Secret of Mana Genesis -Seiken Densetsu 2 Arrange Album- :: Review by Chris
As part of their anniversary celebrations for the Mana series, Square Enix planned to bring the original composers back to pen an arranged album each. Hiroki Kikuta's Secret of Mana Genesis -Seiken Densetsu 2 Arrange Album- featured a reinterpretation of Secret of Mana's music. But despite being based on a loved game and score, the album ended up divided listeners. Some have described it as a major disappointment, others a nostalgic novelty, though most are in agreement that the definitive Secret of Mana musical experience lies in other album releases. Let's check out why...
The album's most concerning flaw is its title. While Secret of Mana Genesis -Seiken Densetsu 2 Arrange Album- does reflect the origins of Hiroki Kikuta's score, it is anything but an arranged album. Listeners shouldn't expect to hear rich orchestrations of "Fears of the Heavens", rock band renditions of "Danger", or, in fact, any major compositional deviations from the SNES score at all. Instead, the album recites a selection of Kikuta's original music files from Secret of Mana note-for-note with new samples. Listeners can find out this for themselves by reading the Japanese fine print on the album's official website, though many are likely to be misled by the album cover.
For better or worse, the synth upgrade on Secret of Mana Genesis is quite modest most are similar to those Kikuta used on Alphabet Planet and are on par with the average DS game. There are certainly cases where the resynthing has a positive effect. For example, the rich, nuanced string and piano samples of "Fear of the Heavens" bring out the spirituality of the game's title theme and inspire one to reminisce about the start of the adventure. "The Little Sprite" sounds more adventurous and lyrical than before with its crisp xylophone and accordion parts, while the interpretation of the final boss theme "Meridian Dance" brings out the orchestral colours of the original. The choral samples also add a more personal perspective to hidden gem "Still of the Night". It's easy to imagine these tracks working beautifully on a portable remake of the game they're conceived with inspired composition, enhanced with superior samples.
Nevertheless, the upgrades are rarely enough to impress listeners and some are even detrimental to the originals. While the samples in the original "A Curious Tale" were low-quality, they were arranged and mixed perfectly to capture a carefree vibe in the game. The resynthed version certainly revamps the samples, but the mixing is atrocious during the development with the doubling of the melody on chorus sounding especially awkward giving a muddy, laborous vibe to the piece. "Into the Thick of It" suffers a similar fate, with the subtle countermelody of the original now overwhelming the piece. The change will be sufficiently minor that many won't be bothered by it, but it's enough to make it flawed compared to the original. The heavy-handed approaches extend to "Danger", "Flight into the Unknown", and "Prophecy", all very different tracks on the original that have much in common here: excessive amplification, little dynamic variety, still-dated samples, and muddy mixing.
This album goes some way to revealing "What would Secret of Mana sound like if it were made today?". But unfortunately, it doesn't go the full way there. Kikuta only resynthed 16 of the 43 tracks from the game's score, selecting those tracks that are most symbolic and well-known from the game. But the final result makes some notable individual omissions (e.g. "Eternal Recurrence", "Phantom and a Rose", "Whisper and Mantra") and also doesn't come together as well as a collective whole. It doesn't help that the track times on this 57 minute album are inconsistent some tracks such as "Steel and Snare" and "The Second Truth From the Left" repeating for four to five minutes ad nauseum, others such as "Together Always" and "The Little Sprite" cutting off much sooner or not being present at all. Secret of Mana's score could have benefited from a complete expanded, resynthed interpretation across two discs. This isn't it.
Whatever way one looks at it, Secret of Mana Genesis -Seiken Densetsu 2 Arrange Album- is half-baked. To satisfy the large fanbase out there, Square Enix could have requested a fully-fledged arranged album along the lines of Kenji Ito's Re:Birth. Alternatively, they could have asked for a resynthing of the complete Secret of Mana score. Instead, they offered a mediocre resynthing of a limited number of tracks. Get the still-available Seiken Densetsu 2 Original Sound Version, Secret of Mana +, and Symphonic Fantasies for the definitive experience of the classic's music. Disappointment or novelty, this album is likely to be a waste of money.
Overall Score: 3/10