Seiken Densetsu Children of Mana Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
There are two unusual things about the soundtrack to Brownie Brown and Square Enix's DS RPG Children of Mana. The composers chosen for the project were unexpected. Kenji Ito led the score, affirming his dedication to the series after a return with Sword of Mana. He was joined by two prolific composers he otherwise had few professional relations, namely Masaharu Iwata and Takayuki Aihara. Though the composers worked separately to create around ten items each, they focused on using synthesized orchestral instruments; the result was a score with a rich and full timbre, but not all the samples used are especially aesthetic or realistic, thanks to the notoriously limited DS hardware. While all the composers concerned were experienced, they lacked the same fanbase as their respective partners Nobuo Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto, and Shinji Hosoe. This contributed to the soundtrack being released digitally through Square Enix's iTunes service rather than as a true album, though it was eventually packaged into the series' anniversary box set
Kenji Ito is responsible for the most important pieces in the score and offers a very familiar sound reminiscent of the original Seiken Densetsu. A classic example of Ito on auto-pilot is the opening theme, "Breath of Mana". After a piano-based introduction, it develops into a powerful orchestral section that eventually leads to a triumphant conclusion; the orchestration is simple, the chord progressions are predictable, and the cinematic underscoring is unrefined, though the atmosphere and melodies of the piece provide some redemption and enjoyment on a stand-alone level. The title screen's "Rising Sun" is a straightforward but effective arrangement of Ito's beautiful main theme for the franchise, while "Tale of the Distant Sun" reflects the series' spiritual undertones during the opening narrative. The main town and overworld themes, "Longing" and "Beyond the Blue Sky", are almost ballad-like, offering beautiful flute melodies supported by calming acoustic guitar arpeggios and a low-key bass and drum kit; the extent of their similarity is concealed in the game due to the individuality and depth each of the melodies offered.
Masaharu Iwata's nine contributions to the soundtrack add colour and depth to the release. With "Creeping Pulsation", the composer introduces darkness and mystery to the story with an ingenious hotchpotch of offbeat tuned percussion arpeggios, deep 'cello notes, an idiosyncratic electronic motif, and some diminished harp arpeggios; despite all being repetitive individually, the amalgamation of these elements ensures the theme sustains interest even before the entrance of a melody at 0:45. The boss battle theme "Evil Beast" demonstrates a delightful old-school rock influence while sounding fitting with the rest of the score thanks to impressive implementation. Iwata is also given the responsibility of composing the first four level themes. "Tower of the Flickering Prayer" continues gaming's tradition of great initial level themes, transitioning from its humble percussive body into a rocking development to inspire the climb. "Peaceful Underground Lake" and "Storm of the Red Sand" further embody the concept of a youthful RPG adventure, while "Frozen Majesty" is a sublimely beautiful theme to complement the Ice Citadel.
Takayuki Aihara provides some of the most exciting contributions on the soundtrack. "Emergency" punctuates high speed brass chords, jazz-tinged runs, and fluid melodic references into a piece of crisis music full of individuality and dynamism, while "Monster of the Forest" is a delightful rock-influenced setting theme peppered by some novelty synth and a delightful second section. "The Wind Sings Loudly" is a confident march into the unknown; strident melodic leaps characteristic of youthful defiance to compete against the darker elements present. The antagonist's portrayal "King of Chaos" ssoon develops into one of the most emotional pieces of the score with its fluid transitions into wonderfully crafted sections for contemplation and motivation. Aihara provides a touching penultimate level theme with the fragile, spiritual, and classically-oriented "The Ruined Ground". And this bears "Rut of the Crystal", the accompaniment to the final dungeon at Cosmic Rift. With the combination of foreboding organ lines, spiritual synth vocal melodies, and poignant wind interludes, the theme reflects on the setting and emotions of the late stage in game while using the instrumentation in an artistic rather than clichéd way.
At the end of the score, Ito offers bold and motivating melodies with functional accompaniment with "Challenge" and "Grasslands of Eternity" before plunging into a sequence of final battle themes. "The Thunder Emperor's Aloofness" is a very typical orchestral battle theme dominated by commanding brass and string melodies and supported by lots of percussion and other superficial pomp. "Infant of Mana" is somewhat better, thanks to its pseudo-gothic writing, though the culmination of the theme isn't special or long enough to satisfy. The ending themes are entirely functional. "The Desire Not Forgotten" is mostly another arrangement of "Rising Sun" and it differs very little to the opening version except for a slower tempo and a lacking of drama. "The Beginning of a New Legend" is a more sentimental theme for music box that relies on "Tales of the Distant Sun" as its melodic source material. After five minutes of playtime, it is capped off by two phrases of the "Rising Sun" motif that everyone obviously wanted to hear. These bland ending themes emphasise further that Ito probably regarded the score as a filler project not needing a unique personality.
Once Children of Mana's digital score is unwrapped, its clear that its contents are very well manufactured. The score initially seems like 'another plain Ito score', due to the uninspired and generic approaches to the score's central themes. In this regard, it reflects that overworked composers should not lead multi-composer efforts as thematic starvation and lack of individuality result. However, it also has a wonderful core thanks to talented veterans Masaharu Iwata and Takayuki Aihara. Indeed, the score soon becomes a colourful and rich experience overall despite its lazy packaging. If paying for digital music is something you're willing to do, I'd recommend purchasing this score if you're a game music fan with some tolerance or affinity for Kenji Ito.
Overall Score: 6/10