It’s been an incredible year for the SaGa franchise, especially with a bevy of arranged albums. So this year, I’ll be categorizing my favorites into two simple categories: best SaGa and best non-SaGa. I’ll give a winner and two runners-up for each category. Let’s go!
Best SaGa: DESTINY 8 – SaGa Band Arrangement Album Vol.2
I know. It’s unlike me to pick the rock album over the orchestral and chamber stuff. But Vol.2 of the DESTINY 8 albums (note that both came out in 2021!) eschews all things Romancing SaGa and dives deep into less-celebrated entries from Imperial SaGa to SaGa 3 (Final Fantasy Legend III). They take these lesser-known songs from still-lesser-known games and make them every bit as exciting as The Black Mages once did with boss battle themes from the classic SNES and PS1 Final Fantasy entries. I give extra high marks to the group for making “T260G’s Last Battle” (SaGa Frontier) and “Besessenheit” (SaGa Frontier 2) my two favorite songs to listen to this whole year — statistically, anyway, I’ve played those two songs more than any other, because I just cannot get enough of them.
Runners-Up: Orchestral SaGa Live Disc, SaGa Frontier Series Acoustic Arrangements
To clarify: A product labeled Orchestral SaGa exists — it’s an audio-only release (CD and digital) and features some, not all, of the arrangements on Live Disc. The recording and mixing takes place separately from the live concert. Live Disc, however, is the Blu-ray masterpiece with all the extras to make it palatable for an English-speaking audience. I’ve already said what I need to say about this one (or will, once our review is published) — it just barely falls behind DESTINY 8, as the rock album is more easily accessible. But both are amazing. As for SaGa Frontier Acoustic Arrangements, the third album in Atsuki Yoshida’s ambitious Acoustic series, it takes significant risks with two very eccentric games, the two with the biggest divide in development teams (including composers: Ito on SF1, Hamauzu on SF2), and manages to marry the contrasting sounds perfectly. T260G’s final battle returns here, and it’s amazing, once again. “ALONE,” my favorite part of Orchestral SaGa Live Disc, is also here, and it is brilliant. And I cannot help but praise Kevin Penkin for his incredible “Mißgestalt x Todesengel” medley.
These three albums have seriously captivated my mind in ways that few arranged albums of the past have been able to. Kudos to everyone who worked on these!
Best non-SaGa: Impostor Factory Original Soundtrack
Kan Gao is a genius who deserves more recognition. Given that literally every other album I picked as a personal favorite was an arrange album and that this is the only OST I’m recognizing as a personal favorite, I’d like to think I’m doing my part in giving Mr. Gao what he deserves. There is something so special about everything he’s done up to this point: To the Moon, A Bird Story, Finding Paradise, even his old freeware short games like The Mirror Lied. Impostor Factory continues on the path of brilliance, with simple instrumentation and music that can heal and break and revive your heart over and over across the span of an hour.
Runners-Up: KALEIDOSCOPE: Sakimoto and Hamauzu Works, Across the Worlds ~ Chrono Cross Wayô Piano Collection
Pretty much everything I want to say about these particular albums I have already said in my reviews (KALEIDOSCOPE, Across the Worlds). And yes, I am aware that KALEIDOSCOPE offers a handful of SaGa tracks… so maybe it is actually the best of both worlds? Seriously, there are so many musicians out there producing an abundance of great material these days. Compared to 10, 20, and especially 30 years ago, I would argue this is a good problem to have, especially for game music fans. I encourage you, if you haven’t heard either of these albums, to take my recommendations to heart and see where they lead you.