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Seiken Densetsu Sound Collections :: Review by Kero Hazel

Seiken Densetsu Sound Collections Album Title: Seiken Densetsu Sound Collections
Record Label: NTT Publishing
Catalog No.: PSCN-5029 (1st Edition); NTCP-5029 (Reprint)
Release Date: August 25, 1995; October 1, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

There's something cool about a soundtrack that has both original and arranged music in it. I tend to be more of a fan of original music myself, but I sure can't complain when an artist decides to throw in some arranged tracks too. The Original Soundtrack for Seiken Densetsu (Final Fantasy Adventure if you're not feeling very Japanese) was originally released as its own album shortly after the game was made. A short while later, an arranged album titled "Let Thoughts Ride on Knowledge" was released. And then, in one of the best soundtrack marketing moves in history, Square decided to re-release both of these soundtracks on a single CD, in all their glorious entirety. I imagine this annoyed the people who bought both of the albums separately, but it's good news for people who haven't yet tasted Seiken Densetu's musical magnificence.

Seiken Densetsu Sound Collections begins with the 7 arranged tracks, with the 27 original tracks following. Timewise, the two halves of the soundtrack are almost the same length. All original tracks were composed by Kenji Ito, though the orchestration of the arranged tracks was done by Takayuki Hattori.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) First Chapter - Determination

It opens with an orchestra performance of "Rising Sun," violins carrying the melody. Now that's a pretty nice melody to start with, but the other instruments make it just that much richer. Before the happy tones overwhelm you, though, a battle theme ("Fighting Arena") interrupts with its cascading brass. Everything becomes stormy, but then out of the chaos comes the valiant "Endless Battlefield" arrangement to save the day. In the last minute, "Rising Sun" comes back and finishes this fantastic opener.

2) Second Chapter - Menace

This one begins with a sinister woodwind rendition of "Glance Dukedom." The melody and harmony both do this cool stair-stepping effect, where the chords are ascending but actual notes are descending. After a loud crash, the arranged version of "Dungeon 1" cuts in. This piece fits so perfectly with "Glance Dukedom" that you may not even realize you're hearing a different piece. It's got roughly the same harmony, but with a couple extra instruments thrown in, namely a high-strung violin and some brass for a touch of evil. Then the track undergoes a major shift, into a Flamenco version of "Fight 1." Folks, this is what arrangement is all about. Despite the fact that the style is different and the tempo is slower, it's the same piece at heart. Only this time, it's the old piece on steroids. Guitar, castanets, this one has the works, and is guaranteed to please.

3) Third Chapter - Mission

The first arrangment of this piece comes from "Village," which is a slow light melody played out on a trio of guitars (great instrument choice, I think). There are also some flutes that really flesh out the harmony. Next comes "Royal Palace," which continues along the same vein, though the violins give a slightly more regal air to it. This segment is stretched out for a bit, and each repetition does something a little different with the instrumentation and harmony. Then things start to turn a bit sour, the music taking on a dark mood about halfway through. The sorrowful "Mana's Mission" enters, the main melody carried out by a female soloist. I really love this part; it's so sad and beautiful at the same time. Back to the village theme once more, and it's done.

4) Fourth Chapter - Friends

Quite a departure from your standard arranged game track, the first part of this one is a very silly-sounding "Birth of Chocobo." It reminds me of some crazy party on board a Caribbean cruise. The craziness continues into "Chocobo Theme," where I think it fits pretty well, seeing that the Chocobo music has a history of fun arrangments like this one. What follows is "Dwarves' Theme," which begins as another guitar-based arrangement. This one is a lot slower than its original version, and the flutes tend to make you feel a bit sleepy.

5) Fifth Chapter - Parting

Now for some Middle Eastern flair, it's "Dungeon 2" (which had that kind of mood even in its original version). The flowing harps and chimes make this one sound very mysterious, doing justice to the flavor of the original. Things start to heat up a bit, and everything gets louder and faster, until we land in an arrangement of "Fight 2" that will knock your socks off. It's Flamenco again, but this track is even better suited to the style than "Fight 1." Ito took a piece that already had perfect composition and a melody that oozes heroic battle, and made it even better with some great instrumentation and stylistic arrangement. "In Sorrow" follows, a piano-based arrangement with some other instruments thrown in to enhance the feeling. It's nice, but what follows is even better: "Let Thoughts Ride on Knowledge." It's the most minimal track on the soundtrack, but also one of the most beautiful. Made up of nothing but a sweet little melody and accompanying chords, this harp piece is like pure emotion in musical form.

6) Sixth Chapter - Decisive Battle

On to the next. "Mana Palace" is a curious brooding theme, though I actually care for the original version better because I think the harmonies in the arrangement make it sound too happy. And this track should not be a happy one, as the following excerpt, "Julius' Ambition," shows. Not what I'd choose as my theme if I were a villain, but it is evil enough, I suppose. It's basically just a prelude to "Last Battle," which is not a Flamenco arrangement as you might expect. Rather, it's a marchy symphonic piece with snare drums, brass, and the whole works. While it slightly diminishes the creepy feeling that the final boss music had, it does sound more fierce and climactic. Oh wait. Is that a guitar I hear? I guess there *is* a bit of Flamenco in there after all, but just a bit.

7) Last Chapter - Life

Unlike the other arrangements, "Legend Forever" gets its very own track. There are several instrumental styles at work here, from guitar solo to orchestral to vocal. It's a pretty cool piece, with interesting variation in the harmony and melody. It's too interesting, though, as it's still very conventional. The only part I don't like is the last 30 seconds of the spiece, as the melody rises and the voices do this annoying "ahhh-ahhh" thing. It sounds like music from some cheesy 60s Disney movie.

8) Rising Sun

Like the arrangement, this is a great opener. It's got one of those cool narrative melodies, and the harmony keeps tickling your emotions as you're not sure if it's supposed to be happy or sad or whatever.

9) Fighting Arena

This one's kinda funny. The bass has this rapid descending thing going on, and the melody instrument appears to be communicating in Morse Code. Neat idea, but there's just not enough meat in this thing.

10) Requiem

Here we can hear one of the popular instrumentation techniques used for Game Boy music: a harmony made up of a very low bass and a rocking midrange instrument covering the rest of the chord. If done well, this can sound quite good, but I expect a little more from Ito. The melody is of a sad parting, and I guess that's all you need to know.

11) Endless Battlefield

A great overworld theme if I ever heard one. Like "Rising Sun," it doesn't have a definite mood associated with it. This thing has such narrative goodness, with the harmony twisting and turning from major to minor to modal to god-knows-what. Not exactly simple, but more complex and rich than most anything you'd hear on the radio nowadays.

12) Village

More of that dual harmony. Hey, you got to go with whatever works, I suppose. The melody is pretty good here, so I guess that makes up for the predictable harmony.

13) Town Music (Unreleased Track)

This music was never included in the actual game, and this was no big loss, in my opinion. It's got kind of a lame harmony, and the composition sounds too much like "variation for the sake of variation". The melody is okay, though.

14) Dwarves' Theme

Hehe, this is a cute one. The melody is played extremely high up on the keyboard, and makes a nice playmate for the bouncy harmony. You can just imagine Dwarves pushing around their minecarts and whatnot, totally oblivious to the incredible evil gathering in strength all around them.

15) Glance Dukedom

Played when you first escape from the Battle Arena, this piece symbolizes the evil intentions of the Glance Dukedom (Glaive Empire if you're going by the American name). There are two parts to this piece: a quick cascading descending melody accompanied by an ascending harmony, and then a slower segment with a sinister melody accompanied by an oscillating harmony. Alone, these two segments aren't that special, but together, they work beautifully. I imagine they are supposed to represent the twin evils of the Dark Knight and Julius.

16) Dungeon 1

Employing some of the tricks used in the previous track, this dungeon theme succeeds in sounding very mysterious, but not very evil. It's not one of my favorites.

17) Fight I

Prepare yourself for some rapid notes here, combined with some great harmonic buildups that really set the mood well. I love this track's composition; all three sections work together so well.

18) Royal Palace

This track boasts some great slow harmonic progressions, and it's a shame that it's so short. The melody also fits in well.

19) Mana's Mission

Surely one of the more memorable mood pieces on the album. It's a very nice melody, and although the composition is simple, it musically conveys an event quite well.

20) Danger!

A nice quick "escape" piece. Like 99% of those, it's too short to review.

21) Jema's Realization

I'm really quite impressed with the backup instruments for this one. Instead of merely playing chords, there is some genuine counterpoint going on with the melody. It's rather sad, but still has a glimmer of hope hidden in those harmonies.

22) In Search of the Holy Sword

Though not quite as great as its big brother, "Endless Battlefield," this overworld piece is still a keeper, no doubt about it. The initial harmonies are quite unusual, but as the track progresses, you can see where Ito is going with it. It's similar in structure and style to big brother, and almost as musically pleasing.

23) Birth of Chocobo

Kind of a prelude to the "Chocobo Theme."

24) Chocobo Theme

It sounds like this version of the "Chocobo Theme" was written between Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III, before the theme took on its familiar second part (listen to the Final Fantasy II Chocobo music and you'll see what's missing). Rather annoying, if you ask me, as it's just way too repetitive.

25) Dungeon 2

This track has some of the best instrumentation on the original part of the disc. The melody has an awesome timbre, even for a synthesizer. The Middle Eastern style works perfectly here, as it reminds me of some ancient Egyptian tomb. Creepy, indeed.

26) Mowgli

Ten seconds of Moogle-ification in the game merits ten seconds of Moogle (or Mowgli, for the Japanese) music.

27) Dungeon 3

Kind of an odd twist here; the melody is in the bass instrument, while the treble maintains a flowing harmony. Bordering on the ambient, this track is quite repetitive, but it works perfectly as a mood-setting dungeon piece.

28) Fight 2

I kid you not, this is my all-time favorite battle theme. It's a bit like the first battle theme, in that the composition is absolutely fantastic. The melodic sections of the piece are a lot harder to separate, however, and I guess that's a good thing, because that just shows how well the whole piece flows together. I could go on for pages, but the bottom line is that you simply must hear this track.

29) In Sorrow

This track boasts quite a long and varied melody, which is a good thing here. It's very emotional, so it sets the mood well. And the good composition makes it nice and story-like.

30) Let Thoughts Ride on Knowledge

I always imagine this piece being played on a harp or lute, like it is played by a certain character in the game. The melody instrument plays series of triad chords, of which only the top note is part of the actual melody. There is a bass instrument, but you hardly even notice it, because the absolute beauty of this piece just grabs you and doesn't let go.

31) Mana Palace

Harmony makes this piece. Like the third dungeon track, the melody is in the bass for a change. And also like that track, this one is pretty ambient. The harmony is incredibly mysterious and awe-inspiring. It makes you feel just like the game's hero, treading in a sacred place normally meant for gods.

32) Julius' Ambition

I'm not sure why they stuck this track in so late in the album, as this plays near the very beginning, but I guess it works as a nice intro to the next track.

33) Final Battle

The name doesn't lie. I like this track a smidgen less than "Fight 2," but that's still speaking very highly of it. Ito has the poor Game Boy churning out notes as fast as it can go, pouring on the modal harmonies like there's no tomorrow. By itself, the melody doesn't sound that battle-like, but when it works with the harmony, it's a winning combination.

34) Legend Forever

Here's a cool ending theme. It begins with a very faint version of "Rising Sun," then the volume comes back, leading into a theme that's kind of an exposition on the "Rising Sun" theme. It's a slow, well-crafted composition, with relatively simple melody and harmony, but it's still good.

Summary

Yes, yes, yes!!! I think that the Seiken Densetsu Sound Collections would be worth buying for the original tracks alone, but then again, I'm a hardcore soundtrack fan with a thing for that special synth sound. But if you're into game music more for the orchestral works, then this album is still worth getting. Yes, those 35 minutes of arranged music are worth every penny. And who knows? Maybe after hearing those tracks, you'll appreciate the original sounds more than you would otherwise.

There is absolutely no reason for you to miss out on this fantastic album. It's a well-stocked item at most online soundtrack stores, and it delivers some great music. This is one of the first game soundtracks I ever purchased, and it's been number one in my favorites list for a long time. Check it out, why don't you?