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Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collection :: Review by Chris

Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collection Album Title: Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collection
Record Label: Avex
Catalog No.: AVCD-17444 (Copy Protected)
Release Date: March 31, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


The Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack was certainly not the best soundtrack in the series, what with its unappealing abundance of completely over-the-top, underdeveloped, and distasteful tracks. It comes as no surprise that when it was announced the Final Fantasy X-2 Piano Collection album was being released, most were relatively unexcited about the prospect of the album. It therefore came as a positive surprise when I came to realize upon listening to it that this album was, in fact, nothing other than fantastic. The twelve hugely creative and transformative arrangements boasted featured provided huge pleasure while listening to it and left great desire to listen over and over again. I am sure you will come to experience this once you come to listen to it yourself. They are certainly on par with the one and only Masashi Hamauzu's almighty Final Fantasy X Piano Collections. In fact, they might just beat it, which says an awful lot!

To say that prior to its release I had quarrels about the track listings would be a great understatement. Arranging "Paine's Theme" above "Yuna's Theme" and "Rikku's Theme" seemed absurd, considering how unsuccessful the original "Paine's Theme" was. Furthermore, I failed to see how original arrangements could be made out of "Yuna's Ballad" and "Eternity ~Memories of the Lightwaves~," both of which were already piano tracks. I feared "Treno" from the Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections again. However, I was proved wrong in both instances, and the track listings proved to be well-balanced and satisfying one in practice. It is interesting to note that two tracks, "Creature Creation" and "Seal of the Wind ~The Three Trails~" were added from the popular Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission Original Soundtrack; this was a wise and successful move in my opinion.

The producers of this album were Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi, the two composers responsible for its respective Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack. It comes as no surprise they are arranging their own work, considering both have had wide experience arranging each other's work in past soundtracks they were responsible for. I didn't doubt their capabilities to succeed, considering that, while my first experience of them in the Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack was a disappointment, the Racing Lagoon Original Soundtrack allowed me to appreciate their true capabilities as musicians. Indeed, they do a marvellous job throughout by creating enjoyable arrangements that are aptly engraved in many tracks with their popular trademark jazz and 'new age' styles. Full credit really does deserve to go out to them for this album's masterful creation. These were not the only arrangers for this album, however, and, while they produced it, Hiroko Kokubu, Masahiro Sayama and Febian Reza Pane are all responsible for arranging certain tracks throughout the album and offer their unique touches. Credit goes to these people, too, perhaps even more so!

Credit must go out to the pianists of this album, too. Shinko Ogata, Hiroko Kokubu, Masahiro Sayama, and Febian Reza Pane all do a flawless job executing each arrangement. When you consider the complexity of such arrangements, it is clear you have to be a virtuoso to truly master them. However, as well as technical accuracy, their performances throughout are subtle, character-filled, and easily capable of engrossing whomever has the pleasure of listening to it. I favour their style of playing over any of the series' other pianists by far and this says a lot when you are against the likes of Aki Kuroda. Masahiro Sayama even likes harmonics and prepared piano...

Four sets of arrangers and pianists are responsible for this album,


1) Wind Crest ~The Three Trails~

Fresh, flowing, and enchanting like the start of a new day, "Seal of the Wind ~The Three Trails~" from the Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission Original Soundtrack is the best introduction to a Final Fantasy Piano Collection album thus far. While keeping reasonably close to the original overall (certainly not a bad thing in this instance), Matsueda and Eguchi offer a whole new level of refinement and fluidity with this arrangement. The arrangement has a considerably slower tempo and this helps the arrangement to feel suitably reflective and airy. Furthermore, its inundation with lots of lovely arpeggio and broken chord sequences allows the arrangement to flow with velvety tones, even if the harmonies are not that original. I could listen to this all day and not get bored, although it is quite possible I would eventually fall asleep, considering it is so relaxing and calming. (9/10)

2) Yuna's Ballad

As I mentioned earlier, I feared that this arrangement would be nothing more than a translation of the original. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised that there is over three minutes of completely original content that Hiroko Kokubu has added for this arrangement! It begins and ends in a very similar way to the original, with the subtle integration of a few jazzy rhythms along the way adding to the overall style of this album. Although the middle section takes some time to get used to, in many ways I prefer it to the main melody, considering it helps to capture even further depth into Yuna's heartache and anguish; however, this is through using the cool jazz styles familiar with the rest of the album rather than the Romantic styles of the original. This certainly surpasses the original and is a highly enjoyable and touching addition to the album. (9/10)

3) Paine's Theme

I almost cried when I saw this would be on the album instead of "Yuna's Theme" and "Rikku's Theme"; I really hated the original, finding it inappropriate, underdeveloped, and annoying. It seems that Matsueda and Eguchi did too, considering they decided to give way for a complete overhaul by Masahiro Sayama almost to the extent that the original is unrecognisable. The style is cool jazz, and this not only captures Paine's personality much better than the original, but also helps to firmly establish the overall style of the album. Its dreamy introduction is reflective and mysterious in nature, although quite indistinctive too, while the main melody that eventually emerges, although still appropriate subtle, is much more distinctive what with its complete jazz makeover. It is a theme like this that is a dream to listen to and play for a jazz fanatic; while I am not quite one of these, I certainly feel very absorbed and fascinated by this remarkable arrangement. (9/10)

4) Creature Create

This track is the second from the Final Fantasy X-2 International + Last Mission Original Soundtrack. Guess what its style is? Yeah, that's right! Its jazz! Guess what I think of it? Yup, I LOVE IT! Why so, do you ask? Well, the 7/4 time signature certainly helps and this obviously brings lots of interesting rhythms. Of course, as the arrangement of "Cinco de Chocobo" showed in the Final Fantasy VII Piano Collections, an irregular time signature cannot possibly be the only key to success. The huge multitude of other modernist jazz features certainly helps, as does the overall flair of the performance. I particularly love the use of harmonies; the dissonant colour of the basso ostinato that runs through the majority of the piece is quite attractive, as are the walking crotchets relentlessly used during the more improvised passages. It seems a great shame that despite being a reasonably able player at the moment; indeed, it seems likely it will take a full 10 years until I would master the performance of this immensely difficult arrangement! Evidently Masahiro Sayama has no compassion for those who are not virtuosos! At least he can play it himself, I guess! (10/10)

5) Calm Lands

Although this arrangement sticks relatively close to the original, despite the much greater jazz influences integrated throughout, this is another lovely and fresh arrangement. It is largely 'new age' music what with its dreamy and relaxing nature, thin and subtle textures, quiet and supportive drones in the harmony, and electronically induced repeat till fade. Such a style is perfect for such a piece, particularly once combined with some subtle jazz refrains that appear in the latter half. Indeed, such styles help the Piano Collections album to be even more unique and are entirely reflective of the new Calm Lands featured in the game. Overall, this is a mellow and suitable arrangement from Hiroko Kokubu, which is nicely enforced by touching chord progressions, original styles, and a performance offering great sensitivity. It's highly recommended and a considerable achievement. (9/10)

6) Zanarkand Ruins

The 'new age' style is echoed again in this arrangement, this time from Masahiro Sayama. It's another delicate and relaxing one supported well by soft harmonies, thin textures, distant melodies, and a pastel end. I sense some minor influences of jazz and minimalism throughout this arrangement, too, which adds further to its musical profoundness. It is one of those pieces that seems to have very little to it at first, but as you analyse more deeply, like I did, gradually the overall quality of the arrangement becomes appreciable. I certainly find it a valuable addition that is perfect for light listening and I really hope my fear that others will often overlook it as an arrangement will not become reality. (10/10)

7) Akagi Party

This is the deepest arrangement of the album and a superb musical achievement from Masahiro Sayama. It begins with similar 'new age' styles heard in the previous two tracks; here, a single melodic line sings out purely against mellow chordal harmonies accompanying. Gradually it diverts away from this with the addition of some impressive jazz passages executed with such great feeling by Masahiro Sayama. The harmonies also thicken despite remaining largely chordal throughout and the chord progressions become more and more effectual as they develop. The most dramatic of these chord progressions is the one that begins around the 2 minutes 40 seconds mark as the theme approaches its climax. This climax occurs at the 3:28 mark, as the distinctive sound of a string snapping is heard. No other pianists have offered that before and it has both a powerful and unique effect. I just love the arrangement overall, due to its immense musicality, depth, and beauty! I really hope that others feel just as strongly. (10/10)

8) "Nightmare of a Cave"

This was the only disappointing arrangement in the album to me. This was so, not because of its bad quality, but simply because it is so short at 1:09. To me, there seemed to be plenty of room to lengthen the piece, either by introducing new passages to the solo or, alternatively, by making a welcome transition into the ever so popular "Vegnagun Starting," which opened in a very similar way to this solo within the Original Soundtrack. Still, despite its lack of length, what is offered from Matsueda and Eguchi is excellent, even if almost identical to the original. The piano solo is performed with so much dominance, power, and virtuosity that it is enough to put anyone on the tips of their seat! (8/10)

9) Demise

The subtlety of this arrangement is what I find most appealing. There is an unpleasant tendency for piano arrangements of battle themes to take a 'blast away' approach where the dynamic is nothing but fortissimo throughout and the textures are so thick most melodic lines become indistinguishable. While I coped with this in previous Piano Collections albums, it is much more refreshing to see an arrangement finally creates tension and fear with use of creative chord progressions, imitative structures and sequences, and even some harmonics. It's far better and more musical than a clamour of jumbled noise, don't you think? There is a continual feeling of falling and descending expressed throughout this arrangement, a feeling that sounds almost mystical and paranormal in nature. Such a feel is very difficult to fully articulate using normal words and is similarly difficult to explain musically; however, when you listen to it yourself I daresay it will become clear. You should also look out for the harmonics at the start of the arrangement heard in the lowest regions of the piano. These are highly intriguing features, although very difficult to master, and are essentially a great preparation for what has yet to come. This arrangement is a source of great intrigue to me and I think it is a remarkable achievement that is well worth listening over and over to. Great job, Febian Reza Pane! (10/10)

10) 1000 Words

I feared this arrangement would be a mere translation of "1000 Words (Piano Version)" from the Original Soundtrack. Indeed, while it still remains quite close to the original, it is far more powerful now. This is partly thanks to an extremely well executed performance by Hiroko Korubu. Furthermore, several new additions are made, notably the use of grand chords and arpeggios spread across the harmony, the incorporation of an entirely new sequence around the 3:15 mark, and the addition of some mighty chord progressions that lead to the arrangement's eventual end. A soppy and refined arrangement, this has the potential to become one of the most loved and frequently played piano arrangements the series has seen. (9/10)

11) Epilogue ~Reunion~

Before this arrangement, it was Hamauzu's "Ending Theme" in the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections that was my favourite ending theme of the series' piano collections. This was mainly by default, however, considering the others didn't have a huge amount to offer me. This easily beats all of them, however, and despite remaining rather similar to the original overall, the refined musical features and decoration added make it seem superior overall. It is a rich, emotional, and powerful arrangement throughout that flows perfectly yet avoids sounding programmatic like the original. I think "Besaid" fans that were disappointed that an arrangement of "Besaid" was not included in this album should also note that there is a full arrangement the theme featured within this track! This really is a great credit to Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi as arrangers and recommended for everyone. (9/10)

12) Eternity ~Memory of the Lightwaves~

Everyone loved the simplicity of the original "Eternity ~Memories of Lightwaves~," but its 'new age' arrangement here will probably be appreciated a little less, since it is less easily accessible and more artistic. However, I do see the benefit in Hiroko Kokubu's decision to divert from the original by making it much more complex and introducing a whole multitude of original features along the way. A perfect example would be the dramatic and refreshing chord progressions that emerge around the 4 minutes mark when a much more complex motif is established. However, in places the melodic lines did seem too distant to fully appreciate, and, while this is fitting with the 'new age' style, it had the tendency to make the arrangement bland, a feature not synonymous with previous arrangements on the album. Furthermore, this arrangement was too needlessly drawn out, and while a long arrangement is much better than a short one in most cases, 6 minutes 21 seconds just seems excessive in this instance. Although this arrangement is certainly a good one overall, I expect it will disappoint a lot of people who liked the original and were expecting a traditional end to the album. (9/10)


What can I say? Listening to this album really was one of the most pleasant musical surprises I have had, especially considering the mediocrity of the Final Fantasy X-2 Original Soundtrack it was derived from; practically every arrangement is satisfying and creative overall, which would come as a big surprise to most of those unfamiliar with Matsueda and Eguchi. Furthermore, the use of jazz and 'new age' styles throughout made it clearly progressive in nature as an album. Neither Noriko Matsueda nor Takahito Eguchi let me down here and my faith of them was proved when they provided what is now easily one of my favourite Final Fantasy Piano Collection albums. Both of them really deserve a medal, as do the other various arrangers and pianists responsible for this outstanding album. In case you need it clarifying and you haven't quite realized already, it really is imperative that you buy the this album, especially if you are a jazz or Matsueda/Eguchi fan. While an objective approach to it will certainly help you to appreciate it the most, even if you let your heart decide what you like based on personal tastes, there will most definitely be at least several tracks in here for you.

Overall Score: 9/10