Back in the Final Fantasy series' SNES era, NTT Publishing released some rather odd promotional albums featuring 8cm discs of music in addition to the usually solid arranged and original scores. The Final Fantasy IV Minimum Album was the first of these, featuring a couple of arrangements and unreleased tracks, but nothing most would consider worthy of a separate release. Final Fantasy V + 1, Final Fantasy V Mambo de Chocobo, and Final Fantasy VI Special Tracks followed the same trend, featuring five or six largely synthetic tracks related to their respective games. A few people now seek these CDs at eBay and similar auction sites to add to their collection, though it's debateable whether this is because of a genuine desire to listen to the CDs or simply part of the quirk of the collector. Perhaps in decades time they'll be worth a lot of money, though only hardcore collections should consider buying such albums or reading reviews of them!
Perhaps the most random of these mini-album releases were the two Final Fantasy VI Stars CDs dedicated to just a selection of character themes that would be released unmodified in the Original Sound Version a few months later. What is provided is a decent promotional item, but enormously limited. Many of the character themes — those of the antagonists Gestahl and Kefka and the secret characters Gogo, Mog, and Umaro — were cut, while none of the deep arrangements (e.g. "Epitaph," "Forever Rachel," "Coin Song," or "Awakening") were included, which would add another dimension to the experience. Further, splitting the release into two volumes may have been easier for publishers, both for financial gain and not having to upgrade from an 8cm CD. As the four volumes of Radio Editions to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and the two soundtracks to Drakengard show, however, releasing scores in separate volumes can be both counterproductive for a company and downright inconvenient for consumers.
Both volumes of Final Fantasy VI Stars reflect the collective and individual strength of the Final Fantasy VI character themes. This is emphasised by the first addition to Volume 1, the most memorable theme of all, "Tina." The elegance and depth of the classic overworld theme's simple yet endearing flute melody emphasises more than any other Uematsu theme that nothing overblown or musically remarkable is required to create enormous impact. Ironically, the following track, "Edgar and Mash," is pompous and overstated with its regal brass fanfares, though expresses beauty in its development section, where the multifaceted and musically rich nature of the character themes becomes even more noteworthy. "Cayenne" largely echoes this theme, albeit having a more folky and melancholy feeling overall, while "Stragus" has a more directly accessible atmosphere yet quirky character thanks to all the zany percussion use. The only rival to "Tina" in terms of sheer evocativeness is "Gau," which incorporates a gorgeous 'cello melody before blooming into a rich development section. Atmosphere, melodic beauty, and profound development... Will Volume 2 be just as good in terms of inner quality?
Simple answer to the previous question: It's actually better. While Volume 1 largely contrasted beauty with strength, with a touch of weirdness to boot, Volume 2 excludes the pomp in favour of a focus upon depth, mystery, and adventure. focuses on depth and mystery. With the gliding melodies and grand orchestration of "Locke," his free-spirited and adventurous nature is represented, "Setzer" also sharing a similar sense of buoyancy. While these are both highlights, the enigmatic gems on the disc are "Celes," whose fragile yet striking tuned percussion melodies contrasts with the mysterious and passionate array of arpeggios that opened the theme, and "Shadow," whose thoughtful whistled melodies against guitar strumming reflect a distant lone wolf with inner warmth. "Relm" is the dreamy addition to the disc, now famous (or perhaps infamous) due to Grand Finale's cringe-worthy bagpipe melodies, which are actually programmed rather well here. All five tracks are strong melodically and demonstrate aspects of each character very well, the only possible exception being "Setzer," which was always more of an airship theme than a character theme.
If Square released Final Fantasy VI Stars in one volume, included a few more themes, and made it readily available to buy, the promotional item would have more of a purpose today than being a mere collector's item. While the intrinsic quality of the music featured in excellent and firmly demonstrates that Nobuo Uematsu's character themes for Final Fantasy VI still have no rivals, there are simply too many limitations and, thus, the Final Fantasy VI Original Sound Version would be a better purchase. Still, hardcore collectors might well consider these volumes for their collection if they encounter a rare auction of them on eBay.