Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy-
Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy-
|Record Label: Square Enix Music|
|Catalog No.: SQEX-10628|
|Release Date: November 22, 2017|
Buy at Square Enix Store
Among video game music publishers, Square Enix reigns supreme. While its triple-A contemporaries have started to catch up, few can boast catalogs as accessible and well-crafted; and of course, Final Fantasy – the flagship franchise of the Square Enix fleet – has been central to the company’s success on the music front.
What better way, then, to start the Square Enix Jazz series than with a collection of fresh Final Fantasy jazz arrangements?
Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy- consists of twelve arrangements spanning the first thirteen mainline Final Fantasy games. In other words, not every title could make the cut. Square Enix Jazz makes no mention of Final Fantasy XI or XII, and even the much-beloved (and recently hyped) Final Fantasy VII gets no attention at all. (These absences may sting a little harder considering that Final Fantasies IX and XIII each enjoy two arrangements on the album.) Yet where the album comes up quantitatively short, it doubles down on quality: and arrangers Eijiro Nakagawa and Ryu Kawamura treat each track with the love and care that a Square Enix production demands.
The festivities begin with a transformative take on Final Fantasy XIII’s irrepressible battle theme, “Blinded by Light”. Clavichord and piano kick off the track in syncopated unison, complemented later by a light touch of electric organ and swift, crashing percussion. Piano and brass trade responsibility for the iconic melody back and forth, betraying the theme’s original urgency but maintaining its triumphant impact. The arrangement is loud, proud, and makes a fantastic sell for Square Enix Jazz’s brand of Final Fantasy tributes.
Yet crucially, the album also knows when to tone down the excitement and let the listener take a breather. In contrast to “Blinded by Light”, Final Fantasy III’s “Eternal Wind” serves as a coolant, with whirling keyboard riffs and a pearly electric guitar lead. Final Fantasy VI’s “Searching for Friends” may crank the heat back up with a rich instrumental landscape in compound time, but Final Fantasy IV’s sporadic and frantic “Battle with the Four Fiends” compensates with occasional pauses for meditative piano and soft flute. These mellower moments either define their respective tracks or at least manage to punctuate them, giving the album a sense of dynamic contrast that keeps it from getting stale.
These arrangements consistently reinvent classic Final Fantasy tunes in intriguing ways. The ensemblists’ sounds practically melt together in the intro to Final Fantasy II’s “The Rebel Army”, which takes on a slow, swaggering demeanor once the instrumental blend solidifies. Final Fantasy V’s “Clash on the Big Bridge” alternates between brisk and tranquil, interspersing SNES-era Final Fantasy sound effects in the final third. “Serah’s Theme” assigns another Final Fantasy XIII theme to a typical piano-bass-drumset trio in one of the album’s sparsest yet prettiest arrangements. Final Fantasy IX’s “Not Alone” packs newfound spunk with its swinging brass, giving way every so often to downtempo flute sections in straight-time. Several arrangements feature unique alterations to their original counterparts’ chord progressions as well: Final Fantasy VIII’s “Love Grows”, for example, comes across less romantic with its chord change-ups and much more metropolitan.
Yet a few tunes benefit from how little they’ve changed. The Square Enix Jazz version of “Zanarkand” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster soundtrack; it remains compositionally faithful to its source while placing instrumental emphasis on tender acoustic guitar and tearful soprano sax. “Melodies of Life” conjures up the same sweet tones as it did in Final Fantasy IX years ago, featuring a commendable vocal performance by Junko Iwao. Most steadfast of all, the longstanding “Main Theme” of Final Fantasy brings the album to an invigorating close, livened up with high-register piano arpeggiation and riveting electric guitar. Admittedly, this arrangement leaves jazz influences to the wayside in favor of rock; but together with “Blinded by Light”, the arrangement bookends the album with appropriate fervor.
Square Enix Jazz -Final Fantasy- establishes yet another formula for polished re-imaginings of Square Enix music; and more immediately, the album captures the essence of Final Fantasy and transmutes it into a lively new form. While a single twelve-track disc can’t possibly satisfy every type of Final Fantasy fan, anyone with an appreciation for the series as a whole – and for Square Enix’s musically explorative side – will find something to love in this first Square Enix Jazz album.
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Posted on June 7, 2019 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on June 7, 2019.