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Final Fantasy Song Book Mahoroba :: Review by Dave

Final Fantasy Song Book Mahoroba Album Title: Final Fantasy Song Book Mahoroba
Record Label: Universal Music
Catalog No.: UPCH-1332
Release Date: March 10, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

This album is seen by many as being the third vocal collection in the Final Fantasy series, with Final Fantasy Vocal Collection I -Pray- and Final Fantasy Vocal Collection II [Love Will Grow] being its predecessors, Final Fantasy Song Book Mahoroba This album was arranged by Yuji Hasegawa, and he really sets out to do a good job, too. He gives the tracks a traditionally Celtic vibe, so by sticking to the style from the first two vocal collections, he also sets out to keep with the Final Fantasy tradition. On the whole, this is a valiant effort from him, and by starring in each of the tracks on the acoustic guitar, too, he adds the intended passion that he wanted for the album in himself. So does this album match the two previous vocal collections? Read on and see!

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) The Place I'll Return to Someday (instrumental)

The first track on the album serves as a short instrumental introduction, and at almost half its original length, it proves to be a quaint one, too. The instrumentation now consists of an alto recorder and an acoustic guitar, thus giving a Celtic image straight away. Haruhiko Noda plays the alto recorder beautifully in this track, but the main star is Yuji Hasegawa on the acoustic guitar, as it is he who features in every track on the album, and with him being the arranger, too, this is certainly a great feat. Even so, it isn't quantity, but quality, and with each performer adding a nice touch to the track, neither are at fault. The content itself is minimalist and perhaps a bit misleading, too. After all, a majority of the album is made up from vocal tracks rather than instrumental ones. This may deter some game music fans, but at the same time it is a double edged sword in that it will attract other listeners, too. Nonetheless, whatever the weather, this is a good track, and it proves to be a good arrangement of the original, too. (8/10)

2) Summer Album -Eyes on Me Japanese Ver.-

"Summer Album -Eyes on Me Japanese Ver.-" is a blend of Celtic folk and Japanese vocal flair, and, although this isn't exactly an ordinary fusion, Hasegawa blends both of the genres together nicely. The purity of Kiyota's voice outdoes that of Faye Wong in this track, thus making it miles better in melodic excellence. The harmonic development in the track is much than the original, too, and it is through the use of an acoustic bass, an accordion, an acoustic guitar, and a piano that this is done. With the first part of the track being an instrumental introduction, the harmony is realised before the melody, making it so much more emphasised later on in the track. Not only this, but instruments that don't appear in the introduction are clear as well; the piano, for instance, becomes clear straight away, with its chord harmony providing just what the track needs. Development isn't a problem either, as this instrumentation provides all of the possible variety needed. All in all, the Celtic and Japanese blend works superbly through this, and with no part going a miss, it is a superior track to the original. (9/10)

3) Maybe, Goodbye

This rendition of the Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack's "Farm Boy" is just as thrilling and as pleasing as one could hope. It begins with an accordion and an acoustic guitar strummed in a typical French style, so one can really imagine a place full of greenery and traditional life. "Farm Boy" is a gem to the album, and it is purely down to Manami Kiyota's voice that it is so successful — harmonic variety is low due to a strophic stance. The track is certainly an improvement from its original, but at the same time, there isn't a lot changed, either. This truly goes to show what a slight change in instrumentation can do, and of course what a change in style can do, too. The Celtic vibe to the track is on par with the likes of tracks from the Final Fantasy Vocal Collection II [Love Will Grow] album, thus continuing styles from such past albums. This track isn't a grand masterpiece, but it creates such a fresh vibe that is enjoyable to listen to. (9/10)

4) Town

"Town" is a rendition of "My Home Town" from the Final Fantasy III Original Sound Version, and an inspirational one at that. The beginning of the track is pure and heartfelt, with chimes and an earthly guitar giving this sense of emotion. The singing is just as pure, and of course this adds to the imagery, too. The most dominant feature is the ability to transform from this peaceful, ideal surrounding, to one of a Celtic sense of pride and action. Not many tracks utilise this ability, and so, that is what makes this track unique in comparison. Still, similarities are still evident, especially through the instrumentation and overall feel. Despite these similarities though, the track falls into a trap of underdevelopment, as although the new sections are interesting, they last for barely ten seconds. Too many tracks slip up with development, and unfortunately this is one of them. (8/10)

5) Fisherman's Horizon (instrumental)

The Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack's "Fisherman's Horizon" is transformed so much here that it becomes almost unrecognisable towards its end. The best things about the track are the sopranino and alto recorder parts — not only do they add to the certain degree of traditional vibes on the album, but they also have amazingly inspiring melodies, too. It is the recorder that takes the part of the vocalist in this track, and although other instruments play along too, they don't seem to have as much importance or effect. However, in saying this, one almost denounces the perfection which lies in the second half of the track. The second part of the track is an entirely original section that strays from the initial "Fisherman's Horizon" melody, and it is this that is one of the most inspirational parts on the album, with each instrument truly shining here. The positive sides add up through Noda's instrumental genius and Yuji Hasegawa's superb arranging skills to make this a true gem. (10/10)

6) Walking on the Road, After the Rain

This is seen by many fans as being the best track on the album, and understandably, too. The opening of the track is played on a fiddle and a piano in a very strange manner, and it sounds almost as if it is coming straight from a slide show recording. Nonetheless, this just proves to be a cheeky introduction to the track, with the vocalist coming in soon after with a totally different style. Along with an acoustic guitar, Kiyota sings the main melodic line from Final Fantasy VII's "Descendant of Shinobi" in such a child-like style that it becomes truly adorable. Nonetheless, straying away from the vocal line, a banjo, accordion, and a fiddle all play a wonderful melodic line towards the middle of the track, adding a bit of variation that was previously unexplored in the original. The greatest thing about the track is something really simple, and that is the inclusion of the choir who featured in "Maybe, Goodbye." The input from the choir consists of 'doo's' and 'dah's,' and they really liven up the track. All in all, the track is a success, and ranks as one of the finest Final Fantasy arrangements out there. (10/10)

7) And Forget Tomorrow's Dream

The track immediately following "Walking on the Road, After the Rain" was always going to be a hard choice to pick, as not only would it be seem less effective, it would be denounced by the priors supremacy, too. Ten Plants' "And Forget Tomorrow's Dream" was definitely the best track to choose, as it proves to be a more laid back and melodically inspiring track, thus nothing can be taken away from the latter arrangement. Not many will be familiar with the melody in this track, but it is easy to say that it rivals many of the songs on the album, overcoming quite a few, too. The track builds up its emotions over a whole seven minutes worth of bliss, and it is the piano melody that really keeps it going for so long, with its performance from Kazuhira Degawa certainly being perfect. The track becomes interesting to listen to through its amazing sincerity and overwhelming choice in instrumentation — it is all to easy to fall in love with the guitar, fiddle and bass — and so, it is a faithful inclusion to the album. Nonetheless, this simple track was the best one to follow "Descendant of Shinobi," with its vibes truly running to your heart. (10/10)

8) Daguerreo (instrumental)

Out of all of the instrumental tracks, this is the simplest one. The track is just an acoustic guitar arrangement of "Daguerreo" from the Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack, but don't let that discomfort you as it is an instrumental gem. Yuji Hasegawa plays the acoustic guitar without flaw and his perfection is just inspirational to every one of the tracks listeners. Admittedly, the slow pace of the track gives it a dreary sense, and maybe a bit more raw passion could have been helpful, yet the style of the track does seem pretty worthy overall. There is quite a bit of development in the melodic line and frequent chords ensure a helpful harmony doesn't go a miss either. Overall, although a short track too, "Daguerreo" is an ambient gem, and no other arrangement of it can set the scene as well as this one does. (8/10)

9) Evanescence

This track is amongst the more melodically pleasing tracks on the album yet it becomes quite annoying to find that the main extent of the harmony towards the start of the track is just that of a banjo and guitar accompaniment. Nonetheless, as the track continues, the melody of "My Home, Sweet Home" from the Final Fantasy V Original Sound Version is sung, and the great thing is that its style is very Indian in style. Ululations on certain notes really reflect upon a traditional middle eastern setting, and even the banjo is played to sound like a sitar. The track builds up sufficiently to put some joy into the melody and at least some amount of movement in the harmony, and although thin in places, it soon becomes one of the better arrangements on the album. The strongest part to the track is its ending, one which is made up from a series of vocal lines, and this is extremely important, especially seeing as though this is the penultimate track. (8/10)

10) Revolving Light

This angelic arrangement proves to be both atmospheric and entirely reminiscent of the original feelings given from "Unfathomed Reminiscence," one of the Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack's accomplished gems. The main part of the track is solely a piano and vocal arrangement, with the piano providing the vocalist with an excellent chord filled harmony to sing to. Kazuhira Degawa plays the piano in such a way that its effects are easily heard yet not undermining of the vocal line. Nonetheless, it gets to shine at 2:23 when it is accompanied by a pure acoustic melody, interweaving with each other to create an atmosphere that is extremely fluid. The vocalist continues to sing after this of something beautiful, leading us out of the track with a sense of anguish and success at the same time. The track continues with a long pause, finally introducing us to a bonus arrangement of "The Place I'll Return to Someday." It is composed in a very folk-like style, providing the listener with a memorable end to the album. This arrangement was truly inspirational. (10/10)

Summary

This album can be taken in two ways: you either like it, or you don't. Final Fantasy Song Book Mahoroba comes in as the third vocal collection of Final Fantasy themes, and by keeping to the original Celtic flair that Uematsu introduced, Yuji Hasegawa does well. Each theme adheres closely to its original, thus making the album simply a vocal and instrumental arrangement, with nothing to inspiring. Nonetheless, it becomes harder to say this when one listens to the likes of "Revolving Light" or "Walking on the Road, After the Rain," in which case one really can see how each track is an accomplished arrangement. The thing about this album that is different to Final Fantasy Vocal Collection I -Pray- and Final Fantasy Vocal Collection II [Love Will Grow] is that it features many instrumental tracks. This idea strays the album away from being entirely a vocal collection, and hence provides an almost original feeling to the album. The best instrumental track is "Fisherman's Horizon," which is really a true gem. Overall, Final Fantasy Song Book Mahoroba is a fun album to listen to if you like vocal music, but otherwise it is one to avoid. Many fans won't like the singing in some of the tracks, but open-mindedly Kiyota's voice is extremely pure. This is a great addition to the Final Fantasy Vocal series, equally matching the likes of Final Fantasy Vocal Collection I -Pray- and Final Fantasy Vocal Collection II [Love Will Grow].

Overall Score: 10/10