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Final Fantasy X Piano Collections :: Forum Review

Final Fantasy X Piano Collections Album Title: Final Fantasy X Piano Collections
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (Reprint)
Catalog No.: SSCX-10064; SQEX-10028
Release Date: February 20, 2002; July 22, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

Written by Chris

With Shiro Hamaguchi having scored Piano Collections albums for Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX in a fairly traditional way, Masashi Hamauzu revolutionised the Piano Collections albums further with his colourful, abstruse, and enriching arrangements for the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections. With the track listings having been decided through a public vote, Nobuo Uematsu's tracks were most prominently featured from the Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack, though several of Masashi Hamauzu's own creations and a single Junya Nakano work were also featured. Still, despite the original material being simple, at least in Nobuo Uematsu's case, it was clearly not limiting, since Masashi Hamauzu has transformed most original pieces to the extent they are almost unrecognisable in a sea of Impressionism and several other genres. He manages to make arrangements so transformative, yet retain beauty, a sense of direction, and memorability throughout the album nonetheless.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) At Zanarkand (Written by Terraguy)

This great piece, soothing in stature, has been, naturally, implemented into the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections. While I enjoy the original track, and I also enjoy this track, I have to say the arrangement isn't too radical. The piece has about the same quality and style that Nobuo Uematsu already wrote into the piece, and the arrangement that Masashi Hamauzu does is by no means brilliant, but subtle in nature; it is not very different from the original piece. However, Hamauzu adds in faster 16th notes to speed up the piece, and to give a more flowing tone to it. In addition, there are subtle chord changes, and added notes to bring out a larger chord tone. It can, however, be easily missed. The most noticeable parts are, therefore, the running note lines and the connection to the other parts, including the ritardando at the end of the major phrase. When the piece hits 1:36, however, the tone changes into a small minor key, before reverting back to the original and beautiful major key as it hits the wonderfully placed running lines.

What really makes this piece so wonderful, like the original, is not just the subtle note lines, but the performance. Aki Kuroda does a wonderful job playing the piano and hitting the notes in such a calm and flowing manner, like water. This piece is sure to bring peace to listeners; some people might complain though that there aren't enough changes in the arrangement. Truth be told, the original was good enough, and the subtle changes that Hamauzu adds completes the circle, albeit in small doses. (8/10)

2) Tidus' Theme (Written by BelialLordOfLie)

I found the original version of this theme unmemorable, despite being the theme for a main character. The piano arrangement, too, is dull. There are some good points, such as the way Hamauzu replicates the different instruments at the beginning. However, it is not clear enough what is being done here. There are mainly simple broken chords on the left for the majority with a rather bland melody line on the right, which repeats throughout; frankly this makes me lose the will to live. There are several downward runs in an almost glissando-like fashion, but despite the beauty, it does not match Tidus's character in any way.

I feel this piece fails on one level and so fails on the next. Tidus is not a gentle, slow character, contrary to what the piece is telling us. With this out-of-place, the way in which the piece is tackled is not in perspective and so most techniques used will be unsuccesful. This is partly due to the composition, but Hamauzu could have taken this piece and ran. I now find myself running from this track until the better pieces later on. (4/10)

3) Besaid Island (Written by Terraguy)

While the original track had more electric instruments with the same sort of rhythm in the piece, Hamauzu does a very nice job arranging this piece to be more fluid and faster. In fact, Hamauzu totally revises the piece, and the original melody has been greatly modified in where I can barely recognize the melody. The beginning of this piece is the most different part of the whole track. It starts with Hamauzu's signature flowing 16th notes as he builds to the prominent theme. There, he adds in enough notes to mask the original melody. While the new arrangement is indeed much more smoother and better sounding to listen to, the original track is not easily noticeable unless time is spent to distinguish it. However, there are parts where you can hear the main melody, and the flowing 16th notes can be fully appreciated as they glide together and integrate the track. In addition, the piece is a bit faster, a departure from the repetitive original soundtrack. Another part that seems to me to be, unfortunately, not very well designed, would be the end. It's just a simple chord hit, and while it is indeed suitable, it seems way too simple. Other than that, the piece is different from the original "Besaid Island," and a lot more pleasing to listen to, due to the connecting phrases. (8/10)

4) Song of Prayer (Written by Piano)

"What happened?!" I hear you all say. Well, something good by the likes of it, as Hamauzu has transformed, not arranged, a relatively short theme into a deeply evocative piece that Debussy would be proud of. Consequently, Hamauzu has thrown away the original harmonic chord progression and the arrangement bears no similarity apart from the melody (fragments of it actually). I have a funny feeling that Hamauzu chose this piece, rather than the fans; he was probably obsessed by the simplicity of the theme, and decided to elaborate upon it.

The piece begins with a five part theme that is entirely homophonic i.e. just a chord. You can almost imagine this introduction being sung by a choir, and a Medieval one at that. If you have a keyboard or a sequencer, try playing the introduction using a choir sample; it sounds remarkably authentic. This is because Hamauzu uses a mode rather than a major/minor scale, specifically, the Dorian mode. Debussy frequently used unusual scales, and modes were one of them. History lesson aside, it creates a wonderful sound that has never been heard in any previous Piano Collections before. Using this beginning idea as an inspiration (which was taken from the original melody), Hamauzu takes us on a journey, with wonderful elaborations and a great ear for sonority, and shows that piano playing isn't just flashy 32nd note runs. By the middle section, there is no traditional, cantabile, singable melody — it is just a wonderful pallete of sound. Just listen to it, rather than trying to make any coherent sense of it — it's a truly mind-numbing experience.

After the middle section, with its many repeated G's dominating the texture, we return back to the initial theme, albeit truncated, and before long we are back into the middle section again. I'm quite ambivalent about the repeat of this section, as it adds considerable length, but it continues to lure me back into the dream world that Hamauzu has created. By the second repeat, it seems that the piece could go on forever without tiring out the listener. However, after a brief recapitulation of the main theme, the voices of the choir sing farewell from a distance, and we finally leave the introspective world of Hamauzu's mind. (10/10)

5) Travel Agency (Written by Piano)

The original itself was not a very good piece, and unfortunately, this arrangement is a fairly faithful rendition of it. Although the harmonies are quite neat and unusual, the repetitiveness of this piece is absolutely unbearable. Hamauzu repeats the same theme over and over again. Even though it is varied on reappearance, the variation isn't enough and consequently, it becomes more repetitive than some of Chopin's works (the middle section of Scherzo No. 1 comes to mind, as does some of the Nocturnes). If you're the type who listens to dance music, this piece will be quite bearable, but for all others, you should avoid this. (3/10)

6) Rikku's Theme (Written by Star Slight)

This is not one of the stronger melodies on the soundtrack, in my opinion — pleasant enough, but very bland. It's a fairly simple and straightforward arrangement, but I like it much better than the Original Soundtrack version. The introduction may be my favorite part, and I love how Hamauzu's drawn it out of the guitar arpeggios that open the track from the original theme. The main theme follows, being light and carefree. Its first statement is sparse, crisply played in a higher register of the piano. The left hand becomes much more active the next time around, and the piece becomes much more dynamic, different sections linking smoothly to one another by way of the introduction. I like the second theme a bit more than the first, as it's a little more introspective, but retains the quick light-heartedness of the rest of the piece. From here it flows smoothly back into a very soft introduction, then to an emotional re-statement of the main theme. A good arrangement that is well-played and an improvement on the Original Soundtrack version, but just not a very strong theme to begin with. (6/10)

7) Guadosalam (Written by BelialLordOfLie)

This piece has a relaxing and subtle charm to it that I feel reflects the spirit and tone of the area that it is set in. It uses varying dynamics, such as the subtle main line transforming into the dramatic, yet still understated, punch of the theme at 1:13, and changing to a very quiet and lightly meanacing feel at 1:50. The piece slowly fades out from there.

What I really enjoy about this piece is how Hamauzu uses the same line over and over, but changes something each time, whether its dynamics, tempo or accompaniment. The beauty of the piece, I feel, is truly brought out through the simplistic and tender diminuendos echoing off into the background of the music. The piece slowly winding down is done with something special in mind. This is where the album begins to revive itself now, after having relatively quite themes from tracks 4 - 7, and picking up after this with "Thunder Plateau." If you think about it, the party in the game goes from the relative peace of Guadosalam into the chaos and activity of the Thunder Plains. This, too, is shown in the music, so we, as listeners, are getting a combined effect of the two pieces culminating in the feelings of the characters. This is genius, which I feel should add to the overall score of the album, if not the individual track. (7/10)

8) Thunder Plains (Written by Terraguy)

A light and bouncy track, Hamauzu has kept mostly to the theme of the original track. It isn't too different, it contains that jumpy feeling, and it is repetitive. However, like Hamauzu's usual style, he arranges it to be a bit more fluid. The biggest difference in the track, compared to the original, is the interludes, one about 1/3 of the way into the track and the other 2/3 of the way into the track. Instead of keeping it the same bouncy feeling, he flows and melds them together, which brings a different quality into the piece, one that, while nice and a change, may not be what others are looking for. Then, he reverts back to the main melody of the track. What grates is the ending, an ending, like the original, that stops without anything to truly feel a closure in the piece. It would have been preferable if Hamauzu had put in some kind of ending, but he did not, and thus, the piece closes before taking the final step. However, it can be said that Hamauzu has kept closely to the original track. (6/10)

9) Assault (Written by BelialLordOfLie)

This, I would have to say, is my favorite track on the album for several reasons, and it shows Hamauzu's true talent as an arranger. The piece jumps right into the melody that is similar with the Original Soundtrack. The jumpy and detached feel perfectly simulates the feel of the scene, drawing the listener while slowly building up the layers until diving into a dramatic chord sequence while still retaining the detached feel yet slurring it together cleverly. It then again detaches and builds up for the stunning main phrase of the piece. Although a few seconds long, it has the perfect impact the piece represents of hard hitting bravery and stunning assualt.

This cycle repeats again with slight changes to dynamics and timbre, giving it a slight variation yet keeping the fast pace up. Again, we get the punch of the main phrase to retreat back into the maze of power chords and suspensions. Of course, Hamauzu is brilliant at building us up for the grand finale by sinking down in the 3rd section. We are given a sense of anticipation and then exhilaration as we are teased back into he action at 2:29 with some almost mysterious structure, which again begins to build for the finale of this stunning piece.

2:40 is the moment that Hamauzu has been preparing for, and the pure melodic genius of it cannot be described. It's almost a sense of euphoria that comes over the piece after this constant rising and falling, and the listener has hit the peak before the piece collapses into the fierce and firey battle of the ending that resembles the manic scene in which the piece is played. Hamauzu hits every note in this one, being bold in the techniques and risking a great original version. It cannot be improved, as this is a perfect piece in every way. (10/10)

10) Path of Repentance (Written by Piano)

I'm sure many of you groaned when you first heard that this piece was going to be on the album. A piano arrangement of a piano piece doesn't seem to be a good idea ("At Zanarkand" is practically the same as the original, only with a few more runs), but I changed my mind when I heard this. The original is like a 1890's steam train whereas this arrangement is a bullet train in comparison. The original just chugs along, with a few coughs on the way, so Hamauzu thought it to be wise to increase the tempo and to add some lubricant, making the piece flow much better. Peaceful, yet mysterious, this is a favourite (as with many others on this superb album) and is highly recommended. (8/10)

11) Suteki da ne (Written by Piano)

Isn't it wonderful? If you look on a microscopic level, you'll find that the piece appears to judder very frequently as a result of the 2/3 rhythm. However, if you close your eyes and just absorb the sound, you'll find that it flows better than the previous track. I consider this my favourite version of "Suteki da ne," though it has been a while since I've heard the orchestral version. The original pop version felt too slow, and the melancholic mood just became a bore after a while, whereas this arrangement by Hamauzu has everything — the mood, melody, and climaxes are all here and it's just performed by one person. You don't need an orchestra to yank those heartstrings, you know. (9/10)

12) Yuna's Decision (Written by BelialLordOfLie)

We all know the Calm Lands theme from Final Fantasy X, and this is the piano arrangement of that. This piece is one of my favourites on the album due to its creativity. If we look at the previous Piano Collections albums, there isn't anything quite like this track yet with its mellow style similar to that of more modern lounge pieces. This is the link which we see between the older styles of Final Fantasy IX, to the modernist styles of Final Fantasy X-2.

The actual piece itself has the main melody line, which is frequented and masterfully broken yet kept flowing — a tough feat indeed. The left hand throughout plays broken chords, or small runs, keeping the feel of the piece minimalistic. This is important for the piece, as the Original Soundtrack was very low key to try and add to the calm before the storm. My favourite section has to be at 1:44, where after the faster paced left hand, the building melody climaxes elegantly, still off beat and calm, giving this piece that feeling of peace but also giving it some shape. So not only is this piece revolutionary in a sense, but it also has been arranged with every note in mind, making this track one of the great contenders in all the PC albums. (9/10)

13) People of the North Pole

Written by Piano - What a transformation! The inability to produce the tribal beats and feel from the original has made Hamauzu walk along a different path, producing an arrangement that is far more contemplative than the original, resulting in an effective transition to the piano. Some may say that this piece is repetitive, but I find that every successive reappearance of the main themes become more beautiful and has a sense of grandeur that surpasses the original. Another favourite and another hit for Hamauzu. (9/10)

Written by Josh Barron - This track is definitely a masterpiece from Hamauzu. The nice calm beginning to the piece is simplistic yet refreshing as the slight dissonance is used to create a mellow effect. Keep in mind that this piece describes a melancholy place in the game. This is the scene when Seymour attacks the Guado, and this piece definitely delivers that feel. The lead in around 1:16 is nice, which goes into forte when the impact comes in. After that, there is a much quieter section which sounds happier than the previous section. But it doesn't last, because the next section repeats the initial melody. The grace notes in the treble really fit here.

Now we are at the more emotional parts of the piece. The melody leads into 3:11 which is a nice rendition of the melody. I like the use of inner voices here. This is my favorite part of the piece. After the emotion pours out through Aki Kuroda's fingers, the piece comes to a close with the melody dwindling down in volume.

Overall, this piece is one of my favorite on this album. Hamauzu really demonstrates his versatility and his ability to make a good arrangement. From the simplistic beginning, the passionate impacts of the middle sections, and finally, the calm and peaceful ending this piece delivers everything to the listener. My hat's off to you, Mr. Hamauzu! (10/10)

14) Decisive Battle (Written by Totz)

This is not my favourite Piano Collections piece for nothing. It's amazing how Hamauzu transformed the chaotic original into such a flowing piece, but without having to resort to heavy dynamics, like Hamaguchi's "Fighting." It is something comparable to what Matsueda and Eguchi would do with "Demise" in the Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collection. Although it took me a while to appreciate it, "Decisive Battle" is a pianistic masterpiece. We must not forget Aki Kuroda, who has done a tremendous job as well, making the impossible (well, it sounds impossible to me) sound possible, and quite beautiful. (10/10)

15) Ending Theme (Written by Terraguy)

I much prefer this track as the full orchestral version, for reasons being it's much more majestic and fuller. But being able to play the track by yourself? It's just as good. This is a great piece, and with all the small nuances and large rolling parts in the music, it's sure to complete the fine Final Fantasy X Piano Collections album. I especially enjoy the transitions and the overall coherence of the piece. It's much to be enjoyed. Granted, there are a few parts which lack the power as the original piece, especially at some areas where there's a huge outpouring of sound, but the piece's sound as a whole by itself is great. (9/10)

Summaries

Written by Dave

As we grow further in time as the Final Fantasy Piano Collections series proceeds, the arranger offers, what seems like, a progressive amount of advanced contributions to the Piano Collections album. We no longer hear any simple, unchanged melodies, which feature uncreative harmonies, but rather works which are musically just, and intriguing in many respects. This album sees the birth of some beautiful arrangements by Hamauzu, with the most prominent being "People of the North Pole," which is entirely passionate. The thing that I admire the most about this piano collection is the way that the music seems to have actually been written for the piano for once, rather than merely being a transcription of the original part onto a piano staff. There is more diversity from the main themes in this piano collection than ever before, and this is what makes it special. Hamauzu has worked wonders with pieces that I originally found dull, but I have now grown to love due to his work here. The album doesn't feature a single downer, and every track is much better than its original in game counterpart. Just the tiniest bit of variety in a track can do wonders for its audience, and evidentially, Hamauzu learned this a long time ago. (9/10)

Written by Terraguy

Being one of the more recent Piano Collections album in the series, one can't help but notice the most excellent arrangements from Hamauzu, and the progress of this small little corner of the music niche. From most of the original pieces on the Original Soundtrack, Hamauzu has rearranged them to sound better and more transitional than the old tracks. Indeed, it is this that makes this album such a worthy album to get. Even with a few slower, and maybe not as original arrangements, such as "Travel Agency," Hanauzu makes up for it by the amount of excellent work on the album. Other than a few arrangements that are more of a total reversal than the original, such as "Besaid Island," Hamauzu has kept somewhat true to the original. This is indeed another fine Piano Collections to join its counterparts in the Piano Collections album. (9/10)

Average of Summary Scores: 9/10