Piano Collections FINAL FANTASY IX
The Piano Collections are an inconsistent bunch: IV and V's are characterised by simplistic and often dreary arrangements that did little but add basic harmonies to the original tunes; X and X-2's were immensely creative and musical refined but notoriously inaccessible both for listening and performance; and VI and VIII's were a hotchpotch that featured elements of other additions to the series but in an inconsistent mix. The Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections, on the other hand, will always be known as the Final Fantasy piano album that reconciled musical refinement with fan's basic needs the best. Arranged by Shiro Hamaguchi and performed by Louis Leerink, the pair emphasises the beauty or power of a well-selected array of Nobuo Uematsu's originals while occasionally delving into the areas of jazz, impressionism, ragtime, and neo-renaissance music. Diverse, enchanting, pianistic, accessible, and melodic, are these really the Piano Collections that everybody will like?
The majority of the Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections comprises of straightforward and pleasant renditions of familiar and emotive pieces. Renditions of the town themes "Hermit's Library - Daguerreo," "Frontier Village Dali," and "Where Love Doesn't Reach" are at the heart of the album. Intrinsically beautiful, arranged unremarkably but effectively so that they sound natural and enchanting on the piano, Nobuo Uematsu's melodies are the key to their success, heightened in elegancy thanks to Leerink's performance and the grace and tone that the piano offers. Their harmonisation is pretty one-dimensional, based around predictable progressions of diatonic chords or repetition of a subtle basso ostinati, though fortunately neither unpianistic nor transparent. Hamaguchi adds just enough variance through occasional flourishes, jazzy melodic elaborations, and changes in harmonic shape for each theme to sustain near-relentless focus on their melodies, though some themes are more harmonically elaborate than others. "Rose of May" and "Endless Sorrow," for instance, beautifully intensify in their secondary sections thanks to some reharmonisations through careful placement of chromatic chords. Some themes are much simpler than their originals, however. "Melodies of Life" is almost exclusively based on the melody; accompanied by just a flowing series of arpeggios, its near-absolute focus emphasise the theme's innocence, purity, and organic nature most effectively. There are casualties, however. "Sleepless City Treno" fails through its lack of harmonic substance, barely different from its original and drearily slow. Its arrangement has no constructive purpose on the album.
The brain of the album is represented by two examples of competent stylistic experimentation. "Bran Bal, The Soulless Village" works effortlessly in a Gymnopédie format. Beautifully understated throughout, supported by a fluid melody and some innovative chromatic harmonies, Hamaguchi directly references the eccentric French impressionist Erik Satie, while rigorously reworking the original's harmonies and making numerous inspired refinements. The transition to the form was an inspired decision and is expertly implemented, but not at the lost of the original's otherworldly, deathly, and beautiful aura. Even more unusual is the elegant treatment of "The Place I'll Return to Someday" as a neo-renaissance and jazz fusion. Yes, two completely dissimilar styles are effortlessly united through the original's modal melody, thanks to Hamaguchi's skilful employment of harmony and ability to fuse intricate polyphony with homophonic textures. It is these two arrangements that are the heart of the album's musical integrity. They affirmatively demonstrate that the Piano Collections are not simply about one-dimensional undaring adherences to banal and simplistic 'melody with accompaniment' formats. They are musical, pianistic, and technically competent, albeit remarkable merely as homages and fusions, rather than anything unprecedented in the wider world of music. They might not be on par with X's "Song of Prayer" and "Besaid Island" or X-2's "Paine's Theme" and "Demise," but perhaps this is fortunate, given they inspire an indifferent layman's response as opposed to a hostile one.
Arguably the peaks of the album come from the more dramatic and fast-paced tracks. "Eternal Harvest" transfers to piano extremely well; it retains the original's traditional dance feel but is made more rapid and flowing through intricate passagework and Leerink's elegant performance. "Vamo' Alla Flamenco" is arranged with similar flair, technically flawless in both performance and arrangement; it retains a Spanish flamenco feel that is elaborated upon through virtuosic runs, dramatic buildups, and sumptuous harmonies, and proves an all-round magical show piece and stand-alone feature. Also impressive is "Two Hearts That Can't be Stolen ~ Towards That Gate," which is as dramatic and unpredictable as the two full-orchestral originals, but convincing and heartrending nonetheless, featuring some excellent transitions and buildups. "You're Not Alone" also receives interesting treatment. The bulk of the arrangement revolves around the verse of the original, interpreted in a crisp, whimsical, and lyrical way with thin staccato piano passages tinged with jazz. The chorus remains as cheesy as ever, treated as a solo piano power ballad with horribly unpianistic backing chords, though does what Uematsu intended and will really 'rock' for certain fans. One either loves it or hates it, though the piece overall does a good job of staying true to the original's purpose and melodies while emphasising musicality. The peak of the album comes with "Final Battle". Opening slowly with a series of modernist chords that undergo delicious chromatic progressions, it quickly intensifies into a passionately driven rip-roaring rampage of sound that remains appealing despite its dissonant emphasis. Simpler than it sounds, Hamaguchi creates a wonderful illusion that is enhanced by Leerink's canny performance.
The Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections portrays Shiro Hamaguchi in a variety of lights: the romanticist with his melodically driven miniatures, the experimenter through his homages and fusions, the illusionist with his remarkable ability to make things simple and unremarkable sound wholesome, and the spare part with his hands-off take in "Sleepless City Treno". The album rarely attains much musical depth, given it adheres almost consistently to standard textures and functional but elaborate harmonies, but that doesn't matter. It is ultimately separated from other additions to the series thanks to its ability to reconcile. Hamaguchi's conservative, melodic, and occasionally flashy arranging is also musically sound and occasionally conceptually profound. This means that it provides exactly what the fans wanted while being tolerable for more mature musicians. Hamaguchi and Leerink did well here and shine with a certain light almost consistently throughout the disc. Few who enjoyed the Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack ought give this a miss and all those who have enjoyed Piano Collections for games earlier in the series should certainly enjoy this one.
There is no Piano Collections in the entire series as amazingly arranged and as difficult to play as that of the Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections. The Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack never received the attention that it deserved, as it is truly a masterpiece of the game, but was cursed with bad timing. Seeing as though the hype for the new PS2 was reaching its epitome, Final Fantasy IX seemed to be just a filler game until the Final Fantasy series could break all barriers with the PS2. The album, too, is overlooked in that same manner, partly because Square and its affiliates put a lot of emphasis on the upcoming Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack. The Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections are superb.
1) Eternal Harvest
The album opens up with one of the more difficult tracks to play, which sets a standard for the other tracks, which is decisively met, too. "Eternal Harvest" is ridden with uber-fast arpeggios and broken chords with repetition. The score starts off boldly, gradually becoming softer, and then comes back to the in-your-face speed and sound that it displayed in the beginning. "Eternal Harvest" was more of a Squaresoft favorite than an actual fan favorite, but this arrangement will surely convert many fans. There is something very impressive about this track, if you've mastered it, then I commend you.
2) Hermit's Library - Daguerreo
Daguerreo is my all-time favorite city in the Final Fantasy series. The combination of mechanics and scholastics is simply delightful in my eyes. I was pleased that Daguerreo's theme was as good as the city itself. The piano arrangement starts off lightly, introducing the listener to the city which bears its tune. Throughout the track, the arrangement manages to captivate its listener with easy, flowing harmonies and a solid melody, conveying the light emotion excellently without having to burst off into forceful and awe-inspiring runs. This delightful little gem of an arrangement will surely please all ears with its simple, though difficult, tranquility.
3) The Place I'll Return to Someday
I was not a fan of this track in the Original Soundtrack, and so I wasn't all that excited to discover that it was on the CD. While the arrangement far exceeds the original track, it still lacks the vivacity and deepness that affects the other tracks of both the Original Soundtrack and the Piano Collections album. The arrangement isn't overly dramatic, which is actually negative in this case, for I'd probably find the piece a bit more enjoyable had it strayed from the original melody a bit more. That's just a personal opinion, though. "The Place I'll Return to Someday" lacks the impressive passion that affects the other Piano Collections tracks, and to add nothing to the track, it finishes rather weakly.
4) Vamo' Alla Flamenco
The second most famous Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack piece, and not without reason, too. The simply fantastic Original Soundtrack version is even more awesome in its piano arrangement. As passionate as a Spaniard to his lover, this Spanish-inspired track is full of emotion, drama, passion, and power. The harmony is arranged precisely, proving to be one of the more difficult parts to master as well. "Vamo' alla Flamenco" goes from being graciously loud to becoming wonderfully quiet. It soon increases in volum however as we reach a massively fortissimo part again. The difference in sound only adds to its beauty and power, and the lack of arpeggios and broken chords is well received, too.
5) Frontier Village Dali
Quite like its Original Soundtrack version, the piano arrangement, like "Daguerreo," will leave you with a pleasant, cozy feeling inside. It starts off elementary enough, holding the same opening notes as its original version. The track maintains simple harmonies and a distinct melody for some time, adding to its tranquil beauty. About halfway through the track, you'll begin to witness Hamaguchi's arranging genius, as it delves off into pure arrangement, maintaining the Dali sound but becoming loud and wonderfully powerful. It is great to see such a variety of dynamics, too, especially through keeping the ambient tone as well.
6) Bran Bal, the Soulless Village
The slow, sorrowful score that is "Bran Bal...," is almost interchangeable with another Piano Collections arrangement: Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections' "Into the Darkness." "Bran Bal..." never strays very far from the original, but that's not saying that it isn't arranged well. The track eventually drifts away into an improvisation section which is of little effect. There's not much to say about the harmony; the melody's doing more of the improvising this time around, drifting lazily from its true self to a higher, arpeggio filled sound. (5/10)
7) Endless Sorrow
Though it isn't a must-hear track, "Endless Sorrow" is beautiful in its melancholy nature. Starting off slowly, it grows in power and emotion, maintaining impressive, effective arpeggios throughout the track. The melody, which is played higher than usual, adds to the effect of the track by bringing a more crystalline feel to it. Just as the track breaks off into the height of its passion, it seems to end in the same way it began: beautifully slow and tragic. The romantic feel of the track will surely captivate the listener; however, though it manages to hold you while it plays, there is something about it that won't have you pressing the back button on your CD player.
8) You're Not Alone!
All of my expectations were met with this brilliant score. Highly extended from its original, "You're Not Alone!" jumps skillfully from its simple melody to an amazing rendition with poise and accuracy. Powerful throughout, the track hits its climax around two minutes and ten seconds, when all emotions break loose. It then breaks away into a staccato arrangement followed by a staccato melody. "You're Not Alone!" never fails to captivate the listener with its immense power and passion, whether it be through its amazingly impressive chords or its staccato sections. This arrangement is bliss.
9) Two Hearts That Can't be Stolen ~ Towards That Gate
It would be hard to follow up the brilliance of "You're Not Alone!," but if there's one track on this album that outsets even "You're Not Alone!," it is this track. This is one track that seems to tell a story, a story that begins sadly and progresses with the idea of hope and excitement. Almost immediately, the melancholy opening becomes more cheerful. Following a quiet arrangement, the track takes a drastic dive into the deep end of arrangement and emerges victorious. Following absolutely no style, the track speeds up and takes a more staccato turn, and sounds of a melody are apparent again. We are then faced with echoing broken chords, followed by a melodically arranged part of more arpeggios. The ending of the track is truly explosive. This track flaunts its melody superbly.
10) Rose of May
Another slow and melancholy arrangement, "Rose of May," is the track that played whenever Beatrix walked around, lamenting her horrendous duties. "Rose of May" has everything that its style should: sorrowful emotion, an overall quiet flowing tone, and a smooth sound. Extremely pretty in its skillful use of the pedal, the track never strays from the melody, which may or may not work for you. Though soothing to the ear, "Rose of May" seems to lack something, but that may be because it came after the greatest arrangement in the album.
11) Sleepless City Treno
Who cares for Treno's theme? It was enjoyable enough and quite fitting for the City of Nobles in the game, and while I'm sure there were several fans out there who adored the track, it never blew my socks off. The piano version doesn't add much to the already-in-piano Original Soundtrack version, never straying from the original melody and lacking quite a bit of the finesse and power that other tracks on the album bring. The medieval, somewhat British tone to the track is constant throughout, due to the lack of arrangement. Either way, arranged or not, I doubt this track would've come out on top.
12) Where Love Doesn't Reach
The piano arrangement, like "Sleepless City Treno" before it, does little to improve "Where Love Doesn't Reach"'s sorry state. Every Piano Collections album consists of those slow, bittersweet tracks, and they remind fans of the misery and anguish that the characters have had. Unfortunately for Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections, there are so many amazingly arranged, wonderfully powerful tracks, that those quiet, simple scores such as "Where Love Doesn't Reach" are completely overshadowed. When brought up against some of the more fantastic scores of the CD, "Where Love Doesn't Reach," quite like "Bran Bal...," falls short of the impressively high standards set.
13) Final Battle
"Final Battle" doesn't quite reach the standards of Final Fantasy VII Piano Collections' "Fighting" or Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collections "Demise," but still, it is quite good. Starting off quite ominously, it shortly breaks into massive, strong, choppy chords and rapid, mighty harmony. "Final Battle" is mainly strong chords with a staccato tinge to it, and it works fantastically with the track. It quietens down briefly and then quickly picks up its desperado-style tone. An excellent use of ringing chimes towards the end echo the strong, robust ending of powerful, banging chords. A fantastic arrangement of quite a nice battle theme.
14) Melodies of Life
Excellent in every way, the beauty of the track comes from a nice balance between arrangement and closeness to the original track. One of the most beautiful parts of the track occurs 54 seconds before the track ends, where smooth arpeggios break into a much quieter, slower chord which is held longer to such a great affect that you can feel the gentle emotions casting off. The music box opening echoes the track's sweetness and romance; the quiet, ascending ending concludes the fantastic Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections
In retrospect, this is probably the greatest Piano Collections out there. Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections skillfully balances between the amazing arrangements and the loyalty to the original melody. Of the three albums Hamaguchi organized, this is the epitome of his greatness. The myriad of track arrangements just add to Hamaguchi's talent. Even the tracks that aren't quite up to par are still excellent in a sense; just, compared to the album's other tracks, they fall short. I give Mr. Hamaguchi a pat on the back. This is truly a work of wonder.
Nobuo Uematsu's compositions are blessings that allow anyone who plays a Final Fantasy game to feel and understand the emotional content before them. The music is not just video game music, but also a lovely force that connects everyone who plays the series. Final Fantasy VIII is an example of how video game music continues to soar and carrying the listeners to the skies above. We know Final Fantasy VIII for many reasons, including the orchestral opening theme "Liberi Fatali" and the pop love piece "Eyes on Me." But this is not all that such a heartwarming game is known for. Within these pieces still lies the simplicity that all listeners understand and relate to. As we listen to Final Fantasy VIII Piano Collections, we are dazzled at how Shiro Hamaguchi arranges the most memorable pieces of the game by using what is one of the greatest instruments known to man; the piano. Being my personal favorite, it expresses limitless emotions and feelings with the touch of its soft and tender keys. The selections for this album come from pieces slow and beautiful, and dark and brooding. No matter what kind, we experience first hand the romantic qualities of every piece composed, and even catch a glimpse at what Uematsu's original intent was for each one. Final Fantasy VIII Piano Collections is special because of its ability to share something new using music already heard. By doing this, we see Uematsu uses the piano to highlight certain aspects of each piece so we gain a larger and deeper understanding of exactly what this music is supposed to mean.
Whatever type of arrangement you are listening to, we can tell that Hamaguchi loves to maintain certain emotions even if the music sounds different. "Blue Fields" is one everyone knows well, for it has appeared in every Final Fantasy VIII album. Its clean, soft feeling is only matched by how it creates feelings of exploration. The piano version of this piece is no different, as it begins similarly to other versions. However, what makes this piece unique is the use of pianissimo at the very beginning. It begins softly while gradually getting louder with a delicate crescendo. This technique is... amazing as it carefully draws the listener into the heart of the piece that is soon to come. The melody stands out specifically because the piano allows the notes to be heard more clearly, emphasizing the purpose of "the value of a note" as each note plays an important in establishing the melody as a whole. The melody stays the same in the piece, but what is different is the message it brings. "Blue Fields" in the Original Soundtrack holds more of an exploration mood, which certainly is fitting for being the piece that plays on the world map. However, what makes the piano arrangement different is the fact that its soft sound makes it feel like a poetic ode to nature, as the fluidity of the notes can metaphorically compliment the wind of life, or the progression of clouds overhead symbolizing the passage of time. As a result, "Blue Fields" shows us how the piano can create images using notes. At almost two minutes the melody gains strength as the keys gain pressure and the melody gains a more concrete feeling. The simple use of ascending volume towards the end lends to the artistic value of the piece without losing the original feeling since the piece soon tones down once again before adding a short coda to end it. What this arrangement gives us is an explanation of how video game music excels at painting scenes, describing moods, and highlighting the romantic features of music we may sometimes overlook. "Blue Fields" is an excellent piece not only for its quality, but for its position on the CD, serving as a perfect introduction to the continual motifs we will hear in the future.
In my opinion, there is no other better love theme in Final Fantasy that captures the connection between two characters more than "Eyes on Me." Famous because of its use of romantic instruments like the guitar along with Faye Wong's wonderful voice, this piece does not lose any of its touch with the piano. If anything, it grows and matures into a much greater flower. The piece begins with a short introduction that sets the piece in its home key and moves right into the original melody. The ambience left behind in the bass keys while the treble carries the melody forth is beautiful, leaving a warm feeling of contentment in our hearts. Soon the piece builds strength, extending to the upper registers, and symbolizing Rinoa's tender, loving heart along with her purity. The simplicity of this piece makes it heartwarming as the pianist plays the same four ascending notes to give us the sense of a smooth rise to the heavens above us. The melody itself, while staying the same for the most part, adds certain ornamentation, such as slight changes in key presses, using the ever inventive "rubato" technique to create a sense of longing for love and companionship. It is not as long as the original, which may disappoint some because of the sheer amount of grace placed into every connecting note, making one want to hear more. This piece should have a special place in everyone's heart, as it truly allows us to understand the love between Squall and Rinoa. It is soft, tender, delicate, and most of all simple, which ironically gives birth to a much larger way of interpreting it. It is a shining gem on this album and stands out as one of Hamaguchi's crowning accomplishments when arranging a piece so vital to the essence of Final Fantasy VIII.
Next is "Fisherman's Horizon" which begins just like the original and proceeds smoothly making good use of its time signature. The pace is what makes it so appealing because it begins slow, and then picks us soon enough. This is apparent right after the initial melody because we soon hear the wonder of piano arpeggios as the pianist quickly builds momentum. However, the melody does not stop, as it repeats at a much faster and more upbeat pace, contributing a swelling of emotions by layering the same melody, but with deeper expression. While "Blue Fields" takes advantage of the meaning of each individual note, "Fisherman's Horizon" shows the beauty of how notes connect to make their melodies. The arpeggios and different time signatures work well at carrying the listener through the piece at different paces. This is important because while the beginning of the music might serve to explore the docile nature of the town, the upbeat melody might signify the colorful personalities of the characters and citizens who make this town what it is. It is amazing how this arrangement, which only uses the piano, says so many things in such little time. More than anything, a noticeable feature about the piece is how the middle to the end has notes that played closer to together, mixing subtle staccatos with winding arpeggios. It is as though the notes are dancing in happiness, lending to the quality of the piece. This one in particular stands out because it instills so many different feelings, including courage and determination at about 2:10-2:22. Once it reaches 3:00, we can tell by the melody that the pianist is wrapping it up, and soon enough, the piece gets softer, lower, and ends with a cute coda.
We finally arrive at the darker side of this album once we listen to "Succession to Witches". Just like the original, it begins in an uncertain, sinister key which is definitely different from everything we have listened to so far. While the piece begins light and builds off of the starting motif, it moves into the initial melody we are familiar with. However, once again we see the versatility of the piano as the pianist uses volume to create a tense atmosphere, seen at 1:04. The keys are pressed much harder to create a concrete idea of evil, which leaves a lasting impression on the listener. Another feature that this piece makes use of is rubato at various points of the piece, starting from 1:58. It keeps the listener waiting to see how the melody will develop further, without taking away from the mood of the piece. The piece does a very good job at portraying such evil villains while continuing to use very delicate key progressions with certain spots that feature a fortissimo. This adds a great amount of tonal color, widening one's interpretation of the music. One of the crowning moments of this piece can be seen at 2:24 when the pianist begins to take the melody and make it more emphatic by placing the melody in an arpeggio like format. This does well at making the music more fluid, and adds a greater amount of creativity to the piece as far as ways to decorate and ornament something very simple. Personally, I find this particular track to be exceptional because of its use of so many elements, especially the way the bass and treble keys work congruent to each other, as the treble does a wonderful job of progressing the piece while the bass follows, but with an individual flavor from the pressure put on the notes, creating the tense and dangerous atmosphere the music is known for. It might not be as emotionally grabbing as the first one because of the lack of vocals, which provided an unprecedented amount of depth, but giving it time will allow it to grow on anyone who is willing to listen to piece with different experimentation.
"Ami" is a particularly important piece because it has many functions in the game. It plays during important plot and emotional points, and its mood has the ability to fit many of the scenes in the game. One special thing about this piano music is how faithful it stays to the original. In many ways, it carries the same emotion as the original, but what makes it unique is that it takes this emotion farther, emphasizing connection and friendship, while introducing so many more themes. I enjoy the short introduction in the beginning that immediately sets the mood and key for the piece, making it easily recognizable by fans. The melody stays the same, but again, it is important to see how well slight differences in key pressures make the piece more emphatic. At the beginning it starts out slow and soft, but towards the middle it gains power and depth, using what I like the call the "layer effect" which involves repeating the same melody, but at slightly higher and deeper frequencies. I mentioned before that "Ami" expresses more themes than the first one. Well, this is because the piece uses the piano, and through its use I can see love and companionship because of the connectivity of the notes, and its building up until the climax at different points. This music also could describe a social atmosphere, making a beautiful piece to serve as an alternative to Balamb Garden's theme. But one of the most important things to recognize about the piece is the different registers used. They sound to be centralized around the lower middle, middle, and upper middle areas. This is crucial because a delicate piece like this could easily fall victim to a few notes to high or low which could potentially ruin the mood. What many people might describe as heartwarming, the piano utilizes only three sections of the piano because of the rich, deep sounds they have. Subjecting it any higher or lower might make it sound a little... too dark or dry. As a result, this piece is also a shining gem on the album because of the careful decisions made to make it expressive. While it might not invoke as many new ideas as the previous one, it takes the original melody, and uses various musical elements to express it on a much higher level, making one believe that the piece itself is actually a new work of art.
Finally, let's get down to business and "Shuffle and Boogie"! There are many different reasons why I find this piece to be the most creative out of every one on the tracks. First, its position on the album is very important. It lies in the middle of the album, and its upbeat jig separates the softer pieces from each other. There are many soft, slow pieces on this album, and while that is not bad, hearing one after the other might wear out the listeners' attention. But this track provides not only order to the album as a whole, but stands out with fresh new ideas and innovations. The time signature is perfect because the speed is not too fast or slow, but just right. What is also attractive is how the bass chords jump back and forth, making the listener actually want to the rock to the beat of the music. Well, it made me do that! Another lovely feature is its versatility. This piece can serve so many different functions. It does not have to be limited to just a card game, but I definitely see it as the theme of a pub because of it catchiness. It keeps the listener active and involved, anxious to see how the melody evolves over time. Now, I think that one of the crowning achievements about this piece is that is was perfectly chosen. There are many types of music we wish to hear done with the piano, and besides "Find Your Way" and "The Castle", this was also a well chosen piece. I heard that some people complained that its original was actually a bit annoying because of the instrumentation which created glaring repetitions that upset the listener. Now, while I personally do not agree with that statement, I can understand how others feel. But here is the answer! Because the piece is so catchy and upbeat, you will pray to hear the repetitions. Not only that, every time you hear the refrain, it sounds different because of the different musical elements that have been added. New arpeggios and a concrete time signature make this a nice jig or jazz piece for any lover of the genres. Without any doubt, this track pulls the entire album together. It is exceptional because it provides that flare that makes this album shine next to all the rest. The only thing that makes this album any better are the music that comes next for the entire soundtrack!
If you have heard "Find Your Way" on the Original Soundtrack, then I think you will agree that this piece was made for a piano arrangement. Actually, in many ways this version stands out better than its predecessor. The piece begins with a short 30 second introduction, and then begins to lead into the main melody. The melody stays the same, but the ornamentation is special because the use of arpeggios strengthens and emphasizes the key progressions that carry the piece forward. They provide a wonderful mystical and forbidden feeling that is essential to understanding the piece in the context of the Fire Cavern. As the music progresses, there is a combination of musical elements such as crescendos to give greater depth, without taking away from the initial feeling. At many points the keys actually seem to glide together in connectivity to give the melody a more fluid sensation. What is special about the piano arrangement is that it clearly portrays feelings of uncertainty and curiosity. Even though the piece stays very faithful to the original version, and does not stray too much off course to create sub-melodies, its simplicity continues to open up new doors of interpretation. The bass line is very concrete, keeping us in context, as the fluidity of the treble notes act and sound beautifully when played in succession. Another element apparent is the tendency for the pianist to use repetition in both the bass and treble. It is not just the treble that carries the melody forward, but the bass repeats the melody in a slightly different manner which lends a much greater sense of tone color. Another interesting innovation begins at 3:05 when the bass keys play a small, slightly dangerous continuous key progression. This element is simply wonderful because it incorporates how the piece is beautiful yet slightly dangerous. It is an excellent way to maintain the original emotion while introducing other aspects that make it a unique track from its predecessor. My opinion on this piano arrangement is that it fills in any holes people might have had with the original version. And for anyone who thinks there were now flaws to begin with, like myself, then this piano piece does an even better job at expressing the emotions of the first one, along with more to listen and think about. If there are any Final Fantasy VIII tracks that absolutely deserve a piano arrangement, this is one of them. I hope this piece will stay in the hearts of any person who listens to it, because its creativity stands out as one deserving of recognition.
"The Oath" is a very famous and unique piece in my heart as it highlights the heroism and courageousness of one of my favorite characters in all of Final Fantasy. I am very pleased for it to have been chosen as a piano arrangement, because my interpretation of it shifted completely when hearing it in a different way. The piece seems to be in Andante, so it flows evenly, and nicely, allowing every note to be heard without trouble. Overall, the piece is smooth and lovely, with certain spots of time where the piano crescendos and gains strength. So, what makes this piece different? Well, its mood is completely different from the first one. Hearing the one from the Original Soundtrack gave the listener hope, courage, and the strength to fight for what is right. This arrangement does the same, but even more. Its softness delves deep into the mind of Squall. My interpretation of this is that the flow of the piece, along with the changing tones of volume represents the emotional experiences Squall must be going through. While the first version highlighted the external action of heroism, this piece takes us into the heart of what it means to be a hero. At many points, the keys form a legato, getting louder to exemplify a person's rising emotions for love and protection. At other times, the piece retains softness, like during the first fifty seconds to show a deep concentration of thought, and sense of aloofness. The melody is the same as the first, but again, the piece remains special for the versatility it has within. The most beautiful moment occurs at 2:20 and 2:35 with the slight and lovely legato key progression codas after the musical climax that occurred just before. The piano arrangement of "The Oath" reminds us of that valuable and important moment in Final Fantasy VIII, but allows us to understand it in a different way. My opinion for this piece is that its reception depends solely on the listener, for its subtle changes in rhythm, melodic transitions from soft to loud, and musical grace which will without a doubt spark a sense of reminisce in anyone who has played the game, all contribute to the experience as the whole. It is truly a remarkable piece because it does well at recapturing an important moment from the game even without the use of the original instruments. It is simple, and a lot less emphatic and uprising than the first one, but remains graceful in its ability to keep the listener in a constant flow of beautiful nostalgia without making itself any less loveable.
"Silence and Motion" is remembered as a quirky, highly unusual piece because of its use of particular instrumentation and time signatures. I remember comparing this piece to "Lindblum" from Final Fantasy IX because they both share similar qualities, and express similar emotions. If I had to choose one word to describe this piano arrangement, it would be amazing. However, I would feel unappreciative because "amazing" is not even the correct word to describe its lovely versatility and nature. If anyone thought that "Silence and Motion" was missing anything in the Original Soundtrack, then you have just found everything you ever wanted in a Final Fantasy piano soundtrack. The first thing that glares at me about this piece is that it provides an excellent sense of continuity of notes that was absent from the first version. I am happily a fan of the original, which makes me remember that there were noticeable pauses between notes, making good use of space, silence and time signatures. However, the piano arrangement makes excellent use of key arpeggios and smooth key repercussions and repetitions that highlight the original melody. Once again, the treble carries the melody forward, while the bass focuses on these constant key arpeggios which provide a great amount of depth to the piece. I absolutely adore the amount of strength put into the keys put into the melody at 1:37 which makes you appreciate Esthar's technological beauty. But…the crowning moment of this entire piece has not yet come. Actually, it begins 2:06 when a single chord plays to introduce the middle and heart of the piece. There are lovely shifts between volume, and wonderful key progressions accompanied by a basso continuo in the lower registers. The greater part about this part is that tension builds, as the keys build on each other, using the incredible "layer effect" as the crescendos blend in perfectly to the main melody. This piece would have been amazing to have played in the game, as it packages comfort and beauty together. Like its former, this music does an exceptional job at explaining the title "Silence and Motion." The continuous keys that blend from one register to the next, incorporating versatile shades of volume and tone color provide the motion, while we get the "silence" part from understanding Esthar's reputation as a silent, secluded city. The middle part of this piece welcomes your heart right into the depth of melody which binds the entire piece together. 2:40 begins a lovely repetition of keys that never gets old because by this time, we are following along with the melody as it takes us to the close. The only bad thing about this piece is that it does prolong this wonderful climax and moment of understanding and emotional height. I must say that of all the piano arrangements I have heard, this one remains exceptional and grows on me more every time I listen to it. It is unbelievably beautiful as it makes good use of a wide variety of musical elements, and yet a complex analysis of what is does only helps to better understand its simplicity. This piece is "golden" and with this review on it, I hope that it appeals to anyone who hears it as much as it does to me.
Yes! I am so happy this piece made this album. "The Castle" in my opinion marks one of the crowning moments in Uematsu's career of writing captivating "final realm" music. And while I hate to force favorites, "The Castle" is up there with "Memoria" from Final Fantasy IX, "Judgment Day" from Final Fantasy VII, and "The Underwater Temple" from Final Fantasy I. That's right! So, we were all impressed by "The Castle" but does Hamaguchi's version live up to its predecessor? Yes. The only problem is that the piece seems to too short to me. Now, in comparison to the other pieces on this album, the playing times are relatively the same, but "Ultimecia's Castle" is a bit longer because of its in-game importance. So, the only problem I think this piece has is that it ends too early. But besides that, it is a wonderful interpretation of a final dungeon piece. At times, the differences apparent in this version, like the use of softer, lighter and more delicate keys hints at what Hamaguchi would want this piece to sound like. Like the first, it begins with its famed introduction that feels our hearts within warm feelings... but once it reaches 30 seconds, the melody starts to get darker. It starts in the minor key to deliver a sense of uneasiness, and then transitions to the major as it continues to climb up the musical scale to liven the tension and dangerousness of the castle. What I love most about this piece is how it smoothly transfers to fortissimo without trouble. This means that the pianist does not just lift her fingers and slam down on the next couple of keys, but rather guides our hearts and emotions to the very next step. After the gentle climb, we get to 1:20 which guides us even further up the treble scale as the bass accompanies with a repeating motif. This does not stop, as the rising scales get faster until we reach 2:10 where the true piece begins. There are lovely, yet scary and uneasy staccato notes that play until the piece once again shifts into legato format as the piece proceeds. I also enjoy the large amount of ornamentation such as treble keys used in various places that heighten the emotional expression. "The Castle" is a perfect example of the importance of harmony, which is why the piano makes such a great instrument to use for it. Not only because the original version features the organ, and other instruments that relate to it, but we really feel the depression of the characters as they make their way to the very top of their last challenge. The treble and bass keys work together, progressing at the same pace to carry the melody forward, and even when the treble handles the melody, and the bass takes charge of the ambience, there is still a strong connection between them both. This is seen throughout the piece until the very end when the keys end the piece strong, leaving a lasting impression in the listener's mind. I enjoy the ending, but I only wish it had been extended by about 20 more seconds, so the ending would not feel so rushed. "The Castle" remains true the original, while incorporating slightly different methods at expressing the same thing. My opinion is that this piece should be including as one of the tracks that stands out the most, next to every other one starting from number six. If you were to compare this album to an essay, I would definitely say this piece is the ending of the body, and the beginning of a lovely ending to such a great album. This is not only because there are only three more tracks, but because two of the three are used at the end of the game.
I know what everyone is thinking. How is it possible to make a piano arrangement to a piece that already features the piano? Well, this actually seems to be a repeating fashion in many Final Fantasy Piano Collections. We listened to "Zanarkand" and "Sleepless City Treno" which are both pieces that rely heavily and exclusively on the piano for its melodic expression. My idea on "The Successor" is that Hamaguchi specifically chose this piece because he felt there was an opportunity to add a great deal more expression that its predecessor because the time constraints of writing for a scene disappear. The "piano" version of this piece does the same, but as I have said many times, it does even more. An important aspect to notice is the emphasis on the space and time between the notes. They take longer to play because there are frequent pauses. I think this idea of using space and time with notes is important because the listener has more time to relish the notes. What I love about this piece is how it develops, because it does so differently from the original. It carries the same melody, but there are many insertions, and different transitions that link together the original melody we are used to hearing. Before we hear the beginning of the melody, there is a wonderful passage of rising arpeggios that take us to the beginning of the piece. I consider this very important because unlike the original which had know choice but to develop without warning because of the timing of scene, this version incorporates a slow relaxing feeling of anticipation that guides us to the melody. The rubatos also accompany these arpeggios to give us a sense us longing for the resolution of the piece. And after these arpeggios finish, the main melody begins. It follows the same as before until the timing hits 1:36, where begins the first innovative insertions of a sub melody and musical ornamentation. What I enjoy most about this piece is the fact that while the treble continues the melody, the bass creates a new type of basso continuo that was not present in the first one. It gives the music much more feeling, and deepens the emotion of the scene. As the melody continues, we approach an interesting moment at 2:25 where the music reaches its climax before winding down into its next movement. There are short arpeggio progressions that extend the melody a little further, giving the listener time to acknowledge its significance. Afterwards, we find ourselves listening to the main melody once again as the music leads into the resolution about 30 seconds afterwards which features an Andante format with rubatos to extend and emphasize the importance of the notes. The "rising" notes to the resolution play very slowly and delicately making sure not to abuse the melody, keeping the stillness of emotion the piece has already captivated the listener with. The music winds down once again before making its final approach to the end at around 4:00, adding an interesting coda sequence that delays the melody before the music finally ends as it did in the first version. This piece seems to feature different innovations, as it has sub-melodies in certain places making the overall piece longer. There is substantially more in this version that allows Hamaguchi to fully utilize all the melodies in the first one while enriching this version with musical creativity so it stands out as more than just shadow of its former self. This is an excellent piece, not only because it stays true to the original, incorporating different elements without detracting from what people felt when playing the game. Secondly, it is chronological at the latter end of the cd, making it a nice piece to round off. It is definitely one of the longer pieces, next to the "Ending Theme" which is instrumental in providing a lasting feeling for the listener. I think it serves very well in constructing the final scene in the game, as well as allowing the imagination of the listener to experiment with the different elements it presents.
I really have to give this piece some thought when trying to review it. The "Ending Theme" was groundbreaking for the Final Fantasy for ending themes, for many reasons. To this day, I believe this piece remains the most prolific Uematsu has done, especially since it is easy to recognize that the piece is so long, and is separated into different movements. However, Hamaguchi's version is not nearly as long, but for a review that has probably already reached its limit in pages, this version is long enough! For this reason, I think it might be better to focus on certain parts of the music, and then provide a walkthrough in its entirety. For the most part, it sounds the same as the original, except for one thing. The orchestra is missing! Well, I know everyone know that, but it actually is very important. Most of the pieces we have listened to so far come from tracks that features certain instruments, and not a whole orchestra. Therefore, the perception and reception are vastly different from before. This version is a lot lower key than before like "The Oath", but that does not dismiss the fact that it contains very strong points. The original is very bombastic at points, while this version is a lot softer. When the melody starts, it is slightly slower than the original, giving the listener more time to react and understand the notes. Its light tone is what attracts me however, because it serves as a personal reminder of the struggles and joys I went through to beat this game. At 1:36 the music gets stronger, faster and more joyful before it enters its next movement at 1:51. I also enjoy at 1:47 how the key offsets the melody, providing a sense of something unresolved, hinting that the piece is not over. As the second movement begins, which we know to be more serious than the first, the melody remains similar, if not identical to the original. However, the piece starts to get interesting at 2:44 when the treble plays alternating chords and the bass features gliding arpeggios up and down the piano. Now, this is creative! I give much credit to this little sequence because it does an excellent job by being a metaphor to the rising emotions we feel from the ending, and the game as a whole. It actually describes what the player is feeling, and I feel that is one of the most important jobs as a video game music composer. The bass line plays heavily, keeping us in musical suspense, as the treble chords play with feelings of heroism and courageousness. The melody continues and finally enters its final movement by reusing the beloved Prelude along with light and delicate notes to signify the end to a spectacular journey. More than providing a moment between Squall and Rinoa, it concludes the soundtrack by creating a special relationship between the composer and the listener, and the player and the game. The ending seems to be dealt with lighter in tone that the first, ensuring a smooth transition to a quiet musical resolution. However, this piece would not be complete without presenting the full Prelude at the very end, which it does wonderfully. As the piano sways and glides up and down its keys, we hear slight rubatos that delay the melody slightly which continue to keep us in suspense until the Prelude comes to a close, and we are treated to a nice coda that brings this epic journey to a close, sealing its memories within our hearts. While the first version might have been a piece to the triumph of good, and the preservation of the universe, this version is very unique, providing a soothing sense of accomplishment for the player on many levels. As a result, it is more than anything a personal connection between the listener's emotions and the music. Its light tone creates a greater, deeper sense of affection and conclusion showing that Hamaguchi only needs to remain simple to showcase even his most remarkable, and seemingly, most complex pieces. This is without any doubt a remarkable way to end this album of memories, as many of the tracks cover music featured at key points in the game's story. This is an album that should remain in everyone's hearts, for two simple reasons. The first is because it is Final Fantasy VIII! The second is because you will not find a more heartwarming piano album than this...
Wait! What!? There's more!? That was exactly what I was thinking when I heard the last track on this album. After achieving unity between my mind, body and soul because of the music which comforted me to its last note, I hear this. Well, so much for my moment. "Slide Show Part 2" is the actual last piece on this album, but I wonder why. This is probably because of its happy-go-lucky feeling that it leaves the listener with a smile on his/her face. I am not exactly sure why they decided to put this last, but that does not mean that it should stop me from giving it a proper review. The original is short, and Hamaguchi's personal interpretation of it is not much longer for the fact that it sounds practically identical to the original. It has a nice and short introduction to the main melody which we are all familiar too. It sounds the same all the way through, even as it plays through my favorite section at 0:43. The way the bass is used there is amazing, remaining solid yet quirky. Afterwards, the melody continues, and eventually concludes with a slightly higher volume which better resolves the melody. This piece is a great way to remind oneself of how fun the game was, which can also be an alternative ending emotion rather than the Ending Theme. Pure and simple, this melody remains lovable, and does nothing that takes away from the album as a whole…except for the fact that it destroyed my moment.
This truly has to be one of the best Piano Collections ever released for the Final Fantasy series, with the exception of Final Fantasy IX pulling a solid first with Final Fantasy X in close second. The composer, arranger, and pianist are the moving forces in this album that link old melodies with new ones, and add vivacity to pieces glorified for the nostalgia they created in our hearts The music admirably reinvents themes that have earned the most importance as a game in the whole, adding more too each sequence one can remember from the game. However, this music gains its independence because it sounds like the original, but with much more. There is no other soundtrack that can better represent feelings of nostalgic remembrance from one of the most emotionally captivating games of the series, because of the emphasis but on the value of a note. The melodies remain simple, but in their simplicity lay a musical world so great and vast that holds the true essence of what a Final Fantasy is. This album touches our hearts with memorable melodies that link our hearts together, as we share the experiences with the composer, and with each other. And through this ever evolving experience with this kind if music, we begin to understand that the series itself is an endless chain of memories that keep it alive in our hearts. The music helps us remember what makes each and every game important. This CD is no different, reminding us of the emotionally moving story, but not only of the struggles, but the rewards as well. This album proves that not only is Uematsu' music an ever-evolving entity, but so is the game series as well, because with each passing day, we continue to gain an even greater understanding of what Final Fantasy truly is, and understanding that will continue to stay with us, even pass the boundaries of time...
Composed & Produced by Nobuo Uematsu
Arranged by Shiro Hamaguchi / Performed by Louis Leerink
Recording & Mixing Engineer: Toshiyuki Yoshida
Recording Studio: Victor Studio, Tokyo
Recording Coordinator: Yuji Saito (IMAGINE)
Mastering Engineer: Ichiko Furukawa
Mastering Studio: Bernie Grundman Mastering
Artist Management: Satomi Haruyama
Artist Promotion: Makoto Tasaki (TV MAN UNION, INC)
Art Direction: Tadashi Shimada (Banana Studio Inc.)
Design: Tadashi Shimada & Norie Kadokura (Banana Studio Inc.)
Photographer: Hiroshi Shibaizumi, Toshio Sasaki (Hand Made Photography Inc.)
Photo taken at "Too The Herbs Gaien"
Direction: Kishio Ozawa & Tsuyoshi Takemura (DigiCube)
Sales Promotion: Saiko Fukui (DigiCube)
Production Assistant: Yasuhiro Takamatsu, Masako Miyoshi
Production Coordinator: Emiko Funahashi
Production Manager: Keiji Hamada
Supervisor: Susumu Arai, Hidenori Miyazaki (DigiCube)
Co-Executive Producer: Kensuke Matsushita
Executive Producer: Nobuo Uematsu
Special Thanks to Miki Arai (YAMAHA MUSIC FOUNDATION), Izumi Tsukushi
Presented by SQUARE SOUNDS CO., LTD.
Daguerreo, the Hermit's Library
The Place I'll Return to Someday
Vamo' alla flamenco
Dali, the Frontier Village
Bran Bal, the Soulless Village
You're Not Alone
Two Unstealable Hearts ~ Behind the Door
Rose of May
Treno, the Sleepless City
The Final Battle
Melodies Of Life
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