Seiken Densetsu Heroes of Mana Original Soundtrack :: Review by Don
Heroes of Mana is a real-time strategy game developed by Brownie Brown and published by Square Enix that takes place 19 years before the events of Seiken Densetsu 3. Given the less-than-warm reception of the music featured in Seiken Densetsu 4, or Dawn of Mana, how does this latest Seiken compositional effort by Yoko Shimomura compare to that of Ito and Sekito? Does she pull off another successful soundtrack, like that of Legend of Mana, or does this one fail to be a hero in the eyes of others and become a silent pageboy to be forgotten in history? Read on to find out.
To open the soundtrack, the listener is treated to "To the Heroes of Old." This is the main theme to the game, is played in the introductory FMV, and is quite the delight to hear. Epic in nature, nostalgic in terms of effect, this piece truly speaks to the listener's soul. Instrumentation here is pretty diverse and includes standard orchestral fare, from percussion and strings, to woodwind and piano. The track itself is sectioned into both a faster pace, and epic introduction and a slower, more memorable midsection, and finally finishes off on a fast note. The instrumentation used in the faster portions is mainly strings and percussion, which helps to escalate the emotions one is feeling. The woodwind and piano are responsible for the poignancy felt in the track, and also creates portions of the motif that is heard throughout the soundtrack. Of course, that was for the "Heroes of Old". What about the new "Heroes of Mana"? This track plays at the title screen and also employs the use of shifting tones. While the piece itself has a very militaristic nature, using some rhythmic percussion and brass, hints of playfulness are also heard with the incorporation of a xylophone. The contrast in the piece helps it to stay fresh and helps a rather straightforward melodic section.
Since this is a real-time strategy game, I'll mainly be focusing on the event and battle themes. And boy, there are a lot of them! Since events usually precede battles, I'll start off the event tracks. Unfortunately, the first event theme you come across is "The Beast Kingdom." While it is an interesting composition at first, it gets fairly repetitive quickly and sounds like something out of Kingdom Hearts. However, on the plus side, the use of its percussion is its strongest suit, of which you will see a lot in this soundtrack, and the flute melody is also quite nice. "Black Mirror" is an event track with a much darker atmosphere. The haunting sounds emanating from the violin, in conjunction with the powerful percussion, create an atmosphere of impending doom. Intermittent harp and piano only add to this tensile nature. "Kingdom of the Wind" follows the previous track and plays during events relating to Laurent. This piece is probably one of the better event tracks because of its harmonizing effect. Strings, solo violin, percussion, and woodwind sections come together amazingly to form a solid coherent track with hints of heroism, but also of mystery.
"A Prayer for the Holy Capital," for events related to Wendel, has a very interesting atmosphere. While it doesn't sound entirely holy, it does have a small hint of this. To me, it sounds more like an ordinary town theme. The percussion matches well with the flute, but in the end, this track seems to be lacking the oomph that some of the other event tracks have. Unfortunately, the next track, for events relating to Nevarl, isn't much better. The violin melody is very nice, and definitely gives off the atmosphere of a desert town, but the percussion doesn't match up too well with the violin melodic. It's much too playful and really hurts the melody. Thankfully, "Make the Oath, Friend," which plays in Euhanny-related events, revives the soundtrack after those somewhat dull event tracks by offering an evil atmosphere. The piano is truly the star of this track; haunting and flowing beautifully, it really brings the track to life and contrasts with the organ and strings which seem to play a supporting role. Continuing with the powerful event tracks, "With Courage and Prayer," in events related to Valseng, incorporates a nice mixture of brass and woodwinds for the main melody, while furious strings and militaristic percussion help set the stage for an impressive accompaniment. The brass truly shines in this track and really helps push the track along with power and force, while the woodwinds help to cut the tension and add a bit of contrast to the piece.
"Song of Ice and Snow," in events relating to Altena, is a track that one would expect to play in a land full of ice and snow. Serene and light-hearted, the instrumentation here is a marvelous combination of flute, piano, and light percussion. In a way, the track seems to speak to the soul and the contrast between the flute and piano make for an exceptional way to keep the track from becoming repetitive. For Flammie related events, "The Wings of Soaring Reality," is played. Sounding like a typical airship theme, as Flammie serves as a means of transportation in Seiken Densetsu 3, a mixture of woodwind, strings, percussion, and piano is heard. The piano adds a sharp contrast to the somewhat generic string accompaniment, but the woodwind doesn't stand out as much as I'd like. The last major event theme belongs to that of the Master of Mirages. His introductory theme is "Ring of Revolving Fate," and is one of the highlights of this soundtrack. The piano is the star of this track, but gets a bunch of support. From the haunting violin, to the dramatic brass, to the dark organ, the piano receives many opportunities to contrast with the overall atmosphere of the track at any given time and is truly a track that should not be missed.
Moving onto the battle tracks that relate to these events, we are given a lot of variety. "Army of the Beast King" relates to the battles in the Beast Kingdom, and to be honest, is one of the weaker battle tracks on the album. Once again, the percussion is probably the strongest part of this piece, but unfortunately, the melody on woodwinds and strings, doesn't really help to accentuate the track at all. There is a bit of Middle-Eastern flair observed, but it's few and far between in this track. Fortunately, the battle track that relates to Laurent, "Tales of the Old Nostalgic Kingdom," helps to place the album on the right path again. Militaristic percussion and strings help to create a wonderful accompaniment to the melodic brass and violins that are featured predominantly in this track. Short woodwind and piano sections are also seen, helping to ease the tension a bit and offer some contrast. The Nevarl battle track, "At the End of the Hot Sands," employs stronger use of percussion and maintains the Arabian feel of its event-related track, but unfortunately suffers from being a bit generic and repetitive. The Arabian instruments add some flavorful contrast to the piece, but an uninspiring melody doesn't help bring these instruments to their full potential.
As such, the next track, "And Thus Fate Becomes Cruel," for the battle against Euhanny and Elena, is a nice way to get the album back on its feet. The militaristic percussion, the contrast between the main melody played by strings, and the piano and woodwind sections helps to offer a pleasantly motivating battle theme where Shimomura's trademark piano usage can actually be of some use. Continuing the positive streak, the listener is treated to "The Dragon Emperor," in the battle against Valseng. The militaristic percussion, the fantastic brass countermelody, in conjunction with the strings main melody, creates a powerful effect and another motivating melody. The contrasting section in the middle is much softer and utilizes the piano with intermittent timpani, helps to make the track a bit darker. Sadly, the next battle theme, "A Cold Beat," doesn't really warm up to my heart. It's a rather meager battle track employing the use of a rather static percussive rhythm. The other instruments in the track are nice and help to create a nice variety of emotions, but in the end, this battle track falls short of being exciting by a fair margin.
The final battle set is a marvelous way to end the soundtrack. There are two tracks for the battle against the Master of Mirages, and three tracks for the battle against the Mana Goddess. Buckle up, because these tracks will take you for a ride. To me, this is one of the best final battle sets in recent years. "It's Either Real or Not" showcases Shimomura's beautiful and exceptional skills with incorporating piano into her battle tracks. The piano is extremely powerful addition to this track and the collaboration between the strings and piano works extremely well. "The Trembling Earth, the Time of Fate" immediately follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by mainly incorporating strings and piano, but is more successful due to its inclusion of "Ring of Revolving Fate." Organ adds a nice touch of evil to the entire track, while a solo violin also adds a bit of sadness and despair. Overall, the battles with the Master of Mirages must be extremely epic. But alas, it's not over yet! The Mana Goddess still needs to be taken care of. "And Those Who Finally Reached Their Destination" is the first of three tracks with the Mana Goddess and is an extremely powerful track as well. Hosting the main melody in "To the Heroes of Old" and shining once more for piano work, this track is a nice way to tie the album together.
But it's "Time for the March to Ruin" that is the final battle track on the album. Epic, grandiose, and motivating, this track is truly a marvel. It doesn't focus on the piano as its counterpart, but the violin gets to shine here. The chilling melody produced in conjunction with hints of organ helps to create an atmosphere of evil while the percussion helps to spur the track along in terms of pace. While the percussion may be a bit repetitive, if you are paying attention to the percussion, you are truly missing out on what the track has to offer. The last battle track is a true display of heroism more than anything else, and wouldn't be considered the final battle (it's more of an event battle), but it has its ups as well. Heroic brass shines in this piece, the percussion is motivating, and the string section adds a nice touch to the track as well. So the battles are finished, but how will this be remembered in history? Thankfully, Shimomura has already thought of that. "The Tale Told by The Wind" is one of the most beautiful ending themes I've heard. It's peaceful and combines a feeling of reminiscence with a the sense of conclusion. Piano, violin, and woodwind all shine here and help contribute their part to the melody, but to be forward, the piano is the best part of the track. It really helps to drive the point of the entire piece along. However, I can't find fault in any part of this track. It's moving, captivating, and definitely something I could listen to every day.
Given Shimomura's success in Legend of Mana, Square Enix made the right decision in asking her to compose for Heroes of Mana. This soundtrack, while for a different style of gaming that the Mana series is used to, is able to capture the spirit of the Mana series extremely well. Granted, some of the battle tracks and event themes aren't that great, but overall the quality of this soundtrack is something that will stand the test of time. Tracks like "The Tale Told by the Wind" and the final battle set really help to make this soundtrack stand out. My only wish is that if Shimomura is to compose for another Mana game, she is able to compose for the possible Seiken Densetsu 5.
Overall Score: 8/10