After some re:birth and re:tune, it seems Square Enix Music has decided to “rebrand” their band-style arrangements with a whole new series of SaGa band arrangement albums in the form of DESTINY 8.
Much like The Black Mages and The Primals, DESTINY 8 is a rock band with its sights set on a specific franchise. Featuring a total of six musicians, with arrangements by the accomplished Noriyuki Kamikura, there is plenty to love about this outfit. Not only is Kamikura on keyboard, he is joined by series composer Kenji Ito. The guitarists seem to be relative newcomers (Sorao Mori, Zenya Sakata), as is bassist Harunosuke Ikejiri. But the drummer? Long-time fans of Kamikura’s other projects will recognize the sounds of Toshiharu Okajima, who worked alongside Kamikura for nearly a decade’s worth of Falcom projects (jdk Band and Zanmai albums).
While I was excited to get my hands on the latest SaGa Band Arrangement Album, I had my doubts about DESTINY 8 as a project. After all, with three solid albums in the re:birth series, the franchise’s battle themes seem to have been exhausted for rock arrangements. And, indeed, a quick tracklist comparison shows that the majority of tracks on this album have gotten the rock treatment in the past decade.
The difference on this SaGa Band Arrangement Album? A more cohesive, unified sound. It may not be enough to win over those who already have the re:birth albums in their library, but newcomers to the glorious SaGa soundscape may be won over by powerful arrangements like “Enraged Battle.” This particular track, the boss battle music from The Final Fantasy Legend (aka the first SaGa entry for Game Boy), also features a musical cameo with the Creator’s Theme serving as a bridge. This particular arrangement is also the only one in recent memory to attempt to capture the frenetic energy of the original synth’s 32nd-note swirls in the B section of the song.
Other notable arrangements include “Thema” and “Feldschlacht I” from SaGa Frontier 2. The former is one of two slow tracks on the album, featuring the keyboard switching to a flute synth and the guitars going acoustic. As for SF2’s standard battle theme, DESTINY 8 does great work holding to composer Masashi Hamauzu’s original vision with the dual keyboards taking on the heavy synth while the guitars pick up (and, at times, coincide with the keyboard on) the fantastic melody.
One final surprise I’ll jump in on is “Encounter with the Seven Heroes” from Romancing SaGa 2. The notable addition here is the impeccable choir synth scattered throughout the piece. The resulting “rockestral” sound is unlike any other arrangement of this classic tune.
Even as I pen this review, I have the second volume of DESTINY 8 sitting on my desk next to me, recorded and released within six months of SaGa Band Arrangement Album. Strangely enough, while its tracklist features music from less popular titles (Unlimited SaGa, Imperial SaGa), it too appears to skip over the first Romancing SaGa (and its OST-expanded Minstrel Song remake). This might be the strangest oversight across both albums, especially given how foundational the music from this game is among Kenji Ito’s discography in the franchise.
While I’m not overly impressed or enthused with DESTINY 8’s SaGa Band Arrangement Album, there is enough here to keep me excited about Vol.2. Should you wish to purchase this one, it seems Square Enix Music is currently only listing it for sale (physical and digital) through Japanese retail outlets. All I really want from this new group, though, if I’m being honest with myself, is a live concert. Considering what Square Enix Music has done with great shows like Octopath Traveler Break, Boost and Beyond!, I have every reason to believe that something special could happen if DESTINY 8 took their music to a live stage.