Vocal themes are nothing new to games — since Final Fantasy VIII, the Final Fantasy series has routinely featured a vocal theme, often by a popular Japanese artist. Vocal arrangements have become increasingly common in the game remix and arrangement community over the years as well, and Erutan delivers some of the best on this album.
She takes two approaches: some tracks on A Bard's Side Quest are her own take on a song that already has lyrics, such as Final Fantasy X's Suteki Da Ne or Portal's classic Still Alive. Many of these songs, however, were purely instrumental in their original forms, so to hear them with vocals is a whole new experience.
Starting at the top is You're Not Alone. While Final Fantasy IX as a game isn't as high on my list as some of my friends', I adore the soundtrack, and this is one of my favorite songs in the game. Erutan's take on this weaves a tale of support and friendship in an arrangement that flows like a gentle river.
In fact, that description applies to much of the album, but certainly to the three other Final Fantasy IX tracks. As the only game to appear four times in the track list, it's safe to assume that Erutan has a special place in her heart for Zidane's tale. The Place I'll Return To Someday may feel a bit somber, but it's no less beautiful for it. In fact, while Rose of May and Cleyra Settlement are both great listens, "Place" is as good as You're Not Alone for me.
Final Fantasy X appears twice: Hymn of the Fayth is perhaps even more ethereal than the original. The slow, heavy drums in the background really set an appropriately heavy tone. FFX's feature track, Suteki Da Ne, is here with new lyrics (by collaborator SacridiaDargue). The melody is very true to the game's original, but I really like Erutan's take on it as well as the story told — in a language I understand, no less! Later in the song are some subtle background whispers that just give me chills. As you may know, "Suteki Da Ne" translates to "Isn't It Wonderful?" in English. It's a fitting title.
I may have never played an Elder Scrolls game, but it doesn't mean I don't appreciate some of Skyrim's music. The Dragonborn Comes has a very Nordic influence and some great wind instruments complementing strings of an instrument that I wish I could pinpoint. I think many of us tend to listen to what we know, so on paper, I might not have been as excited about songs of games I've yet to play, but if I skipped it, I'd have missed out on one of the stronger songs on this album. A definite must listen.
I've heard the original Dark Cloud is hit-or-miss depending on who you are. Meanwhile, Dark Cloud 2 is one of my most-adored PS2 RPGs of all time. Like Skyrim, I saw that The Village Festival from Dark Cloud was on here and initially wished for a DC2 track. Then I listened to it, and I no longer feel that way. It brings to mind a moon- and lantern-lit festival, littered with tents, food, friends, and a welcoming atmosphere.
Finally we come to Chrono. I can safely say Chrono Trigger is my favorite RPG, so any time it gets attention from a talented artist like Erutan, I'm going to listen. It also means I can be a little more judgmental, as Chrono's (fine, "Crono's") journey and accompanying soundtrack is very dear to my heart. Let's talk Radical Dreamers — Chrono Cross' ending song — first. Unlike Suteki Da Ne, Radical Dreamers is still in Japanese, so it's a little closer to Yasunori Mitsuda's original, but a little lighter and more sparse. In a good way! It's close to a stripped-down acoustic arrangement, and it works wonderfully.
Then there's Chrono Trigger's ending, To My Dear Friends. There's so much to love on A Bard's Side Quest, but for me, this is the star. It's been over 18 years since I first heard this song, and it's no less stunning to me. As she often does on this album, Erutan's vocals tell a story of our heroes, post-victory, and it's beyond words how beautiful the end result came out to be.
To My Dear Friends and You're Not Alone are reason enough to buy this album, so I'm sure it's no coincidence that they're the songs that bookend this lovely collection. Even though we're publishing this review in November, I've been listening to A Bard's Side Quest since March, and it remains one of my favorite albums of any genre this year. It's simply a must listen.
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