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Naoshi Mizuta – “Final Fantasy XI Piano Collections” Review

For a while I’ve waited for a Final Fantasy XI Piano Collections and finally I have it in my hands. I was not prepared to buy the deluxe set for a collection thrown in and it seems Square agreed with me – releasing a whole new cd set separate to the FFXI boxet edition. Enlisted with the playing duties are Kasumi Oga and Ayumi Iga.

The CD opens with “A New Horizon ~ Tavnazian Archipelag” which is a curious number. Its slightly grand, slightly dubious and all parts tinted with sadness. It has a swirling beauty that holds it together but the chords just give it a bittered edge. Lovely but downbeat at the same time.

“Ronfaure” is every bit as rousing as its origins. Starting off simple yet gradually evolving into a stomping anthem. The only thing letting it down a touch is the bassless production. This track could have really let the bass notes ring out but it doesn’t happen.

“The Grand Duchy of Jeuno” is transformed into a pretty waltz tune which is the most deviated track from the original so far. The result is a pleasing chirpy tune that can be popped on repeat (although I still prefer the Star Onions version). “Whisper of the Gods” is almost nondescript. It comes across quite dreary and weary. Its a very classical composition and maybe that means it takes a few listens to appreciate.

“Stargazing” is interesting in its performance and concept on being a one key bass playing bounce and is a welcome return to form, as is “Fated Strife -Besieged-” which features for the first time in the FF Piano series duelling pianos. Its a lovely sound and the arrangement is excellent too. The production could have made it sound bigger but there’s definite excellent here.

Its outdone however by “Mercenaries Delight” which features both Iga and Oga going at it with hammers and tongs. The sublime sharp arrangement sets the albums standard with drama, precision and atmosphere. If you hear only one song from this collection let it be this one. Superb.

“The Sanctuary of Zi’tah” returns to the more slinky silk sounds of the rest of the collection.  This is a very faithful conversion but comes across like it was written for piano. “The Cosmic Wheel” is very similar in feel and sound. The piano playing if faultless here and the general desperation of a world in tatters really comes across in this piece and as a result its a favourite of mine from the CD. “Griffons Never Die” is another atmospheric track but goes on for perhaps too long.

The album finishes with “Wings of a Goddess” which is a quirky upbeat ditty that finishes the album on a more pleasant note and sends you on your way in a happy mood than the overall album should do.

Final Fantasy XI Piano Collections is not immediate. There’s very little you can just jump into and that’s why the more faster paced tracks stand out at me at the moment. The solid but low volume production means none of the songs boom and the track selection is a bit of a weird one in places too. The arrangements are too faithful as well, especially when we’ve been spoiled by recent collections with their daring approach – this harks back to the basic straight to piano arrangements of FFIV’s piano collection however things are more filled out.

Am I disappointed? A little. Its by no means a bad album at all but when you hear “Mercenaries Delight”, “The Grand Duchy of Jeuno” and “The Cosmic Wheel”, not only will you adore them but you’ll then wonder why every track wasn’t up to their very high standard.

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