The first “Re:Birth” album from Kenji Ito featured new arrangements of his work on the Seiken Densetsu series. “Re:Birth II” gave us an excellent collection of battle music arrangements from the Romancing SaGa trilogy. Now, in “Re:Birth II -Sen-,” Ito-san returns with most of Falcom’s highly-esteemed JDK Band to give us even more SaGa love. And this time, it’s not limited to the Super Famicom trilogy. SaGa 2 (“Final Fantasy Legend 2” in North America) and Saga Frontier both see some action on this disc. As a tradeoff, this album does not have any music from Romancing SaGa 3, which was featured heavily on the previous album.
The quality of arrangement, performance, recording, and overall production value on “Sen” is right up there with Re:Birth II, which was my favorite arranged album of 2012. So what I’m trying to tell you is that this album is amazing. If you like Falcom, SaGa, or both, you’re going to be in paradise when you listen to this album. It puts The Black Mages to shame.
Let’s get into the specifics.
The album opens with the regular battle theme for SaGa 2 and then transitions into the boss battle music. The melodies and accompanying counter-melodies ring out clearly, and the drum parts are awesome. There’s also a great little bass solo during the boss battle section that breaks up all the insanity. I would’ve liked the medley to extend even further and catch a piece of the final boss music. But I’ll make do with this arrangement, ’tis an excellent five minutes of aural pleasure!
“Battle 2” from Romancing SaGa sounds excellent. As it was in the Minstrel Song remake, the melody is oft carried by a beautiful, soaring violin performance. There are also plenty of synth keys throughout the piece, and the drums sound perfect: pulsating, but not overwhelming. The technical complexity of the drum fills will satisfy many a percussionist.
Next, we have a very surprising track, “The Sewers.” This one isn’t technically a battle theme at all, but rather dungeon music for an area that has tons of enemies, so you do plenty of battling, just not with this music overlaid. I was pleasantly surprised to find this funky piece of music taken on by JDK Band + Ito. The resulting sound is just… oh, so good! This is the heaviest synth track on the album, much like Magical Tank Battle was on the previous album. Lots of organ and wah-wah guitar as well. It’s funky and groovy and it honestly sounds like something off of an old Ys Perfect Collection Ryo Yonemitsu arrangement. I adore it.
Kzinssie’s battle (romanized as “Kujinshi” in the US iTunes tracklist) from Romancing SaGa 2 gets some well-deserved attention on track 4. Given the caliber of these performers, this arrangement was exactly what I expected. No more, no less.
Now we get to the really exciting stuff!!
Saga Frontier, as many of you know, never had its own official arranged album. All three Romancing SaGa titles did, as did Saga Frontier II. The three disc OST from Kenji Ito is a marvelous bit of work, with over a dozen battle themes on it. It truly deserves its own album. But for now, I’ll happily settle for the three tracks, five through seven, on this disc. The game featured five “normal” battle themes, as well as seven last boss themes unique to each of the seven playable characters. Here we get battle 1, battle 5, and Asellus’ final boss theme. Good choices all around!!
Battle 1 is nice to have from a nostalgic perspective. It’s the most common battle music from the game, but it’s not the most interesting. For what the source material is, the band did it justice. Battle 5, on the other hand, is a super-intense and very exciting piece, and the band gave the song all the energy it deserved. It might be my favorite track on the disc. I am so pleased with it that I want to personally thank these guys for their hard work transforming this once-forgotten battle theme into an epic rock piece.
Now, among the seven final battle themes, any of them would’ve been great to have. I’d especially love to hear T260G’s song get arranged some day. Until then, I think Asellus’ final boss music was a very smart choice, especially with the band lineup as-is: guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, and violin! The violin parts are perfect for some of the moodier bits of this long, layered composition. Seriously, among the five songs where violinist Reiko Tsuchiya is featured, I think her best work is here, on Asellus’ final battle.
Now we get two songs specific to the “Minstrel Song” remake of Romancing SaGa on PS2, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite games and soundtracks. The Sherah battle theme already sounded amazing on the OST, and really, all we’re getting with this recording is live instruments and great audio recording quality in place of the recorded/sequenced amalgamation that was used for the OST. This is another great song, just as intense as Saga Frontier’s “Battle 5.” Another great choice to keep this album strong.
“Melodies of Good and Evil,” on the other hand, I thought a strange choice. There are plenty of wonderful battle themes unique to Minstrel Song. This one never stuck with me, in terms of its original composition, as one worth delving into with new arrangements. But Ito-san thought otherwise, and so we have this arrangement. It’s certainly good, and it follows the formula perfectly, but I would’ve chosen other pieces instead of this one.
Finally, I suppose the Ito / JDK Band combo felt like they let their fans down on the last album? They included a slow jazz rendition of Seven Heroes’ Battle from Romancing SaGa 2. The same song appears to close out this album, but instead of the slow jazz, we get another straight rock tune, with violin and guitar trading the melody and some beautiful piano parts decorating the upper octaves. This arrangement, in my opinion, is much preferred over the jazz track on the previous Re:Birth II disc.
Looking back on it, I think this album is just as good as its predecessor, and in a few spots I find myself even more excited by the sequel (especially with the inclusion of music from Saga Frontier). Now, let’s get a true “Re:Birth III” of just music from Saga Frontier, eh Ito-Ken?! Plenty of fans would eat it up, and I’d be first in line.
One other note: if you buy this album in its physical form (as opposed to, say, the iTunes digital version), a small card is included with the CD to download the original versions of each of these songs from ototoy.jp. It’s a nice bonus that allows the listener to quickly compare the original to the arrangement. This extra bit of service is what demonstrates to me that, even if the quality of their games are hit or miss these days, Square Enix’s music department knows exactly what they’re doing.