Chocobo and the Magic Books Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
The Chocobo spinoff series was revived in 2006 with the DS title Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales (aka Chocobo and the Magic Picture Book). Its score featured arrangements of the Chocobo themes and various Final Fantasy classics by Joe Down Studio's Yuzo Takahashi. They were programmed into the technologically restricted console by synthesizer operator Yasuhiro Yamanaka, known for his valiant efforts on several PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 scores. A ten track 'best of' soundtrack for the game was released on iTunes, but no complete physical release was provided. Fast forward to the end of 2008 and Square Enix continued their revived Chocobo obsession with the title Chocobo and the Magic Picture Book ~The Witch, The Maiden, and the Five Heroes~. The same audio team reunited, but this time Takahashi decided to be more ambitious in his Final Fantasy arrangements and create 12 original compositions too. His scores for both of the titles were commemorated by the Chocobo and the Magic Books Original Soundtrack shortly after the game release. How does this two disc score fare on its own and how does its arrangements compare to their originals? Prepare to be pleasantly surprised!
The renditions of the Chocobo theme on the original Chocobo Tales soundtrack are mostly charming despite the fact the theme has been arranged over a hundred times by now. The main renditions, "Going Out, Chocobo" and "Retro de Chocobo", are very simplistic ostinato-based themes; however, they delight by preserving the cutesy whimsical feel of the original and the latter even features the 8-bit sounds of "Odeka de Chocobo". There are also elaborate original arrangements of the theme, such as the high-spirited "March de Chocobo", which would have been well-received in a main Final Fantasy game. "Battle de Chocobo" is the realisation of a curious experiment what would happen if an old-school battle theme were fused with the Chocobo theme? It works surprisingly well and wouldn't feel out of place in the Super Nintendo Final Fantasy soundtracks. In stark contrast, "Move de Chocobo" is influenced by the dramatic orchestral renditions of the Chocobo theme that open the first two Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon titles. Unfortunately, one of the lesser arrangements of the Chocobo theme from the main game the annoying and goofy "Fiddle de Chocobo" is ported over with slightly better synth. It was still nostalgic seeing other ditties and fanfares from Final Fantasy VII's racing mini-game reappear, however.
The majority of the Final Fantasy arrangements featured here are based on the scores of the NES and SNES era. This is great for nostalgia and also ensures that the renditions are generally enhanced rather than degraded by the DS' notoriously limited synth. In contrast to the surprisingly heavy Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon: Labyrinth of Forgotten Time, the arrangements mostly feel light and joyous here; most Final Fantasy music fans will be endeared by the straightforward renditions tunes such as FFI's "Gurgu's Volcano" and FFIII's "Gishal's Veggies" on the DS' peppy synth. Masashi Hamauzu's "Chocobo Village" from Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon also makes a truncated but welcome appearance. Yamanaka manages to preserve some of the bounce of the original's fiddle melodies while Takahashi is keen to demonstrate the intricacy of Hamauzu's playful phrasing. There are also mysterious tracks featured here for the exploration sections of the game. Solid synthesizer operation and some additional frills preserve the moody tones of FFIII's "Underwater Temple", the tribal quality of FFV's "The Book of Sealings", and the industrial style of FFVII's "Mako Reactor". Other solid choices include the impressionistic "As I Feel, You Feel", melancholy "Theme of Sorrow", and airy "White Mage's Theme", based on FFI's "City Theme".
Yuzo Takahashi also composed one major new composition for the score, "Irma Army's Theme". People can be forgiven for thinking it can from a SNES soundtrack since it is heavily influenced by Nobuo Uematsu's work; much of the composition features light-hearted lyrical phrasing but there are subtle buildups that hint at Irma's antagonistic role. "Magic of the Picture Book" is technically an original composition too, but it is only eight seconds long and mostly features harp arpeggios inspired by "The Prelude". There are three battle themes featured towards the end of the soundtrack. Despite the modest capacity of the DS, FFI's "Battle Scene" is suitably impacting while FFVI's "Decisive Battle" tends to emphasise dynamic contrasts between the phrases compared to the original. The straight reprise of FFV's "The Clash on the Big Bridge" is also a highlight, though some of the brass samples inevitably feel low quality and there is a buzzing noise in the background. The ending theme, FFVIII's "Ride On", is actually probably the most disappointing arrangement on the album. The main melody is presented with a jarringly pronounced trumpet melody while the timpani-dominated accompaniment is simply nauseating. There are attempts at creativity here and the quieter parts of the piece are enjoyable, but the atmosphere is inconsistent and the melody loses its flair.
After the straightforward soundtrack to Chocobo Tales, Yuzo Takahashi tends to be much more elaborate on the sequel. This is instantly demonstrated in the cinematic opening theme; while sticking quite close to motifs from the Chocobo theme throughout, he contrasts light-hearted, mysterious, and aggressive moods, often all at once, and even adds a little excellently synthesized Arabian instrumentation. Takahashi also demonstrates his willingness to arrange more complex Final Fantasy themes such as FFXI's "Ronfaure". Though there is an inevitable reduction in the number and quality of the channels, the feel of the original is preserved through some good choices there is even the occasional newly added violin wail and the development is not cut in contrast to "Chocobo's Village" on the predecessor soundtrack. There are fewer Chocobo theme renditions here, but those that do appear are twists on well-known arrangements. FFVII's "Electric de Chocobo" is given some quirk with some high-pitch synth bends similar to the noise Chocobos might make. "Ukelele de Chocobo" sounds cleaner and perkier than its FFIX rendition thanks to Yasuhiro Yamanaka's expertise. The finale is a six minute medley of original melodies and dabs of the Chocobo theme. While its orchestral ambitions can't be fully realised due to the DS, it's still superbly done.
There are quite a few more Final Fantasy arrangements on the sequel's score. The light and quirky side is mainly represented by versions of the FFIV classics "Mystic Mysidia" and "Palom & Porom's Theme" complete with silly instrumentation use and novelty sound effects. "Dancing Doll Calcobrena" also appears, but is pumped up with techno beats and dramatic sections. FFXI's string quartet "Ru'Lude Gardens" is tastefully transformed into a chamber orchestra piece with harpsichord continuo while other arrangement highlights include the resonant renditions of "Blackjack", "Cornelia Castle", and "Dead Music". There are a few disappointing interpretations, such as FFVI's "Searching for Friends" which lacks the definition of the original or FFXI's "Tough Battle" which tries too hard to be dominating. Better are the renditions of other action themes such as FFX's "Seymour Battle," FFV's "Danger!", and FFVI's "The Unforgiven" that, while straightforward, push the DS channels toward their limits. Those looking for more creative arrangements will likely to enjoy the all-new rock-electro take on FFV's "The Clash on the Big Bridge" or the haunting climactic rendition of FFVII's "J-E-N-O-V-A". Interestingly, Takahashi also chose to reprise Tsuyoshi Sekito's "GlasgosX ~ GlasgosZ" from Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon 2 for the final battle theme. Overall, a solid blend of transformative and orthodox arrangements.
Yuzo Takahashi takes a larger compositional role on the sequel's soundtrack, which is great news for those familiar with his other work. He develops the idea of creating trios of original compositions for each stage from Culdcept Saga. He instantly demonstrates his versatility with the three movements from "A Wolf in Love" transitioning from an elegant harpsichord invention to a buoyant orchestral march to an action theme blending influences from both of the previous movements. Takahashi integrates a surreal and minimalistic melody in the "A Lonely Plushie" suite; it is exposed in the echoing electronic piece, then explored in a wistful neo-Baroque dance and further distorted with an piano and orchestra battle theme. Although quite artistic in their focus, the melodic strength and stylistic range of these compositions is in common with Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy works. In contast, the abstract and dazzling orchestration of "The Flying Trees" suite somewhat resembles Hitoshi Sakimoto's work on Final Fantasy XII. Finally, "The Unnamed Girl" is bound to win over people who enjoy culturally inspired music. The Celtic first movement highlights evocative flute melodies while the second movement blends a melancholy waltz-like metre with some dashes of flamenco. Finally, the third movement leans towards becoming a piano concertino even if restrictions prevented it from being fully developed.
SummaryThe original Chocobo Tales soundtrack mostly featured straightforward light-hearted arrangements of well-known Final Fantasy themes. Though most arrangements were of similar quality to the originals due to the limitations of the DS, the track selection was good and most arrangements brought with them a lot of atmosphere and nostalgia. The soundtrack single-handedly made me love the Chocobo theme again with its mixture of simple cutesy renditions and more imaginative arrangements. The sequel's soundtrack was more ambitious with its cinematic opening and closing themes, wider selection of Final Fantasy themes, and more experimental arrangements overall. It also confirmed that Yuzo Takahashi is a bright young composer capable of both melodically engaging and stylistically versatile work; it would be interesting to see him grow as a composer by single-handedly composing a game from the Chocobo series or beyond. Though the mini-series' music is limited in its quality and scope by the DS, both composer and arranger Yuzo Takahashi and synthesizer operator Yasuhiro Yamanaka do about the best they can with what is available to them. On a stand-alone level, the result is an accomplished two disc soundtrack that will be highly enjoyable for fans of classic Final Fantasy music.
Overall Score: 7/10