When Square Enix announced the existence of DESTINY 8, a new rock band exclusively focused on the SaGa series, I was thrilled. Having a band attached to a specific franchise or composer — like Nobuo Uematsu’s Earthbound Papas and The Black Mages before that, or the ongoing work of Final Fantasy XIV‘s THE PRIMALS — is very special. Branding aside, what really matters is the quality of the music itself. In the past two years, with the first and second volumes, the band, led by series composer Kenji Ito and all-star arranger Noriyuki Kamikura, has made some incredible music. However, even with such a prolific franchise, one wonders: how many volumes can you go before you’ve covered all the best songs that fit the rock genre?
I do not have a specific answer to that. But I can safely say that it is more than three. Despite digging into some “deeper cuts” from the SaGa music repertoire, these arrangements are the cleverest yet in this three-volume series. I’ve given this album ample time in my home and car sound systems, allowing the novelty to wear so I could more objectively compare this one to its predecessors. Honestly, I think this one surpasses the others.
One thing that stands out here is the intentional use of music and instrumentation that falls outside the typical rock-band sound (guitar, bass, keyboard, drums). “Warriors Ascendant,” the tower climb BGM from The Final Fantasy Legend, toys with its chiptune origins before blasting off into the stratosphere of intense, solo-heavy rock. “Igomahl the Harlequin” from the mobile game Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe has the vocalist KOCHO sampled back in to a rock’n’roll remake of the dark circus track that, frankly, I didn’t think was possible.
A big surprise for me was the choice to pull in “Save the world,” the final battle music from Final Fantasy Legend II. While much of this Game Boy classic had its music composed by Kenji Ito, this particular piece is an oft-overlooked melodic masterpiece from Nobuo Uematsu. This track gets star treatment from start to finish, including some of the best keyboard solo work across all three DESTINY 8 albums!
I think most fans, however, will be most excited by the four-part Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- finale, perhaps arranged and recorded intentionally to coincide with the recent Remastered game release (though sadly, none of these fine arrangements made it into the game). Alongside a refreshing take on the dungeon music “Final Trial,” the album closes out with the battle themes for the two super-hard optional bosses “Death” and “Sherah” (localized as “Schirach” in-game) as well as the final boss “Saruin.” These three are siblings in the game’s lore, gods of darkness, and they will wreck you if you dare face them without serious preparation. That same intensity and level of threat are expressed well in the riveting drums, pulsing bass, wall-of-sound organs, and fiery guitar solos that DESTINY 8 throws at the listener for a combined 13 minutes of musical mayhem. This ending trio is so good that they honestly could have sold it separately as its own EP and it would warrant a purchase.
I don’t know what more to say. Just like its predecessors, DESTINY 8 – SaGa Band Arrangement Album Vol.3 is a dream come true for series fans and fans of VGM getting the rock-band treatment. I have no crystal ball to see whether there will be future volumes, or whether the studio band will ever release a live concert recording. All I know for sure is that I am definitely interested in hearing more from this crew of talented musicians.