Just how much orchestral attention can the SaGa series receive? A lot, apparently. So much so that in 2020 Square Enix saw fit to release a two-disc live recording from a subset of games in the series with Romancing SaGa Orchestra Festival LIVE CD. Again, not sure why it’s referred to as a singular CD when it is, in fact, a two-disc collection, but I digress…
Romancing SaGa has, of course, expanded beyond its original trilogy. In addition to the original three games, we have the Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song– remake of the first game and the mobile game Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe, which serves as a direct sequel to Romancing SaGa 3. “But what about Romancing SaGa 2?” you ask! “Where is its remake and/or sequel content?” Don’t worry. RS2 gets love in the form of SaGa THE STAGE: Return of the Seven Heroes. Yes, there have been multiple stage plays with original music written by Kenji Ito to expand on the story and lore of these games. In the case of this stage play, we get some added depth around the godlike heroes of Romancing SaGa 2 and the troubled world around them.
We have a lovely two-part symphony orchestra collection from these six titles. The first half focuses on the original Super Famicom trilogy, and the second half focuses on the extended titles. The orchestral arrangements include some familiar names, such as Kousuke Yamashita, Natsumi Kameoka, and Yu Manabe. Other arrangers include Naoya Iwaki, Yuya Takano, and composer Kenji Ito himself handling the “Overture” arrangement on Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song-. Of these arrangers, I found Yamashita had the most to offer. The opening arrangement for Romancing SaGa, “Opening – Overture – Dawn of the Romance,” is a powerful reminder of the series’ simple, humble roots with unadorned, well-crafted melodies rebuilt into something bigger and bolder. A great example is Yamashita’s arrangement of the battle themes in the original RS, the “Beat Them Up! Medley,” as a surprisingly strong arrangement for some of Kenji Ito’s earliest battle themes.
Yamashita again handles “opening” and “battle” duties with track 7 of the first disc. I would argue that “Prologue: The Rise of Morastrum” would be difficult to flub in an orchestral arrangement, as the source material is built on synth orchestral sounds. Nonetheless, Kousuke Yamashita finds ways to decorate and elaborate without taking anything away from the original.
Considering all that, one could argue that it is Natsumi Kameoka who brings the house down. Track 9 might be the most impressive of everything on the album: an eight-minute closer featuring both of the “Four Sinistrals Battle” themes from Romancing SaGa 3, with an additional minute of clapping from the live audience at the end. Well deserved, I’d say! We’ve heard these themes in orchestral form before, even arranged by Kameoka herself (see disc 2 track 4 of The Orchestral SaGa -Legend of Music-). However, these battle medleys tend to cut each theme short, preferring a greater number of battle themes over elongated and well-built arrangements. The Sinistrals battles (previously fan-translated as “Four Noble Devils,” for you old-school fans) are some of Kenji Ito’s strongest battle themes. Kameoka delivers some extremely intense, fast-paced renditions here, rivaling the multiple Orchestral SaGa releases before and after this 2020 concert.
There is plenty to love on the second disc, including arrangements from arrangers less often utilized by Square Enix, though they are certainly up to the job. Yuya Takano’s “The Land of Giants / Melodies of Good and Evil” from Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song– captures some of the best environment and event music from the game, with Takano wisely passing the soaring melodies between solo instruments (clarinet, trumpet) and ensemble strings. Naoya Iwaki expertly handles some of that SaGa THE STAGE music, pulling at the heartstrings quite well with “Ballad of Love / Brimming with Desire: Noel and Oaive.” Piano concerto style was the right call, and the inclusion of the harp made me smile each time I listened to this one.
There is an encore section at the end of disc two featuring Kousuke Yamashita’s “Final Battle Medley” from the Super Famicom trilogy, then Yu Manabe’s “Ending Theme” from RS3. I think Yamashita’s “Final Battle Medley” has the heart-pounding excitement that matches Kameoka’s disc one finale. Sadly it suffers from the medley-packing, fitting three amazing and lengthy battle themes into less than six minutes. I would have liked more elaboration on the RS2 final battle, as it remains a personal favorite.
Over the past few years, Square Enix has spared no expense in expanding the arrange music catalog of the SaGa series. And yes, I’m all here for it. That said, I would love to see the Square Enix Music team slow down with the orchestral albums for a while. While this album and the multiple Orchestral SaGa releases are fantastic, they are risking a market saturation. Let’s see some more synth and electronic arrangements! Let’s see the “Acoustic Arrangement” albums expand from SaGa Frontier to the entire franchise! Let’s *finally* get some Piano Collection albums, please; I am begging you! It will be every bit as enjoyable as these orchestral albums but at a fraction of the cost. I love this album, but please, let’s expand our musical horizons!