I’ll be completely candid—I’ve been apprehensive about this album since it was first announced. It seemed to be not only out-of-the-blue but also somewhat unnecessary and certainly not very timely. Probably most importantly, though, it was announced and released in a very short period of time, something that cannot be said about the still-unreleased Chrono Cross arrange album. How could it possibly be of a high level of quality in such a short period of time when it has taken this long to only hear small snippets of news on the Chrono arrange? However, when I chose to review Myth, I tried to put any preconceptions about the music away and to be completely fair to it, since, after all, it is pretty awesome to have a new Xenogears album.
Unfortunately, some of my worries about this album appeared to have come to pass. For starters, the album undoubtedly seems rushed. The production values here are great, but the arrangements are very vanilla and there is a distinct lack of “punch.” After the absolutely stellar Drammatica album from Shimomura, which had so much punch it could leave you sprawled out unconscious on the floor with two black eyes, I honestly couldn’t help but feel like this entire album was phoned in. The original compositions are strong, and Xenogears fans will be pleased to have orchestral arrangements at last—even if those arrangements offer few surprises and won’t turn over your insides the way Drammatica can.
As the title suggests, the album is made of orchestral arrangements of Xenogears music, but it also features a few piano versions, which also feature competent, no-frills arrangements. Light of the Netherworld (Dark Daybreak?) is just as effective as it always was as an introductory track, and the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra knocks it out of the park in terms of the string performance. As I mentioned earlier, the general quality of the arrangements is good, but very unadventurous. The string section of this orchestra does deserve special note, though, because they are great and lend a lot to the original songs.
Two of the better tracks are “Flight,” a personal favorite of mine from the original, and “Bonds of Sea and Flame.” I single these tracks out in particular because they’re some of the only ones that I really felt any of the aforementioned “punch” in. Flight has the same powerful optimism and cruises along its classic highs and sweeping melody predictably, but still enjoyably. “Bonds of Sea and Flame” really benefits from the string-heavy arrangement, giving it a bubbly, upbeat sound that I liked a lot. “The Gentle Breeze Sings” also fares well in arrangement, with the violin giving it a sweet, melodic sound that works for the song.
As for the game’s theme song, “Small Two of Pieces,” sung by Joanne Hogg (who I don’t know at all), it fares pretty well here. The live orchestra gives the song a nice, high-fidelity backing, and it comes off not sounding nearly as corny as most vocal themes can (although I admit, I don’t particularly care for many vocal themes).
I also take issue with the track selection. I seem to recall hearing that the tracks were chosen by fans, so perhaps I’m just in the minority here, but I think there are some seriously glaring omissions—where, in the name of Deus, is “Awakening?” Or “One Who Bares Fangs at God?” Or “Knight of Fire?” These songs would have been outstanding if played by a live orchestra—and they certainly aren’t lesser known tracks. But I admit, it could be just my own personal taste here and not an error on the part of Mitsuda and the team behind the album.
So what do I think of this album? It’s good. It’s not great. Most of its goodness comes from the strength of the original songs and the nature of it being a live performance. The production quality is high, but the arrangements are plain and don’t vary things up much. I just can’t shake the feeling that the whole album is a badly-timed cash-in—I just don’t hear the same passion and love for the material here that I did in Drammatica. All I hear is “hey, we just PSN-released Xenogears, and people love that game! Orchestral album!” Still, at least we got a new album from Xenogears, right?