The Symphonic series of performances and albums are already a well-beloved staple of live video game music arrangements. Those who have had the pleasure of attending the perfomances have had nothing but praise for both the performance and the arrangements. Symphonic Fantasies, in particular, was a fantastic recording of a fantastic performance by talented performers. But that didn’t stop the arrangers of this material, Jonne Valtonen and Roger Wanamo, from going back in to retool their work, and what has come about as a result is nothing short of fantastic.
Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo is made up of the same four main medleys as its predecessor: Kingdom Hearts, Secret of Mana, Chrono, and Final Fantasy. Additionally, an original piece of music written by Jonne Valtonen served as the overture. However, this new two-disc album includes expanded and revised arrangements of all five pieces of music. Also, the well-beloved finale, made up of final boss tracks from each series, is at last on disc. The packaging is very attractive, featuring a sturdy booklet full of commentary from the original composers, as well as bios for the all of the major players involved with the concert.
Compared to the original Symphonic Fantasies recording, the new arrangements are a bit higher in tempo – which works fantastically, particularly during the Chrono Cross piece. New portions have been seamlessly worked into the original arrangements, and they are universally excellent. Choosing a personal favorite is murderously difficult, as there are tons of memorable moments throughout all four main tracks. The moment when the bridge of Final Fantasy VII’s battle theme makes its triumphant choral entrance is chill-inducing, as is the utterly haunting performance of Kingdom Hearts’ “The Other Promise.” Of course, I certainly can’t discount the prickling of goosebumps popping up on my skin while listening to the main themes of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross interwoven together with such exceptional panache. There are many, many wonderful moments in each of these arrangements – too many for me to list here, when the music speaks for itself.
Like every other aspect, the production and mastering on the album is stellar. Every strum, thrum, plink, and drumbeat is heard with total clarity, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell that this is a live recording at all. Listen to the album with surround sound or a good set of headphones, and you’ll feel as though you are sitting right in the middle of the audience getting the full experience.
While I run the risk of overstating myself, this album and what it represents bode well for the future of live game music and the appreciation of it. These arrangements are made not only so that fans of each game can enjoy them – but so that the general concert-going public can as well. This is the best recording of what I’m not hesitant to call one of the best live performances of video game music in the world, and with that in mind, if you are even a modest fan of any of the included material, you need to own this music. If we can get more shows with this much care and arrangement, the day when VGM is as respected and widely appreciated as more mainstream genres of music might not be too far after all.