Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack :: Review by Don
Chrono Cross was released in 1999 and was developed by scenarist and director, Masato Kato, of Chrono Trigger fame. Since the story of Chrono Cross deals with the theme of parallelism, portions of the soundtrack also contain parallel arrangements. Yasunori Mitsuda was asked to compose for this game given his familiarity with the Chrono universe. How does his second major journey into this universe compare with his first and is he able to succeed in creating a parallel masterpiece to his original Chrono Trigger soundtrack?
Since this game focuses on parallelism, so too, will most of this review. It will subsequently be broken down into three major sections: parallelism within the Chrono Cross world, parallelism between Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger, and lastly, pieces that are neither, but worthy of recognition.
Most of the parallel tracks within the Chrono Cross world have to deal with the various cities found within, with the exception of the "Voyage" theme. This theme is used when traversing the vast sea of the El Nido Archipelago. Out of the two versions, I find that the "Home" version is much more appealing. Its use of percussion, the electric guitar melody, a very nice acoustic accompaniment all help to create a very adventurous and motivating theme. Its counterpart, the "Another" version, opts to take a much more laid back approach in its composition. The use of the acoustic guitar, serving as an accompaniment to the melodic piano line, helps to give off, not a sense of adventure, but rather a sense of carefree exploring. The "Arni Village" theme is another track which opts to take the same type of stylistic approach. The "Home" version exudes a very serene atmosphere. The combination of the flute and acoustic guitar melody playing over the acoustic guitar accompaniment make for a very relaxing track which describes the quaint beachside village of Arni. On the other hand, its counterpart employs the use of the piano to drive the main melody. In addition, Mitsuda also slows the track down, and in doing so, creates a much more emotional village theme.
"Galdorb," perhaps my favorite town theme of all time, is a fantastic display of emotion. The "Home" version employs a very nice mixture of acoustic guitar and percussion to create a beautiful melody. The percussion use really gives this track a very tropical and ethnic feel to the track, which only helps to accentuate its emotional qualities. Likewise, the "Another" version also employs the use of acoustic guitar, but rather than using it to drive the melody, it once again reverts to the role of support. The main melody is played on oboe, and by doing so, it becomes a much more striking piece of work. As is with the other "Another" versions, this track is a slower version of its counterpart. "Marbule" is probably the most interesting of the town themes. Its "Home" version employs a myriad of instruments to create a very magical theme. From bagpipes and flute, to acoustic guitar, this track is a very memorable one. The addition of the "Magical Dreamers" theme really helps add to the track as well.
"Marbule ~ Another," as with its predecessors, is a much more relaxing version of its "Home" counterpart. Eliminating the bagpipes, the Scottish feel that the previous track had is lost, and is replaced with a much dreamier atmosphere. This brings us to the last parallel town theme, "Termina." This is by far the most different of his town themes in that it doesn't follow the patterns the previous tracks had set. For this theme, the "Home" version is the much more laid back of the two. Bagpipes and flute are in full force with this town's melody and the strong percussion helps to add some development to the track, as well as motivation. The flute solo is also a highlight of this track. Unlike his other "Another" version tracks, "Termina ~ Another" keeps most of the same instrumentation. Canastas are added to give this a very Spanish flair and a nice rhythm to boot. The acoustic guitar also serves as a nice accompaniment that complements the bagpipes quite well.
The Chrono Cross soundtrack also offers some arrangements of a few themes from its predecessor. The themes that Mitsuda opted to use in this album include the "Fanfare 1", otherwise known as "Lucca's Theme," a Uematsu entry, "Sealed Door," and the main theme from the previous game, "Chrono Trigger." In this album, Mitsuda offers two arrangements of "Lucca's Theme." While these victory themes offer a bit of diversity in terms of execution, I find one to be rather anti-victory in sound, while the other maintains a sense of victory. The weaker entry, "Victory ~ A Gift of Spring," starts out with a brass fanfare, reminiscent of its base track, but shifts into a track dominated by flute and violin. While the track itself is still nice, the mellow execution of this track seems to be out of place in a victory theme. Fortunately, Mitsuda redeems himself with the "A Cry in Summer" version of the victory theme. It starts off with the initial brass fanfare, but continues with the addition of some militaristic percussion. While still not as good as its base track, this version is at least closer to the original and conveys a sense of victory. Another theme that Mitsuda decided to arrange was "Sealed Door" from Chrono Trigger. Taking Uematsu's eerie melody and transforming it into his own, Mitsuda is able to create a pretty decent arrangement. The track achieves a similar eeriness to its original by the prominent use of strings and piano with some glockenspiel accompaniment and its counterpart, a drum accompaniment with some electronica. Overall, this isn't one of his best arrangements, but it has enough to keep it original without sounding like a rehash of an older theme.
While those two tracks offered part of the arranged Chrono Trigger themes on the album, the bulk of the arrangements belong to "Chrono Trigger." Thankfully, each arrangement is entirely different from one another in terms of instrumentation. In "Fields of Time ~ Home World," the first appearance of the theme, Mitsuda gives the original a very calypso-like atmosphere. Through the use of morocco, steel drums, and acoustic guitar, the theme is given a Caribbean flair. The addition of the "Radical Dreamers" theme played by the acoustic guitar, really helps tie together the two main themes of their respective games. "Chronomantique" also offers an island-like atmosphere, but does so using the acoustic guitar as the star instrument. It creates such a warming melody and the string and percussion accompaniment help to make this track very motivating. Lastly, "The Dream that Time Dreams" is an interesting rendition of the "Chrono Trigger" motif. The track itself starts off quite originally. Tribal drums, xylophone, and flute lead the way into the main theme itself. This time, the melody is played on the violin. While I like the similarities to the original in terms of instrumentation, I find this track to be the weakest of all the "Chrono Trigger" arrangements. It seems uninspired as compared to its counterparts, but is motivating enough to keep interest and its inclusion of the "On the Beach of Dreams" motif is also a positive for this track.
Now that we've gotten the parallelism of the soundtrack out of the way, what other tracks are there that are worthy of mention? Of course, there are plenty to mention, but I'll only focus on about fifteen tracks or so. "Scars of Time." This sentence alone would cause many to get excited and rightfully so. Mitsuda is able to compose an emotionally gripping opening track, which is usually the case with him, and one that employs more instruments than imaginable. The track itself starts out with a simple flute and acoustic guitar ensemble but soon shifts into something more much frenetic in nature. In the latter portion of the track, percussion enters in excess and never ceases to let go. The violin melody observed here is captivating and in the end, the listener is most likely left in awe. While some may think it is overrated, and at times I feel it can be, the musicality of the track is superb. However, the melody in "Scars of Time is also seen elsewhere, mainly in a violin and acoustic guitar ensemble featured in "Lost Fragment." The slowdown in this track makes it much more emotional than its previous counterpart, and in doing so, helps to portray the name quite well. Interestingly enough, portions of this motif, although faint and very hard to discern, can be found in "Frozen Flame," mainly in the woodwind melody. The track itself is very good as well. It's haunting and mysterious in nature and the instrumentation is superb. From the piano to the vocals to the strings, the track is mixed quite well and stands out on this album.
Immediately following "Scars of Time" on the album is "Between Life and Death." By placing this piece directly after the opening sequence, the motivation and energy seen in the latter half of the previous piece is continued. The musicality in this track can be described as "crisis" in nature, but Mitsuda seems to be able to pull it off without being too clichéd. The percussion, the random chanting, and superb violin melody help to produce a fantastic track. Staying in the area of faster tracks, "Dragon God," definitely deserves a mention as well. This track is dominated by frenetic strings and woodwinds playing the main melody. Accompanied by female vocals and some sporadic percussion, mainly cymbals, this track is able to redeem the dismal attempt at a battle theme that was "Gale." Another track on the album, and probably one of the more unique tracks on the album, is "Burning Orphanage." Although it has some organ cliché in the track, the haunting vocals, heavy percussion, and strings all counterbalance the track and make it an enjoyable experience.
This brings us to "A Narrow Space between Dimensions," a transitional track for my review. This piece is very mellow in nature. The acoustic guitar, the sole instrument, provides a very enthralling melody that helps to describe a limbo of sorts. Mitsuda has done wonders with the acoustic guitar on this album, and this track is one of its highlights. Moving onto the slower portions of the soundtrack, there are quite a few notable pieces to mention. Starting with a theme of sadness, we have "Departed Souls" and "Prisoners of Fate." Both of these tracks convey an extremely poignant melody, but at the same time, a very depressing one. "Departed Souls" utilizes a mixture between acoustic guitar, harp, and violin to achieve this feeling, and the initial build up with the acoustic guitar helps draw the listener into the piece. On the other hand, "Prisoners of Fate" opens immediately with the violin and takes a much more orchestral approach. The drama observed in this piece is spectacular and while it may not seem like a standard battle theme, the battle in which it plays makes it a very fitting entry.
Another area in which this soundtrack excels is in the feeling of mystery. The one track that truly epitomizes this would be "On the Beach of Dreams ~ Another World." This overworld track takes a much more non-traditional approach to its "Fields of Time" counterpart. The use of haunting vocals, a piercing violin line, and the inclusion of the "Radical Dreamers" melody in the acoustic guitar accompaniment creates a track of mystery and awe. While it can be a bit underwhelming, it still makes for a very relaxing piece of music.
This brings us to the vocal piece on the album, "Radical Dreamers ~ Unstealable Jewel." This track epitomizes simplicity on this soundtrack. Acoustic guitar and vocals are all this track contain, and by doing so, really helps to create a captivating melody. While it's not Mitsuda's best vocal piece, it blends together quite nicely with the soundtrack's themes. The vocalist Noriko Mitose's melody is a bit unrefined, but it manages to accompany the acoustic guitar accompaniment pretty well. Of course, this isn't the only section in which this melody is used. As mentioned previously, it found its way into the two overworld themes, but also has a few stand-alone tracks of its own. "Fragment of a Dream" is a very simplistic music box arrangement of the same theme and offers a pleasant rendition of the piece sans vocals. "Life ~ A Distant Promise" is another track, which plays with this theme. It opens quite slowly with the "Radical Dreamers" motif, but quickly evolves into an orchestral arrangement of the theme. Violin and piano are the main stars of this show with some prominent percussion on occasion to create some contrast. Halfway through this track, however, woodwind is introduced and also plays the thematic motif.
This brings us to the end of my review, but before I finish, there is one more track left to mention. As we look back on the review, let us do so while listening to "Reminiscing ~ Unerasable Memories." This piece can sum up the feelings one should experience after listening to the entire album. Mitsuda offers many memorable experiences on this soundtrack, from "Scars of Time" to "Radical Dreamers," and from his parallel arrangements of Chrono Cross themes to his arrangements of former Chrono Trigger pieces and while the piece in question is a simplistic piano piece, it captures the essence of many of these tracks through its sheer emotion. In the end, this soundtrack is one of Mitsuda's best, both in and out of context, and in my opinion surpasses his Chrono Trigger soundtrack. So was he able to succeed in creating a parallel success? Yes, and was able to do so quite gracefully.
Overall Score: 9/10