If you want to nearly guarantee I’ll give an album a listen, tell me it’s based on either Final Fantasy IV or VI, or that it has a heavy acoustic guitar presence. Guitar Collections Final Fantasy IV — hopefully the first in a series from Scarlet Moon Records — combines both of these musical loves of mine, so it was an instant purchase.
I also recognized William Carlos Reyes’ name from his excellent contributions to the 2016 Chrono Trigger mega-compilation, Chronicles of Time. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who can make an RPG sewer song into a thing of beauty is talented.
Some of my peers at RPGFan may not totally share my love of FFIV overall (it was one of my first RPGs as a kid, and by adult standards I can admit its story may be a little simple even if I still love it) but few disagree with my adoration of the music. These were songs composed at a time when video games were transitioning to more complex compositions thanks to the advances in the 16-bit era. It meant that game musicians had more options at their disposal, but still had certain limitations.
So like the 8-bit generation prior, it was still key to have short, unique melodies, easily distinguished even with limited sound hardware. It may go without saying that Nobuo Uematsu is a master at doing exactly this, and the sheer number of arrangements still being made today — both official and from fans — proves how adaptable his compositions for these older games truly are. Final Fantasy IV did get some official arrange albums of its own back in the day, such as a Piano Collections album and the lovely Celtic Moon, and it earned the OC Remix album treatment with Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption in 2009.
And now in 2018, we have this lovely Guitar Collections album that I feel is every bit as polished as these other arrangement albums, official or otherwise. Reyes knows his way around a guitar, a fact immediately apparent from the first track, the Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV. A rousing yet peaceful arrangement, the guitar works just so beautifully well here, evoking a sense of wonder and fantasy and mentally bringing me right back to 1991. There’s a certain contemplative and thought-provoking feel to this song in general that really comes to life with this arrangement.
In fact, that’s how I’d describe several songs in this collection. The character themes — Theme of Love, Melody of Lute, Golbeza Clad in the Dark, and Rydia — all lend themselves equally well to the acoustic guitar treatment, as they are songs already meant to make you feel for their respective characters and relationships. The high notes in Theme of Love feel appropriately passionate, reminding me of Cecil and Rosa’s many tender moments, from their conversation in Cecil’s bedroom to their long-awaited reunion much later in the game. Golbez’s theme is equally passionate, but in a different way. Lower notes provide a deep, foreboding sound, and nothing describes Golbez’s mere presence better than “deep and foreboding.”
Rydia is one of my favorite characters in Final Fantasy IV, and Reyes’ rendition of her theme perfectly captures the quiet tragedy of the childhood loss of her mother. Once again, I was transported back to that first meeting with the child in Mist, and her acceptance of Cecil’s protection soon after. That post-battle conversation where Rydia finally tells Cecil her name is so heartfelt, and I have to imagine Reyes feels the same about this scene because I can sense it in his arrangement.
Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about the less obvious inclusions on this album, such as “Fight 2.” Uematsu’s battle themes for FFIV are some of his best of that era, even surpassing some in Final Fantasy VI. Instead of quiet contemplation, there’s fast-paced urgency about beating the bad guy (or girl, or robot, or… you get the idea). Okay, there is a transition around three and a half minutes in where the song shifts to a stripped-down, mellow take on the battle song. I love that we get to hear both styles here, and how the same song on the same instrument can be presented in such different ways and be enjoyable on multiple levels. “Within the Giant” isn’t a battle song, but it is another high-energy track with a bit of a sense of tension. Interestingly, Reyes’ approach here was similar to “Fight 2.” Most of the song maintains a quiet sense of tension thanks to a layer of fast-paced guitar picking in the background overlaid with sharper notes, all of which transitions to a sparse and mellow ending sequence.
Even though this is a relatively short album, I don’t want to get into every track present since I want you to experience it for yourself. The ones I didn’t talk about at length are just as enjoyable as the others, but I do want to take a moment and discuss the final track, “The Crystals,” an original song that caps off this album. A lovely composition that blends some of Reyes’ own music with just enough use of tiny motifs from Final Fantasy IV, it’s a beautiful closing piece that showcases his talents even more than the eleven preceding songs. It speaks volumes that an original song can fit so well next to music I’ve been listening to in various forms for 27 years. That’s no small feat.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m in love with this album. It’s been in my shortlist of albums that I listen to while writing and working since I bought it, as its laid-back nature is exactly the kind of thing I like having on to get in a creative mindset. If you’re at all into acoustic renditions of classic RPG music, you can’t go wrong with Guitar Collections Final Fantasy IV.
Not only that, but Jayson Napolitano (the head of Scarlet Moon and producer of this album) openly states how much he wants “Guitar Collections” to be an ongoing series if this one succeeds, and has already chosen songs from Final Fantasy V for similar treatment. I think I can speak for many people when I say I want that to become reality as well.