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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Music Review: Memoria!- The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura

I think it’s safe to say that Yoko Shimomura has become one of the most prolific composers for video game music. Even before I was made aware of her music when the original Kingdom Hearts hit stores in 2002, Shimomura was one of Squaresoft’s top musicians, crafting the score for games such as Legend of Mana and Parasite Eve.  Her 2008 Greatest Hits album, drammatica- The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura, remains one of my all-time favorite collections, as it contained a number of great instrumental remixes of Shimomura’s best work, which still remained true to both the original compositions and her signature style. For the very first music review on The Deck of Many Things, however, I’m going to talk about her most recent album, the highly anticipated Memoria!- The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura. Although many expected a follow-up album similar in concept to drammatica, with lots of Shimomura’s accomplished violin and piano-flavored arrangements, Memoria elects to include a much more varied tracklist. The result is still an excellent album that, while it may not emerge as favorably when compared directly against its predecessor, is still a wonderful listening experience.

 01 - Dearly Beloved
02 - Beware the Forest's Mushrooms
03 - Kiss of Jealousy
04 - The Revolving Wheel of Fate
05 - Elegie
06 - Vector to the Heavens
07 - Going Through the Flame ~Seiken Densetsu Legend of MANA Dragon Killer Medley~
08 - A.Y.A. (Theme of Aya)
09 - Pain the Universe
11 - Song of MANA - Orchestral Version -
12 - Goodbye Geno... ~ Seeking Dreams Through the Window of the Stars
14 - The Masked
15 - Kiss of Jealousy

Of course, I am immediately going to contradict myself after saying that Memoria was going to stray from the path that drammatica laid, because the opening track is quite possibly Shimomura’s most well-known piece. This is, of course, a beautiful rendition of the Kingdom Hearts title screen song, Dearly Beloved. From there, it goes into a decidedly less melancholy track, Beware the Forest’s Mushrooms, from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Shimomura still composes for the Mario role-playing games regularly, so it’s perhaps fitting to have this callback to one of her earliest works fresh in our memories.

It’s in Track 3 where things start to, for lack of a better term, get weird. Four of Memoria’s tracks are from a little-known Square game called Live A Live, which was never released in North America. These are likely the most controversial inclusions in the album, as both songs (and the Karaoke versions included at the end) are eclectic vocal pieces with a decidedly more synthetic feel. Your mileage may vary on how impactful these tracks are. Personally, having no connection or prior experience with Live A Live or its music, I gave them a cursory listen and rarely revisit them, though I have to give a special nod to the sheer madness that is MEGALOMANIA. Things get a lot more traditional with The Revolving Wheel of Fate, a gorgeous cello and piano arrangement from Heroes of Mana, as well as a pure piano composition with Elegie from Front Mission.

I have to devote some space to discussing my personal favorite inclusion in Memoria, which of course is a Kingdom Hearts arrangement. Vector to the Heavens is quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music Shimomura has ever produced, and this is no small feat in a series with music as consistently excellent as Kingdom Hearts. It represents an emotional high point in the tale of Roxas and Xion, and this is in my personal opinion the best rendition of the song to date.   

Going through the Flame ~Dragon Killer Medley~ from Legend of Mana is the next track, and it’s the longest on the disc, clocking in at just over six minutes. It’s a suitably dramatic piece with a wonderful piano baseline, but personally I find it to be one of the weaker tracks in Memoria, especially since it is preceded and followed by two of the very best. The follow-up track is A.Y.A., a piano rendition of Aya Brea’s theme from the underrated Playstation classic Parasite Eve. This suite of melancholy and dramatic orchestral tunes is interrupted by Pain the Universe, another Legend of Mana track, which is a rock track featuring some killer electric guitars. It’s a nice change of pace, and it’s one of the few oddball tracks in Memoria that I find myself revisiting regularly.

Song of Mana~ Orchestral Version is the end credits vocal piece from Legend of Mana, and it’s just as gorgeous a track here as it was in its original incarnation, although slightly more subdued due to the live instrumentation. Another Super Mario RPG song follows with Goodbye Geno, although this is decidedly more melancholy than the first Mario RPG track. However, the biggest draw for some fans is the bonus track from the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, which is the song played in the trailers for the game now officially titled OMNIS LACRIMA. Like with drammatica six years prior, which included Somnus (yes, we’re still waiting for Square to release this game!), this provides a small glimpse towards the future of Shimomura’s career. OMNIS LACRIMA is much more dramatic than its softer predecessor, but still carries the same sense of portentousness and solemnity, what with the Latin vocals and sweeping notes. These brief tastes of Shimomura’s composition for an upcoming Final Fantasy are incredibly tantalizing, so much so that OMNIS LACRIMA somewhat overshadows The Masked, the final track from Demon’s Score with a prominently featured acoustic guitar.

My final thoughts on Memoria!- The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura are as follows- if you went into this album expecting dramaticca Vol. 2 or something to that effect, this isn’t quite that album. While it is still a great album that deftly shows the talent and variability of this particular artist, there is still the occasional weaker track that makes Memoria a less consistent listening experience than drammatica. Personally speaking, I was hoping for and disappointed at the lack of representation of Shimomura’s work in Radiant Historia, which is crying out for a fully orchestrated arrangement of tracks such as The Earnest Desire of Grey. Still, fans of Shimomura’s signature style will still find plenty to love.

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