Secret of Mana + :: Review by Chris
In 1993, Hiroki Kikuta produced an arranged album known as Secret of Mana +. his was an arranged album with a difference instead of going with the long accustomed style of the standard orchestral album, he decided to create something more experimental. As of 1993, it was the only Kikuta score to have been released, so many Seiken Densetsu listeners were shocked by exactly what was given to them.
The key feature of this release is that it is a continuous track, lasting an amazing 49:22. Inspired equally by progressive rock artists and classical symphonies, the release shifts between several movements while being a continuous listen. This will be very daunting for some fans, particularly considering they cannot easily skip their least favourite passages, but it has its creative merits nonetheless.
An image album of sorts, the album portrays a number of scenes inspired by Secret of Mana. Kikuta achieves this magnificently by fusing a number of styles together. These include Debussian impressionist styles, his own heavy electronic and synth ideas, and even ideas of popular musicians (such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and even Queen). There are huge contrasts in the timbres used throughout, ranging from the typical synth instrumentation heard in most of Kikuta's albums to sound effects, ranging from bird songs to waterfalls, from keyboard typing to phone dials.
Kikuta incorporates a number of themes from the original sound version throughout the release. For example, the suite opens with a particularly ethereal version of "Fear of the Heavens" that will inspire memories of the opening scene. Likewise, Seiken Densetsu 3's "Secret of Mana" is featured throughout a rhythmically compelling section. The treatments of other themes is more radical and will turn off some listeners, but these all help build the concept of the album. Divisive interpretations are inevitable in such an experimental magnum opus.
Kikuta's astonishing feat is that he manages to offer so much themes, moods, and imagery into a single continuous track. He achieves this by gradually introducing contrasts over prolonged passages, ensuring the transitions are smooth. Yet he does not bore listeners either and realizes when a melody or idea has been repeated enough. To pull this off well requires nothing more than a genius.
All in all, this album is well worth purchasing if you are a listener willing to experiment and try new things. This album is certainly not intended for everyone, and it is likely many will be alienated by it. It is a valuable work of Kikuta's, since it combines all the good points of his composition together with influences well outside the world of game music. It is also one of the most valued arranged albums out there, not just because it is so unorthodox, but because the arrangements are so deep that new elements always emerge no matter how many times you listen to it.
Overall Score: 10/10