Square Enix's record label decided to commemorate the Christmas of 2010 with a festive-themed album. Even before the announcement of this album, the company's composers had offering some Christmas-themed promotional arrangements, specifically for Final Fantasy XI and Chocobo's Dungeon. These two previously rare tracks were compiled on this album alongside five new arrangements of favourites from Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, and others from those days. While there are many out there who cannot abide Christmas music, the concept of the album was appealing to a sizeable audience. Yet unfortunately, the final results are very limited in scope and mostly disappointing in nature.
Starting with the recycled tracks, Masashi Hamauzu's "Chocobo's Happy Christmas" is certainly the most lavish item on the whole album, featuring a full orchestral arrangement of the Chocobo theme together with Christmassy features like bells. "Jeuno -Starlight Celebration", on the other hand, is completely MIDI-based and sets a precedent for a range of less well-implemented tracks on the album. This combination of cheesy festive and light jazz features sounds contrived and plodding here, though no doubt fans of the game will be pleased it was included here.
The five new arrangements are also a mixed bag in terms of creativity and production. Tsuyoshi Sekito and Yasuhiro Yamanaka offer one of the most conceptually inspired arrangements on the album, blending Final Fantasy VII's airship theme with "Gold Saucer". However, the development is rather repetitive and the samples are somewhat overbearing, meaning the final result sounds more like a fan arrangement than a professional effort. It's hardly awful, but it will still disappoint many fans of the esteemed source material.
An even more desperate effort from Square Enix's diminishing team is conveyed in Legend of Mana's "Geo, City of Magic". Another technopop imitation by Hirosato Noda, apparently the album producers didn't get the memo that 1972's "Popcorn" is completely past its sell-by-date four decades later. The arrangement of lesser-known piece "Captain of the Shooting Stars", from Live A Live, also brings little original to the album. The blend of acoustic and electronic forces results in some pleasant auras, but nothing that can't be found on a commercial new age album.
There are some relative highlights on the album, but they are simply too few in number to redeem the album. Ryo Yamazaki does a good job reuniting the Chrono franchise with his upbeat take on fan favourite "Wind Scene". Although the melody here is from Chrono Trigger, the organic samples and acoustic guitar focus have more in common with Chrono Cross, which Yamazaki worked on at the start of his career. The Christmas theme is less obvious here, but this is an arguably a welcome contrast to the banal arrangements elsewhere.
Furthermore, Mitsuto Suzuki once again proves to be Square Enix's most creatively inclined electronic artist on the penultimate track, "Botschaft". The ethereal synthpads here are pretty typical of his work on solo albums such as In My Own Backyard, yet they surprisingly fit well with both the SaGa Frontier II original and the festive theme. The track also undergoes a considerable evolution during its six minute playtime, allowing it to offer some depth lacking in the otherwise gimmicky and overstated offerings on the album.
To summarise, I love the fact that Square Enix's music label are currently revisiting various fan favourites from the company's golden era, many of which have been scarcely officially arranged till now. However, the resulting arrangements are generally so uninspired and mediocre that they can be easily surpassed by most fan-arranged circles. This particular album also greatly lacks in length, featuring just seven tracks in total and only 20 minutes of new material. At just 1600 JPY, the album is still decent value for money, but it's unlikely that most people would appreciate something so cheap and tacky in their Christmas stockings.