Michiko Naruke has devoted her compositional works to one series: Wild Arms. With four main installments, as well as a remake and an anime series, everyone knows that the series would only be half as fun and "western" thematic without Naruke's lovely scores.
Yet, it's taken ten years for us to see any officially arranged albums come from the games (barring a vocal collection). Then, for the ten year anniversary, announcements were made of a piano-style arranged album and a rock-style arranged album. This is the former of those two albums.
Though many were initially excited by the announcement, first impressions have left some fans of Naruke's work terribly disappointed. From web reviews to simple message board posts, I've heard a lot of negative. And frankly, I don't get it.
I suppose people had extremely high expectations for the album: grandiose arrangements with extreme technical work. I figured from the start that the album would be a soft, gentle, relaxing tribute to Naruke's more memorable songs. I was right, and I was pleased with the album I got.
Among VGM "piano" arrangements, many have been simple. The lowest of the low include the Dragon Quest piano albums, and the best arrangements are usually associated with later Final Fantasy piano collections and the SaGa Frontier II Piano/Rhapsody album. Arc the Lad Piano was another decent arranged album, and I personally enjoyed the Brandish Piano Collection. Everything else falls somewhere in the middle: relaxing, but not incredibly impressive.
And that's what you get with this album. However, it's not piano solo for every track. Like the Genso Suikoden piano arrangements, some light acoustic accompaniment, as well as percussion and synth, are added when appropriate.
With "the Best" in the title, one thing to consider in critiquing this album is the track selection. Personally, I was pleased. There's a fair balance among all the various Wild Arms incarnations, and I was not surprised to see a number of vocal numbers transposed to piano arrangements. I would have liked a more lively arrangement of the classic Wild Arms opening theme "To the End of the Wilderness," but the arranger again chose to take the softer, simpler approach.
The Japanese refer to the new age, relaxing musical genre as "healing" music. This album definitely falls under such a category. Though I do hope for greater musical feats with the rock arranged album, I certainly enjoyed this album as well. The arrangements weren't "note-for-note" transpositions, nor were they heavily altered. I was pleased, and if you give the album the time of day, you should be too.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann