered from the Reunion version. Following, you have “Terra” from Final Fantasy VI and “Don’t be Afraid” from Final Fantasy VIII that present some bolder music. Hamaguchi’s arrangements on this album are beautiful, touching, and refined. The immortal opera event of Final Fantasy VI is remastered with full opera lyrics and performances from Stephanie Woodling, Chad Berlinghieri, and Todd Robinson. Some fans have in one time or another asked the question, what would have made Final Fantasy VI Original Sound Version perfect? I would say if SNES at the time had the capacity for real vocal sounds in the opera scene, then the album would truly achieve perfection. Hamaguchi successfully re-creates the same music structure and tonality of Uematsu’s popular theme.
If I had to place criticism to balance the praise I have given to this album, I would say the vocals that appear as the latter tracks (tracks 10 and 11) were definitely a downgrade from the original soundtrack versions and 20020220 – Music from Final Fantasy. These vocals are the type of pop ballad music Uematsu made specifically to complement electronic arrangements. In the later vocal tracks they’re sung directly live by Emiko Shiratori for “Melodies of Life” and Rikki for “Suteki da ne.” Hamaguchi’s use of live instruments was an excellent effort to drive forth the melody. It doesn’t get across the same pop or bouncy feeling you’re use to from the Final Fantasy IX or Final Fantasy X soundtracks, but instead favors a more dramatic tone. Perhaps the biggest oddball track of this entire album is the “Melodies of Life” because it includes “The Place I’ll Return Someday,” in exactly the same way as the version of the 20020220 album. Even now, I think the placement is too awkward and it certainly didn’t warm me up for “Melodies of Life.” It’s like eating two types of flavored ice cream; one after another leading to an entirely different taste experience. In terms of “Suteki da ne,” Rikki’s voice can be very sharp at times, but passable for a vocal. I prefer her vocals in 20020220 concert which has a slightly mellower tone, which showed a lot of restraint and control.
Then you have The Black Mages group which gave you those intense rock arrangements of your favorite battle and boss themes. Their contribution this time is the “Rocking Grounds” from Final Fantasy III, “Maybe I’m a Lion” from Final Fantasy VIII, and “Advent: One Winged Angel” from Advent Children. The first two come directly from The Black Mages II -The Skies Above- album and the last track was a precursor version theme of the Final Fantay VII -Advent Children- Original Soundtrack. “Rocking Grounds” is a fairly good rock piece, but at times it can be a little jarring for your taste after you’ve listened to seven beautiful orchestral tracks. You just have to be prepared for this track, otherwise you’ll be caught off guard. Later on, The Black Mages group plays out “Maybe I’m a Lion,” which is probably the best battle theme on the entire album besides “Advent: One Winged Angel.” And how can we not mention this Advent Children track? As inspiring as this track is, it can either be a joy for others or tough luck for others. I’ll explain later on why this is in the track sections.
I do need to warn you about a serious issue before you jump in and buy this album. The problem is, after hearing this album, I decided to listen to 20020220 – Music from Final Fantasy, which I haven’t played in years. Only then did I realize the number of arrangements on this album were either exact or close replicas of that album. “Aerith’s Theme,” “Suteki da ne,” “Don’t Be Afraid,” “Tina,” “The Place I’ll Return to Someday ~ Melodies of Life,” and “Final Fantasy” are all replicas. After hearing this album, you begin to wonder whether the 2005 concert was another recycle of 2002’s concert. Excluding the two recycled rock tracks, this really leaves you with only the “Opening ~ Bombing Mission,” “Zanarkand,” the opera track, “Swing de Chocobo,” and “Advent: One Winged Angel” as the only new types of arrangements offered on this album, yet even these are, in a certain sense, replicas. The first two were offered on Tour de Japon – Music from Final Fantasy, which never received an album release, “Swing de Chocobo” is very close to Final Fantasy X‘s “Brass de Chocobo,” the opera is based around the ancient Game Music Concert 4 ~The Best Selection~, and “Advent: One Winged Angel” sounds better on the Advent Children soundtrack. If you’ve already experienced the 20020220 album, chances are you’re probably going to hear the same themes again in this album. For people who haven’t, though, you may feel a little snubbed in buying this album.
From a critical view, the 2005 concert album is a problematic entry to the Final Fantasy music series because seasoned listeners will notice this album shows the signs of how the music series is aging. In short, the trend of original material offered from the various artists is apparently declining. But, then again, this is an album recording from a concert, so it is not uncommon to hear repeated music from the past. Aside from the commercial turnoff of the album, the music of this album is unquestionably brilliant. If I were to rate this album directly from the concert, and not considering the factor of originality from the 2002 concert, this album certainly meets my expectations. Aside from the distractions and flaws of the vocal tracks I mentioned above, this soundtrack is superb in terms of quality and arrangement. The lush beauty of the first seven tracks and the opera track is a treat for all listeners. Also, The Black Mages’ tracks were done with the same exceptional power and forcefulness as the album releases, which is rare for arrangement tracks. I recommend this for listeners who have enjoyed arrangements such as Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite, Final Fantasy VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec, Final Fantasy VI Grand Finale, The Black Mages’ albums, or Final Fantasy S Generation Official Best Collection. The only people I wouldn’t recommend this album are for seasoned Final Fantasy listeners who have heard the 20020220 album and are only looking for new music.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Will. Last modified on August 1, 2012.