Xenogears Creid :: Review by Aevloss
Reflecting upon my review for Yasunori Mitsuda's Xenogears Original Soundtrack, I feel I was a little harsh with my comments. I did not intend for what I said to come across as a challenge to the classic status of the album, or dismiss it as completely mediocre. I have a love-hate relationship with the original work in fact, as while a part of me does not enjoy it by itself, I still hold an appreciation towards the music for the feelings of nostalgia I am visited with after listening to it. I happen to think that many of the pieces on Xenogears' soundtrack had great potential that was not always lived up to, and I probably wrongly assumed the soundtrack was going to 'wow' me as much as it had in the game. To bring these ideas forward to the product at hand, for somebody like me, Xenogears Creid was a godsend.
Xenogears was a game that was never finished to the level of polish the director originally intended, and many who played it would agree that much of the second half felt disjointed, almost like a time-line leading up to the final battle. I think the original CD set suffered for almost being half-a-soundtrack so to speak, where no true mood was given long enough to develop, or exfoliate. However, the fate of the second-half of the Xenogears game, and the partial feeling of its soundtrack contributed, in fact, to the success of Mitsuda's arranged album. Released only weeks after the main set, Creid was a private project that the composer took under his wing, in an attempt to fully realise some of the music he had created for his most recent project with the restraints of synchronising material with on-screen visuals gone, the music was free to take all sorts of directions without fear. Indeed, this album is not perhaps the most obvious approach you might guess one would make to the original work, but at the same time an appropriate and intriguing one.
The Bulgarian choir, Irish-folk sound and Arabian influences sprinkled throughout Xenogears offered a worldly quality to the game to an extent more ambitious than had ever been heard before in an RPG. Usually these cultural archetypes manifested themselves as town music, which was a clever device the composer used to distinguish each of these locations in the game, and served to make the world seem more 'whole' in its variance. Mitsuda, as seen in more recent releases such as the an cinnu´nt and KiRite albums, also has a particular fascination with the Celtic style of music in general, often employing a fiddle and accordion in his work. Throw that together with some of the philosophical messages strewn throughout the original game and the stimulant of former collaborators GUIDO, and you can pretty much see the man's thought process in creating the album. Although it may not immediately sound like a recipe for success, there is no reason to hesitate in your approach to this CD, as it bares little resemblance to the mixed appeal of Chrono Trigger The Brink of Time. 'Believe', Mitsuda entices; this music was created to appeal to everyone to link together all cultures in the universal calligraphy of our world. Below is an excerpt from the liner notes:
"The album title, which means "belief" in Gaelic, is a message to those who feel they have lost sight of their ambitions for the flood of information this era surrounds us with. At the same time, it also affirms to me that I have rediscovered my own path." - Yasunori Mitsuda
The composer refers to the 'flood of information that this era surrounds us with', and aims to break down the barriers we might create for ourselves and our immediate cultures through his creation.
"Light from the Netherworld" was the first piece on the Xenogears Original Soundtrack, and left quite an impression upon the initial listen. The haunting melody was used subsequently in the tracks "Omen" and "Awakening" to represent the ultimate looming threat of Deus; how could the composer hope to tackle such an iconic piece on an album like this? Mitsuda instils his confidence in track number one.
Our introduction begins this time, not with brooding strings, but instead with a Celtic harp, cultivating one of the main album themes right from the start some careful acoustic guitar work soon enters too, and following the same trend, a piano sounds out, after the same count of bars once over. This is perhaps the most thrilling instrument to hear introduced, as it plays a frequented motif from "Omen" that brands "Melkaba" as 'Xenogears-worthy'. Next come the Uilleann pipes an instrument choice that truly utilizes the benefits of live performance; this is not something you would hear coming from your PlayStation consoles, and yet, it is so obviously 'Xenogears', once again. Mitsuda builds up the suspense carefully, using his all-too-familiar layer mastery, and it is more than a full minute before we hear what we know must be coming. 1:16 and it arrives, in no particular hurry, in the form of a fiddle, shadowed by an almost mocking accordion; it hits us leisurely, as though the instrument itself has no idea how effective it has proven in the past. I refer, of course, to the melody an immortal ghost of the game.
Did Yuki Kajiura understand the 'Xeno' sound? I think she did, and you can tell by listening to this. Similarities can be drawn between the tracks on this album and her compositions for the 'movie scenes' in Xenosaga Episode II. She clearly did her background research when making her own response to the franchise the Uilleann Pipes are testimony to that.
In come the percussion and bass guitar. These actually merely herald the arrival of the Bulgarian choir, which Mitsuda used in the Original Soundtrack. Though the vocal work does not make the strongest of entrances, it adds, to the track, an extra dose of authenticity. They also return in their full glory later in the piece for some harmonic work that sounds like it might have been pulled from "The Beginning and the End," another influential track from the original game release (though one best viewed in conjunction with its cut scene). At 5:42 most notably, the instruments fade out for the section that could be most attributed to the aforementioned piece, and we are left with a much stronger impression this time undeniable beauty and power. The section that follows is more of a reprise of the opening, with the fiddle and choir incessantly crying out in defiance Deus shall be known.
"Melkaba" is truly one of those compositions that can be as much as you want it to be. Personally, I feel quite passionate towards it, as I do the majority of this album, but others might listen and argue that it lacks power, or maybe that it is good, but they do not essentially draw anything from it. Personal response will define ones enjoyment of this piece I feel, but even as simply an arrangement, it does not step a foot wrong at any point; Celtic fans will respond particularly well, I'm sure, thanks to some of the lively middle passages. The subtlety of the interweaving chords formed by the Celtic harp and the piano particularly stood out to me when the renowned main melody was playing they were very mysterious and ominous. Normally, Mitsuda's layering idea simply seems contrived and a way to avoid compositional criticism, but here it utilized flawlessly; all this makes for a fantastic opening to the CD. (10/10)
2) Two Wings
An instance of déjà vu on the Original Soundtrack, "Stars of Tears" somewhat inappropriately followed "Light from the Netherworld" and almost ruined the beautiful mood that was set up. Now "Two Wings," the Japanese-lyrical incarnate of that corresponding piece, returns in its stead to do the very same. Some would consider this the main theme of Xenogears, since it is the vocal rendition of the later featured overworld theme, but on here, as before, it has a detrimental effect, and reaffirms my opinion that the choice to cut it from the game release was a wise one. "Two Wings" assures us that Mitsuda is still very much capable of making mistakes.
To be fair, "Two Wings" is a step-up from the original in terms of background instrumentation, and the new live accompaniment is a slightly stronger one, despite still lacking authority for the most part. It shows the composer at his most primitive stage in composing RPG vocal themes, for which he was the proprietor innovation-wise. It's a shame and a little embarrassing that Nobuo Uematsu's "Eyes on Me" stole the attention of the masses, however; though I would argue deservedly so, since it is the stronger and more pleasing of the two pieces. "Two Wings" lacks drama, and I think that is where it falters.
The opening is a memorable one, with familiar acoustic guitar chords and what sounds like a short flute passage (though it was actually programmed on the keyboard as in the original) leading us to the singer's vocals. I feel that Tetsumo Honma, in fact, gives a weaker performance than her English counterpart Joanne Hogg, and in a fashion that is fairly rare for Japanese vocals actually seems to be lacking in delivering feeling and expression. As a result of this, one cannot help but feel dissatisfied by the piece's mediocrity, despite its original charm. I must compliment Masato Kato, however, for creating a fairly interesting, poetic set of lyrics deeper than what you might normally expect from this kind of theme.
Development-wise, "Two Wings" is sound, and despite the slight alteration in instrumentation for the most part, the piece sounds barely changed the only part where the live performance sounds prominent is in the dying seconds where we hear a much cleaner version of the Celtic solo that brings the piece to a close. This enjoyable conclusion almost made up for the boredom the rest of the track generated, and at least brought the themes of the album back into the spotlight a little bit. (7/10)
Mitsuda shows his knowledge of balance with this arrangement of "Bonds of Sea and Fire" (one of the most memorable melodies featured in Xenogears) and "Aveh, Ancient Dance." The original themes are completely different in nature, but Mitsuda does a really good job here. With a nod to the previous two tracks, "Balto" sings its melody above an acoustic and bass guitar. The original "Bonds of Sea and Fire" sounded like it could have doubled up as a forest theme as well as carrying a hopeful tone, and, while the first part of this track does not really stray from its roots, it feels somehow more sombre than before with the mourning shakuhachi and lack of string accompaniment giving it an even stronger impression of bleakness and sadness. We soon learn the secret it has been hiding, however. The hope and determination has been channelled into the second part of the piece, which is basically a groovy new take on "Aveh, Ancient Dance" that is bound to make you find your foot tapping.
At 2:34, we are fooled into thinking, in a somewhat disheartened state, that the piece is over, with the acoustic guitar strumming out it's dejected final chord. The sudden entrance of percussion is an unpredictable one, and in a matter of seconds, the tone is given an overhaul. The shakuhachi sounds out for the last time, appearing to have livened up itself, before making way for an accordion to dance in the foreground in a decidedly jolly manner. Then, at 3:52, everything comes together, and we are treated to a lovely chorus, sheltered by what sounds misleadingly like a choir in the background; the light of the theme is exposed for all to see at this point, and as listeners, we feel completely uplifted. Whenever I hear that chorus, the lively fiddle that throbs out afterwards and the electrifying conclusion to the piece, I cannot help but smile; Mitsuda did a very good job here once again, and set himself up admirably for the title track that follows. (9/10)
KALTA's work on the opening programming here is really unique, and leads you to wonder in the opening stages, 'what is this building up to?' The title track of the album, and the most open representation of the themes therein, is the answer. "The Wounded Shall Advance Into The Light" always was a lovely track, even given its less than satisfactory synth vocals, but "Creid" takes that once step further and manages to achieve what the original could not, transcending it in nearly all possible ways. For a start, Eimear Quinn's harmonising vocals add an extra dimension to the original choir concept, and bring an especially charming child-like innocence to the picture, deftly forming the final angelic sound that graces our ears. It was nice of Mitsuda to get his original ideas in regard to the lyrics translated and his message sung out in old Irish, the dying language of the country from which so many of his tracks draw influence.
The first two minutes of the track feature primarily Quinn's elegant singing and the previously mentioned background ambience created through the keyboard programming, making for something that sounds unblemished and gimmick-free. Choir-related tracks are actually now one of Mitsuda's specialities, proven by the compositions "Ormus," "The Resurrection," and "The Miracle" on the Xenosaga Episode I album, but this is probably the first instance in which that talent shined, and is especially memorable because of the two points at which the original is played in the game. I still recall the hymn when thinking of the different shades of Fei's character, and it struck me as one of the most effective links to religion and religious symbolism in its context all of this is very appropriate, seeing as 'xenogearsarr' is the Gaelic word for 'believe', which is one of the main messages Mitsuda wanted to weave into this album. "Creid" most successfully emulates this feeling of wholeness and unification I feel, as, while it might not necessarily be the most sophisticated piece on the album or feature one of the most inspirational arrangements, it strikes me as the type of track that could be admired for its beauty around the world and transcend cultural boundaries, something only limited things, such as music, have the power to do.
Meanwhile it keeps a very cultural aura about it anyway, as in support of the Irish lyrics, the Uilleann pipes enter alongside a Celtic harp at the two minute mark, bringing us back to one of the central styles of the album. While some might find the pipes obnoxious, I found them to be especially attractive in this case, and the resonation between them and the vocals is quite divine. "Creid" will not be an easy listening experience for some. The album will not be either, for that matter, but the title track, in particular, is bound not to be to everyone's fancy. However, if you are in the right mood, and think about the deeper meaning that Mitsuda wanted to convey, this piece of music evolves into something quite exquisite and provides an elated experience virtually unmatched elsewhere on the album. One of the strongest contributions you will find. (10/10)
Ever since video game music advanced beyond basic blips, it has been essential that location-based music aptly suit the on-screen visuals in both sound and feel. A stereotype has emerged for desert settings in particular, one that utilizes chord patterns and scales we normally associate with African and Arabian sounds. Traditional African music is very much founded upon chanting and percussion (singing and clapping in everyday life), but the RPG desert themes mix the more mysterious Egyptian instrument choices with Western associations and the unique twinges of Arabia. This fusion has created a sound that we could probably attribute to a hot, sandy landscape with no visual aids. "Dajil" does not challenge these associations, but instead chooses to build upon them, using them as a springboard to a genre one might call Arabian progressive rock. Indeed, the emphasis of the melody is put upon this distinctive ethnic sound as in the original, with the choir once again offering a tribal quality, but now the inclusion of a driving percussion line, electric guitars, and sitars brings the piece to life, and gives it the full live glory it deserves.
Rapidly, a wholesome concoction of Arabian flavour has been cooked up for our ears, and the choir is back delivering some juicy, deranged wails that harken back to the original town piece. The main melody here is a classic, and one that I have heard so much I thought I could never enjoy again. Mitsuda proves me wrong here. It turns out the rock approach and guitar lead were just the ingredients needed to spice this old number up, and these factors secure a much deserved success in the end. It is fairly difficult to describe, but it just works; the piece flows well, the instrument utilization is masterful, and the overall structure simply makes for an enjoyable experience. I found the sections where the lead instruments died off to make room for some acoustic guitar excitement particularly appealing, and the way this furthered the development of the track was inspiring. The electric guitar also takes a fine solo towards the latter stages, assuring that a much-needed edginess be brought to the album, to stop the Celtic tones from saturating the experience completely. Rest assured, "Dajil" is an arrangement that is handled masterfully, and challenges "Melkaba" and "Creid" for the dominating crown with a fierce, justifiable grin. (10/10)
6) Stairs of Light
Mitsuda is having fun by this point; it is as if he realises he has locked onto a winning formula with the album and is starting to really enjoy producing it in general. And what track on the original Xenogears Original Soundtrack would benefit the most from exploration of this gleefulness? "The Sky, the Clouds, and You" would have to be a strong contender, and Mitsuda selected it here as a track to arrange for a vocal performance, once again handled on the album by Tetsuko Honma. This time around, the singer's voice seems to suit the piece a lot better, and she proves that she is capable of showing emotion, despite what "Two Wings" would otherwise suggest.
"Stairs of Light" is founded upon cheekiness, and shows a development of the original playful tune, while managing not to sound at all out of place thanks to the coherent instrument selection. The accordion and the fiddle are back, injecting us with a top-up of Irish folk alertness and, with the aid of a simple bass guitar, setting up Tetsuko Honma well to mischievously sing out the familiar melody of the original. In its transition to the Celtic style, I feel some of the original charm has been lost, and the arrangement does not seem quite so bouncy and amusing as the original. However, I think Mitsuda wanted to give it a slightly different feel anyway, as by choosing it in the first place, he basically committed himself to making some adjustments. After all, "The Sky, the Clouds, and You" does not feature particularly desirable composition, but more a much appreciated light-heartedness that helped the rest of the second disc on the Xenogears soundtrack not to get bogged down by the darker, moodier pieces. Here it might have had a similar effect, had it not been placed behind 'Dajil', which was far more creative and interesting to listen to. With "Stairs of Light," Mitsuda offers us a nice thought, but unfortunately, next to the main vocal themes, this is probably one of the weakest additions to the album. (8/10)
7) June Mermaid
"June Mermaid" is a Mitsuda classic that is often forgotten. The composition is fairly basic, and the instrumental choices are fairly ordinary, yet it remains a successful theme in its own right. Originally in Xenogears, the piece was used to represent the enigma Emeralda, and some of the forgotten aspects of Fei's past.
Unsurprisingly, Mitsuda chose not to make too many changes to this number, simply upgrading the sound quality, so as to reinforce his original intentions. The mood that the harp and the whistle create is a very sombre one that sounds rather hopeless and conclusive in its apparent simplicity. After playing once through, the fiddle takes over the role of playing the main melody, but even so, it is considerably less cheerful than usual, seemingly helping to enhance the hollow feeling of the piece in general. All the while, KALTA has set up some more unusual background programming that somehow rightly accompanies the other elements of the track. One of the highlights, I suppose, is the middle section that follows the lengthy introduction. It is unique in that it switches to a key that you would not expect, and in many ways, this part is the most relaxing and pleasurable to listen to; further, the way we are brought back to the beginning again after this is very well done.
Really, there is not a great deal to say about "June Mermaid," given that it does stick so close to the original. It is a track that people who have not listened to the Xenogears Original Soundtrack before might enjoy, but it ultimately does not come across as one of the stronger pieces on the album. I admire the way Mitsuda tried to keep the sense of longing in his arrangement, and agree that he probably took the right course of action, but find it difficult to praise the piece too much after the excellent earlier tracks that it follows. As in the case of "Stairs of Light," "June Mermaid" is good, but is somehow lacking. (8/10)
8) Spring Lullaby
"Spring Lullaby" is a new rendition of a couple of tracks that I was really glad to see make the cut. "Gathering Stars in the Night Sky" and "Flight" when paired together left quite an impression on me in the game, and beautifully showed a transformation in character; that Mitsuda acknowledged them for two of his favourites too was nice, and the arrangement appears to focus upon merging the ideas of the two pieces together to make another relaxing piece, with a touch of poignancy.
To be honest, the arrangement is not what I would have liked to see done with the originals, and in many ways I do not think it does its roots justice. And yet, at the same time, the piece still manages to be equal in quality to the last two tracks. As the title "Spring Lullaby" might imply, Mitsuda decided to add vocals to the theme, further experimenting with this idea of contemporary piece writing. I think this shows that the artist felt somewhat constrained by his duty as a game composer, and with Xenogears Creid felt that he could express his desire to work for all different kinds of medium. Unfortunately, this craving was not reflected fully in the standard of the piece, which has a few noticeable flaws about it.
Honma does not deliver a particularly memorable performance, though it is quite likely that she could not really with the piece itself. Once again, by converting the style of the theme, Mitsuda has unfortunately lost the raw emotion that he originally created and although there are hints that remain, the sweeping power he had to work with was lost for the most part. The highlights of the piece would probably have to be the fiddle work, which sounded incredibly comfortable with the rest of the album. Regrettably, there is one negative thing to mention yet. I think "Spring Lullaby" has one of the most atrocious conclusions I have ever heard; it is so repetitive and grating on the ears that it almost sucked away the enjoyment I got out of the piece completely. Nevertheless, overall it is not a bad addition to the album, and is fairly enjoyable background material. (7/10)
"The best part of this album was being able to enjoy music with friends I've long wanted to work with. I believe their presence has made this album what it is." - Yasunori Mitsuda
After a slight plummet in form, Mitsuda is back at his best in "Lahan." The composer, by saving the classic "My Village is Number One" theme until so late, livens up the atmosphere considerably and ensures that his new arrangements go out with a bang. I was one of a very limited amount of people who really did not enjoy the original piece while well-composed, the synthesizer work really let it down, and so "Lahan," for me, is the perfect example of what the first version should have been. With the ability to sway me like that, I see no reason why people who liked the first version will not love this. It clearly provokes that nostalgic reaction, as people who have helmed the game will remember back to their first few hours of playing time. Having said that, the nice rural village feel has gone, and we feel once more as though we have been poured into a lively marketplace with the fast tempo lending a nice feeling of routine. Towards the middle, the zaniness subsides for a time; allowing the choir and a piano to repeat a small section of development that is charged with memories and enjoyable in any case, before leading skilfully back into the main theme.
Instrumentation-wise, no Celtic fan could ask for more. All our favourite instruments from the last eight tracks are back, and the roster includes some bagpipes this time, in true Scottish fashion. Mitsuda has mastered arranging for each of these instruments by now, and everything feels so natural that it is a joy to behold. The accordion adds its usual perkiness, the fiddle offers its eccentric sparkle and the choir bestows that much needed feeling of connected culture. There is also some clapping going on, some nice electric guitar work, and an indispensable contribution from people at a nearby pub at the end, who make us feel like we just listened to a performance, or a display of sorts. This idea links in with the original concept of a festival and the composer assigning his friends with the title 'Millenial Fair' the teamwork is particularly apparent in this particular track, and everything feels like it has come together.
I think "Lahan" is Mitsuda's final bid to unite different people, and he tries to do so by forcing a universal smile. He hopes that this track will be considered fun and cheerful wherever you might reside and shows how ambitious he aimed when formulating this project. Thankfully, he succeeded in creating a fine arrangement, making up for the last few tracks' lack of impact, though I'll leave it to you to decide whether he accomplished his goal in regard to making every individual feel happy! (10/10)
Finally, still feeling elated, the listener is brought to the last stage of the experience, with a pleasant new recording of "Small Two of Pieces." As in "Two Wings" this is basically no different from the original except for some instrument tweaking, Japanese lyrics, and a new singer. For me, Tetsuko Honma delivers a passable performance, but one that once again proves that the original choice of Joanne Hogg was a better one. Often, the Japanese singers seem to infuse more passion into their performances, but there are exceptions like "Mebius" to demonstrate that this is not always the case. With her slightly less mature voice, Honma does not seem to interact so much with the emotions of the audience as Hogg, nor pull the heartstrings with as much force as might have been expected at the end of such a thought-provoking album.
Nevertheless, on its own merit it is nothing too unbearable, and certainly shows that it had potential. Funnily enough, it is the keyboard strings that seem to stand out the most in the track, and give an indicator of the emotion that the composer wanted to come across. We are left feeling as though the end was rather anti-climatic, as this is certainly one of the weaker pieces on the CD and provides a fairly disappointing conclusion. Fans of the original will probably enjoy the new rendition, seeing as it is pretty much the same as it ever was, but for those who do not enjoy this kind of love ballad, "Mebius" occupies minutes that could have been used to support a new, better arrangement of another theme. (7/10)
In conclusion, Xenogears Creid is an album that shares some traits with the original work from which it derived. Some might argue that is to be expected of most albums, but what is most annoying about this is that for the most part it is excellent. I hold this album up as one of the composer's very best works, and were it not for a couple of mistaken track choices, it could have almost been a perfect release; it is really disappointing then, to hear simply revised versions of old vocal themes. Even if he had done that, they would have sounded out of place on the album anyway, so he would have been better off picking two new pieces to arrange entirely.
I must not dwell on the negatives, however; apart from the few problems I have expressed, Xenogears Creid was a thoroughly enjoyable experience many of the arrangements showed true cultural mastery, with tracks like "Dajil" and "Lahan" accurately embodying certain settings and music types. The idea behind the album in the first place was a charming one, and "Creid" soared into the clouds in answer to Mitsuda's wish to unite people with music. Beautiful, meaningful, and ethereal, it managed to reflect not only the composer's ambitions, but also the heavy religious symbolism in the Xenogears game itself.
Would I consider the album worthy of a purchase? Certainly. If you are a Mitsuda fan and do not own this album, I would be inclined to wonder why, as it is quite possibly the finest display of his specialities yet released. Those who do not normally appreciate his work will probably enjoy it also, as the complex arrangements and thematic exploration show a great deal more intrigue than his soundtrack work. Subsequently, possibly as a result of this album, Mitsuda has gone on to explore the Celtic style in-depth to an amazing degree. For similar works, I would recommend looking out for the Sailing to the World and KiRite albums, both of which reflect a similar experimentation of style. He said himself:
"I released two albums like this before, but both projects were so strongly experimental that they wound up very much as underground music. However, in the process of writing such a large volume of music, I feel I've discovered the precise mode of musical expression I was seeking within myself. With this album, I have given form to the belief within my heart." - Yasunori Mitsuda
Profound, well refined and toting a lovely message, Xenogears Creid is, for its majority, a momentous achievement and a highlight in the composer's career.
Overall Score: 9/10