01 - The Adventurer's Beginning
02 - Castle of the Hero King / Kazan Republic
03 - Journey - Land of Departure ~ Journey - Land of Dragons and Flowers
04 - Battlefield - Swords Bursting ~ Battlefield - Howl, Veteran Soldiers!
05 - Labyrinth - Domain of the Bewitching Flowers ~ Battlefield - Enraged Ones
06 - The Tale Began
07 - Beautiful Garden / Miross Federation
08 - Labyrinth - Jungle Navigation
09 - Peaceful Inn ~ Choice
10 - The Lion's Resting Place / Aizen Empire ~ Isolated War Association / Nebanplace Empire
11 - Battlefield - Seven Threats
12 - Journey - Soaring the Heavens, Travelling the Oceans ~ Journey - Land of Conflict
13 - Songstress of the South Seas / Marlleaire Islands
After Norihiko Hibino and Yuzo Koshiro produced the Sekaiju no MeiQ (Etrian Odyssey) I and II Super Arrange Version, I was convinced that this series of music would become the hip new thing. It was one of my favorite albums from last year. Then, this year, they announced that another album in this same vein would come from Yuzo Koshiro's latest score (for 7th Dragon, another retro-style game from Atlus). That made me happy. Also, there are rumors that Hibino might someday do a Piano/Strings album for ActRaiser. That made me happier.
Initial audio samples suggested that this album would hold to the standard set by the last Piano/Strings arrangement. I had very high hopes for this album. Perhaps it would grow on me, and perhaps it would be even better than Etrian Odyssey? After all, the source material for 7th Dragon is decent!
Now, having listened to the album many times on repeat, I won't say my hopes were dashed, but there is no question that I really hyped this album up for myself, which is never a good idea. Now that I've gotten over my own preconceptions (and, hopefully, helped you get over yours), let's talk about the album itself.
The "Piano and Strings" arrangements feature the following instruments: piano, violin, cello, string bass (sometimes plucked in a jazzy "upright bass" style), guitar, flute, auxiliary percussion (castanets, snare drums, cymbals, etc), and a couple of surprises along the way (including saxophone, accordion and bandoneon). The slower, softer songs are done in a "healing" new age style, and the faster, louder songs are catchy acoustic jazz pieces, varying in ethnic style (sometimes Latin, sometimes French, sometimes Asian). The tracks vary in length from one minute to seven minutes. Most songs fall in the mean average of about four minutes.
My favorite pieces are the battle pieces. The Latin percussion goes a long way in helping these songs stand out. Hibino's sense of musicianship, alongside the work of these excellent performers, really makes the album worthwhile. I enjoyed almost every minute of this album. However, it is my opinion, that ranking this against the Sekaiju no MeiQ Piano and Strings CD can only end with giving this album second place. A couple of tracks on 7th Dragon Super Arrange come off as "generic," and there were some arrangements that I downright disliked (track 2 being the biggest culprit).
The other thing about this album is that there aren't enough songs from the OST that really stand out using this style of arrangement. They all work, but it's all rather comfortable: too smooth, not enough surprises to "wow" me. But it's still a great album. If you have the OST, or enjoy the original music, it's definitely worth getting this album. And if you have/enjoyed the last Piano and Strings album from Hibino and Koshiro, you'll want this one as well. I'm only one man, and my opinion that this is the inferior album may not stand up against a jury of my VGM-loving peers!
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann