The music of Ys II deserves better.
Editor's review by Adam Corn (2009-03-31)
The premise of the Renewal series was to re-synth compositions from Ys in a more futuristic tone. In the first Ys Renewal the attempt was partially successful - though in general it was a bit too simplistic, it did have several interesting synth renditions of staple themes and rare exclusives to offer fans. Unfortunately Ys II Renewal stays less true to its premise and falls short of its predecessor.
Several tracks around the beginning of Ys II Renewal are so full of standard FM synth I wonder how different they are from the original "Music from Ys II" versions. No doubt I've been spoiled by the raging guitar work from the PC-Engine/Turbografx CD version of Ys II in action themes like "Ruins of Moondoria" and "Moat of Burnedless", but Renewal makes me realize how good the synth programming was in that game as well. A bafflingly short sustain for the lead instrument in "Ruins of Moondoria" makes Renewal's version sadly underpowered, and tracks like "Noble District of Toal", "Ice Ridge of Noltia" and "Subterranean Canal" lose a great amount of their charm without the unique instrumentation of the PC-Engine version. Even the cool flute and bell samples which helped distinguish the first Renewal album are mostly absent here. The annoying synth brass from that album is still present, however, and tracks like "Lilia" and "Feena" suffer for it.
There are a few redeeming instances where the album's execution lives up to its premise. "To Make the End of Battle" is such an outrageously rocking composition that it's hard to imagine it faltering in any form, and the chaotic conflagration of synthesized sounds which offsets its main melody makes for an interesting take on the classic theme. In "Palace of Salmon", high-energy lead synth capably substitutes for the PC-Engine version's electric guitar, while some strange but cool electronic warbles add something unique.
The lure of the first Renewal album was its selection of "lost tracks" which had yet to be arranged in other albums, a few of which were every bit as exciting as better-known classics. However Ys II's themes have been more thoroughly covered, so this second Renewal has less to offer in rare material. The one standout track that I don't recognize from the PC-Engine and symphonic arrangements is "Feel Blue". It's one of those magical Ys themes that is moody yet melodic, wistful yet pleasant, and with synth and arrangement far superior to the Ys II Perfect Collection version, it's certainly a nice bonus to have.
Really the greatest thing Ys II Renewal has in its favor is its lack of competition from other arranged albums for the title. The "Music from Ys II" album is something of a relic, and Ys II Perfect Collection is such a generally sad attempt at arrangement (the first disc anyway) that Renewal does constitute an improvement. The best place to experience the many excellent themes from Ys II remains the CD audio from the PC-Engine game itself; only those unfortunate enough to be able to attain that disc or hardcore enough to pay a premium for just a few worthwhile arrangements need bother with Ys II Renewal.