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Square Enix Music Sampler CD Vol. 4 :: Review by Chris

Square Enix Music Sampler CD Vol. 4 Album Title: Square Enix Music Sampler CD Vol. 4
Record Label: Square Enix
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: September 26, 2009
Purchase: Buy at eBay


The Tokyo Game Show 2009 was a big one for Square Enix's music division. They promoted the upcoming soundtrack releases for three new Final Fantasy games, specifically Final Fantasy Gaiden: Four Warriors of Light, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, and, of course, Final Fantasy XIII. They also announced three new arranged albums, namely Love SQ, 8bit Sound Project choBIT, and Kingdom Hearts Piano Collections 2nd. Samples from all six productions, as well as a bonus Final Fantasy XI theme, were released on the Square Enix Music Sampler Vol. 4 given away to attendees of the event. Let's look at the music featured within.


The first track on the sampler is the background music for the Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess trailer featured at the Tokyo Game Show 2007. This theme has been released on another sampler album before, but it's good that it has received more attention here. The first part of the theme is quite good, initially setting a serene tone before presenting a majestic new melody on strings. However, the latter half is less impressive since Naoshi Mizuta resorts to the repetition of a clichéd crisis motif. The vocal overtones and epic percussion are well done and reminiscent of professional trailer music, but the focal ideas are a little too weak. Still, this track is certainly a pleasant addition to the music of Vana'diel.

The second track on the sampler is the full version of the main theme for the DS spinoff Final Fantasy Gaiden: Four Warriors of Light. The warm and innocent melody portrayed here will provide a focal point for the imminent original score. However, what's really impressive is how it is elaborated upon. Composer Naoshi Mizuta provides quite a rousing orchestration of the theme similar in style to a "Vana'diel March". Meanwhile composer and synthesizer operator Mitsuto Suzuki offers a curious twist by integrating soothing 8-bit samples too. The final result is a beautiful hybrid. While most will have heard this theme before as the background music of the game's official site, the ending might take a few by surprise. Just note that the final score seems to be focusing much more on the retro element of the theme rather than the orchestral aspect.

The third track features two minutes of various samples from the Wii's long-awaited Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. Although the samples are all short, they show that Hidenori Iwasaki and Ryo Yamazaki are taking a very fresh approach to the score. The first part is a goofy bluegrass piece that seems to fit well with the country landscapes of the game. The second track meanwhile is an impressive orchestral march exhibiting high production values. The sample collection is rounded off by a bass-punctuated rocking country piece and a heroic orchestral march. If the samples are anything to go by, it seems that the composers have really pushed out the boundaries to ensure each piece is fresh and refined on the Crystal Bearers. It's just a pity we can't hear any full-length tracks here.

Moving to the arranged section of the sampler, Love SQ is previewed with a jazz remix of the Final Fantasy main theme. PE'Z's jazz is quite well done here with bustling trumpet parts, driving hi-hats, and charismatic saxophone lines. It's a pity that the arrangement becomes so obnoxious when it moves away from the new material to recount the actual melody at 1:18. While I appreciate the intention, the melody sounds out-of-place and ugly when presented by the brash trumpets and saxes here. In fact, the only time the melody sounds convincing is during the soft piano introduction. Fortunately there are enough original sections and improvisation sections to save it from complete failure. The arrangement is decent enough, but the performance and perhaps overall approach is incompatible with the melody.

The biggest stinker on the album is the sample of "C+D" from the 8bit Sound Project choBIT. The concept of the remix was to present The World Ends With You's catchy vocal theme "Calling" on 8-bit synth and vocoders. Given I'm a fan of "Calling", vocoders, and the chiptune scene in general, this remix should have been appealing, but it sounds extremely amateurish to me. The vocoder chosen are generally a little too jarring and out there to really appeal. In addition, they didn't seem to mesh with the retro backing samples. That said, the instrumental section from 1:20 is quite enjoyable and there are some catchy moments nevertheless. There also seems to be an endearing Pac-Man influence in places. I suspect choBIT is Takeharu Ishimoto himself and it'll be interesting to see how he fares with the rest of the project. This sample indicates it'll probably be entertaining, but not necessarily good.

The last arranged sample on the album is dedicated to the Kingdom Hearts Piano Collections 2nd. Our team asked about the possibility of such an album at Sinfonia Drammatica and it appears that Yoko Shimomura thought it was such a good idea that the improbable actually happened. The album still appears to be in its early production stages, as this version of "Sinister Sundown" is only a prototype. However, it's definitely a promising one. The arranger and pianist certainly capture the lively and lyrical edge of the main melody during the first section. However, since the original piece is a battle theme, there are also thick supporting chords and extravagant decorations supporting it, most notably with the runs from 0:59. A good mix of light-hearteness and intensity, it'll be interesting to see how the full-length arrangement fares.

The final arrangement is the one gamers have been waiting for — the first piece of Final Fantasy XIII music published in album form. Entitled "Flash", many will already be familiar with the theme from early trailers for the game. Following an introduction dominated by electronic beats and grungy rhythm guitars, Masashi Hamauzu gradually introduces epic string motifs, warm violin passages, and even more driving riffs. It all seems to represent the futuristic and urbanised world of Cocoon well. However, the violin melody from 0:47 has a very warm and personal feeling to it, in large part thanks to the charismatic and virtuosic performance by Hijiri Kuwano. This seems to represent the female main character of the game, Lightning, and may form the basis of the main theme for the game. The overall composition is beautifully composed and implemented, providing a promising insight into the most eagerly anticipated score in years.


So the final verdict? All the compositions and arrangements offered here try to do something interesting and creative. However, only a few are handled by sufficiently competent musicians that they truly succeed in entertaining and inspiring listeners. All three Final Fantasy scores sound appealing from these samples and other tidbits, whether the retro Gaiden, redneck Crystal Bearers, or revolutionary XIII. Meanwhile the status of the arranged albums looks troublesome. The samples of Love SQ and 8bit Sound Project choBIT are conceptually interesting, yet poorly implemented. At least our idea of a battle-focused second Kingdom Hearts piano album is likely to yield decent results. Either way, it's going to be an interesting few months for Square Enix Music.

Overall Score: 6/10