Wild Arms Music the Best -rocking heart-
Wild Arms Music the Best -rocking heart-
October 4, 2006
Buy at CDJapan
Since the release of the first Wild Arms, way back in 1997, there haven’t been any arrangement albums for the series’ music. It is a rather short number of games, with the fifth having just been released on Japan, but there are fans, and yours truly includes himself in this category, who wish the soundtracks got the Final Fantasy treatment: piano albums, orchestral albums, rock albums, and whatnot.
Actually, the music of the games wouldn’t exactly lend itself to orchestral accompaniment; it might lose its western flair. Luckily for us, it has lent itself quite well to the rock genre, with this year’s release of Wild Arms Music the Best -rocking heart-.
Since there are six arrangers involved, I thought it would be a good idea to give each one his own subsection. Here we go!
Ryo Yonemitsu’s Contributions
If you don’t know who this fine, fine man is, shame on you. He did some really awesome Falcom stuff back in the day, so look those up to get a taste of what he can do. For the time being, stick to these arrangements, but I suggest you go find those albums. Anyway, Yonemitsu arranged four tracks: “To the End of the Wilderness Ver. Detonator,” from WA4; “I Look Up At The Sky Because You Are There,” the theme song of WA4; “This Burden is the Weight of Life, This Meaning is the Reason to Live,” from WA3; and “Battle VS Lord Blazer,” from WA2.
The album’s opener, “To the End of the Wilderness Ver. Detonator,” is also familiar to Wild Arms fans, as it is the first game’s opening theme, but arranged in the fourth installment. The game’s track is the sort of music you would listen to in order to get pumped up, especially if you’re a fan of the original 1997 version. Well, Yonemitsu does a bang up job on the arrangement, so no worries there. And it’s not like all he did was add some Falcom rockin’ and called it a day. There’s a lot of rocking in there, and with some nice little touches (like mordents), and a full blown section that has a Spanish flair — with, of course, an acoustic guitar as the main instrument — but without ever losing its Wild Arms feel.
“I Look Up At The Sky Because You Are There” is the vocal theme of WA4, and when the tracklist was revealed, I was almost sure it wouldn’t work so well in a rock context. But it does, because Yonemitsu strikes a balance between electric guitar, synth, and a harmonica as leading voices. You can feel just how well the arrangement progresses since its calm, little acoustic beginning, with a guitar and a harmonica, to the synth singing the melody, to the electric guitar as a second singer. This is the kind of arrangement that J-Pop haters like, because there isn’t just one voice, there are several. Truth be told, WA4’s theme song is actually pretty cool. Some awesome sax stuff in there.
Now, “This Burden is the Weight of Life, This Meaning is the Reason to Live” is simply amazing. The original a bit dull, but that is not a proper adjective to describe what Yonemitsu’s done. Not even in the ballpark. There is no rocking here. Plain and simple. Instead, we are treated to a lot of trumpet action, wonderfully played by Shin Kazuhara, with some intermezzo acoustic guitar sections, courtesy of the one and only Ryo Yonemitsu. The piece has a certain Spanish flair because of the percussion (which includes castanets) and the way the guitar is handled. The best feature of the arrangement is how easily it could have been a part of the game. Yonemitsu added his own touches to Naruke’s composition, but, again, without stealing her thunder, so to speak.
And, last but not least, WA2’s “Battle VS Lord Blazer.” While the original was rather charming, it was way too simple, relying on a simple percussion ostinato and way too much on disc 1’s opening theme “You’ll Never Be Alone.” To be honest, I thought this was the weakest of Yonemitsu’s contributions. That, however, doesn’t mean it sucks, because if I had to grade each one individually, it would have gotten around 8 or so. The rest would be all 9+. Like on the original, the main theme outshines pretty much everything. However, Ryo took the awesome route and changed the trumpet for a sax, which is inherently cooler. Sax players can vouch for this, I’m sure. Mitsuru Kanekuni rocks on the saxophone, giving the WA2 theme the treatment it deserves. This arrangement feels like “I Look Up At The Sky Because You Are There” because, well, Yonemitsu did pretty much the same thing on both: had the melody being played by a couple of different instruments, while not changing the development too much. Whether this is good or bad is up to you to decide.
All in all, Yonemitsu did a great job. Just by sticking to his arrangements, we get a taste of Spanish music, some (simple) electronica, a tad of jazz and classic rocking. If these contributions won’t instill the desire to look for more Falcom stuff in you, I don’t know what will.
Nittoku Inoue’s Contributions
Now, I have no idea who this guy is. I’m not even sure it is a guy, I’m just assuming. But I need to find out, because he/she/it has some of the best arrangements of the album, some topping Yonemitsu’s. All kidding aside, Inoue has a one-man rock band, Dogschool, which he calls a “Heavy Rock Band.” That’ll make sense soon, so just keep it in mind. Let’s see his tracks: first of all, there’s “Windward Birds,” the theme song from Wild Arms Alter Code: F, the PlayStation 2 remake of the first Wild Arms; then comes “FATE BREAKER”, which is like awesomeness in a can, from WA3; it’s followed by “There’s Only One Family Named Schrodinger”, also only from WA3; “G’s Roar”, from WA:ACF, comes roaring right after it; it precedes WA1’s main battle theme, “Critical Hit!,” which is the last arrangement before WA4’s own main battle theme, “Gun Blaze.”
The original “Windward Birds” is nothing to write home about, and you might even think the same thing about the arrangement once it starts. “Hard rock guitars? What?” Yeah, turns out Inoue is all kinds of crazy. Crazy like a fox. See what I meant up there with Inoue’s “Heavy Rock Band”? Yes, you must see what I did there. Anyway, he makes that sound work, be it the main instrument or accompaining a synth line, both in his first arrangement in the album. And his results are amazing. He gave a so-so song a whole new look, making it so unbelievably better that you might not want to listen to the original anymore. I know I don’t.
Moving on to “FATE BREAKER,” I’m pretty sure Inoue has created a brand new musical style: Rocking Jazz, or Jazzy Rocking, your call. The original WA3 composition was one of those epic dungeon themes that are just full of Wild Western goodness: the whistling, the brass, the percussion. And the whole package is a sight to… listen to? I don’t know, this analogy doesn’t quite work here. Well, Inoue has made a few changes. No more whistling, which is a shame, because it would have worked wonders. At least, to make up for that loss, he has now a saxophone (played marvelously by Masato Honda) playing the melody, with occasional friendly takeovers by the electric guitar, played by Inoue himself. These exchanges are absolutely perfect: it’s like Honda and Inoue are one single four-armed entity. You add a piano into the mix, some improvisations and there you go: Rocking Jazz. This arrangement is so good that my future son will be called Inoue. Or FATE BREAKER. I’m leaning towards the latter, but you know how women are. Can’t live with ’em, can’t name our son Boomerang Flash either.
His other WA3 arrangement is “There’s Only One Family Named Schrodinger,” and, because of a certain event that happens in the game, there was no way I’d let him mess this one up. I’m glad I didn’t have to do anything to the man. God knows he wouldn’t want to see me when I’m angry. What innocently begins as a guitar and percussion ostinato soon blossoms into some great heavy rocking, with distortion and electric guitars working side by side. What was once a light, almost “cute,” battle tune has shifted into high gear, and made a right turn into Headbangingville, population: us. Inoue is a wise man. He knows too much hard rocking wouldn’t be bearable to people with bad taste, so he, on occasion, has a section or a bridge played by synth or electric guitar. In fact, those exchanges greatly remind me of “FATE BREAKER,” because they’re so perfectly interwoven.
“G’s Roar” is easily one of my favourite compositions from WA: ACF, even if it is a tad modest; it’s not that full-blown epic awesomeness, but a discreet, almost subdued, one. Fortunately for us and G, Inoue knows no “discreet awesomeness”; that is an expression which, much like the letter “L,” is missing from his dictionary. Inoue goes all out here, with synth, distortion guitar, electric guitar, trumpet, sax; you name it, it’s there. And coming from him, expect anything, like a wild improvisational passage featuring the distortion guitar, the sax AND the trumpet, for example. Inoue knows how to balance every instrument, how to accompany melodic lines, he knows everything. I already think he’s a genius and we’ve got two more arrangements to go.
“Critical Hit!” is the main battle theme of the first WA game, and I’m glad to see it on the album. This arrangement is incredibly similar to the way the Black Mages arrange. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but after listening to the whole track, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it very Sekito-esque. Everything you have heard on previous Inoue contributions can be found here, to the contrast of heavy/light sounding instrumentation (I like to call it “Barock,” a mixture of Baroque and rock), splitting up of melodic content, rocking guitar improvs, etc. Among the things that really called my attention was the drums, and then I looked for the player on the credits: it was Inoue. Turns out he was the drummer on “FATE BREAKER” and “There’s Only One Family Named Schrodinger” as well. Awesome. What’s a pity is that this is one of the best arrangements of the album, and is also the shortest one, clocking in at 3:25. Inoue can’t be blamed, so I blame it on the original composition’s length.
And, finally, “Gun Blaze,” the regular battle theme of the fourth game. After a rather wobbly beginning, with distortion guitar and drums’ rockingness being foiled by a badly synthesized violin, the arrangements shapes up into something much better, much more aimed at rock than before. Guitars are nonstop, whether it’s a distortion or electric, as accompaniment or lead instrument. Percussion, again played by Inoue, rock the house; “Heavy Rock Band” seems correct.
The original is so upbeat and happy that Inoue needs to be a magician to make distortion guitars work like they do. Not only that, but he combines guitars, synth and percussion to get awesome results. I want another VGM rock album with Inoue NOW. That’s all I need to say, that’s all I want to say.
Nobuhiko Kashiwara’s Contributions
The third arranger is Nobuhiko Kashiwara who, according to my intel, has only done TV projects, like anime and stuff, so this album would make his first foray into VGM. He sure has gotten himself two nice tracks to arrange, so let’s see if TV man is any good. He’s in charge of arranging WA3’s regular battle theme “Gunmetal Action,” as well as WA:ACF’s “Leave it to Me,” both very enjoyable, light-hearted compositions.
The original “Gunmetal Action” was the definite Western battle theme, if there ever were one. It just oozed Wild West. And since the game is set on a very Western-set world, the music couldn’t be more fitting. Kashiwara keeps the brass, winds and some percussive instruments, but adds new synth beats and an electric guitar, which has solos that come out of nowhere, bust your gut because they’re so awesome, then segue back into the main melody. Said guitar gets some more action later on the track, but it’s pretty much accompaining the melody. Sometimes, the background feels a bit too full, with several percussive sounds all at once, with just a simple melody layer on top, and maybe an accompainiment, but that’s it. That’s my only complaint.
“Leave it to Me” is certainly interesting. It begins with a piano and whimsical-sounding synth before the crashing percussion enters and starts the track we all know and love. It’s pretty much like “Gunmetal Action:” Kashiwara preserves some elements while adding new synth sounds and a few touches of electric guitar here and there, except there’s no lead solo, just accompainiment; there are some cool keyboard improv over drum sections, though.Kashiwara’s both arrangements were good, and fun to listen to. He makes us want guitars by having it almost not appearing, and, yet, it works like a charm. Do I want to listen to more of his works now? I think so. I want to see if his music has other sides now.
Atsushi Tomita’s Contributions
Tomita has been working on Capcom games since 1992. Some of his work include games such as X-Men VS Street Fighter, Marvel VS Capcom: Clash of Superheroes, and Marvel Super Heroes VS Street Fighter. Weirdly enough, not as a musician, but as a planner. Too bad because his arrangements are great. WA4’s “That Is Where the Spirit Becomes Certain” rocks all the way to the bank, and is the closest thing to a Yonemitsu arrangement you’ll get without having to call Ryo himself. First, a lot of rocking, then some more laid back parts with an acoustic guitar, just like Mr. Falcom a couple of tracks before. Basically, what was already a great motivational composition got an injection of Rx-rocking to get even better.
Now, if “That Is Where the Spirit Becomes Certain” is the perfect definition of rock arrangement, then “Dungeon – Ruins Type 2” is the perfect definition of dance music, with some appearances of the distortion guitar. It’s got light electronica 100% of the time, and the guitar comes in as accompaniment. I have to say that if it’s not fitting, I mean, the album is called rocking heart, it’s a darn good arrangement. It sounds nothing like WA, but it’s good in its own right. I must say I support Tomita’s decision in arranging the WA2 this way, it gives the album some variety. No matter how good an arrangement is, sometimes listening to too much distortion guitar can get a bit grating, so Tomita comes in and gives us “Dungeon – Ruins Type 2.” Even though he has only arranged two tracks, I felt they were both great arrangements. One tending to the rock side, one tending to the light electronica side, each showing a different facet of Tomita. Two thumbs up.
Looking at his website, transquillo seems to have some violin albums in his discography, but none for rock, which could worry some people. Not me, though. And if I was worried, no one would ever know: perfect poker face.
He’s got only two tracks in this album: WA2’s “Battle Force” and WA’s “Wh-What? (Zed’s Theme),” a quirky character theme. Neither would be in my “must arrange into rock” list, but he arranged those two, so let’s see how he fared.
“Battle Force,” much like Tomita’s “Dungeon – Ruins Type 2” has very little rocking. Actually, it has NO rocking. No guitar, no nothing, just synth, and a lot of it. In fact, this arrangement is a keyboardist dream (or worst nightmare): many groovy solos and fast runs. At first, I didn’t think I was going to like it, because I heard no guitar at all, but then it came to me, after listening to “Battle Force” and “Dungeon – Ruins Type 2” several times that rocking isn’t about getting straight A’s. Ok, so I learned that by watching “School of Rock,” but it’s the idea that matters: you don’t need a guitar to rock. And transquillo’s “Battle Force” proves it.
You know, I’m a very easy-going person. You tell me it’s a rock album and we’ve got a couple of arrangements that have little or no electric guitar, arrangements that completely change the original or strip it of its original style somewhat; but no arrangement like “Wh-What? (Zed’s Theme).”
I have no idea what it’s supposed to be. It’s got dance beats, some electronica, some Eastern-sounding instruments, a violin in the background and a little bit of electric guitar. As a stand-alone composition, I think it’s cool; it’s got a little bit of a lot of things, that sort of work together well.
But it’s supposed to be an arrangement, and the original melody got totally lost in there. You can still hear it, but I’ll be damned if it’s not just secondary cannon fodder. I thought it was the weakest arrangement of them all, despite being very creative.
So, we’ve got two contributions that are borderline non-rocking, so what do we make of them? The first one, “Battle Force,” is pretty damn cool; but “Wh-What? (Zed’s Theme),” not so much. Too weird, too different for me. I’m sure it’ll be regarded as the best arrangement on the album a couple of years from now.
Nao Tokisawa’s Contributions
This album seems to be the first VGM album Nao Tokisawa has taken part on. A search for his name yields almost nothing readable for who are not fluent in Japanese, unfortunately, because his sole arrangement, WA2’s “Battle VS Liz and Ard,” is 815 kinds of awesome, 8 more than the previous total. Yeah, it set the bar a bit higher now.
One of the factors that make it so good is that it just keeps on (tastefully) surprising you. It starts out with a simple instrumental rhythm, and, before you know it, there’s some guy speaking of what sounds like Spanish or any other language that derived from Latin (I hear a “something something Sereno” in there; “sereno” is serene, peaceful). Soon after, we get a distortion guitar coming out of left field, rockinating everything in its path. With the guitar comes percussion and synth, and now you’ve got a rock arrangement. Later on the track, the Latin guy is joined by a Latin woman, a violin, a woodwind. So, you know, it’s a free for all of epic musical proportions. And it always delivers.
Nao Tokisawa’s sole arrangement has impressed me profusely that I even had to look in the dictionary the meaning of profusely in order to use it. Inoue and he should work on an album together, that would rock. Pun very intended.
When rocking heart was announced, I was hoping it was Naruke herself who would be arranging her music. When it turns out it wasn’t her, but a bunch of people, I was a bit let down. The only name I recognized was Ryo Yonemitsu’s, and that gave me some hope that the album wouldn’t turn out so bad after all.
Man, was I surprised. Every single arranger brought something new to the table, be it heavy rocking, dancing, singing or any of the crazy stuff you might witness in this album. For Wild Arms fans, buying this album is a given. It’s got a lot of great tunes arranged, and made even better. For game music fans, this is an experience you would not want to miss. Even with its rather dubious tracklist, Wild Arms Music the Best -rocking heart- is a fantastic album and one I must recommend to anyone who wants to have a rocking time with game music.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Eduardo Friedman. Last modified on August 1, 2012.