What happens when you mix some of the most powerfully epic music with the best synthesizers to date and a little Japanese boy (I think it’s a boy, anyway) speaking Engrish? You get Symphonic Fantasy “White Witch”, a completely new and wonderful arranged album for The Legend of Heroes III, first in the Gagharv trilogy.
“This story is the last one of the era when men believed there was no world, neither beyond Gagharv nor the backbone of the great serpent. Once upon a time, a woman called White Witch wandered around Tiraswheel…”
“…Snowy night, moonlit night, and even windy night: she was always quiet and looked lonesome. Kept going on her pilgrimage from town to town as if it was her mission. She was able to foresee the future. She left so many predictions, and she disappeared.”
And with that introductory statement from our little narrator (a la Final Fantasy III Eternal Wind Legend), we have been placed into an hour-long journey of breathtaking music.
The album begins with the standard opening track, “The White Witch”, a piece that has been as lengthy as six minutes from its OST, to the Electric Orchestra CD, to the JDK Special, all the way to this newly arranged album. This opening piece is one of my alltime favorite Falcom compositions, and I love every rendition of it. The audio sample provided doesn’t do it justice: you need the whole song to be satisfied. The music here is sweeping, grand, enigmatic, and epic. This track on its own warrants the purchase of the album.
Of course, the beauty doesn’t stop there. Next up is the waltz, which is a fun and light piece. Many RPGs will have a waltz theme in them, as they just seem to fit. This one, to me, is reminiscent of one found in Kingdom Hearts, but I am more impressed with this waltz. This may be my favorite waltz theme from all the VGM I’ve ever heard. So far, this album is off to a good start, wouldn’t you say?
“Prophecies” marks the beginning of the second chapter. Like every chapter, we begin with some awkwardly-constructed sentences from our young narrator, and then we are given the treat of a synthesized choir. The choir voices, both male and female, are found frequently on this album, and hearing them over and over can become a little redundant. Again, the quality is such that you would believe it to be real, but the voices are simply too consistent. Many people complain about their overuse on this album, and while I am inclined to agree, I must say that they have never actually bothered me. You can hear these synthesized voices in various samples given on this site, so you can form your own opinion about these oft-used synth choir effects.
“The Great Battle of Bolt” is a loud and epic piece featuring booming drums and brass, erratic flutes going every which way, and more sweeping strings to give the feeling that there is much movement happening. The next track, “Ode to the Savior”, features a pipe organ, and later brings in the full orchestra, including the choir. These two tracks are both good in their own right, but compared to the rest of the album, I sometimes decide to skip ahead to hear the really great stuff. So, if I had to pick least favorites, it would be these two songs.
Take a listen to “Requiem” to hear a sample of the narrator, who is introducing Chapter 3. Requiem is an eleven minute piece, thus warranting its own chapter. What I do not understand about this piece is that, somehow, there is not very much repetition going on. I actually cannot identify all the melodies from the original soundtrack being placed into the Requiem, leading me to believe that there may have been some original composition, at least for the sake of transitions, happening in this one track. This track is truly beautiful, one that I keep coming back to with a sense of awe. It is a shame that, again, there is only the first minute of the song for you to hear.
Our narrator opens chapter 4 by letting us know that “the skies were going to die bloodily”: whatever that means. “Waves of Catastrophe” is written in the same fast, furious, and booming style as track 4, but this time, it’s a little more fun. It really captures the image of a humongous wave sweeping over an entire town. If you take a listen to the sample, there is a section starting about half way through that is very reminiscent of music from one of my favorite albums, the arrangement for Seiken Densetsu, or Final Fantasy Adventure. If you detect this melody, kudos to you: know that if you purchase the album, this melody is repeated and expanded upon later in the track, and it is beautiful. There is, I believe for the first time on this album, use of pitched percussion (mallet instruments such as xylophone and marimba). I love the aural effect produced by these instruments, and one is left to wonder exactly how much thought went into making this album. My first time listening to this album, I had pretty much fallen in love with it by the end of this piece.
It is a good thing that track 7 won me over, because track 8, “Queen Isabel”, is one that I also consider skipping when listening through the album. Almost every single second of this track is filled with the choir synth, and there is even one point where “solo vocalists” enter the synthesized stage to add to the mix. These voices are even more blatantly artificial, though they mask it better than many VGM albums attempting to do the same thing. This song is dark, and it is redundant. It fits within the scope of the album nicely, of course, but I am not particularly fond of it.
Once Isabel has exited the scene, I am pleased to announce that the album is soaking with brilliance and a sense of nostalgia from this point forward. “The Good Witch” is almost entirely constructed from melodies used throughout the album, particularly from the first track. It opens slowly and quietly, and then about 90 seconds through, the full orchestra kicks in, and it swells and swells, until you think that there can’t be any more swelling; something’s going to explode. The choir comes in, and things calm down: it is the eye before the storm. If you listen to the audio sample, you will catch the end of said eye, and move right in towards the musical explosion: the brass, the choir, the strings and winds going insane; this is another melody from the first track, and it is certainly epic. The first time I heard it, I shed a few tears (and considering I’ve never even played Legend of Heroes III, that’s saying something). From this point forward, the song is majestic, powerful, and generally quite loud. When this song is over, you feel as though the album could have ended. Put simply: you can breathe now.
But there’s still an epilogue track, one of the most famous melodies from this game, “Durzel’s Letter”. Despite our Engrish-speaking friend’s grammar problems, even the sound of his voice speaking over the soft reverberating piano is something that sounds sweet and wonderful. When the young boy is done speaking, a string arrangement of this classic melody takes the stage. After a few times through the melody, we hear the winds enter with light touches quickly sweeping through the original song, helping to lighten the mood and “pick up the pace”. I sampled this section because it is simply a great arrangement, and it again reminds me of music from Kingdom Hearts, but again, slightly better. In the last minute, the orchestra plays one final note, and then a music box starts up, carrying us to the end of this hour-long symphonic fantasy.
The astute reader will notice that I am not speaking objectively about this album. I do not care to do so, because I do not think I can. This album is by far one of my favorite Falcom CDs of all time. I do not know how they came up with it, but I love it. There are many Falcom fans who do not like it, and would much prefer the original Electric Orchestra from Special Box ’95 (and fortunely, even the original had a recent reprinting of its own). Many people complain about the synth choir, and a lot of people downright hate the narrator.
But as for me, I couldn’t help but be moved by the album. Maybe I’m just weak, or too sentimental. I don’t know. All I know is that this album has made me want to somehow get a hold of the game moreso than any other version of Legend of Heroes III music has (and I believe I’ve heard every arrangement out there by now).
In the last few years, Falcom has really brought a lot of good, underappreciated music to us, the VGM consumers worldwide. If you haven’t bought any of Falcom’s new albums (from 2000 and onward), definitely get this one. It’s solid, and I am well pleased with it.