The music was reborn. Now, what happens if the instruments are…retuned?
Originally described months before release as being a more jazz-influenced album than the rock influence of the Re:Birth series, but still focused around battle themes in the Romancing SaGa trilogy, it turns out Re:Tune has a sort of eclectic mix of styles. Most of them involve recording live, acoustic instruments, though there are notable exceptions (track 3 is fully electronic, for example). That which most people would consider “jazz” is only found sparingly throughout the album.
For the sake of specificity, I’ll lay out the instrumental groups used in each song. The opening medley (“Battle I” from the RS trilogy and Minstrel Song remake) is performed by a traditional string quartet: two violins, a viola, and a cello. Track 2 features Kenji Ito himself on keyboard, with Ryu Kawamura on an upright bass and Yu Yamauchi on drums. Yamauchi is one of a handful of Re:Tune performers who also played on the Re:Birth albums.
As stated earlier, track 3 is entirely electronic. On track 4, the featured instrumentalists include one of the violinists (Koichiro Muroya) and the cellist (Masateru Nishikata) from track 1’s string quartet, as well as Harutoshi Ito on acoustic guitar. Violinist Muroya returns on track 5, alongside Hiroshi Iimuro on what the track credits call “gut guitar” (an acoustic guitar with either catgut or, more likely, nylon strings), Toshino Tanabe on a standard electric “rock” bass, and Takashi Itani handling all percussion.
Track 6 features artist “Teiho” playing the lead melody on the bandoneon, a sort of cousin to the accordion. Harutoshi Ito (from track 4) returns, now playing electric guitar. Toshino Tanabe and Yu Yamauchi return on their respective instruments as well (bass and drums), making this the closest track to a traditional rock band…with the bandoneon throwing in a delicious twist. For tracks 7 and 8, we hear the return of Muroya on violin and Tanabe on bass. Track 7 features dueling electric guitars, Ito versus Iimuro. Track 8 features Iimuro recording on both electric and “gut” guitar.
Track 9 is a piano solo by Yoichi Nozaki, demonstrating once again that the Romancing SaGa trilogy is ripe for a piano collection — a “Piano Opera” album, as it were. And finally, track 10, a two-part medley, goes all-out with a two-person layered choir (Sho Amano and Yuma Miki), Nishikata back on cello, Yamauchi back on drums, Tanabe back on bass, and the dueling electric guitarists Ito and Iimuro.
The instrumental setup tells much, but not all, of the musical story. How the instruments are used is, perhaps, the more important piece. For example, in “Ultimate Confrontation,” the final battle music from Romancing SaGa 2, Takashi Itani’s “percussion” section includes all sorts of fun, rhythmic instrumentation that is associated with Spanish and Latin American music: especially castanets! Some might ask for more cowbell, but I call for more castanets! They are a great choice! Perhaps more importantly, Iimuro’s “gut” guitar (again, more likely nylon strings than actual catgut strings) is bright and beautiful, both when laying down strumming chords and when featured as a solo melodic instrument. Muroya wields the violin less like a classical musician and more like a folk musician dancing around a campfire while playing. The overall sound is exquisite.
As stated earlier, the arrangement featuring the bandoneon also has all the instrumentation to provide a rock band sound. And without question, “Arcane Castle Battle” from RS3 gets the closest in terms of soundscape to the Re:Birth series. Yu Yamauchi’s work on the drums is a major piece of that. Having electric guitar and bass, of course, also adds to it. The string ensemble keyboards and electric piano added by Kenji Ito help to layer the sound so it doesn’t feel too much like a rock concert, and the bandoneon certainly does give off a Euro-jazz vibe. The end result? Rock music with enough of a twist to make it fit this album’s soundscape and allow listeners like myself to enjoy it; which is to say, if it this arrangement had not varied the style of the Re:Birth albums, the whole track would have been a duplication and thus a waste of time and money for fans eager to hear just how far Ito can stretch the iconic, if lesser-known, SaGa franchise (and in this case, RS trilogy).
Considering all of the above commentary, I am comfortable with concluding this review on the following notes: 1) this album is every bit as enjoyable as the Re:Birth albums, so long as you can enjoy other music ensembles as much as rock band ensembles; 2) there may not be much further for Kenji Ito to go with the Romancing SaGa trilogy — if he wants to work with Square Enix in revisiting music, he may want to look at other SaGa titles or other Seiken Densetsu arrangements; 3) would somebody please get to work on piano solo albums for Romancing SaGa / other SaGa games?