The Best of Chocobo and the Magic Book Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
The DS' Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales (aka Chocobo to Mahou no Ehon) was the first new game in Square Enix's once-wretched Chocobo spinoff series for over half a decade. Its score comprises of straightforward arrangements of the Chocobo theme and various Final Fantasy classics by Joe Down Studio's Yuzo Takahashi. The arrangements were restricted by the extreme limitations of the DS, but with the assistance of synthesizer operator Yasuhiro Yamanaka, Takahashi ensured most arrangements were of similar quality to their originals. The Best of Chocobo and the Magic Book Original Soundtrack was an exclusive iTunes release featuring ten tracks from the score. This sampler was followed by the Chocobo and the Magic Books Oriignal Soundtrack two years later with the complete scores to Chocobo Tales and its sequel. Is this digital release now redundant?
The digital release opens conservatively with a rendition of the "Prelude". It's identical to the Final Fantasy IX ending arrangement of the theme, though the synth is slightly worse due to the contrasts of sound quality between the DS' middle and high pitch ranges. The three original renditions of the Chocobo theme 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". 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. However, the other more welcome ditties and fanfares from Final Fantasy VII's racing mini-game are left to the full soundtrack release.
Masashi Hamauzu's "Chocobo Village" from the flop Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon makes an unexpected but welcome appearance here. 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. Even so, the rendition is inferior to the original version of the theme, particularly with respect to the accompaniment and a tangential development section. Kenji Ito's score to Chocobo Racing also gets a modest reference on the track listings with "White Mage's Theme", though most know this theme as Final Fantasy's "City Theme". This calming and nostalgic theme was a nice choice and the dreamy rendition is bound to inspire even more nostalgia. Final Fantasy V's "The Book of Sealings" is a slightly weaker choice; while acceptable on the main soundtrack as a tribal-influenced mystery theme, other additions would have been more welcome on the 'best of' release.
Despite the modest capacity of the DS, Final Fantasy's "Battle Scene" feels suitably impacting in its rendition here and stays close to the Final Fantasy Origins version. The straight reprise of Final Fantasy V'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 feel in the background. The ending theme, Final Fantasy VIII's "Ride On", is actually probably the most disappointing arrangement from Chocobo Tales. 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. It perhaps serves to emphasise that the DS can deal with arrangements of Final Fantasy themes up to and including Final Fantasy VII. However, its limitations will generally make arrangements of themes from subsequent titles sound inferior.
In summary, this iTunes album isn't a worthwhile sampler. It is difficult to appreciate what Takahashi and Yamanaka did on the Chocobo Tales soundtrack from a truncated compilation alone. The track selection is a little odd as there are some noteworthy omissions as well as a few of the weakest arrangements from the Chocobo Tales score. It's far more enjoyable to listen to the recently released full score, where there are many more Final Fantasy tunes, some fantastic Chocobo arrangements, and even an original composition. Even then, some might be disappointed with the soundtrack since most arrangements are very close to their originals and the sound quality is a little low. The Chocobo and the Magic Books Original Soundtrack is an excellent purchase because it ultimately includes the score for the Chocobo Tales' sequel as well. And that soundtrack in turn makes The Best of Chocobo and the Magic Picture Book Original Soundtrack a redundant one.
Overall Score: 5/10