I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…Final Fantasy X Vocal Collection really isn’t THAT bad; there are much worse vocal albums out there. However, the problem with this CD lies in it being Final Fantasy. Most hold the series’ music and arrangements to a high standard, and anything subpar usually draws much criticism from the fans. I myself came into it expecting the worst, but I was determined to give each song an objective listen before I cast any negative judgment. And although I can’t say it’s one of the better Final Fantasy CD’s (“Pray” and “Love Will Grow” are both far superior to anything here), it’s not quite the epitome of “God-awful” vocals either.
Let me start off by saying the vocal performances are pretty good. Despite the poor instrument/sound quality and clichéd musical styles, the singers do a good job of showcasing their voices and talent. The lovely Mayuko Aoki returns as Yuna’s vocalist along with Masakazu Morita, who surprisingly sounds MUCH better than he did in “Go Dream” and “Endless Love, Endless Road” from the FFX Tribute album. I couldn’t say as much before, but I think he’s one of the few good male vocalists out there, at least from what I’ve heard in other Japanese game, anime and J-Pop vocals. The others, who are also the original voice-actors from the Japanese game, get a chance to show off their voices, of which I really don’t believe there’s a bad one among the bunch, not even Auron who performs a reading instead of a song.
The CD itself is a mix of short drama tracks and character image songs. As for the drama tracks, from the little I did listen of them, the acting is pretty decent, which isn’t surprising since these are the original voice actors. But because I can’t understand a lick of Japanese aside from a few words here and there, they’re meaningless to me. I may have been interested in them if I could’ve actually understood what was said, especially since they supposedly take place between Final Fantasy X and X-2, but unfortunately I couldn’t, and they end up just getting skipped. Anyone who is fluent in the language may find some interest in these, though.
The meat of the album is in the 6 image songs and “feel-Remix.” Before I go on to discussing these, let me first say that “feel-Remix” is one of the most awful things I’ve ever heard. I’m generally not a fan of remixes, but if they’re done right (i.e. “Hikari PLANITb Mix” from Kingdom Hearts) they can at least be listenable. I loved “feel,” so much so that I personally memorized all the lyrics after having listened to the song over and over. But to butcher Aoki’s beautiful vocals and distort the excellent instrumentation to the point that it’s actually painful to endure is more than just a crime, it’s sacrilege! I’ve never been so appalled with an arrangement, and if I never listen to “feel-Remix” again, which I won’t, it will not be enough to wash the bad taste it’s left from my mouth.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, onto the image songs! After skipping past Yuna’s drama monologue, the songstress begins the vocals with the slightly-saccharine “After Tears.” Truthfully, this song isn’t half bad. Aside from the synthy instrumentation and annoying finger-snapping, Aoki’s pretty voice is enough to save it from complete mediocrity. This song is arranged by Takahito Eguchi (he isn’t joined by his partner in crime, Noriko Matsueda, until the next song), and sets the tone for the rest of the album. I have mixed feelings on “A Ray of Hope,” though. While Morita’s singing is good, and the melody is catchy, I just can’t get into the heavy bass. If the music wasn’t so bleah, I’d probably like the song a bit more. Too bad Noriko Matsueda couldn’t instill the power and emotion of her previous vocal song, “Forevermore,” from the Bouncer into this one. “And On We Go” is probably my least favorite of the image songs. Again, the performances themselves are decent, it’s just that this sappy ballad is a little too “Backstreet Boys-ish” for me.
Fortunately, Rikku’s song is a bit better. “Get Happy!” was the one track that immediately stuck to me after my first listen. The song has a very anime-ish sound, which is kind of nice compared the rest of the J-Poppy songs; I’m usually not one for the uber-happy, high-pitched female vocalists often heard in anime image songs, but Rikku’s actress pulls it off without being quite as annoying. Learning that Yoko Shimomura was responsible for the composing duties didn’t surprise me either; although the music doesn’t sound much like any of her previous work, it’s a step above in quality to the rest of the album. With a very catchy melody and fun lyrics, I’d consider it the best part of the CD.
“All the Way” features Yuna, Rikku and Lulu together in yet another mediocre song that could have been so much better had the composer decided to try something fresh and new instead of copying all the other pop bands out there. These girls’ voices deserve so much better than this. “Spiral,” Auron’s Reading, is interesting though. It consists of Auron talking/reading while music is played in the background. The piece starts off with what sounds to be a snippet of Masashi Hamauzu’s beautiful piano work from FFX’s “People of the Far North,” then segues into a brand-new composition laden with deep/heavy synth and a bit of guitar. The music is a suitable depiction of Auron’s character, but I would have found it more enjoyable if they’d done a medley of sorts with the original compositions. So much for wishful thinking.
So, that’s Final Fantasy X Vocal Collections. It’s not a horrible album, but not worth the $25 pricetag, either. Despite the enjoyable “Get Happy!” I can’t help but feel that this CD was a quick attempt by Square to capitalize on the game’s popularity. It’s just too bad the company couldn’t have put a little more effort into making it a unique treat for its fans. Other than collectors and completists, I can’t see anyone else running out to buy this album. But if you’re one of the above, given a little patience, you may find the music to be decent enough for a listen every now and again.