It’s SaGa. It’s in orchestral form. It’s Orchestral SaGa! Strangely enough, this single CD is not an audio-only reissue of the Blu-ray Orchestral SaGa Live Disc. In fact, Orchestral SaGa is no reissue at all, given it was published four months prior to the Live Disc Blu-ray. While it has significantly less content (50-minute CD compared to 130-minute Blu-ray), this CD contains some arrangements not found or used in the live concert. And, for all content (used and unused), this is a studio recording as opposed to a live recording, meaning they had the opportunity for retakes with smaller sections and individual instruments. In other words, Orchestral SaGa is a very clean, well-produced orchestral arrangement album.
Much like the live concert, though, this CD is a series of arranged medleys covering the main titles in the series, excluding the existing medley for the Game Boy Final Fantasy Legend trilogy. The CD opens with a stately arrangement of Nobuo Uematsu’s “Prologue” (title theme) from the first Final Fantasy Legend, always a joy to hear with a full orchestra! However, this setlist jumps from there straight to the Romancing SaGa trilogy. A roaring romp of battle themes is crammed one after the other in track 2, while track 3 offers the more scenic route with some of the more popular environment and character themes from the trilogy. I was especially pleased with “Legend of the Mermaids” from Romancing SaGa 2, this arrangement being even more evocative than the “Mermaid Tears” arranged track on the classic arrange album Romancing SaGa 2: Eternal Romance.
Tracks 4 and 5 are two-part medleys each from SaGa Frontier, a game whose music has translated exceptionally well into full orchestral format. “Dawn of a Journey ~ Opening Title” captures the majestic wonder of this game’s world and characters, enhancing Kenji Ito’s original synth version. The following medley concludes with “Battle #4.” This arrangement is exactly what we find on the Live Disc performance, and it’s every bit as good here.
Next comes the part where I complain. Anyone who follows my work knows that I adore SaGa Frontier 2, especially for its unique impressionist-style score from Masashi Hamauzu. However, it takes the right approach to arrange it well. In this single medley, we get the somber “Nachtigall” followed by the two final battle themes “Mißgestalt” and “Todesengel.” Two of these three songs use the game’s central melodic theme, but no work is done to tie them together: it’s simply one tune followed by the next, then the next.
Additionally, much as I love the final battle themes, they are painfully over-represented among Square Enix’s arranged albums in the past decade. There is so much more to explore! Finally, let’s compare these full orchestral arrangements to, say, the “Rhapsody” portion of Piano Pieces “SF2” ~ Rhapsody on a Theme of SaGa Frontier 2. The former is a tame, simple arrangement of Hamauzu’s most recognized pieces from the game. The latter is a unique, reckless celebration of common and uncommon themes from the game with plenty of variation regarding dynamics, tempo, and theme. I wish for more of the latter, and I believe it is possible with a full orchestra. To date, I haven’t heard it done with SaGa Frontier 2.
I suppose I could make a similar argument for the UNLIMITED SaGa medley. However, I do think it is the case that much of this OST is difficult to translate to an orchestra. There’s the opening, the ending vocal (performed on the Blu-ray Live Disc), and the regular and boss battle themes. Almost everything else is too “out there” for an easy conversion to orchestra, though I suppose anything is possible. In any case, I think these arrangements are peppy and fun, and they retain the excellent piano work.
The last three tracks, from the two live-service titles Imperial SaGa and Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe and the most recent console RPG SaGa Scarlet Grace, are the same arrangements as on the Live Disc. They’re solid, and they do sound more clear and crisp here than on the Live Disc. Of the three, while I’m most impressed with “Blessings of Magic: Macha,” I think my favorite is “Reforged Bonds” because of how regal it sounds and because of the positive experiences I’ve had with its associated game.
While Orchestral SaGa, in CD and digital form, is no substitute for the Orchestral SaGa Live Disc, it has enough original material to be a supplement to the Blu-ray. If cost is an issue for the SaGa audiophile, though, this album may be the better option than a special edition Blu-ray that runs for 70 USD or more.