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More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy :: Review by Tim

More Friends - Music From Final Fantasy ~Los Angeles Live 2005~ Album Title: More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy ~Los Angeles Live 2005~
Record Label: Square Enix
Catalog No.: SQEX-10065
Release Date: February 15, 2006
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


When I first learned that Square Enix was planning a United States-based orchestral concert of Final Fantasy music, there was absolutely nothing that could've kept me from attending. Ever since hearing 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy, I dreamed of attending a similar concert in the United States. This was my chance. Unpaid absences from work and travel arrangements made the concert quite expensive for me, but the unbelievable memories and joy it brought me were worth much more than any monetary value. A few months later when the United States tour of Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy was announced, I decided I just couldn't justify traveling for another concert. Soon after though, I learned that by purchasing an insanely expensive VIP ticket, I could fulfil another of my dreams by meeting Nobuo Uematsu in person. Minutes later, my ticket was purchased and I was looking for flights and hotels in Chicago in February, 2005.

Having just recovered from that financial burden, I found myself financially unable to attend the newly-announced More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy concert. Oh, how I wanted to though. As the concert drew near and new details emerged, I started kicking myself that I didn't find a way to go. Not only would Uematsu be there, but the entire Black Mages band, Rikki, and Emiko Shiratori, the voice behind one of the most emotional pieces of music I've ever heard: "Melodies of Life." Concert goers would also be treated to an English version of the acclaimed opera from Final Fantasy VI, the game that got me into the series to begin with.

To this day, I still wish I would've gone, but that's neither here nor there. The consolation is that a live recording of the concert has finally been released (which is more than can be said for Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy). And in listening to it, I get a small sense of what that magical night was really like. The concert album features a solid mix of classic orchestrations we've heard before, hard rock arrangements from The Black Mages, and touching vocal tracks we heard as the credits rolled in our favorite Final Fantasy games. Oh, and as if the mix wasn't eclectic enough, a full-blown 13:00 minute opera piece was thrown in for good measure. So how does it all stack up? Let's find out...

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Opening - Bombing Mission [FFVII]

The concert begins fittingly with a newcomer to the North American Final Fantasy concert scene: "Opening - Bombing Mission" from Final Fantasy VII. This arrangement strays very little from its Original Soundtrack counterpart, and to me, this is a good thing. The original worked excellently in delicately introducing a main character, providing a musical backdrop to the troubled city of Midgar, and setting the stage for the harrowing initial mission. The orchestra performed this piece masterfully, adding greatly to the sound quality without robbing the power of the original. (9/10)

2) Aerith's Theme [FFVII]

What more can really be said about what is arguably the most recognizable piece of video game music of all time? Aerith's touching theme is hauntingly beautiful no matter how it's presented, and the orchestral version is no exception. Soothing piano and strings dominate the piece early on, before brass sneaks in to provide a more powerful ending. I'll admit I'm growing a little tired of this piece, having heard countless arrangements over the years, but it would be unfair to dock points from this excellent arrangement because of this oversaturation. (9/10)

3) Zanarkand [FFX]

Being fortunate enough to attend several Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy concerts, I've heard this rendition of "Zanarkand" performed several times now. This piece truly benefits from the imagery shown onscreen at the concerts. It's difficult not to fall in love with this piece as you watch Yuna performing a sending surrounded by sobbing villagers — victims of Sin's destruction. The experience isn't quite the same just listening on the CD, but this is still a lovely track on its own. Set to the tune of the most recognizable piece on the Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack, "Zanarkand" expands on the original piano solo by adding soft strings and brass instruments. It is also aided by some excellent string-based transitions that break up a relatively short piece into a more full orchestral experience. Simply put, this track is not to be missed. (10/10)

4) Don't be Afraid [FFVIII]

You may have heard "Don't be Afraid" on the 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy album. If so, there's nothing new here. The orchestral version does relatively little to improve what is one of the better battle themes Final Fantasy series. There is little arrangement here which renders the piece a little stale. (7/10)

5) Terra [FFVI]

"Terra," sometimes known as "Tina" has long been one of my favorite Final Fantasy arrangements. The tune doubled as both the theme for the main character in Final Fantasy VI, and the overworld theme, though the arrangements were quite different. As one of the most recognizable Final Fantasy themes ever created, it's not surprising that "Terra" has made it into nearly every concert to date. This particular version offers no surprises, though it seemed like the metronome had been cranked up a few notches over previous versions. It sounded rushed to me, which is the only reason this track loses a point. The arrangement itself is brilliant — especially the beginning, where the violinists' bows barely graze the strings on their instruments. The middle and ending sections are also excellent thanks to the booming trumpets and well-placed bass sections. (9/10)

6) Swing de Chocobo [FFX]

Based on the audible crowd reaction heard throughout the piece, this jazzy old-school version of the old favorite Chocobo theme was obviously a big hit. I personally really enjoyed the heavy percussion sections and some of the new embellishments and transitions, but I didn't much care for the instrumentation used to perform the main melody. (7/10)

7) Final Fantasy [FF Series]

It's hard to imagine finishing a Final Fantasy title without this theme playing while the credits roll. I always found it to be a fitting ending to the Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy concerts, even though the encore, "One Winged Angel" was actually played last. Though this piece is actually quite repetitive and never really develops much, it is soothing and fits within the game. I don't think this was a tremendous choice for the concert track list, but it is a Final Fantasy mainstay — the only piece of music reused in all of Uematsu's Final Fantasy work. (8/10)

8) Battle 1 ~The Rocking Grounds~ [FFIII]

You could tell the crowd was very excited when they first glimpsed The Black Mages. The ominous beginning of this piece definitely readied the crowd for action. Despite the title of the piece, I found this to be one of the tamer Black Mages arrangements out there. I would've preferred something a little more recognizable to introduce The Black Mages, but can understand they were trying to represent as many of the Final Fantasy games as possible in the concert. (7/10)

9) Maybe I'm a Lion [FFVIII]

This arrangement of "Maybe I'm a Lion" seems like a dud at first, until about halfway through when the organ and guitar solos come calling. This piece gives Uematsu — the star of the night — a chance to strut his stuff on the organ. I also couldn't help being very impressed with the solo guitar sections late in the piece, and apparently neither could the crowd, which voiced their pleasure several times during the piece. If nothing else, this was a great showpiece for the individual members to show their playing skill. (8/10)

10) Suteki da ne [FFX]

By Uematsu's own admission, he had a hard time coming up with a vocal theme for Final Fantasy X, and said that "Suteki da ne" was rather rushed. That said, it still turned out to be a solid ending theme, thanks in large part to Rikki's lovely voice. She reprised her role in that track for this live concert with overall positive results. I didn't really notice anything different between this track and its Original Soundtrack counterpart though, so it doesn't earn extra points in that regard. (8/10)

11) A Place to Call Home ~ Melodies of Life [FFIX]

"Melodies of Life" has always been my favorite vocal theme from the Final Fantasy series. Square Enix once again brought in the original performer, Emiko Shiratori to reprise her role, and like "Suteki da ne" before it, she performs the song admirably. Unlike "Suteki da ne" however, there was also an English version of "Melodies of Life." It was obvious in listening to it that Shiratori's English could've really used some work, but I was pleased to hear a more articulate effort in the short English passage this time around. Since the concert was in America, I would've liked to hear the full English version, even if the translation was cheesy. (8/10)

12) Opera "Maria & Draco" [FFVI]

Firstly, I'm not a big fan of opera music, so a twelve minute track in this style wouldn't normally be appealing to me. For some reason though, I absolutely loved "Maria and Draco." Many might complain about the somewhat schmaltzy lyrics, and the fact that one pivotal part of the original was left out, but a twenty minute opera would've probably been too long for the primary audience: the restless teenage crowd. With this in mind, the song seemed to be of ideal length, featured some brilliant orchestration, and absolutely enchanting vocals. The three singers, Stephanie Woodling (Mezzo-Soprano), Chad Berlinghieri (Tenor), and Todd Robinson (Bass-Baritone) really put their heart and soul into the song, and it was evident. Indeed this was the crown jewel performance on this CD and alone makes it worth the investment. (10/10)

13) Advent: One Winged Angel [FFVII AC]

Not surprisingly, the concert came to a close with an encore presentation of "One Winged Angel." Instead of the purely orchestral version we're used to though, we're presented with the version from Advent Children, which features the orchestra along with The Black Mages band. It's hard to argue with this choice to conclude the concert, since it's undoubtedly the most popular piece of music Uematsu has ever composed. Of the half-dozen or so official arrangements of this track that have been released, I liked the Original Soundtrack version the best. This is rare since orchestras generally sound much better than midis, but the orchestral version just couldn't capture the intensity of the original in my opinion. This version appealed to me even less than the orchestra-only version, though I appreciated some of the contrasts made by The Black Mages. Generally though, I could do without the heavy metal mixture, but I know many others probably though it added a lot to the concert. (8/10)


Overall, I was relatively pleased with this album, and after listening, I still wish I could've experienced it in person. That being said, as a huge fan of instrumental music, I much preferred the Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy track list to this one. Obviously, this is completely subjective and depends completely on personal taste. I definitely appreciate the effort on Square Enix's part to diversify with this concert, and indeed it features something for everyone. The choice of orchestral tracks, however, is pretty suspect in my view. Notably absent were favorites like "Vamo' alla flamenco," "Dear Friends," "Ronfaure," and "Liberi Fatali." Perhaps they couldn't find a prominent enough solo guitarist to perform the former two pieces, but I would've taken those four tracks over just about anything. The choices for The Black Mages also seemed a little strange, but again, it probably came down to covering as many of the games as possible.

Ultimately, if you're just getting into the music Final Fantasy has to offer, this is probably the most diverse album you can buy. If you've heard The Black Mages' albums and/or the 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy concert, there really isn't much new here. Still, I give this album a hesitant purchase recommendation thanks primarily to the newcomers: "Opening - Bombing Mission" and the brilliant "Maria and Draco." The latter alone practically makes the album worth the purchase.

Overall Score: 9/10