Square-Enix Piano Collections pt.1: Shiro Satou’s Triad

May 16, 2012 at 11:19 am (Editorials, Soundtracks) (, , , , , )

Square-Enix’s ‘Piano Collections’ series is in its twentieth year now. Featuring piano arrangements of songs from popular game series, the series has been through many arrangers, performers, and styles. Many websites offer reviews for each album, but I thought it would be good to talk about each album with respect to the other albums as well, since they can differ a lot from each other. Many people also have differing opinions based on their music background, and many arrangements have certain classical influences. Here, I will talk about these albums on all grounds, although not by going through a track-by-track review.

The journey starts back in the Squaresoft days with “Piano Collections FFIV”, “V”, and “VI”. Each of the albums’ songs were composed by Nobuo Uematsu, arranged by Shiro Satou¹ and published by NTT publishing, who had helmed many of Squaresoft’s releases at that time. The albums were released as packages along with their respective sheet music in hardcover. These packages have since run out of print. They were later rereleased with the CDs (pictured above) and sheet music separate (with new packaging/cover for each), although those sheet music books are also now out of stock.

“Piano Collections FFIV” was the first in the line-up, released on April 22, 1992. As the youngest album, the arrangements were definitely more on the simple side; the easiest of all of the Piano Collections albums.Looking at the packaging, this was the clear intent; the sheet music was to be accessible to all players, and the CD was not there for a standalone listen; it was there as an aid to players. Thus all of the arrangements were straightforward and reflective of their OST counterparts. Despite this, many had nuances or subtle techniques that would still make them interesting to play for the more advanced players. The seven-minute incarnations of “The Battle” and “Epilogue” are good examples of this. These nuances of course were handled well by the performer, Toshiyuki Mori. Coupled with a great tracklist, the album made for a great listen, albeit a mostly soft and restrained one.

[As a bonus track, the album (and the rereleases) also included an orchestrated version of “Theme of Love” arranged by Osamu Saito. Perhaps not fitting on a Piano Collections album, but it was still a great song and arrangement.]

“FFV” and “FFVI” received similar treatments, being released in the successive two years respectively but with different performers on each. The demand for more difficult pieces must have been apparent, as there was a clear progression with each release. “FFV” showed the first signs of improvisation on the themes chosen for the album, which worked great for both the toned down arrangements like that of “Battle with Gilgamesh”, and the originally simplistic songs like “My Home, Sweet Home”. Like for “FFIV”, there was nothing particularly epic on the album, but each song was a pleasant listen and the simple, clean arrangements and performances did a great job of retaining the character of the original tracks.

With the upped difficulty, “Piano Collections FFVI” was able now to properly showcase the emotive and epic sides of the songs. The renditions of “Tina” and “Celes’ Theme” are dramatic and tear-inducing, and the  “Johnny C. Bad” and “Spinach Rag” brought in fun jazz and ragtime elements, while the short “Decisive Battle” was explosive and pressing. The songs felt more distinct in arrangement on this album, and really added colour to the Piano Collections series. Finally, an album that could fully satisfy all ranges of listeners. Although some may cry out at the inaccessibility of the the arrangements to beginner players, each Final Fantasy game has had a Piano Score book containing all (or close to all) songs from the soundtrack arranged for beginner to intermediate players.

So all was well in the world. “Piano Collections Final Fantasy VI” marked the last album of the series for Shiro Satou.  A very capable arranger that showed that he could arrange music at all difficulty levels, although his arrangements were for the most part straightforward with limited improvisation on melodies. He was able to show a lot of restraint in keeping the songs true to their originals. The performers all handled their respective albums very well, showing lots of emotion and dynamic control throughout. Given the intent of these first albums, it is remarkable that the albums still make for pleasant stand-alone listens. It was a bit of a slow start before we got to the more sophisticated arrangements, but Satou laid the groundwork and expectations for the Piano Collections series. How did it do in the hands of new arrangers and performers?

¹Alright, so the arranger for “Piano Collections Final Fantasy VI” is not actually officially listed. Anywhere. It’s sort of assumed that he continued the project, but in reality it is actually ambiguous. If you read this, make use of the next time you are getting a signature from Nobuo Uematsu, and ask him who arranged the album. Just to be sure.

pt.1: Shiro Satou’s Triad
pt.2: the Other Shiro, Mr. Hamaguchi
pt.3: Ten to Ten-Two
pt.4: Back to Basics
pt.5: Branching out
pt.6: the Other Collections
pt.7: Looking out ahead, filling the gaps

1 Comment

  1. Aimee said,

    I love Final Fantasy music and have been collecting OSTs and other CDs from it! Thanks for this detailed post, I will have to look into the piano collections.

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