Square-Enix Piano Collections pt.6: the Other Collections

June 16, 2012 at 6:18 pm (Editorials, Soundtracks) (, , , , )

2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series. One of the earliest announcements for the celebration of the milestone was the long awaited “Piano Opera Final Fantasy I-III”. Officially falling into the standard Piano Collections category, the title change likely referred to ‘opera’ as the plural form of ‘opus’ which usually means a musical work. The release finally gave attention to the earliest entries into the Final Fantasy series, which were skipped over in the Piano Collections series.

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Square-Enix Piano Collections pt.5: Branching out

June 8, 2012 at 7:12 pm (Editorials, Soundtracks) (, , , , , , )

In 2003, a crossover game of sorts was released called Kingdom Hearts. It was a bit of a controversy at the time for fans of Final Fantasy, as it was to be a mix of characters from Final Fantasy and Disney. Given the different target audiences for both series, it was understandably a cause of concern that one of the groups was going to be altered so that they could cater to the other group’s audiences (although it should be noted that many people were easily fans of both series). Thankfully, the concerns must have been heeded by the developers, as the game was released to strong critical reception and sales, being able to cater well to both audiences. It later went on to feature several spin-offs and sequels, each moderately or well received. Even at the time of writing this, it looks like there are a few years and iterations left for series.

More than what was found in Final Fantasy games, Kingdom Hearts focused heavily on the development of the characters and their relationships, with friendship being a recurring theme between the games. Characters in the games gained a strong sense of unity, loyalty and trust, but also experienced losses, separation, and loneliness. With all of these emotional aspects, an appropriate score was required to help portray these feelings. Yoko Shimomura composed for majority of the series, only being helped later for Kingdom Hearts 3D. Not only was Shimomura able to cover the ground for these emotional needs, she also provided appropriate backdrops for the various Disney worlds that the characters visited, so well that one might’ve thought that they were in the original movies. While most of the music was never particularly complex, the melodies were easy to remember, and the arrangements were full and diverse.

It was no surprise, then, that Kingdom Hearts was chosen as the first branch in the Piano Collections franchise. Released after the first three games (Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, Chain of Memories), the album featured a selection of songs voted by fans. Featuring four new arrangers and pianists, the album was able to separate itself stylistically from the previous Collections, but also managed to be a unified work. As a whole, the album was well received, but it was certainly a flawed work.

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Square-Enix Piano Collections pt.4: Back to Basics

June 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm (Editorials, Soundtracks) (, , , , , , , )

Pushing the Final Fantasy series to even further borders, Square released Final Fantasy XI in 2002 (before the merge with Enix). It was the first in the series to be an MMORPG, and it was released to strong critical reception. With its many areas and expansions, the game demanded a large music library, too large for just one composer to handle. Again, Nobuo Uematsu was helped out by Naoto Mizuta and Kumi Tanioka. The later expansions were done only by Mizuta, as the others left the project. With so many tracks, it was understandably hard to keep all listeners satisfied. In the game, the music was great accompaniment, but as a standalone listen, some of the soundtracks were harder to recommend.

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Square-Enix Piano Collections pt.3: Ten to Ten-Two

May 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm (Editorials, Soundtracks) (, , , , , , , , , )

Although I had heaped much praise on the first six Piano Collections albums, all was not quite that well in the Final Fantasy world. While there was a clear progression with each album, keeping an arranger for three albums straight was bound to cause some stylistic repetition as resources became exhausted. For one unfamiliar with the source material, many of the songs between the albums could easily be mixed up on early listens.

Even more of a concern was the root of the music, Nobuo Uematsu, who had seemed to be running out of ideas. The music was always good on its own, but it was clear that many songs were drawing on others, even capturing entire phrases of previous songs and simply reworking them (a prime example of this would be Aerith’s and Celes’s themes). This seemed to reach its peak with the score for Final Fantasy IX, which contained elements of all of the Final Fantasy scores that preceded it. Sure, it may have been intended to be a throwback (there are many other elements of the game that also drew from predecessors), but there was no denying that these grounds were well tread, and growing stale. Surely, the series with the name “FINAL Fantasy” needed to come to an end.

But it was not so. Final Fantasy X was the first in the series to be released on the PlayStation 2, with critical reception on par with the previous entries. The music was noted as being fresh and well varied, but this was not due to Uematsu’s hand alone. For this project, they had decided to hire on two more composers to assist: Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu. Where Uematsu was known for writing pop-like melodies for his compositions, Nakano specialized in ambience and atmosphere, while Hamauzu handled some of the more foreboding, dramatic tracks. A few months later, a “Piano Collections Final Fantasy X” album was released, solely arranged by Masashi Hamauzu.

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Square-Enix Piano Collections pt.2: the Other Shiro, Mr. Hamaguchi

May 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm (Editorials, Soundtracks) (, , , , , , , )

Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997 to critical acclaim around the globe. It was hailed as a landmark game that was more or less revolutionary in its utilization of the available technology. The music was received just as well, with the audio capabilities of the PlayStation bringing out new elements and dimensions to Nobuo Uematsu’s music.

Where, then, was the Piano Collections album?* With the previous games, the Piano Collections album was released less than a year later. Perhaps the OST was deemed strong and fleshed out enough on its own that a Piano album was not necessary? Whatever may have stalled it, it didn’t stop the release of Final Fantasy VIII two years later, which was released to more widespread acclaim. And not even a year after that, a “Piano Collections Final Fantasy VIII” was announced and published. Like the reprints of the previous albums, this album (and all hereafter) were also released with the CD and sheet music separately. The first-press of the CDs came in a slipcase, while the later re-issues come in regular jewel cases without the slipcase.

There was a lot of speculation as to why there was no piano album release for “FFVII”, and at this point there is still no clear answer. What we do know is that they went on and released an album for “FFVIII”, and it was fantastic.

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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.

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Piano Collections – NieR Gestalt and Replicant

May 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm (Soundtracks) (, , , , , )

1. Song of the Ancients
2. Kaine
3. Hills of Radiant Wind
4. Snow in Summer
5. Emil
6. Grandma
7. Repose
8. Gods Bound By Rules
9. Shadowlord
10. The Wretched Automatons
11. Ashes of Dreams

In the last few years Square-Enix broadened their Piano Collections series to include the Kingdom Hearts series, a welcome move that produced decent results, which were damped perhaps a bit by the choice of arrangers. This year they opened the door to include NieR, which had a universally acclaimed soundtrack, even spawning two arranged/tribute albums. With a new set of arrangers and performers on this Piano Collections, did the album live up to the great expectations following it?

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Nier Piano Collections – USTREAM Report

March 20, 2012 at 5:52 am (Soundtracks) (, , )

1. Song of the Ancients
2. Emil
3. Hills of Radiant Wind
4. Gods Bound By Rules
5. Grandma
6. Kaine

I hold the Nier soundtrack in pretty high esteem. I hold the Piano Collections series in even higher esteem. What do I do when there is a mash-up of the two? Wake up at 4:30a.m. on a school day for a live streaming of the album, no questions asked.

Well alright, maybe a few questions asked. Leading up to the night, there were a good number of previews available for listening on the main website for the album. Was I impressed? Undoubtedly the pieces were as emotional as ever, but they were certainly not as complex or as varied as the piano collections arrangements I’ve come to know. Indeed, almost all of the previews sounded like their OST counterparts transcribed note for note to piano. Would that make some people happy? Certainly.

But not me. I wanted to hear improvisations on the themes that would bring new life to the pieces. The two piano tracks were heard on the 15 Nightmares arranged album was a perfect example of what I was looking for. I still hold that not matter how good this piano collections may turn out, the sheet music book should still contain as a bonus the sheets for those songs as well. They are GORGEOUS.

Despite the shortcomings of the samples for the Nier Piano Collections album, I still decided to brave the early hours of dawn to hear them played. What did I think?

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Piano Collections – Final Fantasy VIII

March 21, 2010 at 11:25 am (Soundtracks) (, , , )

1. Blue Fields
2. Eyes on Me
3. Fisherman’s Horizon
4. SUCCESSION OF WITCHES
5. Ami
6. Shuffle or Boogie
7. Find Your Way
8. The Oath
9. Silence and Motion
10. The Castle
11. The Successor
12. Ending Theme
13. Slide Show Part2

FFVIII>FFVII ftw.

Just saying.

(I own the sheet music as well).

Let me start off properly by saying that compared to other Piano Collection albums, this one has relatively easy arrangements. I think during the mastering, they also lowered the volume, making dynamic changes a little less spectacular, and making the songs sound a bit softer too (which I don’t entirely like). But nonetheless, it’s a very enjoyable album with a great selection of tracks.

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Piano Collections – Kingdom Hearts Field & Battle

March 20, 2010 at 8:09 pm (Soundtracks) (, , )

1. Scherzo Caprice on a Theme of Never Land
2. Sinister Sundown
3. Wonderland’s Surprises
4. Lazy Afternoons
5. Night of Fate
6. A Very Small Wish – Monstrous Monstro
7. Hollow Bastion
8. Medley of Conflict
9. Musique pour la tristesse de Xion

The second Piano Collections album for Kingdom Hearts was released not even a year later, and understandably had fewer tracks (and a lower price tag to go with that).  Focusing more on world themes rather than character themes, Field and Battle is able to do a bit of meshing together to create more interesting and less repetitive tracks (in comparison to the previous collection). Which is definitely a good thing.

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