Ys VIII Super Ultimate

[back cover]
Catalog Number: NW10103480
Released On: May 31, 2019
Composed By: Falcom Sound Team jdk (Hayato Sonoda, Takahiro Unisuga), Yukihiro Jindo, Mitsuo Singa
Arranged By: Mitsuo Singa, Yukihiro Jindo
Published By: Falcom
Recorded at: branch studio
Format: 1 CD, Digital
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02 - Hope To You
04 - Beyond the Flowing Night
06 - Everlasting Transeunt ~Eternal Traveler~
07 - In Side My Head
08 - Dana
09 - Theos De Endrogram -Trance Mix
10 - Eternal Sunshine
11 - Eternal Traveler
Total Time:

In my review of the Ys VIII OST, my final words were as follows:

"Now I just want more arrangements based on this source material. Help me out, Falcom!"

Ask and you shall receive. Or...be careful what you wish for?

I was legitimately worried that Falcom had given up on arranged albums after Ys: Memories of Celceta (a reimagining of Ys IV) and Ys SEVEN came and went without their own arrangements. It would have been a fair decision, given that the quality of Falcom's soundtracks is so good and they can record live instruments as much as they want these days. But there is always that untapped potential and the opportunity to try something new and different. And in eschewing the old language of Super Arrange Version and throwing down hard with Super Ultimate, Falcom appears ready to tap into that aforementioned potential. Also, if Super Ultimate is a reference to Super Smash Bros Ultimate...Adol in Smash confirmed?!

Now then, let's get into the meat of this arranged album. Across 11 tracks, there is a healthy mix of vocal and instrumental arrangements. I'm going to start by covering the vocals. The last vocal arrange album in the Ys series was released 15 years ago: The Songs of Zemeth for Ys VI. To date, this may be one of my top five albums not just for Ys, but for the entire Falcom library. The vocals on this album are sublime, and in my opinion, they have aged quite well over the years. While I wish the same could be said for Super Ultimate's vocals, my prognostication is that many of them will be dismissed as mediocre over time. They do not have the old-school appeal of, say, Shoko Minami or Rei Sugimoto (classic Falcom), nor do they have the more polished sound of Hiroko Yamawaki or Ayako Shibazaki (Ys VI). For my money, the best vocals on this album go to Megumi Sasaka's "Eternal Sunshine" and Yoko Kajikawa's "Everlasting Transeunt ~Eternal Traveler~" — the latter demonstrates some surprisingly solid English lyrics. The other vocal tracks — "Hope To You," "Beyond the Flowing Night," "In Side My Head," and the "Eternal Traveler" reprise at the end — left me wanting something less produced and more emotional. The male vocalist, Yuuri Suehiro, was not the Super Ultimate singer I had hoped he would be. Compared to the rocking Jill's Project vocals from Zemeth, Suehiro's vocals fell flat.

That said, the instrumental work on this album is phenomenal, so much so that even the vocal tracks are redeemed by excellent instrumental backing. For example, the instrumental work in "Eternal Sunshine" tends to eclipse Megumi Sasaka's strong vocal performance. You can listen to the sample for yourself to make your own judgment. As far as I'm concerned, that guitar solo from Terukazu Inoue has more emotional depth to it than any vocal performance across the album. Even the pulsing drums, which were programmed and arranged by Mitsuo Singa, have a power that I would not have expected. In fact, across this album, the lack of any recorded percussion does bother me, and it is certainly noticeable (compared to, say, the SaGa Re:birth arranged albums of the past five years).

Looking at some of the purely instrumental tracks, I think the strongest are "SUNSHINE COASTLINE" and "GENS D'ARMES." The former, being the first open environment music in Ys VIII, brings back a flood of great memories playing the game itself. There are also some great instrumental performances here, from Shige Yamamoto's solid keyboard solos to the unexpected use of the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) from Mitsuhiro Furuya. The soundtrack version of "SUNSHINE COASTLINE" was already so excellent, there really wasn't much room for improvement. Elongating the track and adding some fun instrumental solos was a smart decision; at the end of the day, I'm glad they didn't deconstruct the original too much, and that the instrumental solos added to the track are fun and enjoyable.

As for "GENS D'ARMES" — be prepared for face-melting goodness. If there is one thing this album lacks, it is a solid celebration of fast-paced battle tunes. There are plenty of opportunities from the soundtrack that could have been pursued, yet this is the only one that gets the attention and level of detail it deserves. In this piece, guitarist Inoue passes the pick to Masaru Teramae for his only performance on the album, and he sounds fantastic. Those of you keeping track of great studio performers may recognize Teramae's name. And yes, he is joined by bassist Atsushi Enomoto. Both are familiar faces at Branch Studio, and they are also the guitar and bass performers, respectively, for all of the SaGa Re:birth albums. So...yeah, that level of quality, brought back to Falcom, feels good. The addition of a solid violin performance from Akiko Nagano seals the deal. "GENS D'ARMES" is a fantastic arrangement. If only the rest of the album was this good.

And that brings me to what may be my biggest point of contention with Super Ultimate: source selection. Falcom is known for taking a theme song and using it in a variety of ways throughout a single game. There is nothing wrong with variations on a theme. I like "Feena" as much as the next VGM lover. But the fact is that "Eternal Traveler" appears twice (tracks 6 and 11), as does the titular theme "Dana" (tracks 8 and 9). And yet, great melodic themes all throughout the two-disc OST are completely overlooked in favor of overused pieces that frankly do not stand up as well as past Ys themes.

In summary, Ys VIII Super Ultimate may not be "Super" or "Ultimate," but it is something. And despite some protests from fans who would rather have nothing than a mediocre arrangement, I personally think there is enough redeemable material to warrant a purchase of this album. But...just...barely. This album just barely meets the threshold of "worth adding to your collection." If you're new to Ys and Falcom, there are dozens of albums you really ought to pursue before this one. But if you're a seasoned collector, or if you're just a huge Ys VIII fan, then it might be time to consider adding Super Ultimate to your collection. Alternatively, since Falcom has released this album digitally, maybe just pick up the handful of tracks you enjoy most as single purchases. "SUNSHINE COASTLINE," "GENS D'ARMES," and "Eternal Sunshine" are must-haves; as for the rest, your mileage may vary.

Reviewed by: Patrick Gann