Across the Worlds ~ Chrono Cross Wayô Piano Collection
At this point, I think I am physically incapable of NOT mentioning a Chrono series album in Music of the Year when possible. Sure, Chrono Trigger came out in 1995, followed by Chrono Cross in 2000, but if fan musicians (and even Square Enix) want to keep recording new renditions of Yasunori Mitsuda’s iconic work, I’m going to keep listening. This time, I want to highlight Wayô Records’ Across the Worlds, a piano album performed by Benyamin Nuss — and to great effect. While some of the arrangements may surprise you (as Pat discusses in his review), I very much like what’s here. It’s a new take on Cross‘ music, and another great release from Wayô, with often-moving pieces that may even defy any expectations you have for a piano album, and I’m all for it. Across the Worlds can’t dethrone 2016’s To Far Away Times as the absolute must-have Chrono arrange album, but it is a solid addition to any fan’s collection.
Endwalker: Final Fantasy XIV Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker is a monumental achievement in gaming, more than the resurgence of Final Fantasy XIV itself was. The storyline ties together elements from the very beginning to create an unforgettable final chapter in the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga. Musically, Masayoshi Soken and his team matched these lofty heights, as Endwalker‘s soundtrack goes everywhere. It recalls some of the most pivotal music from XIV‘s prior expansions, in some cases recontextualizing them in ways that left me stunned. There are also new tracks, like the completely amazing “Close in the Distance,” “Dynamis,” and “As the Sky Burns.” Beyond all of this are throwbacks to Final Fantasy IV‘s soundtrack, and by the end of the story, motifs from every XIV expansion have made an appearance. The end result is a soundtrack that is cohesive and far-reaching. It succeeds in encapsulating eight years worth of lore and music while still introducing new themes to give Endwalker a unique feel. Soken and co. deliver without fail, time and time again.
Moonglow Bay (Original Soundtrack)
At the time of writing this, Moonglow Bay needs a bit of care to smooth out some rough edges and bugs in the game. But you know what doesn’t need any refinement? Lena Raine’s lovely soundtrack. Four years of work went into crafting the evocative soundscape of Moonglow Bay, during which Raine called upon many talented musicians in the game space to lend their talents, from the strings of Jeff Ball (Timespinner) to Kristin Naigus’ six wind instrument contributions, and more. The result is an album full of charm, laid-back tunes perfect for fishing, and the occasional higher energy track for key plot points. In our Music of the Year episode of Rhythm Encounter, I said it was hard to pick a single song to showcase Moonglow Bay‘s soundtrack because it shines brightest when listened to in full. Repeatedly. It is worth so much more than its $9 asking price on Bandcamp, so I urge you to sample the music yourself.
NieR: Become as Gods
How many times can we be taken aback by new music based on Keiichi Okabe’s NieR: Automata soundtrack? On a similar note, how many games can ROZEN (and usual musical partner REVEN) transform into something incredible in a whole new way? I don’t have the answer to either, but NieR: Become as Gods continues to prove there are still more ways to revisit Automata’s music. ROZEN and REVEN have, in my opinion, outdone themselves this time around, with more unique takes on Okabe’s stunning work. They’re often as haunting, beautiful, and stirring as their original counterparts, and sometimes, somehow, more so. “Forest Kingdom” was featured on that aforementioned episode of Rhythm Encounter, and the instrumentation and feel of this rendition sends chills through me. If you enjoy any NieR music, you owe it to yourself to give Become as Gods a listen on Bandcamp.
Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars Original Soundtrack
Oh, look, another Yoko Taro game brings more Keiichi Okabe! But you know, Okabe’s work alone isn’t what makes the soundtrack for the first Voice of Cards game excellent. He is joined by Shotaro Seo, and the person who actually made me look over at my music app the most, thinking, “who did this one?,” Oliver Good. All three men are part of MONACA, but Good especially surprises me here. “Adventure of the Would-Be Hero” is a standout — a jaunty tune with solid guitar, pipe, and… some kind of clickety-clackety instrument driving the song. I was surprised how often I was drawn to Good’s work, possibly in equal measure to Okabe. All told, The Isle Dragon Roars has a beautiful soundtrack, and perhaps the best advice I can give is to come for the Okabe, but stay for the Seo and Good.