Final Fantasy XI - Music from the Other Side of Vana'diel :: Review by Ronin
When Naoshi Mizuta and the The Star Onions (consisting of Mizuta himself, Kumi Tanioka, Tsuyoshi Sekito, and various guest performers) announced that they would be performing an arranged album to accompany the Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack, everyone expected that it would be made in a style somewhat similar to other arranged albums. However, what they came up with was rather surprising, but at the same time very refreshing. Instead of going in the usual direction of an orchestrated, or even a piano album, they mixed various styles all on one album. The result on the whole might not be to everyone's tastes, but there is certainly something to accommodate all fans of the game and beyond.
Typically, the album itself starts off as you would expect, with the first track being a remix of "Vana'diel March," the original menu music for the game. Kumi Tanioka does a good job converting this from its originally powerful orchestral format into a much more soothing piano rendition, which, while not being overly complex to begin with, certainly builds up well during the duration of the piece. This is definitely a fitting opening track to any arranged album and one which this album should be proud to have. Unfortunately Kumi Tanioka's arranging skills are only heard one other time on this album though, in the sixth track, which is an arrangement of the "Mog House" theme. Some might consider this a shame, and I am one of them. However, the quality of the other arrangements is more than worthy, so we will forgive Kumi's arranging talents not being used on any other tracks.
Although Masato Kouda is not officially part of The Star Onions, his talents were also used when producing this album. His arranging skills were put to good use on the pieces which didn't necessarily suit the style of The Star Onions, and they were remixes of the "Sanctuary of Zi'Tah," "Awakening," and "The Grand Duchy of Jeuno." The first from the list is probably the best track on the album, which is fitting because the "Sanctuary of Zi'Tah" music is probably one of the best pieces from the Final Fantasy XI Rise of the Zilart Original Soundtrack. I don't think the arrangement could be more perfect if they'd tried, and I don't think anyone expected an arrangement of the piece to sound anything like this. When it first starts, with synthesisers and smooth warm pads, it sounds distinctly like nothing previously heard on the album and it only continues to impress as the piece develops. "Awakening" is similar in the respect that it doesn't stick to the styles previously set down by the pieces previously heard on the album, but I don't think it stands out as much as it should have. It's not a bad remix by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't necessarily think it was one of the best pieces from the Original Soundtrack to select when deciding which to remix.
Quite a few of the other favourites from Final Fantasy XI were remixed, though, and the job of remixing those fell to Naoshi Mizuta, with performances from The Star Onions. While I will admit that on first playing, the pieces didn't impress all that much, they certainly have a lasting appeal that grows on you; even if some are unconventional remixes, like the "Metalworks" and "Selbina." Mizuta's remixes on the album really are quite impressive and, when comparing them to the originals, it makes them sound even better. His selection of instruments really complements the pieces that they are chosen for. To use an example of this, the distortion guitars that play the background riff for the "Kazham" remix really don't sound like they would work in the grand scheme of the piece, but in reality they provide a good introduction to the rest of the piece. It's this attention to detail that really makes Mizuta's remixes stand out.
The flagship vocal arrangement though, which was arranged by Masato Kouda, is the remix of the "Grand Duchy of Jeuno" music. Again, this piece is very unconventional when compared to the rest of the songs on the album, but listeners should have got used to this by now. The piece itself is arranged in a Jazz style, with a lead singer and background group being accompanied by a classic Jazz kit, and piano. I have to admit that, if you told me that they were going to remix this piece into that style, I'd think they were crazy. However, it seems like I am the crazy one, because this remix is actually rather good. Obviously it doesn't have the same type of power that the original piece had, but it does have a very lasting appeal to it, and the piano really does play the backing for the lyrical melody well.
In conclusion, I think this is actually a very good arranged album. Unorthodox, yes, but I am very glad that an album like this has been produced. You can hear too much of a good thing, and by experimenting with different styles in this album, I think they have given a new breathe of life to the arrangement of Final Fantasy music for future albums to come.
Overall Score: 9/10