01 - A New Horizon - Tavnazian Archipelago
02 - Ronfaure
03 - The Grand Duchy of Jeuno
04 - Whispers of the Gods
05 - Stargazing
06 - Fated Strife -Besieged-
07 - Mercenaries' Delight
08 - The Sanctuary of Zi'Tah
09 - The Cosmic Wheel
10 - Griffons Never Die
11 - Wings of the Goddess
Below the slipcover (for the first print), we find the regular CD packaging. It's a different angle on the same cute, yet haunting, image.
In March of 2007, Square Enix released a seven disc box set of music from Final Fantasy XI. The last of those discs was "Piano Collections Final Fantasy XI." With the announcement of this album, most VGM followers assumed it would be a single-disc reissue of disc seven from the box set, so that people who wanted the Piano CD without buying the box set could have it. But that's not what happened.
It turns out that the disc from the box set remains exclusive. Despite sharing the exact same title, this "Piano Collections Final Fantasy XI" contains eleven all-new piano arrangements. The performers from the previous FFXI piano album (Ayumi Iga and Kasumi Oga) are back, and they perform separately and together on this album. Yes, I said together. Like the last album, two "duet" pieces are included; this time they are back-to-back, and they are both battle themes. They are tracks six and seven. Both songs originate from the third expansion, "Treasures of Aht Urhgan." Those among us who regularly play Final Fantasy XI will be extremely familiar with both of these songs. And, if popular opinion has any merit, it's fair to say that track six isn't worth your time, but track seven more than makes up for it. The "Besieged" theme grates upon the ears, but the standard battle music "Mercenaries' Delight" also happens to be a VGM fanatic's delight. The two-person arrangement helps the song shine even more; before long, I found myself prefering it to the original version. I was even playing the song on my computer while engaging in battles on FFXI.
Now, part of what makes this new Piano Collection special is that it includes music from FFXI's newest expansion, "Wings of the Goddess" (also known as "Crusaders of Altana"). Released in November of 2007, the fourth expansion has proven to be a great addition to the game. So, too, is its soundtrack. Four of the eleven tracks picked for this piano arrangement come from this expansion; the other expansions receive much less attention in comparison, especially since they already had a chance in the spotlight in the "Premium Box" Piano Collection.
The four tracks from Wings of the Goddess are "Stargazing," "The Cosmic Wheel," "Griffons Never Die," and (obviously) "Wings of the Goddess." Despite the separation in track order, tracks 5 and 9 have something in common: in the game, the songs play adjacent to one another. "Stargazing" is the (past) Windurst theme, and "The Cosmic Wheel" is the (past) Saruta-Baruta field music. Both songs are beautiful, and they demonstrate how far Mizuta has come in his career as he has composed for each and every expansion in the FFXI saga. While, on the OST, I much prefer "The Cosmic Wheel" over "Stargazing," it turns out that my favorites have been switched around. "The Cosmic Wheel" is an absolutely beautiful song, but much of what made it beautiful came from its many tonal layers, which are inevitably lost when you transpose the music to one solo instrument. The powerful melody remains, but the soundscape is reduced, and the simplicity doesn't fit as well. In contrast, the one thing that irked me about "Stargazing" on the OST was the synth usage; the sounds used were too intrusive, especially considering the subdued melody. When put onto a piano, however, the melody sounds just right.
What I just said about the track "Stargazing" may as well apply to track 10, "Griffons Never Die." This song is used as a character/event theme in San d'Oria, and it is a good one, but I (again) did not like the instruments Mizuta chose to express these deep and powerful tones. Now, on the piano, it seems to fit much better. The darker, lower soundscape of this arrangement reminds me of the "Promyvion" arrangement on the last piano album: in both cases, the result is remarkable. Also, the decorations added to this track (and all the others, but especially this one) really help sell it to the discerning listener. And yes, I do consider myself a "discerning listener," particularly when it comes to piano arrangements.
The only poor choice, in my opinion, was the inclusion of the title track "Wings of the Goddess." It's not a strong tune, and the transition to piano didn't seem to help matters this time around. The only thing that makes the song memorable is in its repetition: in game, that is, you hear it far too often. I would have been happier to see them arrange virtually any other track from the Wings of the Goddess OST, just not this one. Too bad for me, I suppose...
The other tracks, which I will not mention in specific, are all excellent in their own right. FFXI players and Square Enix music fans alike will recall the music and enjoy these excellent arrangements. The only complaint that may be leveled against the soundtrack is the lack of songs from the first and second expansions. While it is true that only one song (the opening track) comes from Chains of Promathia, there are three picks from the previous Piano Collection, all of which were excellent choices. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the first expansion, "Rise of the Zilart," which got only two tracks on the other piano album.
If you combine the two piano albums into one playlist, you get 21 tracks with adequate representation from each portion of the game (roughly 4 tracks from each expansion as well as the original set of music at the time of the game's launch). As mentioned earlier, it seems only "Rise of the Zilart" lacks equal representation. Ultimately, however, I am pleased with both albums regarding their content, their high-quality arrangements, and extremely high-quality recording and production value. It seems to me that both piano albums are equal in quality, and it truly depends on which songs you prefer to determine which will be the "better" album in your own mind. As for how it ranks against all the other Final Fantasy Piano Collections (there are seven others, to date, running from IV to X-2), it is safe to say that the arrangements here show incredible artistry, though I could imagine something quite different (and perhaps better) from someone like Masashi Hamauzu (who arranged the piano album for FFX).
Whatever the case may be, this is an album that needs to be in any FF music fans' collection. Also, anyone who plays Final Fantasy XI owes it to him/herself to buy this album. The same would be said about the box set, but that's a major investment, and I can understand being hesitant to pick up such a mammoth set of music. But this single disc of beautiful music is being advertised and sold directly by Square Enix, so if you want to save money by not importing, that's one route to take. Also, FFXI players who order soon (before the first print edition is sold) can get a coupon code for an exclusive in-game item (a harpsichord for your Mog House, designed like the one on the CD's cover). Hurry, don't delay! This is a great CD, easily worth its retail price.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann