Astute gamers can probably deduce sans review that "Romancing Saga: La Romance" features music from the first Romancing Saga game arranged with French musical influences. What they might not anticipate is the variety of styles that encompasses, and the consistently high quality with which they're arranged and performed. Among a trio of quality Romancing SaGa arranged albums, this first stands out as the best.
Violins and accordions feature as prominently as you might expect in an album titled "La Romance", but the arrangements in tracks like "Le Palais Du Reve ~ La Ville De Cristal" and "La Gloire Du Chevalier" avoid sappy sentimentalism for a more laid-back sound, akin to a lazy afternoon spent at a waterfront cafe. The album has plenty else to show stylistically and it proves it from the outset, when an unexpected electric guitar rounds out a lively arrangement of the opening theme. The electric guitar features prominently in "Pot-Pourri Des Heros" and "Theme Finale" as well, providing a moderate but effective dose of gusto in each case. The greatest surprise of the album style-wise is the low-tempo jazz piece "Il Etait Une Fois: L'Histoire D'Un Barde". Despite being the only such arrangement on the album, it's the most authentic jazz work I've yet heard in a game soundtrack; the virtuosic horn and percussion here would top off a night at a quality jazz club in fine form.
The album hits its stride in the middle with three successive arrangements completely different in style yet delightfully similar in quality. "Marche Vers L'Inconnu" takes what sounds like a dungeon theme and arranges it in the album's signature style with strings, acoustic guitar, accordion and rolling percussion. You can distinctly discern the 8-bit melodies at its core yet the instrumentation is anything but, and a sharp, succinct six-note closing motif adds further charisma to an already memorable track. No less possessing of charisma is the lively vaudeville number "Echoppes Autour De La Ville", which is the most fun I've had with such a piece since Final Fantasy VI's "Johnny C Bad". Rounding out the trio is "Perdu Dans La Foret". To get a feel for the track, take Vince Guaraldi's distinctive piano work from his Charlie Brown scores, tone it down several notches, add the most ethereal performance on accordion you could imagine, and top it off with gorgeous female vocal accompaniment (could that be Risa Ohki... oh yes it is!). The resulting combination is unlike any other game music work out there.
Even the tracks that don't stand out as much are enjoyable both on their own and in the context of the album. Fans of composer Kenji Ito will be happy to notice a few themes briefly shared with his first Seiken Densetsu score, which adds a nice bit of intertextuality. Really the sole caveat to be spoken is that aside from "Perdu Dans La Foret" and "Theme Final... La Saga", the album doesn't offer the narrative or dramatic quality of many other great soundtracks. That makes little difference though - this is one soundtrack that can be enjoyed purely by virtue of its musicality. As a consistently well-crafted arranged album with a mix of styles unlike any other, it's the best way to experience an old but still relevant series.