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Xenogears Light :: Review by Chris

Xenogears Light Album Title: Xenogears Light
Record Label: OneUp Studios
Catalog No.: OUS-003
Release Date: February 8, 2005
Purchase: Buy at OneUp Studios


There is no doubt that most people wouldn't even consider purchasing a fan-arranged album — even for major game music fanatics, the prospect of doing this can be the subject of nightmares! There is a vivid preconception still alive that all fan-arranged albums are nothing more than a collection of simple rehashes made by some of the most inexperienced musicians. The precedent set by a number of other fan-arranged albums somewhat reaffirms this belief, since many of those currently released have received mixed acclaim from those who bought them. Indeed, I wasn't one of those people who instantly strove to learn more about Xenogears Light when news of its impending release came along. This was especially since I was neither a fan of the Xenogears Original Soundtrack, nor a person that had any good experiences with other fan-arranged albums before that point. It was only after reading some appraisals of the album that receiving my copy of the album actually became a highly pleasurable experience.

The underlying principle of the album was to arrange the most beautiful tracks from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack in a light style to provide an arranged album perfect for relaxation. The arrangers are a mixture of OneUp Studio's popular veterans such as "The Wingless", Tim Sheehy, Dale North, and Mazedude, as well as fresh new innovators like Will Buck, Christian Pacaud, and Josh Barron, who are sure to grace further arranged albums in the future. They arrange the majority of track for solo piano, but other acoustic instruments, such as the violin, flute, and guitar, also feature fairly prominently. There's even some bongos and soprano saxophone featured! Although the piano is mostly computerised, thanks to Mustin's careful implementation, this doesn't reduce the sense of realism to a great extent. The other instruments, which are much more difficult to synthesise, benefit from live performances. As you might expect, the album features quite a lot of light bouncy tracks, such as "My Village is Number One," and has a whole multitude of soppy tracks, such as "Tears of the Stars, Hearts of the People" and "Broken Mirror." Don't be fooled into thinking everything is 'lovey dovey', however, as there are plenty of more experimental pieces, including "Stage of Death," "One Who Bares Fangs At God," and even "Grahf, Emperor of Darkness." Indeed, with 20 tracks to choose from (i.e. nearly half of the Xenogears Original Soundtrack), from 14 arrangers in total, you're spoilt for choice in terms of stylistic diversity.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Premonition

Boasting six arrangements in total on the album, it was only appropriate that Christian Pacaud should have the opening track. As one of the main themes from the game, "Premonition" seemed to be a good choice to do this. It opens with synth effects similar to those in the original and then moves into a piano passage. Although this passage stays close to the original, the occasional use of certain dissonant chord progressions really serve to boost its intensity. The most inspirational moment of the piece is about a minute in, however, when the violin enters. Although the violin passage is brief, Greg Kennedy really enhances it with his magical performance, which uses a lot of vibrato. This performance gives the piece a huge amount of richness and serves to magnify the extent of the mysterious atmosphere created. It returns to being led by the piano after this and, as the track ends, it slows considerably and dampens emotionally. Although it doesn't end on a high, this is intentional, in order to give the arrangement the distinct musical shape of an arch, which peaks during the violin passage. (10/10)

2) Grahf, Conqueror of Darkness

Seeing the track list for the first time, I must admit that I had my doubts about the use of "Grahf, Conqueror of Darkness" in a relaxation album. After all, as the track's arranger Mazedude remarks in the liner notes, the original was the heaviest and darkest piece on the game. Mazedude pulls off the arrangement magically, however, thanks to his unique approach to part writing. Using the combination of solo piano, violin, and flute sounds a little strange in theory, but is successful thanks to the way the arranger manipulates the sounds of each instrument to give chilling effects. The individual performances, particularly from Greg Kennedy (the violinist), are superb and ensure the arrangement is full of human emotion. Although the final creation sounds so morbid and eerily that it'd almost be considered macabre, it has a light minimalistic beauty about it that makes it utterly irresistible. My only niggle with this one is that it would have been more effective to place it elsewhere on the album; although the arrangements of "Premonition" and "Grahf, Conqueror of Darkness" have light touches, both have abstract styles and don't really get to the heart of what the album is about. Regardless of their strong musical qualities, having both back-to-back gets the album off to a slightly awkward start. (9/10)

3) Tears of the Stars, Hearts of the People

Josh Barron's only arrangement on this album is no disappointment. It's also the first true solo piano track. After a striking introduction, the theme's melody emerges, being arranged in a manner that is beautiful, but not overly complex. The melodies are phrased elegantly and are well supported by some sumptuous harmonies and colourful dynamic use. As the piece develops, the textures considerably thicken and the emotion really begins to pour out. The subtle emotions that lie within this arrangement show just how in touch the arranger is with the piece; it is really satisfying to know the melodic beauty of the original is not destroyed, but rather boosted to a whole new level. True enough, the style of this arrangement is quite standard and its musical features are fairly traditional; however, it will be a fan's favourite nonetheless thanks to the high quality of its arranging. (10/10)

4) Far Away Promise

While the original "Far Away Promise" had a beautiful melody, the emotions in the piece were severely limited by the fact that only a music box was used. As you might expect, this gave way to monotony. Erik Xian's arrangement solves this problem by using a flute, piano, and music box trio in a way that introduces lots of textural contrasts. The original melodies, although changed a little, remain close to the original and do not lose the distinct sense of fragility that made them so meaningful. The way the parts are layered in this piece shows a lot of musical sensitivity from all those involved in its production; although the piece begins as a music box solo, the melody is effortlessly passed through the piano and flute parts several times and is often harmonised by the piano. Although the part writing is reasonably simple and the arrangement is a little dull at times, the arrangement's subtlety and close resemblance to the original are the keys to its success. (8/10)

5) My Village is Number One

The second solo piano track in this album sees this bouncy town theme transformed into a light waltz. The arranger, Will Buck, employs the use of exuberant, and often dissonant, harmonies throughout and also takes a lot of liberties to give the arrangement a jazzy style. As far as I am concerned, the formula to make this arrangement was perfect — the final result emphasises the melodic catchiness of the first, but offers more musical appeal thanks to the employment of a well refined jazzy style, lots of rich harmonies, and the addition of plenty of dynamic and textural contrasts. If you abhor jazz, you won't like this, but, otherwise, it should be a treat. (10/10)

6) Shevat, the Wind is Calling

Christian Pacaud's second arrangement on the album was mostly a pleasing one, but suffered greatly as a result of its performance. The first minute of the track is a marvellous piano introduction. It is light, airy, and uplifting, just as you would expect for the piece, and features some strong chord progressions as well. The flute leads the arrangement after the introduction. This seems like a good choice from the arranger for a lead instrument, since the natural tones of the flute create a distinct sense of airiness essential for this arrangement. However, while the flute passages are delicately crafted and have soloistic musical qualities about them, their interpretation from the flautist is downright uninspiring. Technically, she is very able, but her interpretation fails to bring life to the arrangement and it ends up sounding like a dreary affair. In addition, the flute lacks projection against the complicated accompanying piano lines and this hinders the effectiveness of the arrangement further. Indeed, the piano lines sound overly complicated due to this, but could have been perfectly natural if the flautist's performance were enhanced. The arrangement manages to shine nonetheless, but could have been even more enjoyable if this problem were sorted out. (8/10)

7) Singing of the Gentle Wind

I was more than satisfied with Tim Sheehy's only arrangement on this album, which he arranged and performed on acoustic piano and electric piano. The introduction, which comprises of three subtly different parts, was drawn out for over a minute, but this didn't hinder the arrangement's quality in the slightest. This was since each strand of the introduction had its own unique beautiful qualities. They combine well as a collective whole, gradually building up to the entrance of the main tune. Like a number of other winning arrangements on the album, Tim Sheehy's main goal for the main tune is to emphasise the original's melodic beauty in order to make it sound light, subdued, and tender. As a result, the harmonies are mostly functional, although they are manipulated well and provide a suitable support the melodies. The dynamic level remains fairly low throughout the piece as well, but considerably increases towards the end as the piece reaches its emotional climax. Those looking for something immensely transformative and flamboyant will probably be disappointed by this piece, but anyone who enjoys soft and soothing piano music should find this one a real treat. (10/10)

8) Shattering the Egg of Dreams

Blak_Omen uses a structure that mirrors that of "Shevat, the Wind is Calling" for this arrangement. It opens with an eloquent piano passage and is then led by the soloist who plays a beautiful rendition of the main melody for the rest of the piece. Luckily, the soloist this time is the violinist Greg Kennedy, whose performances and interpretations have remained consistently excellent throughout this album. This track is no exception and it demonstrates once more his ability to bring a rich and human aura to whatever he plays. As a result, unlike "Shevat...," the soloist's performance significantly enhances the track. The harmonies supporting the violin are perfect for this type of piece — they are soft, natural, and subdued, but subtly intensify as the arrangement progresses. This gives the arrangement more shape and life, and is reinforced by the way the violinist's performance becomes increasingly more dramatic. Boasting breathtaking performances, serene harmonies, and a strong allegiance to the original's gorgeous melodies, this arrangement is truly a winner all round. (10/10)

9) One Who Bares Fangs At God

I abhorred the original "One Who Bares Fangs At God." I don't really know why this was, since I usually enjoy experimental tracks, but it just didn't click with me whatsoever. Kunal Majmudar's arrangement here certainly did click, however. It feels altogether more coherent and the distinct jazzy touch added makes its style much more definite. The ensemble used — piano, violin, flute, guitar, acoustic bass, and bongos — is pretty obscure and was probably decided based on the number of live performers available rather than the merits of each instrument. However, thanks to the manipulation of the instruments as well as all the marvellous live performers, no instrument feels at all out of place. By the way, not only does Kunal Majmudar write a great arrangement, but he writes a fine biography, too! (9/10)

10) Bonds of Sea and Fire

I'm very much in two minds about this one. The lush romantic harmonies used in its first section are impressive and sensationally contrast with the slower middle section. This makes the arrangement musically appealing, captivating to listen to, and charged with lots of intense emotion. Indeed, if it were an original composition, this one would score highly in my books. However, I have my concerns regarding whether or not the arrangement is appropriate for the album. The original's simplicity made it beautiful and light while this arrangement's complexity makes it unsettling and intense. Thus, Christian Pacaud has converted something that only demanded a little arranging to be appropriate for this album into something very different. If this were to be placed in an album called 'Yasunori Mitsuda meets Chopin', it'd be perfect, but the simple fact remains that it sounds like an interruptive misfit in a album that is intended to be relaxing. (8/10)

11) Ship of Sleep and Remorse

Luke Nickel transforms the catchy harpsichord tune from the Original Soundtrack into a melancholy guitar and piano arrangement. The melody passes several times from the guitar and piano, and, while one instrument is playing the melody, the other instrument harmonises it. Although this sounds simple in theory, the pleasant harmonies used, which often feature intricate baroque-style trills, makes this much more remarkable. The subtle descant used in the piano part during the middle of the piece was particularly effective and adds some lovely contrasts from what it is sandwiched between. More importantly, however, Mustin's excellent computerised implementation of the piano, as well as William Reyes' heartfelt guitar performance, ensures that the underlying sorrowful nature of Luke Nickel's arrangement is brought out in a rich and mellow manner. Very good job! (10/10)

12) Broken Mirror

Like the rest of Mitsuda's ballads, I found "Broken Mirror" to be shallow, uncreative, and cheesy. I had high hopes for its arrangement, however, since I've seen many redundant vocal tracks be transformed into absorbing piano arrangements before. I can safely say that Jay Semerad's arrangement and performance lived up to this precedent. The move to convert it into a waltz time was a successful one, since the triple metre gives the arrangement impetus and a sounder musical basis. The first two minutes of the piece are relatively simple, serving to introduce the main theme, and probably drag out longer than they ought to. Fortunately, however, the much more complex passage that succeeds it is much more stimulating to listen to and the arrangement develops comprehensively from here. The performance throughout this passage is superb and the passage work is equally as strong, with lots of interesting harmonies being introduced. Although it diverts considerably from the main melody here, this was needed to prevent the arrangement from sounding tacky and like a carbon copy. If the listening capabilities aren't quite enough, there's sheet music for this arrangement enclosed in the package that it comes with. This is certainly a great bonus after your purchase and is fun (albeit rather challenging) to play if you are a pianist. (9/10)

13) Dreams of the Strong

Kevin Stephens did a mostly admirable job of arranging the militaristic original into a calming piano and flute arrangement, but parts of this arrangement didn't work for me at all. Although the flute passages are arranged well, they do not sound particularly effective in my opinion, especially in the first section of the piece. The flute doesn't naturally have the correct tones for this arrangement — a richer and less airy wind instrument such as a clarinet would have been more effective. The flautist exacerbates this fact further by adding excessive vibrato throughout and her performance lacks tonal definition as a result. Fortunately, the passage that integrates the "Bonds of Sea and Fire" theme in the middle of the piece is much more impressive on the whole. In many ways, it actually surpasses Christian Pacaud's earlier rendition of the theme, since it sounds more fitting in a light album. I can't say that I enjoyed the end, which dragged on for too long and seemed a little too jazzy to fit in with what is a rather classically-oriented arrangement. Overall, the musical aspects of this arrangement are enjoyable, but it didn't fit together as well as it could have done in places. (7/10)

14) The Blue Traveler

Adopting a light jazzy style to this arrangement seems like a natural thing to do, considering the original's perky nature. Christian Pacaud does exactly that. The resulting arrangement emphasises the original's melodies nicely and is well-supported by some bossa nova rhythms in the harmonies, which give an inherent bouncy feel to the track. Aside from the use of the main melody, a number of original passages are added, which serve to add a lot of variety and demonstrate considerable musical ingenuity. Although not quite as harmonically impressive as some of Christian Pacaud's other arrangements, in many ways, it was refreshing to see this one took a relatively simple approach. This allows the original's positive spirit to remain intact and it is this sense of cheeriness that provides the whole underlying driving force of the arrangement. (9/10)

15) June Mermaid

This solo piano arrangement of "June Mermaid" demonstrates just how musically creative and aware Christian Pacaud is. In terms of stylistic diversity and musical complexity, very few arrangements out there supersede this one. In fact, due to its highly expressive nature, it manages to sound almost like an impromptu. The original's simple melodies are varied a lot as they pass through being lightly 'jazzified' to being incorporated into something much more dramatic and romantically inclined. Eventually, the melodies become buried completely under a sea of dissonant chromatic progressions as the piece crescendos towards its peak. You can really feel the agony and misery of the arranger here as he interprets the core of piece. Not only does this arrangement manage to be excruciatingly good to listen it, it also manages to explore elements of late romanticism, expressionism, and early jazz, making it a music lover's delight. Again, like "Bonds of Sea and Fire," this one was very complex and diverted radically from the original. However, the complexity of the arrangement seemed to have much more purpose and meaning here, since it served to emphasise the profound emotion of the arrangement, rather than to sound deliberately virtuosic and intimidating. Although not especially light, it fits in the album beautifully and adds a lot of variety as it moves towards it conclusion. Great job! (10/10)

16) The Treasure Which Cannot Be Stolen

Paul van de Geijn's solo piano arrangement is certainly a step up from the often cluttered original piece. First of all, the bass line has been manipulated by the arranger in such a way that rather than forming a means of accompaniment, it seems to interact with the melody. Indeed, this is a positive change from the original, whose isolated and somewhat repetitive bass line didn't offer much emotional impact. Yet another good point to the arrangement is the feeling brought about by it. Paul van de Geijn's piano performance brings out the melody perfectly and makes the most out of the bass line's chords and rising sequences. His performance also links all section of the arrangement perfectly and this is helped by a series of well-controlled dynamics and some sensitive rubato passages. The ending, a beautiful climax to the piece, is excellently mastered, with a broken chord through a ritardando. Despite the piece being a little long-winded — almost twice the length of the original — there is nothing else to criticise about this otherwise effective arrangement. (9/10)

17) Valley Where the Wind is Born

"The Wingless'" only arrangement on this album is no disappointment. It is arranged in the style of cool jazz, using the ensemble of a piano, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass. The guitar and bass definitely take an auxiliary role for this arrangement, but the performance and arrangement of these parts is appropriate and musical nonetheless. In contrast, the piano part leads for about half of the arrangement and sounds wonderful thanks to some artistic and slick part writing. It is definitely the soprano saxophone that steals the show, however, thanks to the immense quality of the arrangement and performance of the part by Anthony Lofton. He arranges for the instrument in a style that sounds as if it were genuinely improvised and places his solos with great sensitivity so that they are projected above the other instruments warmly. The performance also leaves much to be desired, since it combines a number of advanced jazz techniques that would challenge any saxophonist, but still manages to be subdued, appropriate, and completely unpretentious. It's absolute bliss listening to this guy play! (10/10)

18) Gathering Stars in the Night Sky

This arrangement returns us back to the world of tender solo piano arrangements, a world we stay in until the end of the album, following the small ensemble arrangement that precedes it. My main criticism with it lies in the fact that the track could have been developed in so many more ways. It could have become less of a brief encounter and be developed into a proper masterpiece instead. However, in the short time it plays, the piece offers strong emotional effects; by moving with great fluidity and naturalness from the beginning and through an intricately decorated middle section, the piece manages to be very easy to relax to, thanks to its consistent and rather predictable nature. The ending is very effective and the broken chord concludes the piece in a beautiful way. Dale North's performance is excellent throughout and manages to manipulate the versatile qualities of the piano through the use of some well gradated dynamics so that it has a large amount of emotional effect. Once again, this arrangement is a pleasant, albeit short, experience, and one that is musically sophisticated in so many ways. (9/10)

19) The Alpha and Omega

Having already explored jazz and the bossa nova, as well as late romanticism and expressionism, the truly versatile Christian Pacaud's final achievement on this album is converting a series of Bulgarian chants into a mesmerizing piano arrangement. Its feathery textures, expressive harmonies, gradated dynamics, and fragmented melodies all come together to create a magnificent impressionistic picture of a mysterious and lonely scene. It is not altogether that different from the original, as some passages are literally translated; however, it sounds like a transformation beyond belief nonetheless, due to the combined effect of the change of timbre, the addition of much more sophisticated harmonies, and the amazingly realistic synth implementation from Mustin. The greatest thing about this arrangement is its intricacy — no matter how many times I listen to it, something new always dawns before me, which I was completely oblivious to before. This makes it a truly fascinating listen that never loses its impact. Although hardly catchy and immediately noticeable, the arrangement's underlying qualities make it the pinnacle of musical achievement on the album and by far the best arrangement from Christian Pacaud featured (which says a lot in this arrangement's favour!). Kudos to him! (10/10)

20) Into Eternal Sleep

It took me over ten minutes to find out where this track was originally from. After comparing it thoroughly with the 'go to sleep' tracks from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack with no avail, I'm ashamed to say that it was only through an extensive search on the Internet that I learnt it was actually an arrangement of the battle theme "Stage of Death." Of course, a quick glance of the liner notes could have told me that in a much shorter length of time, but I'm backwards like that. David Hsu has transformed the battle theme to the extreme, replacing the heavy brooding roars of a synth orchestra in the original with the light tones of a solo piano. Indeed, when you consider the nature of the original, it is very surprising to learn that this arrangement is probably the lightest and simplest on the album. The melodies throughout the track are fragmented and slow-paced, but remain tender and heartfelt nonetheless. In the latter half of the track, the long notes that constitute the melodies become lightly trilled, which serves to add movement and really sounds enchanting thanks to David Hsu's superb performance. This track's harmonies are almost entirely built upon arpeggio sequences using fairly simple chord progressions. Occasionally, harmonic interest is added through the use of minor sequences, however, and this creates a restrained amount of tension that helps the final resolution that ends the album to be even more effective. Although simple, this is a true gem in the album that constitutes both an excellent arrangement and a fine performance. There couldn't be a better way to end the album. (9/10)


A lot of people out there feel that it is necessary to compare fan-arranged albums against official arranged albums in order to demonstrate whether or not they are worthy. Nine times out of ten, this results in the fan-arranged album being compared unfavourably to the official album or being slaughtered completely. To me, the whole principle of making these comparisons is utterly ridiculous. These two types of album are completely different kettles of fish, each with their own unique virtues and drawbacks. The greatest virtue of this album is showing exactly this. It challenges popular preconceptions by showing that collaborative fan-arranged albums can really achieve something spectacular. Although the album's production was lengthy, its results were eventually successful thanks to the enormous level of commitment and cooperation shown by all those involved, as well as the dynamic and unfaltering leadership shown by Mustin, the project leader.

Indeed, when you look at Xenogears Light as an achievement in its own right, it soon becomes clear that it is a worthy album in practically every respect. As is clearly evident from the track-by-track reviews, the arrangements are highly refined, diverse in style, and well-supported by the perceptive performances from the various instrumentalists. The album's presentation is also superb — the recording quality is crystal clear, the liner notes (which include bios for each arranger and track-by-track descriptions) are thorough and entertaining, and the well-designed DVD case packaging makes the album even more professional-looking. Boasting length as well as quality, I feel it is impossible not to be impressed by this comprehensive achievement. While it might help to bond you at a more personal level with the album if you are Xenogears fan already, such criteria really isn't necessary — after all, many of the arrangers who did the album were neither fans of the game nor its soundtrack. The truth is that Xenogears Light makes a marvellous buy for anyone who enjoys relaxing music, whether they are a Xenogears fan or not.

Overall Score: 8/10