20020220 is a 2-disc album made from a concert of the same name, which was performed on February 20, 2002 by the Tokyo Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, with vocal accompaniment by Emiko Shiratori and RIKKI. It represents the first time that an album of orchestral rearrangements of the music of multiple Final Fantasy video games has been released since Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite.
Although the original music from the games was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, the music for the concert was arranged for orchestra by Shiro Hamaguchi, who was responsible for a number of other arrangements of Final Fantasy music for other media, most notably the Piano Collections series of books and music.
Several of the songs on this album are identical to arrangements found in other albums, but not all. Even so, this is an album worth having. With one or two exceptions, it is a nearly perfect performance, and whether or not mistakes are made, the arrangements are excellently well-executed. The songs are beautiful and memorable — even if you did not play the games that they are from, you will enjoy them.
In this writeup, I will be making reference to a number of other albums. I will in every case be referring to either the Orchestral Game Concert series, Grand Finale (an album of orchestral arrangements of pieces from Final Fantasy VI), Fithos Lusec (an album of orchestral arrangements of pieces from Final Fantasy VIII), the soundtrack to Final Fantasy VII, which contained three pieces arranged for and performed by an orchestra, or the Piano Collections, of which one has been made for every Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy IV (for each, a book of sheet music and an album of them being performed is available). One should note that these are all performed on traditional classical instruments, instead of being produced electronically.
The orchestra tunes up. Nothing impressive.
- Liberi Fatali (Children of Fate) (Final Fantasy VIII) 3:33
The music from the opening cinematic sequence of Final Fantasy VIII. This arrangement is identical to the one in-game, and in my opinion, is slightly inferior. The constraints of having a choir and orchestra in the same concert hall instead of in a sound studio, and the fact that neither mixing nor much processing were done affect the quality relative to the version found on Fithos Lusec.
- Theme of Love (Final Fantasy IV) 5:03
This is quite possibly the most rearranged piece from the Final Fantasy series — other versions can be found in one of the Orchestral Game Concerts, the Final Fantasy IV Piano Collections, and I believe one other location. However, this is a pleasantly-arranged version, which builds more expressively and emotively than other renditions.
An announcement from the Master of Ceremonies.
- Final Fantasy I-III Medley (Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III) 8:24
A piece covering a number of themes from the first three Final Fantasy games. I personally think this is one of the best pieces on the album. Better-known selections from the medley include the ubiquitous Final Fantasy Prelude, Matoya's Cave, and the Chocobo music. A nicely varied piece which flows between different themes and is perhaps the more fun to listen to if you don't recognize them all.
- Aerith's Theme (Final Fantasy VII) 5:21
Also found on the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack as performed by an orchestra. A piece which begins quietly and sadly, building slowly to a triumphant conclusion. This version in fact noticeably better than the aforementioned earlier performance of this arrangement — in the inferior version, the lead trumpet muffs the piece's highest, loudest, most glorious note, but not here. Also of note is that the tempo of the song has been rethought somewhat since its earlier performance: it varies more, with the effect being one of better emphasis.
- Don't Be Afraid (Final Fantasy VIII) 3:42
This piece, originally on Fithos Lusec, is the standard battle music from Final Fantasy VIII. An enjoyable enough piece which got very tired within the game, due to the fact that it really deserves to stand on its own as a well-written piece of music rather than BGM to be looped ad nauseum within the game. A fine performance — in fact, nearly indistinguishable to the one in Fithos Lusec.
- Tina's Theme (Final Fantasy VI) 4:47
Although easily mistakable for the overworld theme in Final Fantasy VI, it is actually an almost direct performance of the music playing during the game's opening credits, within which Magitek-armored soldiers advance on the town of Narshe. Being as Final Fantasy VI is an opera, both pieces are in fact derived from the same theme, that of Tina (or Terra, in the English version). A terrific performance which outshines another arrangement of the same theme found on Grand Finale.
- Dear Friends (Final Fantasy V) 4:38
The first part of the ending to Final Fantasy V, this is a slow, nostalgic-sounding piece heavily featuring a classical guitar and the strings. This piece is one of the two most prominent reasons that you should own this album. Depending on your mood, it could make you feel depressed, happy, relaxed, comforted, or any number of other emotions. A truly emotive and beautiful piece.
- Vamo' alla Flamenco (Final Fantasy IX) 5:04
The other reason you should buy this album. An incredibly well-done piece, again featuring the classical guitar, this time in a virtuoso flamenco performance. This piece comes from the Chocobo treasure hunting game in Final Fantasy IX, and remains one of the more exciting pieces of music I've ever heard. It's well-executed enough that more than one person has remarked to me that they could swear they've heard this piece before (without having played the game). This is one of those pieces that makes me boil inside when I hear people downplaying video games as pulp.
- To Zanarkand! (Final Fantasy X) 3:05
A beautiful piece, which is the prevalent theme of Zanarkand throughout Final Fantasy X. This arrangement is from the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections, but is performed with a degree of emotionality that was altogether missing in the Piano Collections version. If you grew tired of this piece in the game, you will feel that way no longer. If you haven't played the game, this performance can almost make you not grow jaded of the theme when you do play it. It should be noted that this and the next piece are both available as sheet music for the piano as part of the Collections.
- Yuna's Decision (Final Fantasy X) 3:09
Another piano piece, played with greatly more freedom and emotion than the original Piano Collections version. For the life of me, I cannot figure out which original song from the game this has its origin in, but it's a fine performance of a presumably minor theme from the game.
- Love Grows (Final Fantasy VIII) 4:45
An orchestral version of Eyes on Me, the diagetic piece composed by Julia for Laguna Loire in Final Fantasy VIII. Another version of this piece was found on Fithos Lusec. The two are performed quite similarly, enough that I cannot choose between them. It is nice to have a version of this song without words, as the original pop-style piece and the orchestral version from the game's credits have Engrish lyrics that detract from the theme's resonance.
- Suteki da Ne (Isn't it Wonderful?) (Final Fantasy X) 6:37
With the vocal accompaniment of RIKKI, this piece was the background music to Final Fantasy X's unfortunate makeout scene. Not terribly performed, but the singer's voice is quite irritating, and the theme itself somewhat weak. One should note that I don't think of this piece negatively: simply less positively.
- The Place I'll Return Someday ~ Melodies of Life (Final Fantasy IX) 6:40
With the vocal accompaniment of Emiko Shiratori, this piece includes both the baroque-influenced opening to Final Fantasy IX and the song played over the game's concluding credits. This song has lyrics in both Japanese and English, and although Shiratori is quite a bit more full-voiced than RIKKI, the song is still hampered by the insipid lyrics — this time by their meaning. A hint: it's about how prayer helps us feel in touch with our ancestors. Other than the meaning of the words, an enjoyable piece which draws more on the woodwinds than just about any other on this album.
- One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII) 4:51
Final Fantasy VII's answer to the Carmina Burana, a piece with a full chorus singing liturgical Latin verse about the plight and character of Sephiroth, the game's villain. Not nearly as well-performed as the version on the soundtrack, both of which are the same arrangement. The orchestra sounds like it's performing in far too large of a space for the song, and the chorus not quite enough of one. The one piece from the album which I leave unchecked in iTunes.
- The Man with the Machine Gun (Final Fantasy VIII) 3:54
An interesting piece, this. Played from the same arrangement found in Fithos Lusec, the original piece was in fact a beat-heavy electronic dance song. What makes it interesting is that it survives the transition, and is a fun piece, if a little repetitive. It is somewhat hurt by the fact that the the percussionists are not quite on the beat with the rest of the orchestra, but it's only enough to bother a nitpicker.
- Final Fantasy (Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX) 3:34
The Pomp and Circumstance-esque theme found in the closing music to every Final Fantasy game prior to Final Fantasy X, this piece is mostly here for the sake of metaphor: it's apparent from the patterns of applause throughout the piece that it is being used for the performers and Nobuo Uematsu to take their bows. Not the best rendition of this piece out there — for that, look to Scene III from the Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite, or the Ending Theme from Fithos Lusec (which is the same arrangement as this version, but better-performed). Nonetheless, a fine conclusion to an excellent album.
I strongly recommend that you acquire a copy of this album if you have the least inclination. Make this the last real CD you buy, or badger one of the online music services into acquiring it. This contains a number of beautiful arrangements and performances of some of the best pieces from all of Final Fantasy's sumptuous selection. It's well worth the price of admission.