Joypad’s latest properly-licensed, fanmade release makes up for lost ground that Square Enix didn’t properly leverage.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Square Enix totally milked FFVII, are you crazy?!” Yeah, sure, Compilation of FFVII. I hear you. But from a musical arrangement perspective? They missed their shot, over and over.
A quick history for the uninitiated…
Prior to FFVII, Square released an arrange album for each game. For FFI&II, there was a Symphonic Suite (akin to what you find with every Dragon Quest title). FFIII had “Eternal Wind Legend,” an interesting mix of folk chamber music, vocals, and even narration. FFIV had the wildly-successful “Celtic Moon,” one of the first VGM arrangements to capitalize on the Celtic/world music genre. FFV had “Dear Friends,” recorded by Uematsu in Finland, featuring a mix of Scandinavian and Eastern European influences. Finally, FFVI had “Grand Finale,” an incredible, eccentric orchestral CD.
(IV V VI also had Piano Collections, and then there were the two vocal albums “Pray” and “Love Will Grow” that covered FF I-VI).
At the time of FFVII’s release, here’s what happened musically outside the OST. Replacing the notion of full arranged albums, they released a CD with three beautiful orchestral recordings (One-Winged Angel, Aerith’s Theme, FFVII Main Theme). The rest of the CD was just a “best-of” collection. That’s it.
And while VIII and IX got piano collections within a year of their release, FFVII didn’t get a piano collection until 2003, in preparation for “Advent Children,” the first product in the multi-faceted “Compilation of FFVII.”
From here, that’s where you’ll find most of your official FFVII arrangements. Yes, there are also the orchestral works that would go on to appear in albums like “More Friends” or the new “Final Fantasy Orchestra” audio-BluRay. But I don’t want or need seven versions of One-Winged Angel and Aerith’s Theme.
And then, most recently, there was FFVII Chips, part of the “Chips” collection, and there were a few FFVII tracks across the “SQ” arrange series. These are somewhat noteworthy, but I still feel like S-E missed the boat here.
What’s so ridiculous about all this is that the FFVII OST is replete with great BGM that could have benefited from any number of styles. And the fans have tried to make up for S-E’s lack of desire to arrange these great tracks. OCRemix has the old “Voices of the Lifestream” collection, which has some great arranges, but it is purely fanmade and was not properly licensed.
TPR’s “Melancholy Tribute” series, on the other hand, is licensed. RPGFan earlier covered the FFIX album, which was excellent in its own right. Here are my thoughts on “Final Heaven: A Melancholy Tribute to Final Fantasy VII.”
First of all, the track selection is awesome given the style of arrangement. The chief instruments here (all synthesized) are string ensemble, wind ensemble, piano, and auxiliary percussion (such as bells and chimes). This isn’t too far off from what Uematsu used to compose the OST. In some ways, these tracks are like an enhanced OST, but enhanced with a specific mood in mind. Some tracks become more complex with these arrangements; others, far more simplified (see: “Descendant of Shinobi” with less instruments and no syncopation).
TPR also deserves praise simply for picking out some of the less-celebrated tunes from the OST and making them some of his best arrangements. I count among these: “Listen to the Cries of the Planet,” “Secret of the Deep Sea,” “From the Edge of Despair,” and “Flowers Blooming in the Church.” That last track is a variant of Aerith’s Theme; one that is bright and refreshing and not sopping wet with emotion. Bravo, and good choices!
I’m tempted to say that these arranges wrote themselves. But then, if I told myself I’d do my own arranged album as a tribute to FFVII, I wouldn’t know where to start. The end result feels natural; again, an “enhancement” of the original. But I doubt it was easy to get there. More importantly, however, the production value and overall quality of the sound is not compromised. It is not amateur. This music is on-par with the re-used FFVII music found in Crisis Core, Dissidia, etc. It’s just slow. And somber. And generally not recommended as music for a road trip, lest you fall asleep at the wheel.
I also very much appreciate the track length on these. You may be thinking that moody, melancholy music equals elongated track times. But these songs do not overstay their welcome. The musical idea is introduced, some elaboration takes place, and just as quickly as the music entered, it exits, making way for the next song. There’s a surprisingly fast pace, not to any one track, but to the album as a whole, because TPR has impeccable timing with these song lengths.
Like other Joypad releases, this is a digital-only album available through iTunes, Loudr, and other digital music outlets. Uematsu fans would do well to check out these great arrangements. I suspect, if he hasn’t heard them yet, that Uematsu himself would very much enjoy TPR’s treatment of these songs, both the popular ones and the all-but-forgotten ones.