Final Fantasy Songbook (Mahoroba)
Not much has been going on in the realm of Final Fantasy for a while; while Tactics Advance and Crystal Chronicles had excellent soundtracks, it seemed like Nobou Uematsu was busily chugging away at the soundtrack for Final Fantasy XII. Imagine my surprise when video game news sites began to report that there was a little note on Uematsu's personal website that a new Final Fantasy arranged CD, Songbook was in the works. It also had a short clip (which I listened to nearly endlessly) of one of the tracks. The CD is a bit different from anything else that Uematsu has done, but it certainly has the creativity and charm of Pray, Love Will Grow, and Celtic Moon, and ranks among Uematsu's best work.
01. The Place I'll Return to Someday
The CD starts out with the quaintly Celtic "The Place I'll Return to Someday", from Final Fantasy IX. While the album itself isn't "Celtic" like the Final Fantasy IV arranged album (Celtic Moon), this short 55 second intro does set the tone for the rest of the CD.
02. Summer's Album - Eyes on Me (Japanese Version)
This track starts off with a Celtic intro and then breaks into a Japanese reworking of "Eyes on Me", the main vocal theme of Final Fantasy VIII. I much prefer Manami Kiyota's vocals on this version over Faye Wong in the original. Because of her voice and the two guitars, this version of "Eyes on Me" sounds much more personal (and in my opinion, more beautiful) than the original.
03. Maybe, Goodbye
From Final Fantasy VII, this song definitely carries on the spirit of the Love Will Grow and Pray CDs; those albums reworked instrumental Final Fantasy tracks into vocal songs. Like the previous tracks, this one has a slight Celtic tinge, but it's not overpowering. Kiyota's vocals are again gorgeous.
From Final Fantasy III (about the only Final Fantasy I haven't gotten around to playing), this is a very simple version of the town theme from that game. It's hauntingly beautiful and very much in line with songs from Love Will Grow, which was a simpler CD than Pray. About halfway through, the song picks up with some interesting guitar work and steady drums, but quickly comes back to the quieter vocals and guitar, with a hint of violin. From the few lyrics I can pick up on, the lyrical quality of this CD is absolutely gorgeous.
05. Fisherman's Horizon
An instrumental (largely guitar, piano, and woodwind) reworking of probably the most beautiful track on the Final Fantasy VIII original soundtrack. Uematsu, deep in his underground lair in Japan, has found some way to make this song even more charming and beautiful than it already was - it's easily one of my favorite on this CD (which is saying something, considering how much I like this CD).
06. Walking on the Road, After Rain
This is probably the highlight of Songbook. "Walking on the Road" starts with a beautiful violin intro that masks the songs origin - this song, surprisingly enough, started life as "Yuffie's Theme" on Final Fantasy VII. It's a simple, cute theme with some great piano and harmonica. For any Final Fantasy fan, it's a must listen.
07. Forgetting the Dream of Tomorrow
Another beautiful track. I'm unable to pinpoint which game this track is from - I believe it might be an original for the CD, but I'm not entirely sure. Still, it's a beautiful track, with great vocals, violin, flute, and piano.
A much more subtle look at the originally up tempo "Dagguerro" theme of Final Fantasy IX. This one features just the guitar, but doesn't seem the poorer for it. This slower version definitely seems more at home on Songbook and it fits in well.
One of my favorite themes from Final Fantasy, "Harukanaru Kokyou" was the theme of Final Fantasy V. It's been worked several times, and my favorite remains the "Home, Sweet, Home" on Uematsu's Vocal Collection CDs. However, this is a great rendition of the song, which is beautiful and very interesting because of the additional vocals at the end of the song.
10. Revolving Light
The last song on Songbook, "Revolving Light" is based on a track from Final Fantasy IX. Unfortunately, "Revolving Light" doesn't quite capture that Celtic charm that characterize the rest of the CD. However, the CD does feature a small hidden track that is a full-blown Celtic remake of the theme to Final Fantasy IX. It's beautiful and caps off the CD extremely well.
Uematsu has gone on record saying that he enjoys Celtic music, and the quality of the work on this CD is positive proof that he should be doing what he likes. There hasn't been a Final Fantasy arranged CD this good in quite some time. The only drawback is that it is so short - with only ten tracks, I wish the CD had gone on twice as long. Many people had thought that after a string of average to medicore works that Uematsu was washed up, but he proves in this CD that his work is timeless and he still has the magic touch.