If one were to make a perfect Suikoden arranged album purely in the spirit of the first two classic original soundtracks, what would it require? I'd take the lively world music instrumentals best demonstrated in the first OST, some gorgeous female vocals like those in the second, and give both the more developed arrangements and expressive live performances an arranged album affords. Well that's exactly what Genso Suikoden II Orrizonte offers. Though it's not quite that perfect Suikoden arranged album, for fans of the series and world music aficionados it's absolutely good enough.
The spectacular highlight of the album is its opening track "Withered Earth". If this scenario sounds familiar it's because the same theme was also the standout track of the later arranged album Genso Suikoden Asian Collection. But while both arrangements boast similar world music mastery and virtuosic live performances, the instrumental ensemble in Orrizonte is much closer in sound to that of the OST, and in place of the Asian Collection arrangement's dark, epic tone is an immensely energetic, festive atmosphere. Imagine a perfect RPG carnival scene, with hundreds of NPCs chatting, trading, dancing and making merry, and this would be the music to accompany it. Even as only a casual world music fan I consider the album worth having for this arrangement alone.
The other few really upbeat arrangements in Orrizonte similarly mimic the ethnic sound of the OST, with a diverse ensemble including such instruments as mandolin, bouzouki, angklung and crumhorn. The arrangements are substantially more developed and the live performances generally more nuanced, but still I imagine fans of the OST will find the themes they liked there remain the ones they like here. Though the instrumentation in "The Republic Forever" is a bit too quirky for my own tastes, both "Every Day is a Carnival ~ The Even More Glorious, Beautiful Golden City" and "Ah, Beautiful Dancer ~ Nahala Yam Kong" provide nicely timed, uptempo changes of pace from the quieter surrounding tracks, even if they don't rank as top favorites from the album or the OST.
Many of those softer, quieter selections are even more so than the original versions from which they came. "Those Who Don't Work, Don't Eat" and especially "Amid the Silence" nicely portray the setting of sleepy, serene Asian villages. "Imprisoned Town" takes a slightly more minimalistic approach than the OST in its instrumentation but adds an array of pretty vocals la's and oo's and in its place, the result not having quite the same combination of serenity and sorrow but making for a lovely alternate rendition nonetheless. "Freedom, Again" and "Let's Climb That Hill" are both too simplistic to be individual draws - the former overlaying several solo performances on recorder, the latter doing the same with gut guitar - but they fill out the album nicely enough.
Lastly that bring us to the album's three main vocal pieces. "Orrizonte" and "Due Fiumi ~Two Rivers~" from the OST have both received alternate vocal arrangements here (the latter retitled "Currents"). Neither, however, matches the poignancy of the original versions' instrumentals or of their original vocals' distinctive timbre and enunciation, with "Currents" in addition suffering from an occasionally awkward transition to the English language. Fortunately the other vocal piece, "Plastic Castle in the Air", fares far better, a pretty tin whistle melody grabbing you right from the start before being carried away by a lovely vocal harmony. I've yet to figure out exactly where in the OST this arrangement comes from but it's a great addition to the Genso Suikoden canon in any case.
With the major exception of "Withered Earth" there aren't that many arrangements in Orrizonte that I'd label clearly "better" than the OST. Strangely, though, in this particular case that doesn't even seem so important. Thanks to the strength of the original themes and the sheer artistry of the arrangements and performances, the changes - for better and even for slightly worse - are well worth hearing. For fans of Genso Suikoden II OST for whom the theme selection induces any nostalgia or excitement it's a pretty sure bet. As for those who have heard Suikoden I (which really any soundtrack fan should) but not its sequel, Orrizonte offers several - though certainly not all - of the standout themes from the four-disc OST with the same unique world music flavor, in a more concise single-disc arranged collection.