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

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


This album is a recollection of themes which are rearranged splendidly in orchestra and rock form at a 2005 concert for the purpose of Final Fantasy music nostalgia. This 75 minute album records all of the tracks played in the concert funded by Square Enix for all FF fans across the US during May-July of 2005. All these tracks on the album were created from a live orchestra with authentic instruments, guest vocalists, and keyboard specialists. Each melody is filled with a deep emotion that is rarely absent from this album. This is the type of album which you would bring when you're sitting quietly in deep in thought or reading a book to relax. Put Hamaguchi, the vocalists, and The Black Mages group altogether, and you've got a great coda for the American FF music concerts.

I must mention that Shiro Hamaguchi deserves substantial credit for making the 2005 concert work as well, as it could possibly be through his arrangements. Hamaguchi is one of the acclaimed partners of Uematsu in the Final Fantasy series. Without his arrangements, some of Uematsu's well-known themes might not have left the same permanent impression over his listeners. I have a lot of respect for Hamaguchi's symphonic arrangements and piano works that have contributed to the high watermark standard for the Final Fantasy album series. The three orchestral arrangements (F.F.VII Main Theme," "Aerith's Theme," and "One Winged Angel) in the Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks was his first early work with Uematsu. Some may probably disagree with me on this statement, but those tracks were probably the best Final Fantasy arranged tracks simply featured on the wrong album. It was such a shame that Hamaguchi could not save the main theme for this concert and instead left on the deserted Reunion album.


Hamaguchi's first seven tracks are masterfully arranged and their precise composition recaptures the essential magic of the original themes. You'll hear first the antagonistic "Opening ~ Bombing Mission," which reminds you of Cloud jumping from the train of the first scene in Final Fantasy VII, then you'll get to Aerith's sad theme reminding us of her untimely departure, which is directly rendered from the Reunion version. Following, you have "Terra" from Final Fantasy VI and "Don't be Afraid" from Final Fantasy VIII that present some bolder music. Hamaguchi's arrangements on this album are beautiful, touching, and refined. The immortal opera event of Final Fantasy VI is remastered with full opera lyrics and performances from Stephanie Woodling, Chad Berlinghieri, and Todd Robinson. Some fans have in one time or another asked the question, what would have made Final Fantasy VI Original Sound Version perfect? I would say if SNES at the time had the capacity for real vocal sounds in the opera scene, then the album would truly achieve perfection. Hamaguchi successfully re-creates the same music structure and tonality of Uematsu's popular theme.

If I had to place criticism to balance the praise I have given to this album, I would say the vocals that appear as the latter tracks (tracks 10 and 11) were definitely a downgrade from the original soundtrack versions and 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy. These vocals are the type of pop ballad music Uematsu made specifically to complement electronic arrangements. In the later vocal tracks they're sung directly live by Emiko Shiratori for "Melodies of Life" and Rikki for "Suteki da ne." Hamaguchi's use of live instruments was an excellent effort to drive forth the melody. It doesn't get across the same pop or bouncy feeling you're use to from the Final Fantasy IX or Final Fantasy X soundtracks, but instead favors a more dramatic tone. Perhaps the biggest oddball track of this entire album is the "Melodies of Life" because it includes "The Place I'll Return Someday," in exactly the same way as the version of the 20020220 album. Even now, I think the placement is too awkward and it certainly didn't warm me up for "Melodies of Life." It's like eating two types of flavored ice cream; one after another leading to an entirely different taste experience. In terms of "Suteki da ne," Rikki's voice can be very sharp at times, but passable for a vocal. I prefer her vocals in 20020220 concert which has a slightly mellower tone, which showed a lot of restraint and control.

Then you have The Black Mages group which gave you those intense rock arrangements of your favorite battle and boss themes. Their contribution this time is the "Rocking Grounds" from Final Fantasy III, "Maybe I'm a Lion" from Final Fantasy VIII, and "Advent: One Winged Angel" from Advent Children. The first two come directly from The Black Mages II ~The Skies Above~ album and the last track was a precursor version theme of the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Original Soundtrack. "Rocking Grounds" is a fairly good rock piece, but at times it can be a little jarring for your taste after you've listened to seven beautiful orchestral tracks. You just have to be prepared for this track, otherwise you'll be caught off guard. Later on, The Black Mages group plays out "Maybe I'm a Lion," which is probably the best battle theme on the entire album besides "Advent: One Winged Angel." And how can we not mention this Advent Children track? As inspiring as this track is, it can either be a joy for others or tough luck for others. I'll explain later on why this is in the track sections.

I do need to warn you about a serious issue before you jump in and buy this album. The problem is, after hearing this album, I decided to listen to 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy, which I haven't played in years. Only then did I realize the number of arrangements on this album were either exact or close replicas of that album. "Aerith's Theme," "Suteki da ne," "Don't Be Afraid," "Tina," "The Place I'll Return to Someday ~ Melodies of Life," and "Final Fantasy" are all replicas. After hearing this album, you begin to wonder whether the 2005 concert was another recycle of 2002's concert. Excluding the two recycled rock tracks, this really leaves you with only the "Opening ~ Bombing Mission," "Zanarkand," the opera track, "Swing de Chocobo," and "Advent: One Winged Angel" as the only new types of arrangements offered on this album, yet even these are, in a certain sense, replicas. The first two were offered on Tour de Japon - Music from Final Fantasy, which never received an album release, "Swing de Chocobo" is very close to Final Fantasy X's "Brass de Chocobo," the opera is based around the ancient Game Music Concert 4 ~The Best Selection~, and "Advent: One Winged Angel" sounds better on the Advent Children soundtrack. If you've already experienced the 20020220 album, chances are you're probably going to hear the same themes again in this album. For people who haven't, though, you may feel a little snubbed in buying this album.


From a critical view, the 2005 concert album is a problematic entry to the Final Fantasy music series because seasoned listeners will notice this album shows the signs of how the music series is aging. In short, the trend of original material offered from the various artists is apparently declining. But, then again, this is an album recording from a concert, so it is not uncommon to hear repeated music from the past. Aside from the commercial turnoff of the album, the music of this album is unquestionably brilliant. If I were to rate this album directly from the concert, and not considering the factor of originality from the 2002 concert, this album certainly meets my expectations. Aside from the distractions and flaws of the vocal tracks I mentioned above, this soundtrack is superb in terms of quality and arrangement. The lush beauty of the first seven tracks and the opera track is a treat for all listeners. Also, The Black Mages' tracks were done with the same exceptional power and forcefulness as the album releases, which is rare for arrangement tracks. I recommend this for listeners who have enjoyed arrangements such as Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite, Final Fantasy VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec, Final Fantasy VI Grand Finale, The Black Mages' albums, or Final Fantasy S Generation Official Best Collection. The only people I wouldn't recommend this album are for seasoned Final Fantasy listeners who have heard the 20020220 album and are only looking for new music.

Overall Score: 7/10

Note: 85% if you haven't heard or bought the 20020220 album and 72% if you've heard or bought the album album and feel this album lacks new material or originality.

Appendix ~ Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Opening - Bombing Mission [FFVII]

This track demonstrates the capability of Hamaguchi and gets off to good start for this album. It starts out with the usual grand opening of Final Fantasy VII. Then the piano and strings quickly constructs the suspense of the melody with its quick step in and out style as if somebody's creeping into your room. In a staccato style, the trumpets blare out indicating the urgency of the situation. This classical arrangement is a significant improvement over the Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack version in terms of sound quality. (10/10)

2) Aerith's Theme [FFVII]

This surreal track starts out with the accompaniment of the piano, woodwinds, and strings in an andante (moderately slow) and soft fashion. The harp begins with a couple of lines and then the piano follows in a deep tone. This is a very nice rendition of the original theme, the bells and chimes add a touch of innocence while the piano adds a bittersweet feeling to the whole piece. The track gradually gets more grand and forte when you get to 4:31. In this section, the strings begin to tear back and the brass section hits for an integration of a strong thematic development and a heart-wrenching climax. Finally, it finishes off with a decrescendo harp solo which fades beautifully into the back. I feel this is one of the more emotional pieces on this album and the composition is crafted flawlessly by Hamaguchi. (10/10)

3) Zanarkand [FFX]

Going backwards in time, the piano rendition of the Final Fantasy X Original Soundtrack was a nice piece to listen to, but it sounded somewhat monotonal and lacking in mood and emotion. The "Ending Theme" version it was far superior in terms of orchestral development and it grabbed my attention immediately from the very start. The 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy went with the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections rendition, which I was very disappointed with. They had every instrumental and technological resource available for a possible orchestral arrangement of the piece, but did not perform it. Fortunately, in the 2005 concert album, Hamaguchi decided to orchestrate this piece. It starts out in the same fashion with the solo piano carrying the melody but adding strings in the back to drive the bass. You feel a sense of serenity with this piece which was missing in the piano version. Next, you hear the flutes play out the rendition of the theme very lightly. The second section is when the strings complete a refrain of the first section, except with much stronger emphasis of the melody. This track is equally strong in composition as "Aerith's Theme." (9/10)

4) Don't be Afraid [FFVIII]

The fourth track is the same orchestral version of Final Fantasy VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec. This piece starts out in quite a flurry of sound as the triangles are mingled very quickly and woodblocks clunking rapidly in the background. This piece excellently projects the mood of danger or disaster with the flutes trilling in and out. The brass section is able to project the active theme of an epic battle occurring. However, I feel the brass section in this track is very dominant at times and doesn't share the balance of this piece with the string section. Nonetheless, this piece is catchy and upholds the melody of the original. (7/10)

5) Terra [FFVI]

The fifth track, "Terra" from Final Fantasy VI, pays a good homage to the overworld theme with its majestic and patriotic tone. At first, it sounds pretty hollow with the oboe solo and soft string section. But this is compensated later on with all the sections playing the melody together in unison. The trumpets do an excellent job with their strong performance, and never is a letdown in comparison to the muted section of the woodwinds. The snare drums provide the necessary type of fanfare March motif to depict the heroes traveling across the overworld. (9/10)

6) Swing de Chocobo [FFX]

This track sounds very similar to "Brass de Chocobo" from Final Fantasy X, but not as strong. I'll be honest; some of the Chocobo themes in past albums that were done in techno such as FFVII and FFVIII never seemed as catchy or memorable for me as the bebop version in FFX. Drum section tumbles in the early stages of the piece like it came from the movie "Swing Kids". It is a bit more refreshing that Arnie Roth tries to add a type of jazzy fluff feel to it. The only complaint I have is that the trumpet soloist gets a tad soft and you can barely hear the woodwinds doing anything for such a track that should sound bolder with a little more oomph or zest. The woodblocks and xylophones provide some gesture to the silliness of the theme. The audience laughing in the background just makes the piece even more humorous, lighthearted, and undemanding for the listener. (8/10)

7) Final Fantasy [FF Series]

This is the returning staple theme of the Final Fantasy series. This bold, brassy, and majestic piece brings the feeling of nostalgia back to you every time you hear each of the FF endings. However, I prefer the Symphonic Suite album version of the main theme because it more developed and cohesive with "Matoya's Cave" included. I just couldn't help but notice that it wasn't included in this piece. Perhaps my expectations were too high for this piece. Also, in terms of track placement on the album, Hamaguchi should have left this track last as a more appropriate outing for the concert. But it is still a piece that retains Final Fantasy's musical beauty and nothing takes away its glory. (8/10)

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

Screeching and dissonance of the guitar is what stirs this jarring metal edgy piece. For me, I felt a little turmoil for the first and second minute of this piece. After hearing through the first seven tracks and you hear this, it's a sudden 180 for anybody. You have to be patient with this piece and examine the value of the piece near the end. The techno beats included 2:33 are a little catchy but still you have no idea what the motif of the piece is really about. The electronica is played with amazing speed as well as the guitars roughing and jamming it up at 3:07. It takes a while to get use to this piece on this album. (8/10)

9) Maybe I'm a Lion [FFVIII]

This piece is from The Black Mages II ~The Skies Above~. This version is much slower than the Final Fantasy VIII Original Soundtrack version and it loses some of the addictive pace that you're so use to. This is a battle theme transformed with electronic beats and a heavy metal background. The electronic keyboard section seems to be a letdown at first, because it lacks the proper speed of the original piece. You'll notice this at 1:20, when the electronic keyboard seems to stagger and get repetitive. At 2:41, you'll hear some distortions on the keyboard trying to bring you that conceptual feeling of facing the twisted enemy. By the time you get to 3:25, you hear the edgy guitar solo that is unrelenting, memorable, and impressive. Then it gets a little heavier on the bass along with a cool drum/percussion section at 4:35. At 4:50 is when the group actually expresses the full rapid rifling of the keyboard, and then the guitar just screeches in at 5:34. Other than the somewhat slow start of this piece in the beginning, the musicality of this piece is just solid. You just wonder where in the world this group found inspiration to play at this type of level. (9/10)

10) Suteki da ne [FFX]

This piece begins with the same fashion of the piano integrated with Rikki's vocals. There are a couple of chimes in the background for a calm and relaxing piece but her sharp voice sometimes just dominates everything in the background. Moreover, I thought her interpretation of the lyrics weren't as fluid nor mellow as her performance of the 2002 concert. One example of this is when you try to listen to the string section, which holds the melody of this piece at 2:31 and 4:21 to build up to the climax. You hear a good section of the strings until her voice comes back around 3:10 causing the string section to immediately fade into the background. Still, Hamaguchi really took painstaking time to intricately weave together all of the sections to make this into a memorable track. The clarinet renders the simple motif theme at 2:21 and at 3:11 every section comes together for a rousing buildup. This track certainly has a better cohesion as a whole than the next vocal track. (8/10)

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

The first minute of "Melodies of Life" is an ancient piece which does not fit with the remaining 4 minute love ballad featured otherwise. It's almost as if this track is snapped into two separate pieces. I feel this is a sporadic rendition of the piece, and the clarinet/oboe doesn't bring much life to this theme. Cutting to the point, I found the Final Fantasy IX theme of "The Place I'll Return Someday" was extremely dull and mundane in the soundtrack and there are certainly no improvements in this version. Now to the vocalists on this piece, I previously enjoyed Emiko Shiratori's "Melodies of Life" from Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack because she sings it vibrantly with emotion. It pains me to say this, but I noticed that on a few sections of this track, she was just losing her breathe and was flat in some sections, and the 2:02 mark is a perfect section example. She had to speed up on a few lines of lyrics in order to keep it in synch with the music. I felt her performance at 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy concert was done much better than the 2005 concert. Also, rotating between Japanese and English lyrics can easily throw off the listener in a vocal, so sometimes it's important for a vocalist to stay consistent in one language from my point of view. However, if you can get past the above mention issues, you can possibly enjoy Hamaguchi's blend of various sections for the main melody. The piano begins the arrangement and the strings later bring a tender feeling to the piece. 3:35 is when all the sections gather together for the climax. Hamaguchi's arrangement is what ultimately saves this piece from becoming a disaster in the end. However, the pop feeling of this piece is evidently missing at the expense of having a more dramatic form of orchestration. (7/10)

12) Opera "Maria & Draco" [FFVI]

This piece, at 12:27 long, is based off a rendition from Game Music Concert 4 ~The Best Selection~, which was 23:10. The vocals are much clearer than what you hear in this ancient album and the quality is undeniable. The flutes flutter back and forth in the second scene of the opera overture, 3:28 leading you into the fairy tale story you're going to witness. Then the piano complements the wistful scene of Maria singing on the balcony for "Aria Di Mezzo Carattere". The trio singing this piece does it with a type of Bel Canto elegance and they never try to overbear their individual vocal cues. 4:39 is when Maria begins her soliloquy about her love for Draco. Then the waltz for the dance is heard at 6:26, which is exceptionally done. As you hear the section where Draco finally finds Maria, the third scene 7:07 and 8:20 is where this piece really shines. The fast tempo of this section reminds me so much of the dramatic feel of the original with the horns aggressively alternating with the woodwinds. (10/10)

13) Advent: One Winged Angel [FFVII AC]

Your enjoyment of this track depends upon whether you fall under one of the two following groups. Hamaguchi's debut version of "Advent: One Winged Angel" for Advent Children was played at this 2005 concert before the movie and soundtrack released in September 2005. This was performed as a special treat for the audience who attended the concert. If you haven't heard the theme from the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Original Soundtrack, you fall under the category 1 group. This piece can be described as the result of adding heavy metal and rock on top of the Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks orchestration for a totally renewed experience. This track keeps intact the original theme while adding a blend of rock which makes it excel beyond the original version. The heavy guitar dissonance at 1:00 immediately portrays the extremely dark and brooding situation. It is much more menacing than what you've experienced from the original version of "One Winged Angel." You'll listen to the Latin choir chanting in a gothic tone which is much harsher. At the 3 minute mark this piece gets highly imaginative with the keyboard comes and new choir section. The new creative guitar riff at 4:20 and deep chants of the choir on this addictive track will keep you rewinding to this track.

Then for the unfortunate group of people who have heard the modified version on the Advent Children soundtrack, you fall under the category 2 group. For those of you who fall under this group like me, the bad part about listening to great music is that when you try to listen to its precursor theme, chances are your expectations are set too high. This is one of those great tracks that falls under that situation. However, consider how difficult a feat it would be for a live concert band, real choir, and keyboard specialists playing this piece without special pre-recordings or additional synth equipment. Yet they are able to obtain the same insane and pounding feeling you hear in the Advent Children album. Each member's effort in performing this difficult piece is very commendable. Nonetheless, when we compare it to the AC album, it lacks intensity and the section of power. For example, the electronic keyboard is skillfully played at the 3:18 minute mark, but it just doesn't match the urgency or flare of the guitar rifling out the heavy metal gothic tone. That is why I view it as an excellent tribute and precursor to the Advent Children soundtrack theme, though cannot rate this piece to be above the fleshed-out version. I recommend for the category 1 people to try the Advent Children album version for an even more satisfying music experience after listening to this track. (10/10)