Ys Zanmai


Review by · July 6, 2013

Editor’s Note: Regarding the tracklist used here, fans have had long-standing translations for many of these track titles. Because this album was released not just as a CD in Japan, but also digitally via US iTunes, we’ve used the official iTunes tracklist on our page. So, just as an example, the track which we would normally recognize as “A Premonition =Styx=” now appears as “Omen = Styx =” instead.

Comiket 83’s “Zanmai” album from Falcom (their 3rd in the series) celebrates music from the Ys series. The three arrangers Jindo, Kamikura, and Okajima are back to do what they do best: Jindo does epic orchestral stuff, Kamikura knows rock, jazz and electronica, and Okajima is a wild-card.

There are 9 songs on Ys Zanmai; enough to cover each entry in the series. However, it seems four games fell by the wayside: Ys Origin, Ys II, Ys V, and Ys SEVEN. For me, these oversights are inexcusable. Since Ys SEVEN’s release, it has never received a specific arranged album treatment of its own, and the few arranged tracks from the game that can be found on other albums don’t celebrate what I personally find to be the “best” songs from the game. As for Ys V, its day in the limelight is almost sure to come, as it’s in line to be the next remake (after Celceta remade IV, albeit very loosely). But I would’ve liked some Ys V on this album. And as for Origin, much of its OST was made up of re-imagined tracks from I and II, but there were enough original tunes on there that selecting one for this album would have been appreciated.

(Technically, both Origin and II are apparently represented by the arrangement of “Feena,” at least according to the track credits on the album’s back cover. That seems like a cop-out to me, but even with those in mind, that leaves V and SEVEN un-represented.)

This album is short enough that I feel comfortable speaking to the style and quality of each track. Rather than go in order of the tracklist, however, I’m going to go in chronological order of the series (I through VI). Here we go!

One of my all-time favorite pieces of music is “Final Battle” from the original Ys. It’s a grueling fight, totally intense, but also quite short. Unlooped, the piece is only about 30 seconds long, so it’s intense, but brief. No wonder, then, that even with an extending arrangement, the song got paired with the ominous “Last Moment of the Dark,” which has a similar melody. This is a powerhouse rock arrangement with lots of glitz and glam, but not in the old ’80s hair metal style. This is a 21st century rock production, totally unlike any previous arrangement. My only complaint is that in the “Final Battle” portion, the guitar lead is mixed down a little too low. The right notes aren’t getting emphasized. It’s a bit of a shame, because this track is very close to perfection in my book. I liked the artistic liberty Kamikura took with adding a repetition of the one bar in Final Battle.

At the end of the disc, we find “Feena,” perhaps the most commonly remixed/remade/arranged tune in the Falcom library. Found in Ys Origin and in Ys I&II, this simple melody gets special treatment on Ys Zanmai. I was disheartened at first, just because (as a reviewer) why do I want to hear this one again? But I was wrong to doubt. This particular arrangement is sublime, building layer upon layer with each repeat of that lovely little melody. Cheers to Yukihiro Jindo for being able to breathe new life into a very old piece of VGM history.

We get one song from Ys III / Felghana, and I thought it a strange choice. I don’t know why Falcom is always turning to the prologue music “A Premonition =Styx=.” I don’t think it’s a particularly impressive piece of music, and I was somewhat underwhelmed here too, even though I appreciate Okajima’s attempt to bring life to the track with some groovy percussion and sound effects. Keeping acoustic piano center-stage was definitely the right choice as well. But then, all the good choices in the world don’t change the fact that I’d rather have half a dozen other Ys III songs or an Ys V song on this disc in Styx’s place.

And then there is Ys IV. There are two tracks on this disc specific to the old Ys IV (The Dawn of Ys) and two that are specific to the “Celceta” sorta-remake; they are tracks 4-5 and 6-7, respectively. Let’s start with “The Dawn of Ys.”

Another Okajima joint, this arrangement makes up for the weak version of the track found on the Celceta OST. It is much more like the JDK Band 4 (man I love that old album!), but with the signature Falcom violin that’s been popular ever since Sora no Kiseki. Certainly enjoyable!

“Crimson Wings,” a song not to be found anywhere on the Celceta OST, is some glorious Ys IV (Dawn of Ys) goodness. It’s another track ripe for rockin’ out. It’s not exactly like the dance-rock of the Ys IV Perfect Collections, but it is still something you can nod your head to. And yes, it’s another Okajima joint. Harmonic thirds on those guitars… you know I love ’em!

“Casnan, the Frontier Town” is a sort of replacement for Promarock, specific to the Celceta remake. I suspect Lunar and Grandia fans will appreciate this super-jazzy town theme. The keyboard lead and the saxophone sound fantastic, but that’s only if you can stomach the cheesy nature of the entire arrangement. It’s exactly like the sort of music one expects from a bright, fun videogame (think Carnival Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and you’re getting there). I appreciate this track for what it is and can get into it, but sometimes I just want to skip ahead. So let’s do that.

“Last Decisive Battle” is a rather uninspired track title. They couldn’t just call it “Final Battle,” like in Ys I. They had to add that it was decisive… at least for the plot of Foliage Ocean in Celceta. It’s my opinion that this song, like its title, is uninspired. Kamikura’s arrangement certainly tries to make it cool, but to me, this one is forgettable. It’s a long-form meandering sort of rock piece, akin to dozens of Motoi Sakuraba battle themes that you get mixed up in your head. I just can’t bring myself to get interested. Even the technically impressive guitar solos leave me yawning.

Ah, but now, we reach what I consider to be the best part of the entire album. We get two tracks from Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim.

Ys VI never got an instrumental arranged album to call its own. It did get “The Songs of Zemeth,” which was a love-it-or-hate-it kind of vocal album (me? I loved it!). I suspect that Yukihiro Jindo (who arranged both Ys VI tracks) has been waiting since the Ys VI OST was written (Jindo started at Falcom around that same time) to do this style of arrangement. The album opens with “The Depth Napishtim,” the epic final boss music from that game. It’s not a heavy guitar-rock track. No, not at all. In-game it was an electronic-orchestral masterpiece, and in this form, it’s only gotten better. Fans of the old Sora no Kiseki Super Arrange Version will be sure to love this arrangement. It’s definitely my favorite track on Ys Zanmai. I want more arrangements like these!

Oh look, I get another one! “The Ruined City ‘Kishgal'” is the final dungeon music in Ys VI, and it’s a dance-heavy electronica masterpiece as well. Jindo doesn’t have to do much to improve it, but what he does is add live violin recordings, which resolve a little tonal dissonance from the OST version (the violins in that version get a little too sharp at one point in the melody). Fans of the Ys VI OST are basically guaranteed to dig this new arrangement. It’s nothing too crazy, but it’s certainly an enhancement.

And… that’s it. That’s the whole album. Sure, it’s short, and there was plenty more material for Falcom to go after. Maybe they’ll do an Ys Zanmai 2 at some point (though I’d prefer a Piano Collections 3 using Ys V through SEVEN). Fingers crossed! In the meantime, if you want this album, the easiest method is to buy it digitally via iTunes for twelve dollars (or nine dollars if you just buy each track separately and don’t want the art assets).

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.