Square Enix Acoustic Arrangements

Album Title:
Square Enix Acoustic Arrangements
Record Label:
Square Enix Music
Catalog No.:
SQEX-10730
Release Date:
October 2, 2019
Purchase:
Buy at CDJapan

Overview

Square Enix Acoustic Arrangements is an arrangement album that focuses on small acoustic ensemble arrangements of tracks across many different video games and series from Square Enix. Although most other arrangement albums from Square Enix are themed remix albums with a wide variety of styles, the smaller scope of this album makes it more akin to the Piano Collections series. The artistry at work is on a similar level too; the arrangements are expertly put together with a plethora of textures and sometimes virtuosic performances, as well as a great attention to detail and musical complexity that go over and above the original pieces. The track selection is also notable, with many deeper cuts from under-appreciated soundtracks. It feels like the direction I was hoping Square Enix’s arrangement albums were going take from the beginning, and it bodes well for the future of their arrangement albums.

Body

The album begins with “Mermaid Tears” from Romancing SaGa 2, which was originally just a simple piano solo. The arrangement here beautifully balances its various instruments, from its traditional violin, dreamy piano, moody guitar, light percussion, and some others to give it an overall cosy and folksy sound. It’s surprising how well the instruments all work together, and they really make the wistful melody soar. In a similar tenor is the later “The Boy Heads for the Wilderness” from Secret of Mana. It’s a bit simpler with the piano keeping the accompaniment figure while some other instruments handle the melody and play around it. It’s a lovely, spritely track, but I wish it did a bit more in expanding the emotional register of the track. The “Palom and Porom” arrangement from Final Fantasy IV does just this by making many harmonic shifts so that it ranges from playful to grand, devious and even mysterious at times, elevating was was originally just a cute little ditty. Then there is a beautifully rendered “Warm-A-Live” from Live A Live, with an arrangement full of soft woodwinds. The harmonic character of the track is expanded upon so that the track really feels complete in telling a its own story, while also giving more time for its musical ideas to breathe.

On the more upbeat side of things is “The Dawn Warriors” from Final Fantasy V, which begins with a moody opening before bringing in western percussion. Even as the energy picks up, the moodiness never quite leaves thanks to the emotive handling of the melodies. It’s an incredible transformation from the original march, bringing out latent colours and emotions that I didn’t notice in the original track. “Fahrenheit’s Theme Part.2” from Bahamut Lagoon is a more serious track that is about suspense and tension, with many short repeated figures that alternate with dramatic lyrical passages that nearly come together at the resolution, making it far more interesting than the original track was. The “Opening Theme” from Romancing Saga keeps its original feel of being the start of a lively adventure, and here the different instruments really come together like the different members of a party setting off together on this journey. It’s perhaps a bit cheesy, but it’s also executed quite well.

A few battle tracks also feature on the album, such as “Decisive Battle” from Final Fantasy VI. This track perhaps feels a tad out of place because of how aggressive it is, but I have to respect how committed they were to it. The strings play furiously and aren’t afraid to bring out harsh dissonances throughout, but the darkness of the track is balanced by the bouncy rhythm of the arrangement. There is also a great weaving in of Kefka’s and Terra’s theme throughout, to both cheeky and dramatic effect; the themes and strings come together in a whirlwind of a track. Close in instrumentation is “Steslos” from Final Fantasy Legends 3, though with a more classical approach to strings. It has wonderful shifts of texture to pizzicato, neat rhythmic sleights, and emotive playing that makes the most out of its relatively simple theme. Not far off is “Showdown with Magus” from Chrono Trigger, which is more atmospheric. There are some subtle harmonic shifts that push the track towards the tragic, though I wish it was combined with another track since the one melody is a bit repetitive, even with the wonderful midsection. 

“Nuclear Fusion” from Trials of Mana is similarly aggressive but instead is a guitar, violin and piano trio. The highlight here is virtuosic jazzy improv from all three at the midpoint, which I’m sure would be a delight to watch. “Four Demon Nobles” from Romancing SaGa 3 is with a fuller ensemble, again lending it a bit of a folk vibe. It’s another great balance of fun and danger, seamlessly transitioning from serious and somber passages to lighter passages with many ornamentations. More so than the rest of the album, it feels very much like a performance by an ensemble that is very comfortable with playing off of each other’s energy, and it appropriately closes out the album with a crowd-pleasing bang.

Summary

Square Enix Acoustic Arrangements ranks among the best of the label’s arrangement albums thus far, being a large step above the usual remix albums that are of variable quality and style. Even compared to other projects with similar instrumentation like A New World: intimate music from Final Fantasy, I find these new arrangements are more creative, being complex and bringing new and interesting emotional registers to the tracks, all while also offering a platform for the performers to improvise or dextrously blaze through difficult passages. The song choice is also refreshing, covering some songs and games that rarely get attention, and with such skill that even those completely unfamiliar with the tracks should still be able to enjoy them. My only real gripe is that the sequencing of tracks, which doesn’t always flow that well. But that is something that I think they can easily iron out on future albums, which I do hope are coming.

Square Enix Acoustic Arrangements Tien Hoang

Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!

4.5


Posted on January 14, 2020 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on January 14, 2020.

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