When the Seiken Densetsu book/box was released, Square Enix advertised 3 arranged albums from each of the 3 “main” composers in the series. First up was Kenji Ito, who arranged music from the SD1, SD4, Sword of Mana (SD1’s remake) and Children of Mana on an album entitled “Re:Birth.”
Unexpectedly, Ito-ken decided to follow up that first album with a rock-centric, battle-centric album for the SaGa series. Specifically, the trilogy of “Romancing SaGa” titles from Super Famicom (and, of course, the PS2 remake of the first game, “Minstrel Song”). Using the same recording studio and some of the same session musicians, Ito decided to rock out for a total of ten songs, including two “medley” tracks, over the span of 50 minutes.
The result? Something ridiculously good. Though the production quality (mixing engineering) is on par with Re:Birth, the source compositions and the choice of arrangement style (rock) puts this album one solid notch above the first Re:Birth album.
Well, I should say, this album is 90% rock. Strangely, the final track is a slow jazz arrangement. I guess it’s a good way to end the album, but it really doesn’t jive with the rest.
Now, about the performers: there are a lot of people kicking butt on this album. On electric guitar we have Masaru Teramae, the lead guitarist for Falcom’s “jdk band” (2007 to present, the “new” lineup). Also on board are Atsushi Enomoto (jdk band bass) and renowned composer/arranger Noriyuki Kamikura on keyboard (synths) — he too is a member of Falcom’s jdk band. So basically, Kenji Ito brought together members of one of the best live VGM rock acts of the past decade and merged them with other accomplished performers. The drummer, Yu “masshoi” Yamauchi, is a young but feisty drummer whose recent session work includes recordings for TV anime “Gundam Unicorn” and “Blue Exorcist.” His fills and even his standard tempo-setting work are fantastic on this album.
And for violin work on the second track (one of my favorites on the album), Ito-ken got Reiko Tsuchiya, whose work includes Grandia II and III, Valkyrie Profile 2, Eternal Sonata, Ar tonelico III, and even that amazing new soundtrack for the 3DS game “Kid Icarus Uprising.” She was also on the previous Re:Birth. I’d liked to have seen her on more than one track for this album, but hey, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.
And that’s exactly what this album is: a gift. Yes, I know, I still had to PAY for the darn thing. But better pay for something awesome that exists than sit around and wait for something that doesn’t exist to continue not existing. Look back to the Atelier Iris rock albums from SSH. What if those never happened? Well, we wouldn’t know just how hard those songs could rock without those two albums (which, by the way, are still some of my all-time favorites).
With Re:Birth II, Kenji Ito is leveraging everything great about the classic battle themes he wrote for the Romancing SaGa trilogy with the rock band sound. It is, in my opinion, head and shoulders above the Black Mages CDs, and more listenable than the impressive (but long-winded) rock concerts from Motoi Sakuraba.
For the record, the previous arrange albums for these games were orchestral. Well, the first one was like Euro-cafe stuff, but the others were orchestral. But the original battle themes were just screaming “rock me!” — and now it’s happening. Especially for Romancing SaGa 3. Tracks 2 through 5 are all from RS3, and they are all incredible. In fact, it’s in track 4 that we find a surprise appearance from Ito himself, performing on a type of reed organ known as a “Melodion.” This track, “Occult Castle Battle,” is very beautiful and very grounded in its melody. A great song for elaboration and improvisation, but even without these things, the band works together in such a tight-knit way, I get excited just hearing the backing parts.
And remember me boasting about those drums? Check out track 5, the battle medley for “Four Demon Nobles” from RS3. That intro is on fire.
Tracks 7 through 9 are all the final battle themes from the 3 games (you’ll note that all RS1 arrangements are denoted as their Minstrel Song version, though the opening medley specifically states 1,2,3 + MS). Of them, it’s tough to say which is my favorite. I learned to love the melody from RS2’s final battle when Mitsuto Suzuki did this amazing ambient electronica version of it on a battle compilation CD about 5 years ago. But it comes into its own properly in this rock track. Straight. Up. Epic.
You don’t need to know or love the source material to appreciate this album. But, if you’re in my shoes and you do know these songs, let’s just say that it helps! Kenji Ito’s work as a composer, arranger, and producer is hit-or-miss, but this is a definite home run for the guy. Show him some love by picking up this album. He’ll show you love back by providing you with 50 minutes of excellent music. Seriously, this page is only giving you samples of half the tracks, but the other half are just as awesome. Unless you hate jazz, then track 10 might not work for you. Anyway, I’m rambling. But I’m done rambling. Get the album.