Despite coming from one of Square's better-known composers, Yoko Shimomura's works have only infrequently received the arranged soundtrack treatment. Thus the release of her "best of" arranged album Drammatica was met with considerable anticipation from Shimomura fans. Those fans will no doubt savor hearing nostalgic melodies from the 16-bit era onward arranged orchestrally, but others may wonder what all the fuss is about.
Legend of Mana is one of Shimomura's most highly regarded works, and in the album's foremost arrangement "Legend of Mana ~Title Theme~" it's easy to see why. The most powerful theme of the collection is arranged superbly, from the lonely, poignant piano intro, to the flood of strings that overtake it, to the periodic blasts of brass that drive in a sense of urgency. In a way it's too good of a start, as the album never again approaches the same dramatics heights.
Aside from the opening track, the definitive success of the album is the inspired selection and generous arrangement of themes from the formerly mediocre Kingdom Hearts soundtrack. "The 13th Anthology" takes advantage of its lengthy running time with some drastic changes in mood, and when it shifts into high gear it provides the most delectably intense moments of the album. "The Other Promise" borders on being too sweet, but the tactful, elegant use of a choir and the somber ending successfully keep it in check, and "Twinkle Twinkle Holidays" - although short - divulges its Disney connection in a way that evokes memories of the studio's early, classic works.
Front Mission and Live a Live are the two oldest titles included, and though they played a role in cementing Shimomura's place as a fan-favorite composer in the SNES era, some simple compositions from both titles show their age here. Front Mission's "Take the Offensive" manages to overcome that through pure militaristic bombast, but the base melodies in the other tracks are just too plain to salvage. Strangely, the selections from the most recent title of the album proper, "Heroes of Mana", similarly suffer from either shortness or simplicity. "Story from the Wind" is pretty but predictable, and while the repetitive "Tango Appassionata" gets an undeservedly lengthy arrangement, the much more promising "To the Heroes of Old" is left to end shockingly abruptly.
In addition there are a couple of tracks that are embarrassing to see on a best collection. "Destati" is doomed from the start by atrocious choral accompaniment, and the Final Fantasy Versus XIII track "Somnus" is clearly present for marketing purposes only, relying on an unremarkable female solo vocalist whose presence feels like little more than a gimmick.
Generally, though, Drammatica is perfectly listenable, albeit rarely exceptional. The arrangements seem faithful and except for "Destati" the orchestral and choral performances are solid, so fans already fond of the source melodies can hardly go wrong. But aside from a few Legend of Mana and Kingdom Hearts arrangements, listeners without an existing emotional attachment may find the collection ironically lacking in drama.