We can all thank Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections for starting a brilliant, superior trend of creating glorious and impressive piano music for the Final Fantasy fan. In many ways, Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections is nothing short of a revolution; thanks to this arranged album, we have been blessed with eight stunning albums of piano music. Successful and original at the time of its release, Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections deserves credit as being one of the most influential and popular albums to date.
What with the more impressive arranging talent of later arrangers such as Shiro Hamaguchi (Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections) and Reiko Nomura (Final Fantasy VI Piano Collections), Shiro Satou, the arranger for Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections and its sequel album, Final Fantasy V Piano Collections, is considered the least impressive organizer. By no means is he a bad arranger; but Satou tends to, for the most part, transcribe, and add in small parts of arrangement. No matter what you say about Satou, he knows what he's doing; he is able to bring nostalgia through simplicity and tends to emphasize the brilliance of Nobuo Uematsu's arrangement rather than add on to it.
1) The Prelude
"The Prelude" — famous and wonderfully simple and more recognizable than Ronald McDonald. Well, maybe not, but you get the drift. "The Prelude" is as every bit as beautiful as it is featured in any of the eleven+ Final Fantasy titles — rolling arpeggios, a lovely pedal, and a music box-like charm that only delights the ear. There's not much to say about "The Prelude" — it retains its classic charm and pretty sound, especially around the two minute eight second mark when Satou adds in strong, resounding chords to give a bit of bass depth to the piece. Simply put, just a lovely, loose, and enjoyable piece.
2) Theme of Love
Prominent and pretty, "Theme of Love" was undoubtedly featured on Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections, and I'm sure that there were many high expectations of it. Satou begins the piece quietly and subtly enough, allowing the piece to showcase itself as romantic and soft. After a minute rolls around, Satou dives into arrangement land and brings a bit of jazz to a brief segment of originality. From here, "Theme of Love" is given more depth with a lower, simple harmony and pretty much continues on from there. Satou sticks closely to the original because it's so well received, and that was probably a wise, albeit predictable, decision (quite like Final Fantasy VII Piano Collections' "Aerith's Theme"). Therefore, "Theme of Love" shines because it is simply a stronger and more flourishing rendition of the Original Sound Version version, which Toshiyuki Mori brings out quite well in the performance. While beautiful in its own right, Final Fantasy IV Celtic Moon's "Theme of Love" proves to be the best version of the piece.
Ahh, the unforgettable "Final Fantasy" theme. A beautiful and nostalgic work of music that is one of Nobuo Uematsu's best, but not necessarily Satou's. Though I commend him for wanting to emphasize the beautiful melody through simplicity, there are some pieces that are deserving of power, emotion, and stateliness — "Prologue" is one of them, and, poor thing, it is denied such musicality. "Prologue" does build up eventually as the piece progresses, but it never instills that mind-blowing factor (except briefly right in the middle of the piece, where Mori's performance certainly adds depth). "Prologue" has a bit of a march style to it, which gives it a bit of originality, though nothing spectacular. The ending is much stronger than the beginning, which redeems the slightly disappointing "Prologue."
4) Welcome to Our Town!
As we all know, it's pretty much impossible to go wrong with a town theme, and "Welcome to Our Town!" proves it. The score pretty much set a standard for town themes — the basic town theme (the pastoral pieces such as "Frontier Village Dali" of Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections, "Fisherman's Horizon" of Final Fantasy VIII Piano Collections, and "Kids Run Through the City Corner" of Final Fantasy VI Piano Collections) should be as pretty, lovely, quaint, and charming as this tune is. Outstripping its Original Sound Version form by a significant amount, this "Welcome to Our Town!" brings forth charming emotion and lovely simplicity in its flowing style. Satou shines the most when he adds an arranged segment to the piece (something he's not known for doing), which adds a certain emotional quality to the overall simple theme. Nothing but delightful, "Welcome to Our Town!" leaves no doubt as to why it's a favorite on the album.
5) Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV
The Original Sound Version version and the Piano Collections version differ in the same way that "Demise" (Final Fantasy X-2) differs from its Original Soundtrack and Piano Collection versions — each give off a different sort of vibe to the listener, and each overall mood is effective. The Original Sound Version version was a little more rock-and-roll, a little livelier, a little more encouraging — I quite enjoyed it, and it proved to be popular with listeners, as well. The Piano Collections version represents the far more mysterious, mystical side of the world of Final Fantasy IV — it emphasizes the unnatural quality of visiting other worlds, the magical element in places such as Mysidia, and the alluring quest that Cecil and Co. undergo. Echoing and esoteric, "Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV" is as fantasy-like and inscrutable as track such as "The Mystic Forest" of Final Fantasy VI Piano Collections, but it delivers much better, probably due to the breaking away of the mysterious element and the entering of a stronger, more powerful part of the piece that's just as effective. "Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV" is quite emotional in its melancholy and mystifying mood, and this is the most notable quality of the track. (6/10)
Bring out the booze and the party, man — we're all doing the happy dance, and you know why! Chocobos! What's to say about this light version of "Chocobo-Chocobo"? Not much — it's not as catchy as "Mambo de Chocobo" of Final Fantasy V Piano Collections and it's not as well performed as "Waltz de Chocobo" of Final Fantasy VI Piano Collections. It's still cute and likeable enough, though — quirky and lighthearted and all that jazz; you know, the typical chocoboness. The piece hits a pretty cool homerun at 1:49, when a rather surprising run up and down the keys gives a different sort of feel to the piece. But then the oh-so-lovable and cute theme comes back up again, in a rather precious manner. "Chocobo-Chocobo" does, however, have the best ending of the entire chocobo genre. Thumbs up!
7) Into the Darkness
Here comes the mysterious, drifty, omnipotent arrangement featured on nearly all of the albums, the appropriately-titled "Into the Darkness." Very lethargic and quite unimpressionable, "Into the Darkness" does little to stir suspense and creepiness in the listener; the melody is never really accompanied by an effective harmony, though the piece takes a more emotional turn around the two minute mark, when the harmony picks up a bit. Mori's performance was a bit jarring; the piece never flows smoothly enough to evoke that "cavern" feel to it, and the choppy use of the pedal doesn't create that expected echo that would give "Into the Darkness" more emotional depth. (6/10)
The treasure of Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections, "Rydia" gives no reason as to why it shouldn't be such a popular hit; this version has blown me away continuously for the six+ years I've been listening to it. Satou employs a beautiful, soft motif in this piano version of "Rydia" that is so effective in its loveliness that you'll be moved to utter placidity. Whereas Satou's simple arrangements bombed a couple of times in the tracks above ("Into the Darkness" and "Prologue"), his modest arrangement of "Rydia" proves to be immensely impelling, giving off a magical, gentle mood. Simple and clean — proof that big things come in small packages.
9) Melody of Lute
"Melody of Lute" was a nice little tune, and, though not completely unforgettable, it was nice nonetheless. Satou's arrangement, I feel, however, is nothing short of fantastic! I know many disagree with me, but I feel that "Melody of Lute" has some kind of awkward charm to it that's just amazing — listening to it, you just know that the piece is about music. "Melody of Lute" starts out quaintly enough; just a simple, repeated flow of the original melody, transcribed to the keys. Though not exactly inspiring, it is nonetheless enjoyable to listen to. "Melody of Lute" really picks up at three minutes, where an empowering, beautiful run escapes from Mori's fingers and is nothing short of gorgeous. Satou then enforces his arrangements with a sharper, almost rushed progression of chords, before turning the piece to a minor key and speeding up its tempo with a hurrying progression of broken chords. Satou effectively uses a tierce de Picardie at the very end, emphasizing the lighter tone that predominated at the beginning.
10) Golbeza Clad in the Dark
I found "Golbeza Clad in the Dark" to be rather monotonous and repetitive the first couple of times I listened to it; but like so many other pieces, "Golbeza..." grew on me, and I began to enjoy the mood of the piece, which is its most impressive quality. Its is driven by its tone — mysterious, powerful, militaristic, and dominant, it never extends beyond the same notes in various octaves, perhaps for fear of losing that emotional vibe. Rhythmically strong and harmonically compelling, "Golbeza..." is a blast to play on the piano, if not so much on the ear. That does not mean, however, that it's not enjoyable; on the contrary, it's quite clever after a while, though still repetitive.
11) Troian Beauty
Unexciting and unemotional, "Troian Beauty" ceases to exist after just moments of its beginning. It's a waltz, so therefore it consists of a very simple and basic style that is wholly unimpressive (and that's a shame, because I quite like waltzes). The bass is so repetitive it becomes quite unbelievable after the millionth pound; the melody is no better, repeating itself over and over until late into the second minute, where Satou expands very slightly with a looser main hand. Mori's monotonous performance adds nothing to "Troian Beauty," which is, simply put, beyond repair. (2/10)
12) The Battle
"The Battle" is ingenious in that it is completely unpredictable; the listener remains on the piece, if not because they like it, then because they're curious as to what will happen next. "The Battle" is composed of four parts — each battle theme from Final Fantasy IV. The first, which is the simple battle theme, begins slowly and enticingly, inviting the listener to hear what it has to offer next. Satou then employs stronger chords and brings in a bit more bedlam to introduce the regular boss theme, which is a brilliant arrangement of it, almost jazzy in a sense.
The piece then delves into the next part of the piece — a curiously arranged part of the third battle (super boss theme) that doesn't deliver quite as well as the last part, being that it's somewhat repetitive. The piece picks up again, though, around the four minute mark, when the real genius comes forth: the introduction to the final battle theme. Instantly, the harmony induces a feeling of oppression and rush as the melody begins to release the likeable battle strain. Fans will enjoy the melody in particular here, and will reminisce about the fifty hours it took to clobber Zeromus (hard-type here, folks). The final boss theme continues on until the end, where a section of chords finishes out the genius arrangement.
Satou has a great idea here — imagine if there was a battle medley for every Final Fantasy Piano Collection! That would be seriously cool. The only fault I find with "The Battle" lies not in the arrangement but in Mori's performance — I feel that it lacks emotion (with the exception of the beginning of the fourth part) and isn't very trenchant. But that's okay, because the arrangement is just so cool.
A high point of the Original Sound Version, the Piano Collections "Epilogue" delivers well enough, but not to the effect of its original version. Epilogue pieces needn't be arranged greatly, else they loose the emotional, nostalgic factor to them ("Epilogue ~ The Reunion" of Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collection was absolutely brilliant, and it wasn't arranged at all from the original), but "Epilogue" lacks the extra notes and stronger chords that add drama to pieces like "Ending Theme" from Final Fantasy X Piano Collections. Relatively lukewarm throughout, "Epilogue" still puts its medley of Final Fantasy IV pieces to good use, making the ending all the more memorable. "Epilogue" picks up around three minutes, when you hear a better piano version of "Final Fantasy" (aka "Prologue"). From there, it twiddles on, lovely but not stunning, strong but not powerful, until the five minute mark, where the new melody gives a more impressive and successful feel to the piece. Overall just a fantastically nostalgic piece; one worth noting, but not vehemently so.
14) Theme of Love (ensemble)
Quite a nice ending to the first in the Piano Collections series — but it's not a piano piece! Oh, well. That's no problem, because it's actually better than the completely piano version, in terms of aesthetics. Eventually the piano does come into play here, though it's not the prominent instrument (the string ensemble takes the lead here). It's beautiful and wistful and romantic; a treat for those who listened to "Troain Beauty," to be sure.
You can't have any strong negative vibes for Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections, simply because the album began such a beloved series of piece arrangements. While the overall arrangements and performances were somewhat lackluster, the nostalgic emotions that the pieces bring manage to override Satou's simplicity, if only slightly. Satou takes Nobuo Uematsu's original melodies and reinforces their brilliance instead of adding on to them. For the most part, it is hard-hitting — particularly in "Rydia" — and pleasing to the ear, but it doesn't work all the time, as many of said in the criticism of the Piano Collections versions of Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy V. We've all been spoiled with the later Final Fantasy Piano Collections CDs, but it's important to remember that when Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections was released, it was pretty revolutionary for its time. But still, not having this album in your collection would be a disappointment.