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Completely Complete: FINAL FANTASY IV & THE AFTER YEARS Sound Plus (Review)

Completely Complete: FINAL FANTASY IV & THE AFTER YEARS Sound Plus (Review)

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If memory serves me right, I had asked Square Enix’s Izumi Tsukushi and Akio Shiraishi to release the music from The After Years as some sort of bonus release. Well, they’ve done just that, and while fans who picked up the Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection limited edition are surely happy, fans abroad who will likely never get their hands on the album are more than distraught.

Beyond just offering a few tracks from the game, the disc contains all of the music Junya Nakano wrote for The After Years along with selections from the original soundtrack, and even a few bonuses. Oh, and of course there’s Masashi Hamauzu’s arrangement of the opening theme.

Hit the jump for our full review.

First question: does the Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection retain the music from the DS remake of the game? The answer is yes, unfortunately. Junya Nakano’s arrangements all appear here, which I know will upset a lot of fans as the arrangements were somewhat unkind of some of Uematsu’s original compositions, but take solace in the fact that these tracks only make up a small portion of the album.

Right out of the gate you get Masashi Hamauzu’s “Opening Theme (PSP Ver.)” which is a somewhat shorter version of the “Full Ver.” that appears later. It opens with spacey strings and a twinkling piano before marching snare drums and epic strings and brass voice the Final Fantasy main theme. Hamazu’s arrangement is distinctly Hamauzu, relying heavily on piano and strings. The piano does some playful things here and there, and the arrangement is for the most part upbeat and good natured.

From there we get the 11 tracks that were composed specifically for The After Years. I hadn’t realized that Nakano had written so many original pieces, as I was mainly familiar with the first two. “Mysterious Girl ~minus~” is a foreboding piece with descending belltones and deep pad swells that effectively create a foreign and dangerous atmosphere. This is followed up by what’s easily my favorite track on the album, “The Dispossessed Eidolons ~Minudes~,” which takes the “Mysterious Girl” theme, speeds it up, and adds early Final Fantasy standard bass and percussion along with powerful orchestral hits. It’s heavy, it’s powerful, and it’s awesome. I’m impressed by Nakano’s ability to emulate Uematsu’s writing style.

The tracks that follow were mostly new to me, although I’d heard them in-game. They are mainly dark and ambient in nature, relying on similar instrumentation to the previous pieces with lots of belltones and heavy bass pads. “True Moon” and “Master of Imagination” stand out as particularly brooding examples. “The Battle for Life” is a terrifying battle theme that is bombastic, epic, and impressive in that it works in twisted and distorted melody lines from the “Final Fantasy IV Main Theme.” It’s shocking to hear Nakano turning the upbeat theme into such a monstrosity.

There are a series of ending themes, starting with “Epilogue I,” which stands out for its descending harp work that is taken directly from one of my favorite Uematsu compositions of all time, “Troian Beauty.” The piece is soothing and relaxing, working in belltones that twinkle peacefully. “Epilogue II,” on the other hand, uses the “Final Fantasy IV Main Theme” as its source of inspiration, altering the melody into something more melancholy. “Finale” is another impressive effort, turning the ominous “Red Wings” into an upbeat march that is brimming with hope. I was once again impressed by Nakano’s ability to take familiar themes that we all know and love and retool them to suit different moods.

The five tracks from the original soundtrack that were selected by fans are “Theme of Love,” “Opening,” “Final Fantasy IV Main Theme,” “Battle 2,” and “Battle with Golbeza’s Four Emperors,” which I can’t really argue with. You may be interested to know that Kenichiro Fukui is listed as the arranger for that last one, too. Fortunately these tracks were some of the least butchered of the bunch. I was, however, disappointed by the lack of “Troian Beauty,” but wait…

There’s one track on the album that’s not listed on the track list. Track 19. What is it, exactly? “Troian Beauty.” I’m not sure why they tacked it on as a unlisted “bonus track,” but I am personally grateful, and hope this is some indication that the staff at Square Enix are as in love with the song as I am (I’m determined to convince Uematsu to add it to the Distant Worlds tour). With this album release and the secret addition of this bonus track, I almost feel as though this CD was made just for me!

The packaging is sleek and simple. White Yoshitaka Amano images are set against a silver background with metallic silver font. The album even has a SQEX catalogue number (10241), taunting fans who want so desperately to add this to their collection. Inside is the track listing and composer and arranger credits. The back features more artwork and the text, “FINAL FANTASY IV Complete Collection – Final Fantasy IV & The After Years.” It’s a pretty nice package for a limited edition bonus.  Would you guys care to see a short unboxing video?

So, now the bad news. This album was only released in Japan as a pack-in with the limited edition version of the game. This set sold out in a matter of hours, and even fans outside of Japan who tried to import the collection for more than $100 USD ended up without one. There are no plans to release the album separately, which is a shame given what the CD has to offer. We’ll keep you posted if we hear otherwise, but we were told specifically that it would not be included in the US release of the game.

What did you think of the episodic Final Fantasy IV: The After Years on the WiiWare and its music by Junya Nakano? Are you more excited about Nakano’s original work or Masashi Hamauzu’s arrangement of the main theme?

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