I'm no great fan of the Final Fantasy VIII original soundtrack. In fact that's stating things mildly. But I'll gladly admit that Final Fantasy VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec is a fine CD. The superior instrumental quality, well-done arrangements, and tasteful selection of themes boost the OST's qualities while eliminating many of its flaws.
The very first new arrangement on the album, "Blue Fields", demonstrates the strength of the CD. Performance quality is an easy comparison so I'll tackle that first. Sure FF8's OST synth demonstrated a significant improvement in quality over FF7's, but it was still a detracting factor to the musical experience. I just didn't realize how much of one until I heard Blue Fields on FLWV for the first time. The difference is immense. I think it's in the more subtle tracks like this one where the orchestrations improve upon the original synth so dramatically. They perform so much better in relaying the desired mood, which in Blue Field's case is a gentle, slightly somber sort of wandering - perfectly suited (at last!) to its overworld context.
As for the arranged style, it is minimal and quite faithful to the OST compositions. Instrumental parts are strengthened or weakened a bit to suite the orchestra, very brief little melodic segues are thrown between sections to heighten the drama, occasionally an entirely new section is thrown in here or there to lengthen the piece while never overshadowing the original compositions. In Blue Fields we hear a slight strengthening of the piece's climax and a new segment at the end which fades away deferentially just seven seconds through. The other changes are even less significant, but they all serve the piece tremendously well. A skippable track on the OST has become one I look forward to everytime I begin listening to this album.
Most of the other new arrangements are from tracks that were more favorable in their original OST form, so while they don't provide quite as great a pleasant surprise as Blue Fields, they are excellent nonetheless. The main battle theme "Don't Be Afraid" was an obvious candidate for orchestral arrangement, and the new performance and arrangement serve to boost the power of the piece significantly. "Balamb GARDEN" and "Fisherman's Horizon" were two of the more memorable pieces in the OST, and their orchestrations here fit the originals like a glove. "FITHOS LUSEC WECOS VINOSEC" tended to get a little mundane in the OST, especially in the context of the game, but the orchestrations here add some much needed flavor to the piece, providing another pleasant surprise.
Finally, mention should be made of "The Man with the Machine Gun", the one selection that made everybody go "hmmmm..." when they heard it would be included on an FF8 orchestral album. It actually retains the slightly bouncy, dancy feel of the original, with good result. It would have been nice if the present brassiness of the piece were boosted a bit to really give it a retro action flavor that is instead only hinted at, but it's interesting regardless.
Tracks 1, 7, and 12 are taken from the OST, since they featured live performances in the first place. I must admit that for some reason I am now more impressed with the two OST instrumental pieces, in the context of this CD. Perhaps I've been skewed since seeing the game's cinematic intro, but "Liberi Fatali" is indeed quite the stirring bombastic orchestral-choral grand introduction. "Ending Theme" is powerful in a more sentimental way, even if the first half of it is bandied away on Eyes on Me and one of the most powerful motifs in the end borrows a bit from the score to the film Dune.
My main problems with the album are not general faults but rather qualms with particular tracks. First of all, including both "Eyes on Me" and the instrumental version "Love Grows" was a mistake. Eyes on Me is a decent song, albeit in an overly gushy pop ballad sort of way, but between its inclusion in its namesake track plus Love Grows and Ending Theme, the theme is overdone. "The Oath" I found particularly bland and uninspiring in the OST, and the arranged version, despite its efforts to liven the composition up, does not fare too much better. Lastly, anyone who hears FITHOS LUSEC WECOS VINOSEC will be struck by how out-of-place and annoying the wailing female voice is at the end of this otherwise high-quality track.
It's so pleasing and reassuring to get as high quality a Final Fantasy arranged album as FFVIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Venosec. It's not the pinnacle of orchestral game soundtrack arranged albums, but even people who are not fans of the original will likely be impressed by its prowess, and fans will simply be enamored.