In order to commemorate the long-awaited 'international' release of Final Fantasy X-2, Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi teamed up for the penultimate time to create the Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission Original Soundtrack. The soundtrack includes English versions of Final Fantasy X-2 vocal themes, "real Emotion" and "1000 Words," sung by Jade from Sweetbox. These themes were recorded specifically for the international release of Final Fantasy X-2 in response to criticism to the lyrically shallow and poorly articulated English versions of the theme from Koda Kumi, available in the 'Come With Me' single. Also included were the in-game themes for the game Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission, an Japan-only version of Final Fantasy X-2 that includes several new features, including an additional mission. Five of the seven new themes used for this release were upbeat and based around the jazz and electronica genres, an area that caused a great deal of controversy in the highly criticised Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack. Matsueda and Eguchi mostly learn from their mistakes, however, creating themes that fit the fun atmosphere to Final Fantasy X-2 yet are also stylistically profound and well-developed — not camp, repetitive, and annoying. The album, despites it brevity, amounts to a high-quality and surprising effort that is worth considering as a purchase...
Most people who have purchased the album did it for its three primary vocal themes, "real Emotion (FFX-2 Mix)," "1000 Words (FFX-2 Mix)," and "1000 Words ~Orchestrated Version~." How do Jade and Kumi compare as vocalists, English and Japanese versions apart? Well, Jade is likely to be more appealing to Western audiences fond of teen-pop artists such as Britney Spears. Her voice is more provocative than Kumi's mature and versatile voice, characterised by carefree use of intonation, a light and dancy overall character, and tendencies towards sentimentality and melodrama where emotive themes are concerned. Her performances feel manufactured, cheesy and almost frivolous, which suits "real Emotion" perfectly, but results in "1000 Words" feeling shallow, despite Jade's desperate attempts to evoke real emotion(!) into it. Final Fantasy X-2's vocal themes are tough for one vocalist to handle, given they contrast so much, and it demands more than a large dynamic range (and lots of shouting during the chorus) for "1000 Words" to sound true — a completely different tone and vocal style is needed. Koda Kumi is the definitive Final Fantasy X-2 vocalist, with the experience in the J-Pop industry to pull off two contrasting songs. Jade, on the other hand, just symbolises Western pop of the worst kind, adding only to the shallow character of Final Fantasy X-2.
Beyond the voice issue, the adaptations of the Japanese vocal themes are pretty successful. Brian Gray ensures "real Emotion" that retains its upbeat, danceable, and downright fun nature. Made buoyant by Jade's spirited performance, Kenn Kato's appropriate lyrics, and some incredibly catchy J-Pop melodies, it works excellently in conjunction with Final Fantasy X-2's opening FMV, where Jade's voice *is* Yuna's — the guitar solo in the middle of the track, in particular, is hilariously represented — and is an uplifting stand-alone listen. Despite the loss of nuance in the sappy "1000 Words," the instruments and lyrics are decent and the theme does retain an element of warmth towards the conclusion of the original version; here, a secondary vocal line is added that imitates Jade's as Yuna's solo performance transforms into a powerful duet between Yuna and Lenne. Far better is the orchestral version. Here, Indeed, Takahito Eguchi takes what could be considered to be a hackneyed love ballad to a whole new musical level through his subtle choices of instrumentation and elegant development of the theme. Remember what Shiro Hamaguchi did to "Suteki da ne -Orchestra Version-"? Well, this could be considered even even better. It's just a pity about Jade's histrionic performance. Overall, though, the three themes are a highlight if one finds their Westernised nature either appealing or tolerable.
The strength of the album's electronica/jazz tracks is most evident in the three broadly titled "Last Mission No..." tracks. The Latin jazz-influenced "Last Mission No. 1" involves a series of crisply punctuated melodic fragments being passed from instrument to instrument in a 'call and response' style. Utilising impeccably implemented brass to create bold calls, the wit of the lyrical clarinet and tenor sax responses endears before carefree piano secondary calls and eventually the sax create texturally contrasts by leading. Excusing the periodic brass build-ups, each instrument articulates separately, save for sparse yet exotic drum backing, though this only adds to the delight of Matsueda's rigorously treated creation. The cool bebop-influenced "Last Mission No. 2" manipulates timbral contrasts between two instrumental passages to fascinating effect; the rhythmically free and colourfully decorated pseudo-improvised saxophone lines contrast with the relatively rigid trumpet passages wonderfully to create a multifaceted theme driven along by the 'busy' acoustic bass, piano, and percussion accompaniment. As for "Last Mission No. 3," it is the odd one of the trio. A fusion of agitated rock-driven distortions and new-age-influenced electronic overtones, it's an intense, atmospheric, and impactual experiment ideal for representing the climax of the 'Last Mission' section of the game.
The other instrumental tracks inherited as a result of the extended version of Final Fantasy X-2 vary stylistically. The widely commended "Seal of the Wind ~The Three Trails~" was written akin to "Eternity ~Memory of the Lightwaves~." The arpeggiations of the piano and guitar line provide a fluid basis for the soft violin melodies to radiate from; utilising a wacky instrumental that includes airy synth pads and even the bagpipes, the creation is subtle, melodic, and beautiful. Piano forms the basis of a contrasting track, "Creature Create," as well. The piano plays an outrageous bluesy basso ostinato throughout the majority of the track, while a series of sporadically placed electronic sounds, jazzy treble piano notes, and aggressive build-ups adds colour to the groove. Those who appreciated its Piano Collection rendition will like this original version. Finally, the fast tempo and pulsating beats of "Flash Over" mirrors "Last Mission No. 3," though it has some highly interesting attributes of its own. The track is built principally around a simple one-bar motif, yet is surprisingly complex and varied over, showing a great deal of compositional inspiration overall. Also noteworthy are the ethnic-influenced interludes featuring tribal flutes and bagpipes that creatively contrast with the darker components of the theme.
The album concludes with a piece from Yuna's Vocal Collection album, "To You." A rendition of "Yuna's Ballad" sung in Japanese by Mayuko Aoki, Japan's voice of Yuna, it's not as outwardly enjoyable as the other vocal themes, but offers a source of long-term cherishment. While it's clear that Aoki doesn't specialise as a vocalist, her tender voice fits the subtle instrumentals well. It's an effective end to the Final Fantasy X saga, used during a postlude to Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission where scenes from both FFX and its sequel are shown.
This album is like a double-edged sword. Comprising mainly of two completely different types of tracks intended for completely different purposes — accessible but Westernised interpretations of J-Pop-influenced vocal themes and sophisticated but difficult to appreciate jazz-electronica hybrids — very few people will like all additions to the album. Quality-wise, it's an incredible improvement on the Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack, given increased time to produce individual tracks on the album allowed Matsueda and Eguchi to really develop the electronic/jazz themes, though it's also considerably shorter. Overall, there is something to like and dislike in this album where most fans are concerned, though it's most recommended for those who really loved Final Fantasy X-2's English vocal themes or are fond of the more complex electronic/jazz stylings of The Bouncer. It's a great album, save for Jade's voice perhaps, but that doesn't mean casual fans will enjoy every part of it.