Game Music, Reviews

Live Music by Piano and Strings: 7th Dragon Super Arrange Version (Review)

September 6, 2009 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook Live Music by Piano and Strings: 7th Dragon Super Arrange Version (Review)on Twitter

At this stage in gaming and game audio, there are many composers that can be considered legendary to some degree. It can be due to for the scale and number of projects they’ve worked on, the memorability of the themes they written, or simply because they’ve been in this industry for so long. One composer who embodies all of these elements is Yuzo Koshiro. For me, any game or soundtrack that has Koshiro in it is going to an easy one to recommend as a purchase, or at the very least present some pleasant listening material for the user. In the case of this particular album, entitled Live Music by Piano and Strings: 7th Dragon Super Arrange Version, calling it an album one needs to immediately purchase will probably depend on your tastes in music.

To put it simply, if you really enjoy Koshiro’s retro-infused, underlying compositions, as well as Norihiko Hibino’s soft and somewhat understated arrangement approach, you shouldn’t be listening to me talk about this album, and instead should be trying to get your hands on it. For the rest of you, however, let me fill you in on some details about what’s going on here.

Check out our review after the jump.

To be a little more accurate about this album (which spans 13 tracks, and lasts a bit less than 47 minutes in total length), it comes in a generally similar light as Koshiro and Hibino’s previous work together on the Etrian Odyssey Super Arrange albums. The easiest way to describe it is as follows: Yuzo Koshiro writes the music for the DS game in a retro/chiptune style (using some sort of FM synthesis or similar tech, for example), which then gets adapted into the music that is actually used in the DS game. Those arrangements then translate over to what we hear in these Super Arrange albums.

But all of that really doesn’t matter that much when you get down to it, as the important question is simple: Does the music sound good? The easy answer to this question is yes, and that shouldn’t be a surprise at all. While this album doesn’t feature as wide of a range of genres being represented as the Etrian Odyssey II Super Arrange album did (which went from fusion jazz, to new-age/classical, to rather hard/aggressive rock), this ends up becoming a strength to me personally. In the case of the Etrian Odyssey II Super Arrange Version, there were multiple people working on arrangements for the tracks, which inevitably resulted in varying degrees of production quality, whereas in this album’s case, the production quality is consistent across all tracks due to Hibino being the primary arranger for all the tracks. Those who have also listened to the Live Music by Piano and Strings: Etrian Odyssey I & II Super Arrange Version album will understand what I’m talking about, as that was another Koshiro/Hibino case of consistent production quality, which is very important to me.

Speaking of the production quality, it’s simply great. The performances by all the musicians is fantastic, and this should again be no surprise as most of the performers had also been featured on the previous Live Music by Piano and Strings album Hibino arranged. In addition, the instruments sound like they were carefully tracked, and are well balanced in the mixes, with just the right amount of time-based processing added to give each track a different sense of space and air. This really helps in giving separation between instruments like the piano, violin, guitar, flute, and saxophone…

Oh, did I just say flute and saxophone? Ah, yes, I forgot to mention that earlier. Much as was the case in Live Music by Piano and Strings: Etrian Odyssey I & II Super Arrange Version, the album title really only tells half of what’s going on here in Hibino’s arrangements. In addition to the expected Piano and orchestral stringed instruments (namely violin and cello), there is also classical guitar, flute, accordion, percussion, and even saxophone parts in various tracks, with the sax being performed by Hibino himself. Given those instruments, it should be easy to gauge what styles of music you’re going to hear on this album.

The tracks range essentially from classical-sounding chamber settings (such as “Beautiful Garden / Miross Federation”), to easy-listening/contemporary adult/new age-like tracks (“The Adventurer’s Beginning”), to full out smooth/latin influenced Jazz arrangements (“Journey – Soaring the Heavens, Travelling the Oceans ~ Journey – Land of Conflict”). Between these three styles, my personal favorite tends to be when Hibino gives these songs the jazz treatment. This is not only because it usually results with him breaking out a few well performed lines on saxophone, but also because theseare the arrangements where I felt like Hibino was making the music sound like a blending of his own musical voice with Koshiro’s. I’m not saying that the more straight/’classical’ sounding tracks were bad by any degree. They’re just as pleasant to listen to as the more jazz-infused tracks, but the only problem I had with these songs was the fact that they simply felt like direct transcriptions or resettings of the original music. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much of this is the result of Hibino or Koshiro, but regardless of why these tracks turned out the way they did, the ultimate feeling I had when listening to these songs was that Koshiro’s compositions were coming through clearly enough, but Hibino’s own musical voice was kind of minimized for these tracks, as I felt was the case in ”Castle of the Hero King / Kazan Republic.”

Despite this case of somewhat irregular arrangement quality, the overall strengths of this album generally discount those moments of disappointment. It’s an album that’s pleasant to listen to from beginning to end, and features fantastic performances from all the musicians involved. The only other issue that needs to be addressed is one that might be the most important for some readers – the price. Yes, as is the case with any album that is released in Japan only, getting your hands on this album will be costly, especially when you are considering how much music you end up getting. Most sites that I’ve come across have this album listed at about 30-35 dollars, while the original soundtrack release of 7th Dragon (which spans 4 discs, and features both the DS version and original retro version of the music) clocks in at around 38-45 dollars.

One thing to note regarding the pricing of the Super Arrange album is what you get outside of the audio tracks themselves. The packaging is of notable quality, and one perk that is given to the buyer are PDF files featuring scores to the various tracks on the album. Now, I’m a sucker for things like that, but unfortunately this perk’s benefit is somewhat diminished due to the inconsistent quality of the scores themselves. Most of the PDFs feature handwritten arrangements, which are definitely interesting from the standpoint of seeing Hibino’s writing style, but the heavy use of shorthand in many tracks makes it hard to read for performing some of the tracks. Some of the scores are done in computer notation, with handwritten notes added in addition to notes that were in the computer notation. Personally, the value of this addition would’ve been significantly greater if there were some cleanly transcribed and edited versions of these scores done on computer, as it would’ve offered listeners the ability to more easily analyze the underlying musical ideas going on, or even allowed musicians/fans to practice performing this music for themselves or others. It’s a great addition, though it falls short of being something that significantly changes the underlying value of the product.

If price is not an issue, then import away! If you were a fan of Koshiro and Hibino’s previous excursion in piano and strings, then this Super Arrange album is the right fit for you. If you’re more of a fan of Koshiro’s retro sound, then you probably would be better off getting the original soundtrack release. In any case, this is yet another instance where I feel that as lovers of music from games, we should strive to get digitally distributed versions of these albums at least made available to us in some capacity, whether it be through iTunes or Amazon Mp3.

In any case, the music in 7th Dragon in general is as strong as what can be found in Etrian Odyssey, and that holds true for this Super Arrange album. If you’re a fan of Yuzo Koshiro and Norihiko Hibino’s work together in the past, then this is one that’s definitely worth a listen.  It’s currently available at CD Japan and Play Asia.

[Full disclosure: Jayson Napolitano, Editor-in-Chief of OSV, has received compensation from GEM Impact for publicity work]

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