Having listened to most of the Final Fantasy music that's out there, I'm used to the ups and downs of the FF game soundtracks. There've been flops (and reeeeally bad ones at that) and really awesome good points. This two-CD set is essentially what embodies Final Fantasy soundtracks from the obvious to the obscure, from Final Fantasy I through X. It's very thorough, and no game is left out (though FF8 and 9 are featured more). The CD set, if you didn't know, is a recording of a live concert (which occurred 02-20-2002, hence the name), so the acoustics are different from what you're probably used to hearing (not a bad sort of different for the most part, just different).
The first CD starts out with "Tuning". No clue why, but OK. They're in tune. Good for them. The choir could have used some tuning.
The choir. Can you call them a choir? I'm not sure. It sounded like about ten people who, though they may be good singers on their own, aren't about to let anyone else out-sing them, goshdarnit. And this, of course, is counterproductive to the whole point of choirs, which is working together to acheive a great, unified sound. The choir absolutely ruins "Liberi Fatali" and "One Winged Angel". They aren't even in tune on their starting notes, for some reason, and they lack the menace that was there in the original versions of both. What happened? I guess it has to do with the acoustics, because both of those songs didn't sound nearly as good overall either compared to their respective orchestral versions.
At least the orchestra is great on the rest of the songs. For some reason the purely instrumental songs didn't seem to suffer from the live acoustics much. I was especially impressed by the Flamenco flava in "Vamo alla Flamenco" from FFIX. The guitar player here is obviously very technically skilled, but can also play very emotionally as heard in "Dear Friends" (which is also a very good arrangement).
Those two songs are among a couple of new orchestrations of Final Fantasy songs along with a couple of familiar ones. The medley of songs from the first three games is quite nice; I especially liked the Chocobo section. "Theme of Love" is great, and "Tina's Theme" is just a few trumpets and metronome clicks short of being the NBC News fanfare. The orchestra does a very nice job, though I do wonder why they were so glaringly out of tune on the high notes in "Don't Be Afraid".
What especially interests me is that, with the exception of "Suteki da Ne", the only songs from FFX are from the Piano Collections collection. They are performed nicely, though I have to wonder why there's some applause in the *beginning* of the track with "Yuna's Determination" on it. It's also quite curious that there's some applause in the middle of the final track (the immortal Final Fantasy theme, which is performed nicely). Odd.
My biggest gripe with the concert recording, by far, is "Place Where I'll Return to Someday ~ Melodies of Life" from Final Fantasy IX. The first part, the opening theme, is really nice - a great blend of winds (I especially love the oboe), if a little bit too short. The transition into "Melodies of Life" sounds fine too. That's when Emiko Shiratori starts singing like a nervous high schooler. She scoops notes, sounds somewhat shallow, and... doesn't have near the power that everyone heard in the OST. What's up with that? Also, this version of "Melodies of Life" is purely orchestral, no electric bass, guitar, or drumset here. It sounds nice, but it's not quite the same (though the added brass fanfares are kinda cool).
While I'm talking about vocal themes, some mention should be given to "Suteki da ne?" from FFX. This is direct off the OST's "Suteki da ne? Orchesta Version". It sounds good overall, and RIKKI sounds like... RIKKI, but there's something missing. I can't quite describe it, it just sounds almost hollow.
All in all, it's definitely a good CD set. It has its downfalls (THE SINGING) but aside from that it's wonderful. Yes, there are bad points, and the live acoustics detract from the experience in a few songs, but since the good points easily make up for the bad, I'd recommend it, as it's a great addition to any music library. Plus, it's something of a historic occasion, I'd imagine. Just keep in mind that when this album is not so good, there's almost a hollow, unemotional feel to it. But when this album is good, it heightens emotions and makes you *feel* what's being expressed through the music. Awesome.