The Star Onions are back!
Years after one critically successful arranged album, this eclectic group of musicians (primarily, but not exclusively, from Square Enix) return for their second studio album of arrangements from Final Fantasy XI. The album focuses primarily on music from the game’s four expansions (all composed by Naoshi Mizuta), though some notable exceptions are in the mix. Kumi Tanioka’s “Gustaberg,” which the Star Onions have a live recording of as a bonus track to the Chains of Promathia OST, returns with an even stronger arrangement. And the vocal theme “Distant Worlds,” composed by Nobuo Uematsu, is also arranged on this album.
Many of these tracks were arranged by Takahito Eguchi, once known as the “other half” of the two-person team headed by Noriko Matsueda (who has since departed the game music industry). However, a notable composer in his own right, Masato Koda (Monster Hunter, et. al.) provided additional arrangement, focusing on strings. The “Manabe Quartet” provides the string performances on this album, which really helps diversify what would have otherwise been little more than a smooth jazz album. The strings help add a refined taste to the arrangements.
The arrangements, in my opinion, are as strong as they are balanced. The original melody to any particular piece is never lost; indeed, melodies are given the rightful attention they deserve. But rhythm, instrumentation, and occasionally the harmonic structure of the original composition, all get a significant upgrade. The general style of the music is “new age” relaxing (what the Japanese refer to as “healing” music), with a little bit of smooth jazz, funk, and classical fused into the soundscape. Check out the “Assault” theme for a solid dose of funk!
There isn’t a single track on this album I dislike. I enjoyed the first Star Onions album quite a bit, but “Sanctuary” is even better. The string quartet has a lot to do with this. Particularly, Takahito Eguchi’s string arrangements for track 3, “Xarcabard,” are beautiful. Koda-san also does a great job with the string section, as he provided string-specific arrangement for “Flowers on the Battlefield.” This song is one of the best from the “Shinpei no Altana” (Wings of the Goddess) expansion. I was so happy to hear it in Star Onions format.
What I really enjoy about the Star Onions is that they aren’t really “stars.” True to their namesake (a bunch of Tarutaru children who make up adventures in FFXI because they have nothing better to do), these musicians do not attempt to blow us away, nor do they attempt to hype their own egos. They work together, and produce simple, beautiful music, like a bunch of Taru youth might do in FFXI.
A friend of mine, however, offers this suggestion: “I don’t like the music to FFXI, but I do like this album.” So this album isn’t just for FFXI players. If you like VGM at all, and you like the style of the music, you’ll want to check out this arranged album. It brings Mizuta’s songs to life in a way that I was hardly expecting. What a lovely little surprise this album was!