With digital music being the most convenient, and most popular, distribution model for consumers these days, publishers of physical artifact media (CD, audio Blu-ray, etc) have begun to regularly incentivize potential buyers with exclusive bonus content. This sort of thing has always been around, but in recent years, Square Enix has definitely increased the level to which they engage in this practice, even to the point where they offer different exclusives for preordering from different brick and mortar stores (yes, I’m talking about you, SQ Chips 2).
The new two-disc album The Orchestral SaGa -Legend of Music- came with one such bonus: a third CD, under 10 minutes in length, featuring Kenji Ito playing two piano tracks from Romancing SaGa 2. The catch? It was only available to individuals who preordered the album online from the SQUARE ENIX e-STORE (the Japanese version of the e-STORE, to be exact). Ordering through this site required some extra effort on my part, but I don’t want to miss a single second of newly-arranged SaGa music, ever. So here we are.
The first track is a surprisingly long arrangement of a 30 second “music effect” jingle. If you have played Final Fantasy V, you may be familiar with the eight “piano practice” tracks. Romancing SaGa 2 had four “dance tracks” of a similar variety: something fun to spice up the game while exploring the world. Kenji Ito lengthened this lovely dance tune into a slow but beautiful four minute piano solo. On the other hand, with the second track, he managed to slightly shorten the Epilogue to that same four-ish minute mark (by not repeating it compared to its OSV counterpart).
Both tracks demonstrate Ito’s care and affection for this sometimes overlooked entry in the long-running SaGa series. Kenji Ito is not known as an expert pianist: he is easily outclassed by composer/performer peers such as Kumi Tanioka or Tsutomu Narita. Nonetheless, his self-arrangements make two things abundantly clear. First, that Romancing SaGa 2 has more to offer than its OSV and the old Eternal Romance arranged album (solid as that album was!); second, that the SaGa series, and the Romancing SaGa trilogy in particular, is practically begging to be arranged for piano. Imagine if Hiroyuki Nakamura, the man behind the three Piano Opera Final Fantasy albums, did a single CD for the Romancing SaGa trilogy! Better yet, what if Ito hand-selected arrangers and performers to do one CD for each game in the trilogy?
When I listen to this short disc, I enjoy what I hear. But in my mind’s ear, I hear so much more. There is untapped potential here. And as much as some people may be tired of Square Enix pumping out one arranged album after the next for old IPs, I say “the more, the merrier,” with the added caveat that the albums not be “phoned-in” arrangements (I’m looking squarely in the direction of half of the “SQ” series). Furthermore, with the Romancing SaGa 2 port for smartphone and Vita out in Japan (and the smartphone port coming to North America — finally, RS2 in English!), I think it’s high time some of our great video game pianists take on the trilogy, perhaps with an emphasis on RS2. Imagine what Shinko Ogata, Kumi Tanioka, Hiroyuki Nakamura, Casey Ormond, and so many others could do with the excellent source material! We’ve received dozens of great arrangements thanks to the Re:Birth albums, but it’s time to step away from all the battle themes for a bit and glean some joy from the softer side of SaGa. And the piano solo album is the perfect fit.