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Phantasy Star Online Premium Arrange :: Review by Dave and Harry

Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II Premium Arrange Album Title: Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II Premium Arrange
Record Label: Team Entertainment
Catalog No.: KDSD-00039
Release Date: June 23, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Collaborative arranged albums have been very popular in recent years, with Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II Premium Arrange following the precedent set by the Mahou Shoujou Ai 2 "transformation" Full Arrange Album, Street Fighter Tribute Album, and Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange. Though this album contains much stylistic diversity, it does this primarily by focusing on the electronica genre throughout, unlike Dark Chronicle's album, which relied on the integration of an array of different genres. However, this does not grow repetitive for the most part, as each of the twelve tracks is dealt with by a different composer. The arrangers who feature on this album are Basiscape's Masaharu Iwata and Manabu Namiki, Super Sweep's Shinji Hosoe and collaborators Nobuyoshi Sano and Takayuki Aihara, Enix favourites Noriyuki Iwadare and Motoi Sakuraba, and ex-Square employees Kenji Ito and Yoko Shimomura. This results in a wide variety of approaches to the electronica genre being featured, with some tracks demonstrating electro-acousticism, others being sometimes techno-based, and the rest being totally different once again.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) The whole new world -Phantasy Star Online Episode 1&2 Opening Theme-

Sakuraba opens the album with this orchestral arrangement of the Phantasy Star opening theme. The first section of "The whole new world" acts as an orchestrated build-up to the main theme, which when we first hear it, is incredibly grand and frontal. Brass, strings, and timpani all feature in the first half of the track to announce the arrival of something grand and important, namely the quest. "The whole new world..." then develops almost magically from being simply a selection of brass and strings to an orchestral setting that blows your head off, and so, we can see immediately that Sakuraba is a composer who shows respect for instrumentation, too. Far too many composers, namely Kenji Ito on this album, fall into the trap of developing a melody nicely but then not developing the harmony along with it. There are far too many tracks in the VGM world were the addition of another instrument could have made a difference in the overall flair, but fortunately, Sakuraba steers clear of this mistake, and orchestrates his arrangement here with precision and sheer skill. One thing that this arrangement offers over its original track is a sheer amount of dynamic variety and tension, too. Sakuraba frequently stops the action in the track to make way for an ever-growing linking line; this is one of those factors that contribute towards creation of apprehension. Overall, there isn't much to criticise about this track, as with the instrumentation being so perfect, the whole image intended is just created in one's mind. (10/10)

2) Silent palace

Takayuki Aihara, from the Drag-on Dragoon scene, enters the album smoothly after Motoi Sakuraba's brilliant arrangement, and takes the honour to arrange Hideaki Kobayashi's "Silent palace." Having collaborated with Super Sweep on numerous occasions, one might expect Aihara to arrange the piece in a techno / electronica approach, but instead, we are spoilt into something which combines both orchestral elements of Drag-on Dragoon and good old classic Super Sweep techno. The result is no less than motivating. The beginning may throw you off with the female 'ahhs', which make the track sound very popish, but once the synthesizers and horns debut, all is redeemed and forgotten. The orchestration is quite near to being perfect, balanced by the contrasts of the overall simple aim and the more complex segments which tend to appear several times throughout the composition. The choir also helps to balance the orchestration with the other elements but, in addition, stands up on its own ground by providing that extra bit of emotion that draws you into the piece. The quality of the techno deserves a lot of credit since it is the primary ingredient for the track's success. Aihara chose the right type of electronic sounds to portray the mysterious silence of the palace, with the spacey noises and semi-echoing drum patterns creating a sense of large room, and a piano conveying a feeling of isolation. I feel this arrangement is an ideal example of expert decisions and choices, and because of the decisions that Aihara made, "Silent palace" is a complete victory. (9/10)

3) Chaotic bar

With the success of the former two tracks, "Chaotic bar" was expected to be another triumphant winner, and Motoaki Furukawa, the founder of Konami Kukeiha Club, delivers. He transforms the pleasant original into a very laid-back track with a lot of groove and rhythm to support the style. Resembling most chill-out tracks, the amount of instruments that are featured is very limited, resulting in only a distant electric guitar, tropical electronic beats, and some fluttery synth notes, but all use of instrumentation works fittingly with the actual composition, working well in terms of both harmonic use and appropriateness. The effect Furukawa created is interesting, seeing that you can fade out of the piece and then focus back into the tune without feeling like you missed a lot of it. This is extremely useful considering the fact that the actual composition doesn't strike me as being anything really special. Following up on that, "Chaotic bar" is probably one of the weaker arrangements on the album due to the drowsy, lethargic tranquil mood, but still proves to be interesting and fun listening material nonetheless. (8/10)

4) Versus2 -A longing to ancient times-

Shinji Hosoe returns to the Premium Arrange scene after contributing twice to one of the first albums of the series, the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange. His choice was simple, deciding to assemble the pleasing theme by Kobayashi called "Versus2 -A longing to ancient times-," which was originally an enjoyable experience, though lacked the 'WOW!' factor, but Hosoe, using both his techno and developing rock skills, mastered it to the fullest. First things first, in comparison to his style when he assisted in the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange, it is fairly different, maybe due to the fact that Tomohito Nishiura's compositions were incredibly simple in contrast to Kobayashi and Kumatani's originals on the Phantasy Star Online series. The track design and construction is simple, gradually building up from a strong start into an even stronger climax, before dying back down to a passage similar to the beginning, though the arranging and use of the instruments is somewhat convoluted, especially when Hosoe tries to fuse together two completely different genres. The more interesting parts, however, are when the heavy synth parts enter, as the melody the instruments perform is catchy and fun. These sections can be found at 1:33 and 3:34. Quality is what best describes Hosoe's entertaining arrangement, which attests to be a strong competitor within the album's competition. (9/10)

5) Jungle

Staying very true to his own personal addictive style, Nobuyoshi Sano arranges and radically transforms Fumie Kumatani's "Jungle" into an addictive hardcore electronica amazement. Sano, who had just come out fresh from his collaboration effort with Takayuki Aihara, scoring Drag-on Dragoon, provides quite a fresh effort in comparison to most of the arrangements on the album, utilising unique and effective electronic noises, as well as techno synthesizers to perform the melody; however, it's the musical composition / arranging which strikes my mind as being the 'pulling force' and also, oddly enough, the 'repelling factor.' In other words, the track has the ability to attract the listener's deserving attention, but might be too monotonous to sit through, though completely understandable considering its length and its style. Like "Chaotic bar," one can loose concentration while listening, but, besides missing some track time, you won't feel the need to rewind to revisit some certain parts again. Though Sano tends to make the arrangement especially repetitive, it won't bother the listener because, surprisingly, it has a very diverse flavour, scattering in some beautiful segments, several ghastly sections, and, most of all, highly influent techno parts, all around the arrangement. I'm most certain most people would skip over this arrangement in spite of it being such a well-planned electronic track, but Sano undoubtedly expresses his true passion with every electronic beat, making this one of the greatest arrangements on the album. (9/10)

6) The frenzy wilds

With the exception of Hitoshi Sakimoto and Mitsuhiro Kaneda, the rest of the Basiscape team (Masaharu Iwata and Manabu Namiki) are present on the album. These two members, perhaps the best electronica composers on the sound team, provide excellent, interesting, and independent arrangements, and Namiki doesn't disappoint my high expectations. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his arrangement is that, besides a few other composers, he puts plenty of thought into the development of the piece's structure, as it begins very slowly with choral passages, before converting into something incredibly fast with plenty of beat and rhythm to keep electronica fans happy. The entire piece has definitely adopted a wild attitude in all different respects, from the wildness of an open plain, shown with the chorals, to the wildness of a battle, perceptibly heard in the electronica parts. I also find Namiki's take on the electronic genre to be much more enjoyable than some of the others styles as shown on the album, but this is mainly due to the great and catchy melody that Kumatani's original provided. Namiki shows what he is capable of achieving and doesn't hold back on his ideas. A great track choice for an outstanding arrangement. (9/10)

7) A longing to ancient times PART 1

Shimomura's arrangement begins with an emotional piano line and a 'cello undertone. The 'cello adds an ominous atmosphere to the track whereas the piano adds a sense of mysticalness. A violin line soon comes in to enhance the main melody a bit more, and then, after the 0:55 mark, a drum kit appears. The melody of this track is as profound as the development, which, may I add, is extremely passionate from 2:42 onwards. The overall effects of this track are not just feelings of pomp and grandeur, but a sense of ambience, too. Shimomura swaps around instruments to create a very diverse timbre, which just goes to show what a bit of manipulation can do. Nonetheless, this manipulation also has hidden effects; with so much concentration going into such a wide scope of instruments, she forgets the prime factor of a stand-alone sense of flair. There isn't a single instrument that excels above the others, so it becomes a track in which everything relies upon one another. Unity can be great in a track, but not in this case; the track would have been better if each part received a proper development. (8/10)

8) Abysmal ball -intermission-

When you create such a unique album like this one, with plenty of lively action oriented tracks, it is vital to relax ones brain at least once before the conclusion of the album. Yuri Hiranuma's arrangement of "Abysmal ball -intermission-" gives us that opportunity, and the composer performs her duties blissfully in the most serene way possible. Her primitive, almost prehistoric, approach sounds very natural to the piece itself, especially with the dinosaur similarities in the roars and the opening like orchestration and choirs with the piano that makes great use by flickering here and there every so often. Hiranuma finds apposite use for sound effects mixing and intertwining them within the vacant parts of the arrangement, and they work so well that they may go unnoticed at times, and her tactic of using a repetitive woman vocalizing something inaudible was rather anomalous, but conversely, it happened to be strangely victorious. But, in regard of what I previously said, this is certainly one of the weakest tracks on the album, not because of the arranging style, but for the lack of interesting plans and thought. But overall, it's a pleasant track, just not a very good arrangement. (8/10)

9) "IDOLA" have the immortal feather

"The frenzy wilds" by Namiki was a golden effort and a touch of active life to the album. So how is Masaharu Iwata's arrangement going to turn out compared to his working partner's? Well, he chose the right composition and the right style, and those alone pass the test, but let's examine it more closely. "'IDOLA' have the immortal feather" is the only track on the album that is fully orchestrated without any signs of electronica or techno spread across it, and, saying that, bearing in mind that the album is largely electronic-based, it fares extremely well. Iwata goes for the epic approach with grand orchestral strings and some light, touchy brass, accompanied and balanced by sequences from low strings and drum rolls from military percussion. There isn't much of melody that occurs, but it isn't the tune that entices, but the orchestration itself; though nothing spectacular, it wins the listener over because of the array of delicious sections featured and the multifaceted musical highlights. "'IDOLA' have the immortal feather" is perfect in every way possible and could be quite possibly the greatest arrangement on the album. Like always, it's an awe-inspiring show by Iwata. (10/10)

10) Leavin flow

Makoto Asai's arrangement is an ambient guitar classic that will set anyone's heart soaring high into the sky. The track is very similar to "Chaotic bar" in the way that it starts off with a single guitar riff, only to be overlapped ten seconds later by another memorable guitar line. Even still, it isn't as powerful as "Chaotic bar," as those electric guitars have now been swapped for an unplugged acoustic one, and that wild drum kit is now replaced by a pair of tom-toms. This track takes a very minimalist stance, and unlike Kenji Ito's "World with me -Phantasy Star Online Episode 2 Ending Theme-," Asai is successful in implementing this style to the album. There are two key features that Ito's theme lacks, and these are a lack of passion and a lack of instrumentation. Even with this being a guitar arrangement, Asai manages to get some tubular bells into the track to change the atmosphere. The flair in this track could have been improved upon, as although there is quite a lot of dynamic variation, there isn't really a lot in the way of passionate playing. (7/10)

11) Can still see the light -Phantasy Star Online Ending Theme-

After listening to a selection of hit-or-miss tracks, we are finally greeted with this jazzy gem from Noriyuki Iwadare. This grooving track really adds a sense of enlightenment to the album, as with such a fantastic range of instrumentation and development, it is almost flawless. A series of brass chords start this track off with an upbeat atmosphere and a salsa-esque style; with typical instrumentation being used too, namely guiros, shakers, and castanets, one can really fantasise about the setting of the track. This ending theme creates an image of ultimate success, so it is just as if the main aim of the game has been fulfilled to its entirety. Iwadare evidently loves to flaunt the main melody of the track, as not only does he reveal it in a straight incantation on a synthesiser, he spreads it across a number of other instruments as well. So, with the first part of the track being highly entertaining, Iwadare leads us into a new section at 2:32. A piano line builds up in volume throughout this section, and its chords become more emphatic alongside the constant tap of an agogo bell; one is just left in a great amount of anticipation for the next theme. All in all, this theme proves to be an exciting addition from Iwadare, who really captures the true atmosphere of this track perfectly. (10/10)

12) World with me -Phantasy Star Online Episode 2 Ending Theme-

Ito's approach to Phantasy Star Online Episode 2 Ending theme is extremely different to Iwadare's jazzy "Can still see the light -Phantasy Star Online Ending Theme-," approach, and when the track is looked into further, one can only gape in disappointment as it proceeds for a further five minutes of untainted underdevelopment. The track attempts to be a minimalist recital of the original melody, but when Ito spoils the whole effect by dragging it on for far too long, it becomes far too easy to feel dismayed. Admittedly, the instrumental choice is perfect for the track; a clear-cut synth line plays the melody for the majority of the track whereas a fire wire synth sound compliments the melody even more in different stages of the tracks running time, but in comparison to tracks such as "Versus2 -A longing to ancient times-," it has a severe lack in the number of parts. The main point here is that this style of composition just isn't competent amongst the likes of jazzy gems and orchestrated charms. Power is a must have for an ending theme; this track is neither a reprise nor an emphatic outro; instead, it is a non-event that should have readily made way for Iwadare's captivating gem. (6/10)


The track-by-track reviews should speak for themselves, reflecting that the album is mostly strong, featuring diversity and original approaches to electronica. Those arrangements that particularly excel are "The whole new world...," "Jungle," "Can still see the light...," and, of course, "IDOLA...," the single symphonic addition. This album does have a few letdowns along the way, most notably Ito's utterly bland arrangement of "World with me...," a poor conclusion to the album that is an anticlimax following Iwadare's preceding track; indeed, having produced several weak contributions to collaborative arranged albums now, one must ask whether he should have merely be replaced by somebody more talented. Hitoshi Sakimoto would have been a particularly good composer to have on such an album, though Yasunori Mitsuda, Miki Higashino, or Ayako Saso could have also produced worthy contributions. He is the only major weak link, however, and the other composers, even the lesser-known ones, show their merit in some way. One must be forewarned that this music isn't accessible to all either, and many might well prefer the Original Soundtrack, as its electronic styles are always bound to alienate a significant minority. Only buy this one after listening to samples and knowing you don't dislike the genre, as it could well be one of the most inspiring additions to your collection, but is also likely to be a dire addition if you don't have the right tastes for this sort of album.

Overall Score: 9/10