The Final Fantasy series as been riddled with spinoffs, some successful, sothers total failures. The Dissidia series came at the heels of the newest release of the numbered series, and with it brought a very nice combination of RPG elements and action fighting. The game was followed with extreme praise, linking the entire Final Fantasy series with gamers who love the typical fighting genre style of games. Thus, as expected, Square Enix decided to release a sequel with more character combinations and a lager scope on each game's represented music. As in the first game, Takeharu Ishimoto led the sound team to offer a range of original compositions and classic arrangements, presented across this set.
The album contains several original tracks, as well as a plethora of arranged tracks from past Final Fantasy entries. For several reasons, it is perhaps the originals that provide the biggest reason to purchase this soundtrack, in contrast with the predecessor. "Lux Concordiae" is the first of the originals. It is a fully orchestrated piece that combines choir with one of the motifs of the main theme, and it is gloriously beautiful. The only problem I can find with this piece is the length. "Reform" is another original, taking another section of the main theme and making it a stand alone track. This one is highly industrial, focusing mostly on percussion and leaving a true melody behind.
"Troops" is probably my favorite of the non-orchestral originals on here. It has a heavy focus on ambient strings, with a violin taking up much of the melody. While it doesn't do a whole lot, that is made up for with the violin and piano building a strong layer of suspense and dread. It serves the desired purpose in the game, while being a decent listen otherwise. "Counterattack" plays out much the same way, with a much bigger focus on the piano. The suspense can really be felt in this track, but it just doesn't have that special sparkle "Troops" had in the amazing percussion line.
On the arrangement side, the album primarily showcases a dungeon theme, battle theme, and a random event theme from every numbered Final Fantasy game. Most tracks aren't as well-known as their counterparts on Dissidia: Final Fantasy, but there are plenty of fan favorites among them. Starting with the first noteworthy arrangement, "Chaos Shrine" from the first Final Fantasy is highlighted here with a heavy metal arrange by Tsuyoshi Sekito. The original piece peeks through the blaring guitar riffs in a much needed epic rearrangement of this already intense, if hardly subtle, piece. Sekito also arranges "Phantom Forest" from Final Fantasy VI in a style I didn't really expect for this game. The original vocals are replaced with a harpsichord, followed by updated strings and a slightly more ominous tone in the harmony. Despite a few sampling issues, I was very impressed with this arrangement, and you shouldn't pass it up.
Another major arrange in my opinion would be Keiji Kawamori's take on "Force Your Way" from Final Fantasy VIII. While keeping the fame feel as the original, Kawamori updates the synth and injects some much needed electronic bridges and guitar riffs. Otherwise, he doesn't really mess with the "meat" of the piece, making this by far one of the best arrangements on the album. Another guest arranger is Reiko Mikoshiba, who reinvigorates Final Fantasy IV's main battle theme with romantic piano work and punchy string parts. The change in timbres might take some time to get used to, especially given the instruments are all synthesized, but it's still an inspired and emotional arrangement.
The last great arrangement I'd like to discuss here would be "Blinded by Light" from Final Fantasy XIII. Mitsuto Suzuki reprises his role from the game by taking on this amazing battle theme and pumping it up with the inclusion of the electronic section of "Defiers of Fate" from the same album. Neither track changes too much — he just took the time to blend the two pieces together, making the final product even more crazy and fitting for the world of Dissidia. One can only imagine a fight between Lightning and Golbez with this tune! Also interesting is Final Fantasy XII's "Esper Battle", where Suzuki punctuates the original choral discords with rocking bass lines and drum kit. However, this one might be more divisive for the symphonists out there.
Not all of the arrangements on here are as good as I've made the others seem. "Battle Theme" from Final Fantasy VI, arranged by Ishimoto, is a mess of orchestral melody and electronic undertones that do not fit the original rock nature in any means. What starts out as a string quartet, quickly becomes a mishmash of the original melody and random clashing instruments for each of the transitions. This is one track I would recommend staying away from. Among other arrangements, Final Fantasy VI's "Forested Temple" is let down by heavy-handed sampling and Final Fantasy VIII's "Julia" is disappointingly brief, not moving into the verse section fo "Eyes on Me". Finally, "A Realm of Emptiness" is probably my favorite battle theme from Final Fantasy XI, and Sekito does not do it justice at all. Sekito tries to make it sound more intense, but the extra guitar riffs and messy percussion only make it sound like more of an amateur's work. This was very disappointing, considering Sekito's recent astonishing track record.
Several of the games use an original piece from the game. In some cases, this is probably a good thing given it is enjoyable to revisit classics and many of the arrangements are of mixed quality. That said, much like the arranged selection, the choices of the originals is less impressive this time round — with epics like "The Extreme", "Theme of the Empire", and "One Winged Angel" being replaced with B-sides like "Premonition", "The Dalmasca Estersand", and "Searching for Friends". It's also disappointing that the more recent Final Fantasy games are mostly represented by originals rather than arrangements, which completely fills up the second disc and reduces its value. A further problem is that the retro originals on the first disc often clash with the better synthesized arrangements they are interspersed between.
I needed to save some time on here to discuss something here that failed on the first game, but became one of Ishimoto's best battle themes of all time for this game. On the first go, Ishimoto employed indie rock band "Your Favorite Enemies" to head up the vocals on the final battle theme, and it didn't go over well at all in my opinion. This time "Cantata Mortis & God in Fire" takes that role, and it is a treat! The first half of the piece is an amazing Latin chorus piece akin to "Liberi Fatali" from Final Fantasy VIII. This builds to the climax of the piece, a heavy metal vocal combining the choral work from the first part and female Gothic vocals. The track doesn't stand out in any one section, but it doesn't need to. Ishimoto does an outstanding job building fear and suspense for the battle with Final Fantasy's original badass "Chaos".
A further improvement in the soundtrack is the ending theme. Once again, it is an orchestral medley of themes spanning through the series' history, incorporating tracks such as the Chocobo theme, "Eyes on Me", "To Zanarkand", and FFXII's "Main Theme", among others. In contrast to that of Dissidia: Final Fantasy, the individual themes are all orchestrated in a rich emotional way, rather than relying mainly on the original melodies. What's more, newcomer orchestrator Kentaro Sato ensures the transitions between each theme are elegant and meaningful, in contrast to most other Final Fantasy medleys out there. The track is topped off by an excellent performance by the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague, who were specially outsourced for this production.
The final disc includes a range of bonus content. It includes the final battle theme separated into two different tracks, which will be a nice bonus for anyone who enjoys one part but not the other. The other four tracks make up the unreleased trailer themes for both Dissidia games. Both tracks basically roll through all of the major sections of the main themes, sometimes with more focus than in-game. The one I just have to talk about here is the final trailer theme for the first Dissidia game. While all four tracks follow a similar formula, this one really accentuates the theme heard in "Lux Concordiae" with a very emotional break in the intensity to showcase this beautiful motif written by Ishimoto. Given that this is my favorite melody by Ishimoto, hearing it showcased in its purest form for over a minute brought tears to my eyes yet again, something that hasn't ever happened with an Ishimoto composition ever!
Finally, those who purchase the limited edition version of the game will be able to experience some bonus content. This includes a DVD featuring the aforementioned trailers for Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy. I'm not sure what purpose these serve, given the trailers are already freely available, and it already increases the pricetag of an already sparse package. Perhaps a better feature is the enhanced packaging in a black extended case. However, most won't find the additional content sufficient to justify the extra cost and non-hardcores will be fine with the regular edition.
There you have it. As much as I have disliked Ishimoto in the past here, I have to say this is by far his best collection of works ever, thanks to some inspired choral recordings, enjoyable arrangements, and lush finale. To hear Ishimoto stepping up his game this much gives me very high hopes for Final Fantasy Type Zero. The soundtrack is bigger than the original Dissidia: Final Fantasy soundtrack and, at least in terms of the originals, considerably better. It's clear that Ishimoto really anted this score to be a definitive one.
That said, there are plenty of problems with this release. Compared to the original game, there are fewer famous pieces in this release, so those looking for "One Winged Angel" might be better going for the predecessor instead. Those tracks that are arranged are sometimes treated in an abominable way and the orchestral synth used, in particular, is often a major detriment to the experience. In addition, the package is inflated in size and price due to the presence of too many originals and some pointless bonus content. That said, most will still find something to enjoy on this release, thanks to some stunning originals and arrangements, and it is recommended for most fans of Final Fantasy music out there.