Live Music by Piano and Strings: 7th Dragon Super Arrange Version
The expanding discography for Yuzo Koshiro's 7th Dragon is inspired by the musical releases of the composer's preceding efforts on the Etiran Odyssey series. For Etrian Odyssey II, there was the small promotional piano album that was released with the game in Japan, there was the arrange album featuring arrangements by GEM Impact and other top composers in Japan, and, towards the end of 2008, an arranged album featuring themesf from both games in a strings and piano format. Arranged by Norihiko Hibino, it blended classically-oriented chamber music with light jazz and bossa-nova influences. Given the success of this album, I was pretty happy to hear that 7th Dragon would be getting the same treatment. However, it forwent an arrange version featuring multiple members in a variety of styles. So, was it worth the wait?
To be fair, calling this a "Live Music by Piano and Strings" album. is a bit of a misnomer. Unlike the Etrian Odyssey album, this one features additional instruments not found in the first one, such as Hibino's saxophone, the flute, and the accordion. While I do appreciate the expansion of possible sounds, I also found it to be a drawback to the album at times. While the first part of this review may sound "negative," it's just how I feel about the arrangement effort on some of the themes, eveh though music itself is still very much beautiful. There were four themes on this album that I felt could have been done better. The first theme, "Castle of the Hero King / Kazan Republic," is probably one of the worst offenders in my opinion. As I've stated before, the music is quite beautiful, due in part to the original composition, but I found it extremely lacking in elaboration. Although it's a short theme, it had a lot of potential. Instead, I found myself hearing the same musical phrases repeat themselves, often with just a few additional instruments added into the mix. Sure, there were some nice piano glisses thrown into the mix, but I wish the melody had a nice little improvisation section featuring any one of the instruments used.
The second theme, "Journey - Land of Departure ~ Journey - Land of Dragons and Flowers," has a bit of elaboration, mainly in accompanying instrumentation. For the most part, however, it sounds more like a remastering of each theme, rather than an arrangement. It doesn't help that the transition between the two pieces — a brief moment of silence — was a poor choice, in my opinion. I was really looking forward to the next theme, "Labyrinth - Domain of Bewitching Flowers ~ Battlefield - Enraged Ones," but I left sorely disappointed. While the first half managed to retain the atmosphere of the original, I was really hoping for a nice play on the original. Instead, I got another transcription-like arrangement. The sudden transition into the battle theme portion of the track was another poorly thought out transition in my opinion, and the actually theme itself was one that I don't think worked too well in this style. It ended up sounding like the original remastered. The transcribed arrangements don't end there. Lastly, "Beautiful Garden / Miross Federation" is another such victim. It's a nice take on chamber music, but I honestly wanted more out of it. When it comes to victims of transcription, I really think the flute is the downfall. Without it, I think Hibino would have been forced to be a bit more creative with each arrangement.
But, fear not! The album also features a lot of beautiful themes on par with what I was expecting from this album. The two short themes, "The Adventurer's Beginning" and "The Tale Began," are soft piano pieces with strings and woodwind accompaniments that help to set a nice mood for the album. They aren't too elaborate, but manage to serve the purpose as opener and intermission respectively. One of the more effective instruments added to this album was the accordion. Featured in the two battle theme arrangements, it really helps keep the vibrancy of the originals intact, while adding some lovely solos into the mix. "Battlefield - Swords Bursting ~ Battlefield ~ Howl, Veteran Soldiers!" reminds me a lot of that stereotypical "French" sound, but throws in some Spanish atmosphere, via the interesting canasta usage. The combination of the strings and accordion really work well together too. The transitions for this piece are also pretty flawless. "Battlefield - Seven Threats" also manages to capture that Spanish flair via the use of flamenco guitar while the accordion and string work is as beautiful as it was in the other battle theme arrangement. The piano work towards the end is also quite awesome giving it a bit of a honky tonk jazz sound.
One of my favorite themes from the original, "Labyrinth - Jungle Navigation," manages to impress here as well. Hibino manages to retain the mysterious and beautiful atmosphere of the arrangement while adding in some piano elaborations and plays on the original melody that I think only help to accentuate the atmosphere. Another theme that has some piano elaboration is "Songstress of the South Seas / Marlleaire Islands". It's got a bossa nova and tropical feel with some awesome piano and guitar work. This one reminded me the most of the first album and is one of my favorites! "Peaceful Inn ~ Choice" is another fantastic arrangement in a similar vein to that of the first album. The playful woodwind and piano opening reminded me a lot of a children's show in style, for some reason; however, the somber strings that are added help bring it to a more serious level. While the "Peaceful Inn" section of the theme is quite beautiful, the true star is the "Inn" section; it's a fantastic jazzy piano arrangement and although the intro reminds me of Super Mario Bros., it elaborates into such a playful piano piece.
Lastly, Hibino is featured on the sax in two themes. The first, "Journey - Soaring the Heavens, Travelling the Oceans ~ Journey - Land of Conflict," features a lot of playful elaboration in a variety of instruments. Throughout this medley, you'll also hear some fantastic flute work, which is no longer a weakness like abovementioned themes, and some piano work. The last theme I've yet to mention, "The Lion's Resting Place / Aizen Empire ~ Isolated War Association / Nebanplace Empire," features elaborate accompanying saxophone in the Asian inspired "The Lion's Resting Place," but really shines when it takes more of a lead in the Middle Eastern inspired "Isolated War Assocation". It's another beautiful showcase of an additional instrument providing strength, rather than a weakness, to the album.
When I first started this album, I had high expectations. I really enjoyed the strings and piano take on the Etrian Odyssey music and expected something as great. Did I get what I wanted? No, unfortunately I did not. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the album, because I did. All the themes are beautiful, in their own right, but some of the themes seemed more like remastered versions of the original and the flute was particularly detrimmental. In addition, there were some weak track choices, such as "Battlefield - Enraged Ones," that I think may have been done in a better style. That brings me to my next point. As much as I enjoyed this album for what it was, I think an arrange album in the vein of the other Etrian Odyssey arrange albums would have been a better choice for the 7th Dragon soundtrack. It was a different beast than Etrian Odyssey with more complex themes that may be difficult to arranging using only a few instruments. Perhaps this is why Hibino decided to add the other instruments. Should you get this album? I say yes. Though lacking in the arranged department, it's a fantastic album in terms of instilling beauty and has more highs than low. Here's hoping a more expansive 7th Dragon Super Arrange Version is in the works, as this one left me wanting a bit more.
The Adventurer’s Beginning
Castle of the Hero King / Kazan Republic
Journey - Land of Departure ~ Journey - Land of Dragons and Flowers
Battlefield - Swords Bursting ~ Battlefield - Howl, Veteran Soldiers!
Labyrinth - Domain of the Bewitching Flowers ~ Battlefield - Enraged Ones
The Tale Began
Beautiful Garden / Miross Federation
Labyrinth - Jungle Navigation
Peaceful Inn ~ Choice
The Lion’s Resting Place / Aizen Empire ~ Isolated War Association / Nebanplace Empire
Battlefield - Seven Threats
Journey - Soaring the Heavens, Travelling the Oceans ~ Journey - Land of Conflict
Songstress of the South Seas / Marlleaire Islands