Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Ring of Fates Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
The choice to develop Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Ring of Fates for the DS had enormous consequences for its music. Its GameCube predecessor boasted Square Enix's most technologically commanded score at the time of its release, featuring light organic compositions by Kumi Tanioka performed by an ancient instrument ensemble. A similar approach was impossible in Ring of Fates; the DS is the most restricted current console in terms of available sound channels and the graphical ambitions of the game imposes considerable memory restrictions on the music. Returnee solo composer Tanioka formulated a simple ingenious plan on how to compose the game's music so that it nevertheless perfectly complemented the game.
She opted to use a conventional palette of synthesized woodwinds, trumpets, strings, harp, and percussion to retain the organic sound so inherent to the Crystal Chronicles trademark. New synthesizer operator Yasuhiro Yamanaka worked closely with her on the project, informing her of the console's limitations, optimising quality of samples with memory restrictions, and minimalistically arranging her music for maximal efficiency in the game. This soundtrack is as great a technical accomplishment as its predecessor despite the superficial results being less impressive. As for the music itself, it is just as fitting and emotional despite taking a more conventional compositional approach, focusing a little more on characters than its predecessor. The question of whether one should purchase the soundtrack is a little more difficult to answer...
The main theme "Ring of Fates" reflects the technical competence of the soundtrack's use of the DS. The introduction beautifully passes a serene leitmotif from trumpet, clarinet, flute, and harp over a single suspended string note, setting the appropriate tone at the start of the adventure. After a cinematic ritardando, the piece gathers pace at the 0:26 exposing a bold trumpet melody against light snares and a driving two note string motif. At 0:49, a mysterious interlude leads into a grand section featuring warm scalar woodwind runs and crisply articulated brass notes. The theme comes together at 1:30 with the emergence of a new string motif and gorgeous woodwind decoration and a concluding brass fanfare follow. Each instrument is meticulously employed and elegantly synthesized to portray the colour and emotion of the opening movie. The theme even overpower the visuals in places to compensate for the DS' graphical limitations. The remarkable thing is that it is still inherently minimalistic, constructed to use as few sound channels and little memory as possible at one time.
"Ring of Fates" essentially introduces the main theme of the soundtrack, present in several other tracks here. It most prominently recurs in the world map theme "The World We Live In" and its brief brighter arrangement "Fill Your Friends With Courage", both of which reuse the highly effective woodwind melody and string bass combo. It is also used in several fanfares and more sparingly in "The Seabed Dweller", a gorgeous composition where Yamanaka adds an aquatic touch to the flute and tuned percussion palette. Another recurring aspect of the score is the arpeggiated figure synonymous with purity, calmness, and expectation. Introduced in the title screen's "The Beginning" and continuous with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles' "Serenity", similar figures are heard in the understated "A Tiny Vestment" and the mysterious "Secluded World" and "Spirit Caretaker". The arpeggios and main theme unite in "Light of the Crystal" and "Existence of the Crystal", though thematic coherence is appropriately fully achieved at the soundtrack's conclusion.
The overall character of the soundtrack is very light and childish. Tanioka demonstrates she is able to perfectly capture this character in pieces like "Peaceful Days", "The Castle Town's Scenery", and "Rambunctious Meeth"; they all rely on ornate lyrical phrasing and low-key dynamic accompaniment that set just the right tone without becoming overbearing or annoying. The zany clumsy accompaniment figures of "The Abandoned Town", "Shopping", "The Polluted Forest", "The Forest Dweller", "Rebena Te Ra Castle" adds a certain charm to their gentle often renaissance-influenced melodies. Though they are often similar, each of these pieces has something individual such that they fit snugly in their settings and entertain listeners. It's also worthy of mention that "Mog's Personal Tutoring" and "Pick the Moogle Seeds" are entirely original compositions rather than reprises of Nobuo Uematsu's moogle theme; while quirky reprises would have also been welcome, these accomplished understated compositions fit so well with the rest of the score.
Outside the lighter compositions, the scope of the music is quite impressive. Tanioka shows considerable empathy with the characters of the game with "A Time of Silence", which immerses listeners with its plaintive opening flute solo before maintaining interest with the addition of just a harp. Other emotional highlights are "Teteo's Feelings", which portrays a young princess with regal instrumentation and a naive melody, and "Sorrow and Despair", where the interplay of woodwind melody and string accompaniment significantly contrasts with the more adventurous tracks. Probably the most impacting darker piece is "An Evil Shadow", where distorted synth and unpredictable percussion runs feature above suspended strings, though "Cave on the Mountain" is also fascinating for the way it darkens following its frivolous introduction. Despite the different approach overall, there are plenty of parallels with the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Original Soundtrack. "Rera Ciel", for example, will bring back memories of "Sleeping Treasure in the Sand" with its snappy motifs at irregular metre. The evocative wails of "Sinners' Land" against a dark uncompassionate soundscape inspired me to reminisce about "In the Gloomy Darkness".
The battle themes are some of the most effective and memorable pieces on the score. "Battle" boasts a lyrical trumpet melody articulated by another dense string motif and contrasted by lovely woodwind work. "One-to-One Battle!" creates a rich sound dominated by audacious trumpet phrases and heavy percussion rolls; Tanioka avoids the unexpected risk of creating something too dense by the flute to provide light decorative answering phrases and take over the theme altogether in the beautiful development section. "Pope Galdes" features only pipe organ passages and timpani bellows to reflect an encounter with the formidable religiously affiliated boss; while the use of organ is an RPG cliché, its timbre is able to absolutely dominate one's ears, in part due to Yamanaka's expert synthesis but also due to Tanioka's refined treatment of the instrument. The final dungeon theme "The Crystal Temple" densely rearranges Galdes' theme and also introduces an original motif that forms the basis of the epic "The Lunar Temple" used immediately prior to the last boss. Tanioka integrates components from these three thematically related tracks into the delightful organ-supported rock-orchestral "Final Decisive Battle" theme.
Following the final battle theme, the soundtrack wraps up with a fantastic set of ending themes. Following the short brassy cue "Collapse of Pride", "Crystal Record" provides probably the most tender arrangement of the game's main theme on the soundtrack. "Bonds" subsequently returns to the arpeggios of "Beginning" in their exact form and adds a heartrending flute melody to them to give a sense of completion. Afterwards, the journeys of the characters are wrapped up in the especially personal "The Place I Yearned For" and "Welcome Home... We're Back" before several themes are triumphantly reprised in the marvellous orchestration "Finale". Finally, note that the ending theme "Hoshi No Nai Sekai" composed and sung by Aiko is not present here due to the Square Enix record label not having publishing rights. In my opinion, this isn't a bad thing as this poppy clichéd single does not complement the instrumental tracks or the game itself, unlike Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles's exceptional "Kaze No Ne". Still, those who found it the musical highlight of the game might want to consider the single instead.
But that's not all... A set of bonus tracks follow, such as Yasuhiro Yamanaka's charming old-school jingles for the race mini-game, a brief rendition of Final Fantasy's victory fanfare, and a few fully-fledged organic tracks. The penultimate track "Ring of Fates Medley" provides one final thematic tour of the soundtrack, incorporating numerous different melodies during its 3:39 playtime, and of course taking plenty of twists and turns along the way; it feels a bit crammed together, somewhat like the soundtrack as a whole, but is still an enjoyable listen. Finally, Tanioka provides one of her characteristic piano arrangements in "Memories of Ring of Fates". Probably her most emotional performance to date, here she clearly shows passion for the game's music and memories of the game's characters. The arrangement is fairly simple from a technical perspective but feels rich and colourful when combined with the performance. The dab of human performance was exactly what was needed to cap of the score. This track provides the essence of Kumi Tanioka.
The main problem with the soundtrack is that it uses the same organic instrumental palette too much. So many of the pieces here use a flute melody to create a sense of serenity or childishness with occasionally some other woodwind instrument stepping into the role. The almost unrelenting designations of trumpet melody for grandeur, string bass for momentum, harp arpeggio for fragility, etc. add to the sense that many pieces here are formulaic. In many ways, the approach is understandable the console imposed many restrictions on creativity, efficient composing methods are necessary for overworked game composers, and having a consistent palette aids the fluidity of the adventure though it will disappoint many that many pieces lack individuality. It should also be noted that this soundtrack crams 57 pieces into one 75 minute disc so most pieces do not loop. This will really irk some people, although for me it adds to the experience; short track times enhance the soundtrack's fluid yet frivolous feel so inherent to its collective charm. Besides, anything longer than 75 minutes may have made me weary.
The Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Ring of Fates Original Soundtrack is one of the finest accompaniments to a Final Fantasy game ever produced. Kumi Tanioka shows great aptitude using the organic palette she selected to portray the settings, characters, and events of the game. Yasuhiro Yamanaka is equally worthy of credit, choosing excellent samples to ensure the soundtrack is emotional and realistic in its presentation and meticulously achieving so many arranging and programming tasks. Most compositions are short and superficially similar so the soundtrack does lack the momentous highlights associated with most Final Fantasy soundtracks preceding this. It compensates by providing an uplifting flowing overall experience that beautifully complements the game and charms on a stand-alone basis. Though this soundtrack won't be enjoyed by all, I'd highly recommend it for those looking for a fine collective experience, particularly those who have played or can imagine the game.
Overall Score: 8/10