Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon - Coi Vanni Gialli :: Review by Chris
Just like its Original Soundtrack counterpart, Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon - Coi Vanni Gialli never proved to be a hit in terms of the sales it made. A reflection on this is the fact that it is the only old DigiCube arranged album still in stock at Game Music Online, even though a year and a half has passed since DigiCube's famous bankruptcy. Since the album cover clearly has 'Produced by Masashi Hamauzu' written on it, this is perhaps surprising. After all, Masashi Hamauzu is currently Square Enix's most popular resident composer and all his other major works have proved to be massive successes. However, since the game Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon was an obscure title released exclusively in Japan, the two albums released for it failed to receive any considerable publicity. To make things worse for the album, the game's release in Japan was supposedly extremely unpopular and the game was an utter failure. If that were not enough, many people also wrongly infer from the album's title that the arranged album comprises of nothing other than reprises of the Final Fantasy Chocobo theme; regardless of the fact that the theme is globally loved, this would just make people go mad! Unfortunately, due to these circumstances, the album was destined to be one thing a commercial failure and this would be the case whatever happened, regardless of whether it were a fascinating collection of masterpiece arrangements or a dire accumulation of unmusical garbage.
Simply put, Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon - Coi Vanni Gialli is an orchestral album, but it is not a conventional one by any stretch of the imagination. There is an impressionist focus in most tracks (a focus which is atypical in itself), and a diverse array of other influences, including flamenco, jazz, and minimalism, can also be heard. The use of instruments is also quite bizarre in places, with standard orchestral instruments used in original ways and more unusual instruments accordion, harpsichord, organ, whistle, Spanish guitar, and electric guitar included making appearances. The piano, one of Hamauzu's trademarks, makes a contribution to this, being used in quite a percussive way for many tracks. What is more, Masashi Hamauzu is not the only arranger, as Yasuo Sako arranges about half the tracks. Though this is his most well known work, he was also the arranger responsible for all the inspiring arrangements of various popular classical works that constituted the Gran Turismo 4 Original Soundtrack - Classic Collection and the piano arrangements in the Wild Arms Music the Best - Feeling Wind score, which was released in March this year. His contributions have a different aura about them, tending to be more melodic, slightly less harmonically sophisticated, and somewhat more easily appreciable than Hamauzu's contributions. The word 'cute' comes to mind when listening to them. With Sako's and Hamauzu's contributions combined, the overall effect is a contrasting array of dynamic textures that provides the basis of the score's rich musical colours. Indeed, it is more than clear that the duo intended the album to be less of a traditional orchestral rehash of the original's melodies, but more of an artistic musical experience.
The album doesn't open with a bang, but rather with a 22 second piano and violin clip called "Prologue." Its melodies are derived directly from a later arrangement in the album, "Theme M," and the crackly samples used make it sound very much like those from a phonograph record, giving a strong sense of pastiche. In many ways, it is a quaint opening that gives the album a distinct character straightaway, but it could be seen as a pointless addition even so. The true introduction comes with the next track, "Wodan," an arrangement of the final battle theme, "Fight, Chocobo!," from Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon. Its aggressive and war-like nature makes it the perfect homage to the mythological Germanic ruler of the Gods, Odin, who the track is named after (Masashi Hamauzu was born in Germany, after all). The whole thing succeeds in being a wonderfully vibrant affair, benefiting from heavily punctuated violin and brass parts, a driving ground bass, and lots of impressive percussion use. What is more, the textures are not always thick and the dynamics are not constantly loud, as there are plenty of contrasts added, including two charming violin solos. The second of these solos is heard at the end of the arrangement and this introduces Nobuo Uematsu's "Chocobo" theme for the first time in the album, though not in its fullest form. This could be the best battle theme arrangement Masashi Hamauzu has ever written, even if it doesn't possess the electronic energy that is inherent to the success of many of his later battle themes.
The first piece of impressionism heard on the album is Hamauzu's "La Nymphe," an arrangement of "Whisper of the Water" from the Original Soundtrack, which is based very loosely around the "Chocobo" theme. The piano carries the ascending ground bass that runs through the track and the detached nature of its notes make it a source of textural contrast with the otherwise smooth and interweaving instrumental lines. Apart from this, it isn't hugely different from the original, but sounds altogether more elegant and sophisticated nonetheless, perfectly representing the image of water. Hamauzu's other impressionistic arrangement on the album, "L'Illusion," is heard a little later and is an arrangement of the "Unresting Wings." It is just as effectual, blending a whimsical oboe and accordion melody with tender accompaniment. The way this arrangement develops is very pleasing up to the 1:50 mark, proving to be rich and somewhat melancholic. Unfortunately, though, it barely develops after this and simply repeats itself for another two minutes before it concludes. Since when did arranged album tracks have loops? The following track, "Theme M," is an arrangement of "Chocobo Village," and sees Hamauzu trade impressionism for a ragtime violin solo with piano accompaniment. It is also a little underdeveloped, being the second shortest track on the album, but proves to be an appetising encounter nonetheless, thanks to the vigour of its melodies and the bounciness of the accompaniment. It does a fine job as the centrepiece of the album and the way the "Chocobo" theme is stylishly integrated towards the end enhances it even further.
Now that most of Masashi Hamauzu's arrangements have been discussed, it's time to discuss Yasuo Sako's arrangements. His first two arrangements on the album, "In Dem Untergrund" and "The Action," are captivating action tracks that provide a large contrast to Hamauzu's "Wodan," being less aggressive and more spirited. The former, an arrangement of "In Search of the Rare Item," is particularly enjoyable, thanks to its boisterous brass fanfares, intricate woodwind countermelodies, and the gliding nature of the countermelodies from the strings. It is filled with merriment throughout and has more than enough musical features and catchy melodies to keep any listener entertained. It transitions effectively into "The Action," which is a vibrant arrangement of the jovial "The First Dungeon." A vivid array of instruments is gradually added against the agitated string ground bass that runs throughout and this builds up considerable intensity. Perhaps the most startling aspect of the track is the addition of an electric guitar solo as the track begins to approach its conclusion. While many might consider the presence of an electric guitar on an orchestral album to be inappropriate, it does not feel interruptive in practice, since its appearance is a brief one that is skilfully integrated and doesn't impair the track's overall style; though hardly an electro-acoustic masterpiece, many are likely to agree that it is an original and inspired addition that adds to the album's unique flavour nonetheless.
Away from the action front, Yasuo Sako largely succeeds with his other three arrangements, which are heard right before the final track on the album. "Le Petit Prince," the first of these, is an arrangement of "Atora's Theme" and takes the form of a comical march. Numerous factors the splendid integration of the "Chocobo" theme in the form of a whistle melody, the perky Eb clarinet use, and the use of a snare drum in an amusing way ensure that it isn't just the lightest piece in the album, but one of the most delightful, too. The next track, "La Prorhetie," is the mysterious gem of the album, being an arrangement of the aptly named "A Mystery." The use of some Spanish-influenced woodwind melodies, sneaky pizzicato string motifs, and lots of varied percussion instruments gives this track its distinctive character. By far the most notable feature of this arrangement, however, is how a Spanish guitar solo is stylishly integrated; it simply adds an additional layer of sophistication to an already profound track and proves to be the most successful addition out of all the unusual instruments added to various tracks. Sako's final track on the album, "La Magie," is probably the weakest of his arrangements. This is entirely due to its introduction, which is made cringe-worthy by the needless repetition of an irksome panpipe motif. It is otherwise a very effective, melodious, and bubbly arrangement of "Searching for You" that continually gets better as it develops. Nonetheless, its irritating introduction adds a noticeable, albeit faint, stain on an otherwise practically unblemished album.
The album closes with arguably the best track on the album, "Coi Vanni Gialli.," which returns the listener back to Masashi Hamauzu's arrangements. Italian for 'With the Yellow Wings', it is an arrangement of the "Chocobo" theme like no other. The melodies glide with great panache throughout the piece and are comfortably accompanied by a colourful countermelody from the solo violin and some other amazingly refined harmonies. After the 2:25 mark, the theme slows down and gently quietens, as a new section is introduced. With its graceful solo piano passages, warm brass melodies, and softly meandering string harmonies, this section progresses in a blissful way before fading away to silence at the 3:54 mark. Between the 3:54 and 5:02 mark, the theme is completely silent and the last minute of the theme comprises of a clip from "Theme M," similar in sound quality to the clip from the "Prologue." It is an inspired and unusual resolution for the album that makes it go round full circle, but could be seen as an awkward and unnecessary addition by many listeners nonetheless. The theme as a whole, however, is amazingly inspirational and possibly the most successful piece of experimentation involving the Chocobo theme to be heard from professional arrangers to date.
Creative efforts in video game music rarely appeal to the masses, since many people usually find such efforts to be pretentious and unnatural. This album is likely to be an exception, however, as Masashi Hamauzu and Yasuo Sako ensure the album fits together effortlessly, adheres fairly closely to the original, and keeps the occurrence of any blaring dissonance to an absolute minimum. In addition, there are more than enough memorable melodies to be heard, both in the form of the renditions of the "Chocobo" theme, as well as the use of finely crafted original melodies. Indeed, apart from the slightly dubious use of "Theme M" in the introduction and conclusion, the bothersome opening to "La Magie," and the fact a couple of arrangements are a little underdeveloped, there is very little to criticise about the album. As Sako warmly puts it in the liner notes for the album, it 'is the debut of a composer of genius' (i.e. Masashi Hamauzu) and will quickly sooth the minds of anyone who listens to it. While Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon - Coi Vanni Gialli certainly hasn't reached the masses, due to its obscurity, it has the musical potential to entice huge numbers of people nonetheless.
It may help the listener to appreciate this album if they are already a Masashi Hamauzu fan, since it adds another dimension to one's appreciation of him, as it is altogether different from all his other works. One cannot possibly be a comprehensive Hamauzu fan without listening to it. Being already familiar with Hamauzu is not of uttermost importance, however, as it provides a fine introduction to many of his styles for those people who are new to him. Even for those people who have found his other works to be poor, this album is still worth a try, as it lacks the electronic elements of his later scores that can potentially alienate certain people. It certainly doesn't matter if one is unfamiliar with the Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon Original Soundtrack either, as there is more than enough material in this album for it to be appreciated in its own right, not just as an arranged album. As it is still available in very limited quantities at Game Music Online for a fair price of $29.99, it would be foolish to miss the opportunity to buy it, as it is almost certain that this will be the last time this sublime and unforgettable masterpiece is purchasable.
Overall Score: 8/10