01 - Tifa's Theme
02 - Final Fantasy VII Main Theme
03 - Cinco de Chocobo
04 - Ahead on Our Way
05 - Those Who Fight
06 - Valley of the Fallen Star
07 - Gold Saucer
08 - Farm Boy
09 - Rufus' Welcoming Ceremony
10 - J-E-N-O-V-A
11 - Aeris' Theme
12 - One-Winged Angel
13 - Descendant of Shinobi
To my knowledge, here is the history of Final Fantasy Piano Collections: first 4, then 5, then 6 (with reprints of 4 and 5) -- these were all of the "book format" Piano Collections. Then, many years later, came 8 (skipping 7). Then came 9, then CD-only reprints of 4-6, then 10, and THEN 7 (and 4 months later, X-2). Many thought the day would never come that we would see a Final Fantasy VII Piano Collection...someone decided to skip over it, and skip over they did. But, perhaps due to the excitement building over the upcoming FF VII CG movie "Advent Children", Shiro Hamaguchi worked out an arrangement of 13 songs from the OST, and now we finally have it.
Ladies and gentlemen, while I may be known to do this often, I am officially declaring this the best FF Piano CD to date. I didn't think this would be so. I expected mediocre arrangements, and I originally thought the tracklist to be a poor selection (no "You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet"?! What, another Chocobo arrangement!?). Well, I can assure you I was wrong. Let's take a look at the highlights.
Starting with my favorite part - the battle themes. We have here 3 battle themes: "Those Who Fight" (normal battle), "J-E-N-O-V-A" (JENOVA battle), and "One-Winged Angel" (last battle). These are clearly the most grandiose, most difficult piano arrangements we've yet seen from Shiro Hamaguchi (I've been keeping track - I think that IX's last boss music had the title, if X's didn't...we have now reached a new level of difficulty). Each one keeps the pace up well, and each has brought me to a greater appreciation of Uematsu's original composition. Frankly, I was getting a little tired of One-Winged Angel, but this piano solo made me re-think the whole issue, and I realized that the song is indeed a stellar composition. And it is FUN! These songs are just FUN to listen to. Wow. I am amazed at the powerful performance by Seiji Honda: wherever they found this guy, they best hold onto him. He's amazing.
Speaking of FUN, Cinco de Chocobo was certainly NOT a poor choice. This is definitely the jazziest arrangement of the Chocobo theme you've ever heard: and it's catchy. It's very catchy. Take a listen for yourself; this song is tap-your-foot snap-your-fingers fun. I truly couldn't get enough of it...I could keep it on loop for hours if I wanted to. And if this isn't enough fun for you, be sure to check out "Gold Saucer" - previously one of the more annoying pieces from the original soundtrack, now a thoroughly credible light-hearted piano piece that I would personally like to sit down and learn. The melody is fast and fun, and you quickly get caught up in this piece.
Looking at the slower side of things, we have Tifa's Theme, the Main Theme, Ahead on Our Way, Farm Boy, and Aeris' Theme. I'll tell you now, I'm not too keen on Farm Boy - of the 13 tracks, this is the one I'm most likely to skip...though it is well-arranged. Tifa's Theme is beautiful, though I would've preferred Anxious Heart. The Main Theme came out as grandiose as the orchestral arrangement; this one will pick you up after a hard day at work. Ahead on Our Way is a very relaxing piece...sometimes I loop this and the Main Theme to help me fall asleep at night. Once again, it's absolutely lovely.
Aeris' Theme: well, everyone has their opinions of it. Like One-Winged Angel, I had been getting tired of the D major ascension followed by the A minor descension (are those words? I don't really care...). However, this piano arrangement brought me back to a love for the piece. The music is almost note-for-note, but there are spots where Mr. Hamaguchi took some artistic liberties (as can be heard in the audio sample provided). Like Gold Saucer, this is one I'd like to just learn and sit down at the piano playing it to impress all the fanboys.
As of yet, I haven't mentioned three songs: now I shall mention them. "Valley of the Fallen Star" (known to you folks as "Cosmo Canyon") loses the pounding force of percussion in this arrangement, though the parallel fifths in the left hand and octaves in the right hand seem to be used to make up for that lack of driving force. It's a good arrangement, and though I still wish "You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet" would've taken its place, it's a worthwhile listen. Rufus' Welcoming Ceremony: it's good for the genre it's in (a march)...but y'know, I am just really tired of it. When they re-used the piece in FF9, I really had enough. It sounds cool on piano, but I'd rather not listen to it again. If you like the piece for what it is, you will really enjoy this arrangement.
Following suit with FFVIII Piano Collection, the CD ends with a light-hearted piece: In this case, "Descendant of Shinobi", which is a Yuffie-related piece. It's a simple song, but in this arrangement, we get a number of key changes and other little ornamentations to throw us for a curve. I, personally, really like the song. It's a great way to round out a generally spectacular CD with very few flaws. Coupling this piece with Cinco de Chocobo as the "jazz numbers", we also see incredible battle themes, relaxing new age pieces, traditional eastern flavor, a march, and fun, light-hearted music that some of us just can't stop singing in our heads over and over. What a line-up! I don't know about you, but I am pleased.
One thing that might displease you: Due to DigiCube's impending doom, this CD is already rare even after 2 weeks of its release. We will notify you of any reprints from other publishers, but as of now, this CD is very difficult to find. The above affiliate banners (GMO and AN) might not have them in stock, though the CDs are listed. If you didn't get the chance to buy this CD, I wish you the best: you may never get your hands on it. I know that I will likely not sell this CD (as I usually sell most of my soundtracks). This one is most definitely a "permanent addition" to the collection, and I hope it would be that way for any true RPG Fan.
Edit (added May 17, 2004): Due to Square Enix's line-up of reprints beginning May 10, 2004, the issue of availability has been cleared up.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann