Pianist Keita Egusa has teamed up with Nobuo Uematsu’s Dog Ear Records label to start a series of classic game music arranged for solo piano. This first album covers seven different Famicom (NES) games, many of which were ports of arcade games, and one of which comes from Uematsu’s own repertoire. And though only three of the seven tracks for this album are RPG-related, that’s enough to make me want to write about it on RPGFan.
The album is short, so let’s just track-by-track this review. Are we all okay with that? … It’s unanimous then!
Elevator Action is a jazzy rendition of the theme song for Taito’s classic arcade game. This game was ported to the NES (and tons of other consoles) back in the day, as it was one of the more innovative titles from Taito in the early 1980s. Musically, the walking bass line gets that “elevator and escalator” feel perfectly. Being a 5 minute track, Egusa really takes the song everywhere it can possibly go. I dare say it nearly overstays its welcome.
“Yie Ar Kung-Fu” deserves recognition, if not for being one of the earliest games in the “fighter” genre, then because the music was composed by Miki Higashino. Higashino is one of Konami’s finest composers, best known by RPG Fans for work on the Suikoden series. Egusa’s arrangement of this track relies heavily on the original composition’s pentatonic scale. But Egusa builds the track into something that cannot be described as anything less than our generations favorite over-used adjective: epic. This is more than a mere piano sketch. This is Asian epic piano poetry.
Track 3 (I won’t write out the elongated title) comes from a game that I only recently discovered, and only discovered because of its soundtrack. The game itself was a graphic adventure. The music, as arranged by Egusa, is perfect. The Opening Theme took a page from the “Young and the Restless” theme song (in truth, “Nadia’s Theme” by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr.). This musical motif always sounds awesome on piano (see Tina’s Theme from FFVI Piano Collection). This is another 5 minute arrangement from Egusa, and he builds this theme to a perfect, just-barely-sustainable climax, then lets it all drop away with arpeggiations at the end.
Next up? Salamander. One of the best shmups of our day, known as “Life Force” in America, and yet another Konami title with music by Miki Higashino. Running at a non-stop allegro tempo with 16th notes and triplets dominating nearly every beat of every measure, Egusa made this arrangement challenging enough that I don’t think I’d personally have the skill to perform it. This is fitting for Salamander, as the soundtrack is oft remembered, fondly, for its tempo and complex melodic/harmonic structure.
On track 5, we get the one track that makes the whole album worthwhile for FF nuts. You see, I’ve been waiting my entire adult life for “Piano Collections Final Fantasy I~III.” They could release it as one disc, two discs, three discs, separate releases or together as one release. I don’t care. All I know is that every numbered FF outside of I, II, III and XII have had Piano Collection CDs. I cherish them all. And though I doubt XII will ever get one (how do you turn Sakimoto’s music into solo piano?), I through III are ripe for piano arrangement. They’ve been ripe since 1990, in fact. Here I am, 20 years later, craving piano arrangements for these classic NES titles. And finally, I get a small, but entirely worthwhile, taste of it.
Final Fantasy II is without question my least favorite entry in the FF series, primarily because of its leveling “system” (I use the term loosely). Its soundtrack isn’t too strong either, but if there’s one piece that deserves attention, it’s the Main Theme. There’s a great vocal arrangement of this track, featuring Risa Ohki, from the FF Vocal Collections (Pray / Love Will Grow). Hearing Keita Egusa’s piano solo arrangement reminds me of the vocal ballad, as his right-hand melodic performance feels 100% “lyrical” in nature. All in all, a beautiful performance of one of Uematsu’s most underrated melodies.
Most people only know Mappy’s sequel, Mappy-land, but the original Mappy (for arcade, NES, and a variety of other platforms) features a great ragtime melody. Egusa, of course, goes for a ragtime arrangement to match the original piece. The game has you playing as a police-mouse running after (or running from) criminal cats. The cuteness of this arcade classic carries over well in Egusa’s arrangement, but that’s not to say it’s an easy piece to perform. Yet again, novice and even intermediate-level pianists would be unable to play this piece, even at a slower tempo. And this is probably one of the simplest pieces (in terms of melody) on the album.
This EP-sized album’s finale track is probably my favorite (maybe tied with FF2). It’s “Snowman,” a winter-themed melody from Mother. You know Mother, right? We’ve only received one game in this three-part series. It’s known as “Earthbound” in the US, and fans have lovingly dubbed the original NES game “Earthbound Zero” since the game we know as Earthbound on SNES is actually Mother 2. Anyway, “Snowman” is a beautiful piece, and an obvious choice for Egusa to perform on this CD. The chord progression for the piece involves a lot of major and minor sevenths. Melodically, the piece is emotionally moving and certainly memorable. I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy listening to this piece, regardless of musical tastes or previous exposure to the Mother soundtrack.
In conclusion… everyone should do what they can to locate and buy this album. Why? Because if it sells well, this first volume could kick off a whole bunch of subsequent volumes with more great music. Maybe Egusa will even do my proposed FFI,II,III Piano Collection. This is a great concept, and the end result is great as well, so let’s support Keita Egusa Dog Ear Records in this endeavor. Buy this album.