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Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections :: Forum Review

Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections Album Title: Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (Reprint)
Catalog No.: SSCX-10048; SQEX-10027
Release Date: January 24, 2001; July 22, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Written by Chris

After the unexpected success of Shiro Hamaguchi's Final Fantasy VIII Piano Collections, making Piano Collections for every Final Fantasy game became one of Square's many aims in order to satisfy fans of Nobuo Uematsu's music. Not surprisingly, they decided to make the Final Fantasy IX Piano Collections soon after Final Fantasy IX came out and employed Shiro Hamaguchi once more to do the arrangements, which were to be performed by Louis Leerink. The result was the creation of perhaps the most subtle and refined Piano Collections album ever released. Though Hamaguchi's arrangements were not all that creative, they almost always musically refined, emotional, and memorable. This meant that this album appealed both to the casual listener and the musically educated fans of the series to a great extent. No other Piano Collections album has succeeded in achieving this to the same extent, so this is perhaps Hamaguchi's greatest achievement. Now let's see how he specifically achieves this...

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Eternal Harvest (Written by Piano)

If you listened to the original first and then listened to this arrangement straight after, you'll find that they are a bit different. In fact, they might as well be two different pieces. Maestro Shiro Hamaguchi has done such a wonderful job of arranging this piece, and it is a vast improvement over the original. The pianist Louis Leerink seems to be a robot, and he plays this demanding piece with incredible fluidity and ease.

There's nothing original in terms of piano texture or accompaniment, but it is the way in which he uses them which feels right, natural and sounds great too. For example, the simple triplet accompaniment of the A section (0:11 - 0:47) provides impetus and momentum whereas the B section (0:48 - 1:02) has thumping octaves in the bass register which provide much needed force to the frantic melodic line. That said though, the stunning introduction is extremely original and would've never occurred to me in a million years if I were to arrange the piece. Of course, when arranging a video game piece, it is always obligatory to introduce new material, and Hamaguchi does it well by introducing a meno mosso section (1:24 - 2:20). Here, Hamaguchi grinds things down to a standstill, and this section provides a moment of respite from the moto perpetuo of what has gone before. The main melody is still here, slightly altered and in a different key, but it is surrounded by lush harmonies and distant textures and we can detect the Debussy in Hamaguchi. After lulling the listener to a state of complete relaxation, Hamaguchi does slowly accelerates the pace until the inevitable return of the main theme. The recap becomes ever more frantic, and we are treated to a virtuosic finale, which results in a crash into the ivories when the pianist finally completes the performance. A wonderful start to a wonderful album. (10/10)

2) Hermit's Library - Daguerreo (Written by Tim)

The main melody of "Hermit's Library - Daguerreo" is so incredibly simple that it might not seem like a good candidate for a Piano Collection track at first glance. Indeed I was puzzled to see it in the tracklist when this album first came out, but excited at the same time since it was one of the catchier tunes on the OST. As it turns out, the Piano Collection arrangement of this piece is perhaps one of the most impressive on the disc. Shiro Hamaguchi really showcases his skill by crafting a tremendous arrangement of a simple piece without tinkering with the main melody we all know and love. The piece begins with an unfamiliar section that seemlessly transitions into the familiar melody. Though the OST version was fairly repetitive, Hamaguchi adds enough dynamic changes and spectacular runs to keep the piece interesting without changing the overall feel. The end result is a track that is both serene and dramatic at the same time. An excellent musical achievement. (9/10)

3) The Place I'll Return to Someday (Written by Kuranosuke1962)

We start with a sort of neo-renaissance melody, complete with picardy thirds jumping out at the ends of phrases. It's less polyphonic than the original version, and more straightforwardly chordal in the accompaniment, but no less graceful. It proceeds in this manner until at 1:18 something magical happens. That something is the introduction of a jazz-like progression in the bottom hand. While at first it might seem that two such disparate styles, renaissance and 20th century jazz, couldn't be reconciled, Hamaguchi makes it work, and work beautifully at that. It moves into a more sprightly section at 1:32 and then at 1:48, the melody re-emerges. It now remains somewhat straightforward, in its own jazz fashion, and gains momentum until the end. This is a great track in which Hamaguchi shows his mastery of his craft by successfully melding two very different styles into a cohesive whole. Leerink's peformance is superb, shifting smoothly from something more traditional in the opening to the jazzy section without making it seem at all unnatural. (9/10)

4) Vamo' Alla Flamenco (Written by Tim)

This Spanish-inspired fight track plays at various sections in the game, most notably during the early battle you perform in "I Want to be Your Canary." Like "Hermit's Library - Daguerreo" before it, this is a very simple, yet quite catchy tune on the OST. As much as I enjoyed the OST version, the Piano Collection version is infinitely better. This is probably the second best track on this disc (second only to "Melodies of Life") in my opinion.

The piece begins at a frantic pace — quite a deviation from the OST's slow rolled chords. The introduction here lends itself to a battle theme, unlike the OST, which would inspire me to dance, not fight. The piece then transitions seamlessly to the familiar main melody, carefully utilizing well-placed stacattos and impressive section endings. It builds up a head of steam as it continues before slowing down slightly to build the tension. It then erupts into a high-powered, wonderfully arranged finale that really showcases Hamaguchi's skill at arranging and Leerink's uncanny playing ability. Truly awesome! (10/10)

5) Frontier Village Dali (Written by Andrew)

This relaxing piece is positively the most tranquil of all the tracks. It is simple, and fully exposes the true nature of the original theme. With its calm and sleepy atmosphere, it portrays a peaceful town, complete with a slowly turning windmill. Even when it gets more spirited, it keeps that familiar theme, which makes it still very peaceful even for the volume. This track is living proof that one cannot make this theme forceful while keeping to the progression. "Frontier Village Dali" brings to mind that sensation of having no problems. We took a word from the French language to describe this feeling: "insouciance." The bass line of this solo is very droning, but not boring. It does not fail. (10/10)

6) Bran Bal, the Soulless Village (Written by Chris)

I have little doubt that Shiro Hamaguchi was directly inspired by the eccentric French impressionist Erik Satie while arranging this track. It is arranged in a form that mirrors Satie's most famous work, The Gymnopédies. The transition to this form is absolutely effortless — so much so, in fact, that you could believe it were composed by Satie himself. This is the most impressive feature of the arrangement, as, although certain elements of the original seemed to be inspired by Satie, the arrangement demanded a complete reworking of the harmonies and a lot of further refinements nonetheless.

It remains masterfully understated throughout, supported by simplistic melodies and some innovative chromatic harmonies. Much like Satie's very own work, this arrangement is likely to sound monotonous, unappealing to many people. Its musical worth and inner beauty, however, is much greater. (10/10)

7) Endless Sorrow (Written by Piano)

On the surface, there seems to be little to comment about this piece. It's easy to dismiss it as one of the soppier pieces, which in fact it is. The melancholic nature of this piece is quite similar to "Rose of May," and it's easy to get them mixed up, as they both happen to have the same time signature and a similar structure. However, "Endless Sorrow" is definitely similar to a Bach Invention; you have to learn the piece before you can truly appreciate its beauty, but that is something that many people aren't prepared to do.

This arrangement, being polyphonic in nature (i.e. two or more melodies proceeding in tandem), suffers from being played on the piano, and it's hard to distiguish the various melodies unless the performer chooses to; hence, why it has to be learned to be appreciated. The various lines are easy to distiguish in the original, but it's Hamaguchi's incorporation of the various ideas in the original (and the imitation of instruments) that makes it such a worthwhile piece to listen and to play. You have to listen beyond the main soprano melodic line to notice it, but even if you do not, the presence of the subsidiary melodies also provide accompaniment that is different from the hackneyed melody plus arpeggiated left hand that is unfortunately present in many of Hamaguchi's arrangements. The repeated note accompaniment that is heard at the beginning is present throughout most of the piece, giving it a style and mood similar to a Baroque dance ("Sarabande"). Even when the texture becomes thicker, it is ever present (e.g. 0:40 - 1:12) and subconsciously provides a steady momentum. Subtle reharmonisations are always welcome and Hamaguchi weaves them into this piece with such ease (in fact, his reharmonisations always seems right) and it never detracts or distracts from the original mood and feeling of the piece (e.g. 1:16). At 1:42, Hamaguchi uses a motif played by a flute in the original, and elaborates on this idea (but unfortunately not long enough) before the return of the main theme, this time complete with an original accompaniment idea. The repeated notes are also back. In fact, this return also incorporates the motif idea used before, albeit slightly modified for accompaniment purposes. This recapitulation then fades to a satifying, but mysterious ending. (8/10)

8) You're Not Alone! (Written by Piano)

This has been considered as one of the worst battle themes ever composed, but fortunately it doesn't stop it from being a cool arrangement. After a short introduction, the right hand is as bland as can be, but the left hand accompaniment is lively and bouncy, and it really comes out in the performance. If you listen closely to the melody, Mr. Leerink plays all the notes of the melody with equal force, and again, proves that he is a robot. Forgetting about the performance for the moment, let's comment on Hamaguchi's genius once again, as he has created a wonderful accompaniment figure to disguise the blandness of the right hand (0:16-1:22). Although the left hand seems to stop and start whenver it wants to, you still feel a sense of forward movement. Oh, it's also wonderfully pianistic (meant for piano) and original. We all know arpeggios are pianistic, but they aren't horribly original, so it's nice to have a blend of both once in a while. From 1:22 - 1:48, it's horribly boring, and we're all waiting for something to happen. However, this boring section is actually quite beneficial for the listener because it heightens the impact at 1:52. 1:52 - 2:18 : fantastic section. Just listen to it. At 2:18, Hamaguchi plays around with the accompaniment ideas mentioned above, and does all sorts of funny things with it. He makes it sound playful with wrong notes and descending staccato passages that sound like laughter. Then at 2:40, the first melody returns, but Hamaguchi continues to play around with that laughter idea. Genius. Then, after the reprisal of the fantastic theme, Hamaguchi laughs in your face from 3:48 to the end. (7/10)

9) Two Hearts That Can't be Stolen ~ Towards That Gate (Written by Terraguy)

I really don't know what to say, as there's too much to be said. Hamaguchi does an excellent job arranging this piece, albeit not changing the main melody much, but altering the background to a much more smoother, and calmer tone, yet bringing out the emphasis where needed. Hamaguchi creates, by arranging already two beautiful pieces from the OST, a greatly stylistic and harmonious track. There is so much going on within the track, that I just cannot explain it all. The sixteenth rolling notes blend nicely into the main melody, supporting the whole "Two Hearts That Can't be Stolen" sequence. Then, the transition into "Towards That Gate" starts with a few repeats of the same note, before jumping into the lively and bouncy theme of the sequence. The main theme, especially with the support of the left hand, adds a smooth feeling, and creates a nice harmony. In addition, the performance of Leerink is excellent, and the dynamics, speed, contrast, and ultimate style written by Uematsu, arranged by Hamaguchi, and performed by Leerink, culminates beautifully until the final six chords, bringing the piece to a triumphant end. In fact, this could have been one of the final pieces to the album. It's that good. (9/10)

10) Rose of May

Written by Piano - Though piano writing is adequate enough - simple when needed, more complex when more drama is needed - the whole piece itself feels rather routine. Hamaguchi hasn't done much apart from translating the original to piano (rather fluently, mind you) and so it's fans of the original who will find much to like here. For all others, you can't help but think this is filler material. However, it's from this piece where you can find Uematsu's simple, but wonderful melodic writing truly brilliant. (5/10)

Written by Josh Barron - This track is the most beautiful of Hamaguchi's arrangements on this album. It serves as a contrast because of its simplicity while the rest of the album is downright complex. The track starts off with a nice delicate introduction. The slow 6/8 time really gives this a nice feel. The rhythm starting at the 11-15 second mark is just fitting for the scene that it describes. Then there is a nice delicate fill that leads into the main melody of the first phrase. The melody isn't any different here than it was in the OST, but I still like the idea of using elements from the original into this arrangement. It just creates more room to variate later on. The left hand pattern under the melody is nice also. I love the use of dissonance here. Again, this shows how well Hamaguchi can arrange because he's not going overboard. He's just "tickling" the senses (playing with our emotions). After the dissonant chords have been played for a bit, they resolve at the 35 second mark.

After the first take on the melody, elements of the introduction are highlighted briefly before going into the second repeat of the melody. This next rendition of the melody is much more in depth because not only is the bass played differently, but there is more emotion in the playing of this phrase. The time signature suddenly turn into 3/8 because of the fill that will lead into the next section (which is in 6/8). This next section (which is at the 1:09 mark) is more positive sounding than the last section of the piece. This is definitely a change of pace from the slight dissonance used in the previous phrase. Now, there is mostly consonance heard. This just adds to the positive, almost hope-filled, atmosphere. Towards the end of this phrase (near the 1:44 mark) the emotion builds and then goes quieter. This leads into a variation of the beginning melody of the arrangement.

I love this part of the piece because Hamaguchi did an awesome job variating the melody. The sixteenths (which included some accidentals) were pleasing to hear. They seem as if the character (in the game) was searching for something or someone. Then, at the end of the phrase before the first ending, the left and right hands work together to make it sound like they are performing a chromatic scale. After the first ending is played, the section repeats, which then leads to the ending phrase. This is where the emotion pours out. At the 2:39 mark, the track reaches its peak. The amount of emotion put into this section is outstanding. The bass line is a bit complicated also, which is the only part in this piece where complex rhythms are heard. Hamaguchi uses a few accidentals to give the appearance that there was a key change which again, shows his creativity. After the volume dies down, the last moment of the track are delicate. This is nice, because this is how the track began. Some frilly runs are played in the right hand to further exert that point. Finally, the last few seconds of the piece are mysterious. This doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the track, and therefore it could've been arranged differently.

Overall, this is a great piece to listen to. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like the idea that this track (as simple as it may be) is one of the key tracks in the collection. It contrasts with the overall complexity of the selection of arrangements. This is an outstanding arrangement and one of my favorites on this album. Hats off to Hamaguchi and Leerink! (9/10)

11) Sleepless City Treno

Written by Talaysen - This "arrangement" is almost exactly like the original, except for three things: it's simpler, softer, and slower. In fact, all three of these lessen the track from the original, making this one worse off. Don't get me wrong, I like the piece, but this "piano arrangement" doesn't differ from the original all that much, and when it does, it makes it worse. Simply, this track completely fails as an arrangement. (1/10)

Written by Piano - This is the worst track on the album. The only thing Mr. Hamaguchi has added are a few octaves in the left hand to make it slightly more meaty. Otherwise, it's exactly the same as the original — a bore-fest. It's such a slow, unrewarding piece to listen to. The inclusion of it on the album still puzzles me. My speculation is that they wanted to provide the sheet music for what they thought was a popular piece, and so save the fans from buying the Doremi Sheet Music book (with a hundred other pieces they don't want) if they only want this piece. I thought that Mr. Hamaguchi should've created a virtuoso tour-de-force by increasing the tempo with huge leaps in the left hand and an improvising right hand. Anyway, my opinion doesn't matter after all this time. Avoid at all costs. (1/10)

12) Where Love Doesn't Reach (Written by Piano)

This piece is gorgeous. Though the arrangement is fairly simple, it's a lovely piece that allows you to wind down after a stressful day with a gorgeous melody and an interesting harmony. I think this piano arrangement is better than the original because I don't like the harpsichord and the harmonies (chord progressions) can be heard more clearly. Hamaguchi's accompaniment ideas are better than Uematsu's uninspired string writing.

Hamaguchi has a habit of polishing Uematsu's ideas, and he can't help but toy with them (1:45 - 2:09). This section leads to a wonderful statement of the main melody, which is followed by a soothing section (2:33 to end). The accompaniment to this section is reminiscent of water, and Leerink's gentle playing makes the tones of the piano meld together, creating a gorgeous sound. One gripe about this section though — the main melody has not changed in any way, so it becomes a little bit tiresome after hearing this melody for the tenth time. (8/10)

13) Final Battle (Written by BelialLordOfLie)

When playing Final Fantasy IX, I came to the last battle and was horrified by the Original Soundtrack. It seemed too random, too out of touch, and ruined the finale of the game. Therefore, finding it on the Piano Collections album was a surprise when there were better candidates, in my opinion, and so when I heard it on the PC album, I dismissed it without a second thought. However, subsequent listenings have changed my view on this track, and it takes sustained listening to understand the beauty of the piece. The variation in the OST has been organised into a more melodic order, yet it still retains its chaotic and tense feel. To look at sections in depth is required here.

The beginning is quite dull, with nothing new or amazing, and up until 1:27, the piece stays low-lying and slow. However, with the faster, jumpier left hand that enters at 1:27, the track gains a new life. This piece doesn't really have a melody, but a series of broken, off-key chords that splinter the rhythm of the left hand masterfully. 1:53 is where the piece hits a eerie theme before diving back into the main melody five seconds later. Now we get a melody which, even though is smooth, is sharp and off in places, yet offers a beautiful melody at 2:14 which stands out with vibrancy not seen in the original track. This reflects the scene of the final battle (the Crystal World, beautiful but dangerous) and the characters' emotions. Around 2:50, there is a fragmented melody that adds nicely to the feel. Soon after, a melodic and contrasting right hand enters which alternates between low and sharp to high and smooth repeatedly until 3:24. Then, eerie chords reenter, giving again more layers to this diverse piece. 3:33 offers a very serene break to the drama, but again delves into the dark and central powerful theme of battle at 3:45, where it repeats several bars from earlier. This is all finished with a powerful, shattering chord run down of almost random power notes, with Hamaguchi leaving us speechless in awe of the raw passion.

A piece with much variety has to be good, and this track takes it and runs with it. The perfect blend of darkness and light in a piece with daring and original arrangements is suberp. However, the dreary first 1:30 simply let the track down, and it was for this reason I almost gave up the track. Despite this, it is a healthy track that is worthy of praise. (9/10)

14) Melodies of Life

Written by BelialLordOfLie - There are two main themes of Final Fantasy IX which have several variants. "The Place I'll Return to Someday" is the first and "Melodies of Life" is the other, which is heard extensively in the game. The track by Uematsu, although not as successful as "Eyes on Me" from Final Fantasy VIII, has a naturally sweet and memorable melody, so all Hamaguchi had to do in the arrangement was fiddle, and that was what he did. Opening on the simple broken chords, it sets the tone almost perfectly. As the piece goes on, Hamaguchi builds up the arpeggios and harmonies, but in such a way we do not realise the standard 'same old' tricks used. This simplicity without loss of quality is what makes the piece great. There are no over-the-top musical gestures or stunning bars, but just the continual cheerful and upbeat emotion this piece delivers with a pleasurable simplicity. (8/10)

Written by Piano - The melody is gorgeous as usual and Hamaguchi arranges the piece fairly competently with arpeggios that aren't abused, which is wonderful. However, this arrangement is shorter than the original, and unfortunately, it omits a lovely section that comes after the chorus of the original. This section is quite short though, so it warrants a removal as Hamaguchi's ideas would seem tired by the second time we come around to them. Although I prefer this piece expressed much more simply, I found that the chorus lost all its power after the second time; there wasn't enough momentum to provide the power it needed, because after all, it's the climatic section of the piece. (8/10)


Written by Piano

This arranged album shows Shiro Hamaguchi at the height of his power, with consistent quality and ingenuity throughout the fourteen pieces. Some pieces fall short of the high benchmark set in this collection and of his other Piano Collection albums. Nevertheless, it remains an enjoyable listening experience for layman and musician alike. Louis Leerink's fine playing enables the listener to hear a wonderful realisation of each piece, and his dexterous fingers are never daunted. In the more lyrical pieces, he plays much better than the occasionally robotic playing of the more exciting pieces, and his playing gushes forth with lovely phrasing and a warm tone. If, by any possibility, you were stranded on a desert island with one Piano Collection album to choose, you had better consider taking this one. (9/10)

Written by Terraguy

Much of this album uses Shiro Hamaguchi's fine arranging skills, and listeners can definitely hear the beauty of the piano in these already excellent pieces. While some of the tracks could have been arranged better ("Sleepless City Treno" especially), each and every one of Nobuo Uematsu's original tracks have been improved on by Hamaguchi (including the excellent "Eternal Harvest," "Vamo' Alla Flamenco," "Two Hearts That Can't be Stolen ~ Towards That Gate," and "Melodies of Life"). With Louis Leerink's excellent playing, it seals the album with the final touch of delight. Final Fantasy IX piano fans, here is your album. Enjoy the wonderful melodies of tracks on the piano. (9/10)

Average of Summary Scores: 9/10