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Hako no Niwa :: Review by Harry

Hako no Niwa Album Title: Hako no Niwa
Record Label: Sleigh Bells
Catalog No.: SBPS-0006
Release Date: September 23, 2004
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


Ever since Yasunori Mitsuda has become a freelancer, he has gone from strength to strength, releasing several scores every year. Along with KiRite and Moonlit Shadow, Hako no Niwa is one of his three main stand-out scores released over the last year. While the game it was released for, Taito's Rakugaki Kingdom 2, was rare and released only in Japan, its score has become rather reputable. This is largely because it is so unique; while it shares Celtic styles similar to the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack and An Cinniùint, it features many new styles that have not been heard from any of his previous scores. Though it has a positive vibe overall and features many simple tracks, it progressively darkens and features many more complex tracks. Even though it is occasionally a little hit-and-miss, there are plenty of stand-out tracks that make this score a must-have. Let's look at it in some more detail...

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) The Story Starts Here

The first track on Hako no Niwa is truly a remarkable one. For starters, I would compare this track to Mitsuda's other previous opening themes such as "Light From the Netherworlds" from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack, "Chrono Cross ~ Scars of Time ~" from the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack, and "Fight, Then Riot!" from the Legaia Duel Saga Original Soundtrack, because of the similar, yet mostly different, structures. "The Story Starts Here" is also very much like "Tsukiyo Ni Saraba -Opening Theme" from Moonlit Shadow, as it is an excellent mood setter to start the album off with. The instrumentation in this album is peculiar when we consider the fact that it is an opening theme by Mitsuda. You won't find sweeping orchestral strings like the ones in "Light From the Netherworlds," or the action packed Celtic theme that is present in "Chrono Cross ~ Scar of Time ~," but you will find flutes, harps, horns, a church organ, triangles, crashing symbols, and violins, all arranged in a happy and bouncy style. Now you're probably wondering if it lives up to Mitsuda's previous opening themes. Well, the answer I can give you is a solid 100% yes. It really does rival his previous themes, and I can't think of a better way to start an album than with this track. It shows a different side of Mitsuda, but it still keeps the good old feeling that he provides in his music. Well done, Mitsuda! (10/10)

2) Chikuridori

This track was a very nice surprise when I first heard it. The track contains an accordion which plays something reminiscent of Mitsuda's classic Celtic themes. I thought the tuba was actually quite a fitting instrument in this track because of the fun nature it provides, but the instrument that really caught me off guard was the piano. It is incredibly emotional, switching from sad to happy and fun to innocent. The xylophone adds a bit of extra class to the piece, although it is very hard to hear over the accordion. I guess the only criticism I can give this track is that it feels too short. From the moment you start the piece, it feels like its almost finished, but with that said, it's really well constructed and built. Unique and playful, this track is incredibly good, and a favorite from Mitsuda. (9/10)

3) Scribblings

How I love this piece. "Scribblings" is a simple track. There is no amount of complexity in this track, and it is its simplicity that intrigues me. I love how Mitsuda chose to use a tuned percussion and woodwind instrument to represent this. It really reminds me of how Mitsuda composed the Chrono Trigger Original Sound Version when he was just an amateur composer. That said, this piece sounds like it was used in an option or menu screen because of how little is going on this piece. Overall, I really like this track, but not only because of its simple design, but for how it represents the album as a whole. Beautiful simplicity. (9/10)

4) Thoroughly Prepared

Can you imagine you are about to go into battle, but you first need to prepare yourself thoroughly? If you can, then you can relate yourself perfectly to the theme. If you can't, then I can't blame you. This is a really a confusing track to rate, for the track doesn't really match up with the title, nor is it extremely great. It is a rather short track with some good instruments scattered around it; for example the sitar is really great, and it reminds me of the good times wondering around on the world map of Chrono Cross. Other than that, the track doesn't really feature anything else worth mentioning or commenting on. It's just a plain OK track, nothing more, nothing less. (7/10)

5) Hill on Which the Windmills Can Be Seen

"Hill on Which the Windmills Can Be Seen" is a lovely and flowing track by Mitsuda that would easily be a candidate for a world map theme. The pleasant strings and a bouncy tuba easily make the track good, while the part from 0:52 seconds to the end of the first loop is just magical. I must point out that if you listen to this track carefully, it sounds like an arrangement of the intro of "Chrono Cross ~Scars of Time~" but less flashy and more simple. Once again, Mitsuda utilizes his skills to make simple music, and he develops it to produce a heartfelt, touching, and fun experience. Short but magical is what best describes this track. (8/10)

6) Harape Colosseum

This track is actually quite grand. It perfectly fits the image of a fun Colosseum, which you really have to picture when you listen to this track. The piece starts of strong, fierce, and could almost sound like a battle theme, then the feeling dies off and turns into a grand, thoughtful, and fun track which has the signature Mitsuda style written all over it. "Harape Colosseum" also shows signs of having a little bit of classic Mitsuda Celtic flair. This is a great but short track, which really gives a valuable image of life in the Colosseum. Another winner by Mitsuda. (9/10)

7) Gallery of Ice and Flame

This is probably the track that reminds me the most of the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack because of the magnificent Celtic flute that is present during the majority of the track. This is definitely one of the more memorable tracks in Hako no Niwa, and this is mainly due to Mitsuda's dive back into his previous scores, and his resurrection of his Celtic touch. "Gallery of Ice and Flame" is constructed extremely simply. It consists of the main melody, which then transitions into a bridge, and then move to a reprise of the main melody. I thought it was nice that Mitsuda added a bit of his golden touch, as it would bring a tear to his hard-core fans. It's pieces like these that make Yasunori Mitsuda one of my favorite composers. (9/10)

8) Scorching Flow

Pleasant strings, an uncanny synthesized guitar, and some bongos feature in this track; but hang on, this is from Mitsuda. It must be wrong! Well think again, because this track is very unique to Mitsuda's career, and although it's not something entirely new to the album itself, it's different to an extent. Well, as the track begins, you hear some pleasant strings which serve as a bass melody as well as a secondary melody. Then, as the track progresses, an incredibly strange guitar enters, which sounds obviously synthesized, and sets the pace for the piece. Then, after a little bridge, the pleasant strings reappear in accompany with the bongos to reprise the intro before the piano and flute finish the track. I, for one, thought this was a great track and was completely original. A little track with a big soul. (9/10)

9) Treasure Chest of the Wind

I really don't like this track. There is absolutely nothing great about neither the track nor the composition. The track is designed like a Michiru Oshima track from the Legaia Duel Saga Original Soundtrack; it is boring, unoriginal, and even horrible to some extent. The only thing which I find even remotely interesting is the didgeridoo, a traditional aboriginal instrument, at the end of the piece. It adds a kind of barren feeling, which, I might add, does help the track quite a bit. I know it's unfair to compare Yasunori Mitsuda to Michiru Oshima, but "Treasure Chest of the Wind", to me, is a clear comparison, with the main difference being that Mitsuda was inspired. Not a good track. Period. (5/10)

10) Cactus

Yehaw! Crack that whip! Wild, Wild Western Style's and harmonicas represent another first Mitsuda's career. It's great that Mitsuda is getting back on his synthesizer and creating his great guitar sounds again, and although they don't sound as 'official' or as 'real' as the guitar sounds created in the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack, it still sounds great. The track starts off strong, with the guitar painting an image of a desert, while the strings, which don't exactly help add on to the image, add some finishing touches. Once the interesting guitar intro leaves us, the amazing harmonica appears, and dazzles anybody with its cool western melody. The only thing which is wrong with "Cactus" is the ending. It ends rather dark, which doesn't suit the lightness of the rest of the track. "Cactus" is truly a gem on Hako no Niwa, as it is one of my personal favorites from Mitsuda, and remains a true classic. (10/10)

11) Testing My Ability

There are two dead giveaways for reasons that this theme is or sounds like a battle theme; a) the title, and b) the tone of the track. The tone is a little dark, and the theme is slightly action-packed and contains a wicked drum roll. Whether this is a battle theme or not, it is actually quite good considering that Mitsuda usually doesn't compose battle themes up to standard. When listening to the piece, you have to keep in mind that if it were a battle theme, it was composed for a game where you have to draw the character that you would send into battle. The violins are nicely fitted, as they along with the weird sound effects, work at intensifying the mood. As satisfying as this track is, I still don't think that it has the dark feeling that battle tracks need. It just sounds too happy, if you know what I mean. Still, another great success by Mitsuda. (8/10)

12) The Selfish Girl

This is the first of the two 'special' piano solos on the album. The first thing that one notices when listening this track, is that it clearly has a Mitsuda signature piano solo style bouncing around in its keys. Although I would call it a piano solo, it actually isn't, because it has strings poking around every few seconds towards the end. "The Selfish Girl" has a happy vibe flowing through the track, but Mitsuda thought he would add something special by arranging the melody in a bouncy over happy way that adds a kind of naughty feeling to the process. As interesting as the style may be, it's far from Mitsuda's best piano solo, though it's still very good nonetheless. "The Selfish Girl" would best be described as a fun and perky piano solo. Pure enjoyment to listen to. (8/10)

13) The Boy's Small Hope and Weak Breaths

We previously had a track that resembled the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack style and now we have a track that resembles, you guessed it, the Chrono Trigger Original Sound Version. The track from the Chrono Trigger Original Sound Version that "The Boy's Small Hope and Weak Breaths" particularly resembles, is Mitsuda's one and only "Guardia Millennial Fair" because it has the soft party approach and has that nostalgic factor that the Chrono Trigger Original Sound Version had washed all over. Mitsuda used the flute and the bongos as the main instruments to carry out the melody which, I may add, is very charming and innocent. I must say that this track is incredible, not while you listen to it, but afterwards. That's when the nostalgic factor kicks in. I whole-heartedly recommend this track, especially for fans of the Chrono Trigger Original Sound Version, because the power that it produces has the ability to silence any words you produce to describe it. (10/10)

14) Sand Tower

Mitsuda continues to surprise and inspire me. "Sand Tower" is described in just two words: amazing simplicity. The track reminds me of a story's prologue: It starts off as a steady string clash, which then brews itself into a more 'Arabic styled' piece with the sitar. It then further develops by combining both strings and 'Arabic Styles' and creates an emotional but short performance which really touches deep. And if you thought it couldn't get any better, Mitsuda uses his trademark flute to add the finishing touches. At this part, we are present to the happy and bouncy part of the prologue before it reaches the string and sitar climax were the prologue ends and the main story starts. I never thought Mitsuda would have returned to his days with the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack or his Xenogears Original Soundtrack, but "Sand Tower" is truly a sign, showing that he's heading back in that direction. A grandiose track by Mitsuda, which is one of the best on the album. (10/10)

15) The Smug Gentleman

The second of the two 'special' piano solos on the album. This one is clearly a little bit worse than the previous piano solo. This is mainly because the melody hasn't had as much thought as the previous piano track, "The Selfish Girl," and I don't like the way that it is arranged. The bass clef melody is exactly the same as the previous piano solo with the happy and bouncy notes, and the feeling that emits from the track is, again, the same as its counterpart previous track. Once again, there's nothing remotely special about "The Smug Gentleman"; it's just another bland piano solo. A slightly disappointing mid-album track. (7/10)

16) In Search of a Falling Star

As we pass into the second half of Hako no Niwa, we come across some of the really odd pieces. "In Search of a Falling Star" is one of those odd pieces. It's a confusing melody which may, at times, sound rather epic then suddenly change in an instance and sound eerie, quiet, and playful. Of course, the weird spaceship noises really help the track become stranger than it already is. Once again, the little Mitsuda piano solo towards the end of the track is the best part, because it swoops through the emotions really easily. In this little solo, we are treated to separate emotions including hopefulness, pride, and playfulness. Mitsuda continues to grace me with his simple childhood creations, and while this track is certainly an odd one, it is certainly a good one. (9/10)

17) Revolving Disk

This track sounds like a classic hurray track. It's fast, furious and... well, nothing too great. Other than its fast tempo, there are no other interesting features, and it is easily skipable with the help of your trusty CD player. Despite my grudges for this track, I would definitely say that "Revolving Disk" will work well in the game. I can just imagine the main character needing to get out of the building before the building collapses. The big difference with this theme and other escape themes is the fact that it's arranged in a fun and unthreatening way, which can be good and bad; the good being that it matches the simplicity of the game and also the child-like audience it is aimed for, but the bad being that it has nowhere near the effect the theme should have. All in all, a decent piece. (7/10)

18) Wagon Tracks

What an interesting piece by Mitsuda. This is another of the more interesting tracks on the album. The track is built up of a simple melody upon a catchy percussion line. Now, for anyone who is interested, if you close your eyes, the percussion (which, may I add, is meant to represent the 'wagon' in the track name) in the background almost sounds like a ping pong match with the ball going back and forth from person to person. Nearing towards the finish of the piece, Mitsuda treats us to a short and powerful percussive solo which should be enough to please any drum or percussion fanatic, who listens to this track. I must say that "Wagon Tracks" is an instantly likeable track from the moment you hear it, due to the great percussion. A great alternative. (8/10)

19) Forest of Illusion

WOW! We all know that Mitsuda composes some excellent forest themes, like the ambient "Forest of Illusion" from the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack, the dark and mysterious "Forest of the Black Moon" from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack, and the relaxing and eerie "Secret of the Forest" from the Chrono Trigger Original Soundtrack, but this forest theme is different. Not only does it convey a forest setting more appropriately than the previous themes, but Mitsuda adds on to the composition by putting some of the styles he adapted from Hako no Niwa. The composition itself is interesting, as it adds some elements from the previous scores Mitsuda has composed, and stands out differently to the other tracks. First off, the track begins with eerie and mysterious ambient noises with some fluttery piano, which surprisingly plays some really emotional notes and also serves as a basis image for the forest. After the introduction, the forest then shows its 'true self' by intensifying the piece. This track is one of the more complex pieces on the album, showing that Mitsuda knows a great deal of knowledge about composing complex pieces with simple ideas. "Forest of Illusion" is the epitome of Mitsuda. I couldn't say anything bad about this track even if I tried. A magical masterpiece. (10/10)

20) A Lonely Heart and Inner Ambitions

An extremely dark and brooding piano and flute arrangement is a real change of pace from the up and happy tunes that the majority of the album contains. For people who don't know, this track is an arrangement of "Testing My Ability," the 'supposed' battle theme, and it does the original track complete justice. Although this is a great and satisfactory track, it is way too short to properly develop itself but, saying that, it is based on the right structure. A great slow and ominous piece. (8/10)

21) Transparent Sadness

First, let's state the obvious. The track's title name, "Transparent Sadness," says a lot about this piece. Without even listening to the track, it is obviously a sad theme, and when the name is translated into an easier source of English, it means obvious sadness. Now, onto the track! Here we take a step back and revisit Mitsuda's older works. "Transparent Sadness" is a clich�d Mitsuda symphonic track, which means nothing remotely new is evident when listening to this track if you have listened to other Mitsuda scores. It's a simple orchestral string passage that lasts for less than a minute, and it's quite nice but is extremely underdeveloped, which restrains the enjoyment of the track. I can imagine that this piece was used in the game over sequence because of its short length and sad structure. It's nice, Mitsuda, but you could have done so much better with it. (5/10)

22) Invisible Toy Box

If there was one scary track on the album, it would be this one by far. The music box that plays in the intro is absolutely frightening. It sounds like it has been heavily distorted because a music box simply isn't this scary. As in most of the album, the accordion returns and once again does a magnificent job at portraying the happiness in this track. As the track progresses towards the end, there is a little battle between piano and the accordion that is similar in style to the instrumental rock battle in "Awakening Memories -The Battle with Sherah-" from the ROMANCING SaGa -Minstrel Song- Original Soundtrack. The battle is rather merry with the piano playing a mysterious little tune, then the accordion following on with an upbeat and happy melody. "Invisible Toy Box" is an odd track but equally enjoyable if your in the right mind. Just watch out for that music box! (8/10)

23) Flower Dance

Although it may be hard to believe, this track is the only track on Hako no Niwa which features an accordion that plays the entire way through. By now, you're probably thinking that this track would be quiet, but if you are thinking about that, you're wrong. "Flower Dance" is a rather dominant piece, so if you're also thinking about listening to this track while you peacefully sleep, think again, because as soon as this track starts, you are in for a surprise. I may also call this track slightly jazzy due to the little arrangement in the middle with the accordion's and the keyboard's. I think most people won't like "Flower Dance," because it's repetitive to an extent, and if you don't like repetitive motifs, then you will probably skip to the next track after the first play through. An interesting track that uniquely belongs to Hako no Niwa. (8/10)

24) Awaking from Sleep

Before I start reviewing this track, I want to get something out of my system first. And that something is that there is that the beginning sounds like "June Mermaid" from the Xenogears Original Soundtrack. There, I said it and I now feel a lot better! The image I get from listening to this track is the bad guy being wakened up from his/her eternal, everlasting sleep. The track itself is mainly a violin, with what seems to sound like a harp in the background. I think the track starts off smoothly with the harp, but then loses the magic because of the badly synthesized violin which REALLY sounds like a slightly upgraded PSX violin. The rest of the track is really great, with the mysterious qualities and action-packed scenes. Short brilliance. (7/10)

25) A Perpetual Recurrence

As we draw closer and closer to the end of our journey in Hako no Niwa, the pieces, naturally, get darker and more focused. In some ways, this track is the 'vocal theme' because of the wailing voice samples in the piece. However, when you listen to this track, you would instantly disagree with me. "A Perpetual Recurrence" is one of the more chaotic themes on the album. It starts strong by beginning slowly then gradually gets faster and stronger as the composition gets greater. After the track gets to its full potential, the wailing vocals come out of nowhere and add greatly to the track. Mitsuda was definitely thinking straight when he thought of the idea. A superb build-up to the final themes on the albums. (8/10)

26) A Worthy Rival's Trap

Alas, we arrive at the most evil track on the album, yet it really doesn't succeed because of the toy instruments. I would also call this track the most orchestrated track on the album, mainly because of its booming and captivating introduction. "A Worthy Rival's Trap" is another very good arrangement of "Testing My Ability," as Mitsuda takes the melody from the previous track and adds so much more depth into it. Without doubt, my favorite part in the track would be the section from 0:36 to 0:54, because that's when the track gets into its most evil stage by showing the piano which represents teh facing of the final enemy before the epic showdown. Mitsuda succeeds in creating another solid mood setter before the final battle, yet this is an unintentionally light track. (8/10)

27) Final Decisive Battle

Mitsuda and the words final battle don't mix very well together, and in "Final Decisive Battle," it's much the same. Once again, Mitsuda remixes and arranges the melody from "Testing My Ability," but also adds the piano arranged version, "A Lonely Heart and Inner Ambitions" in the introduction. As the track starts, the first thing you will hear is the piano and percussion which you don't usually find in an epic final battle, but it serves its purpose well. I would say that this track is based on the same structure as previous Mitsuda final battle tracks as it first starts slow and repetitive and slowly builds composition until it reaches the bridge and then expands to its fullest potential. In a way, I can see this theme working in the game, as I see this theme playing just before the epic battle. Now, in terms of development, "Final Decisive Battle" succeeds greatly with the help of "A Lonely Heart and Inner Ambitions" piano introduction. It is developed to its fullest potential, and I don't see how Mitsuda could improve on it. I can surely say this track is one of the most unique final battle themes ever created and you won't be disappointed with the effect it creates, even if it isn't threatening. (9/10)

28) Sealed Key

After the unique final battle theme, I'd expect a melancholy composition. Mitsuda decided to compose something on the lines of an ending theme with many transitions. It sounds like it starts off right after you defeat the final boss because it the introduction is rather dark and gloomy with its funereal strings, but it quickly, in the flick of your wrists, turns light and happy after the introduction. If I had to pick out one part in this track that I would listen to over and over again, it would have to be the piano parts towards the middle of the track. They just sound so heartfelt and inspired that it brings great memories of the previous pieces on the album. I also love how Mitsuda carefully built this track, because some of the transitions between sections are excellent and the instrumental choice is absolutely superb. "Sealed Key" is an exceptional track from Hako no Niwa, as it acts as a reminiscent piece forcing you to look back on the previous compositions. You just can't deny its sheer beauty. (10/10)

29) A Small Friendship

For some reason, I felt that this track doesn't belong at the end of the album. It just doesn't fit the atmosphere after the great previous track, "Sealed Key," and feels way out of place. That said, "A Small Friendship" sounds like it was French-inspired due to the feeling it presents. The track itself has some interesting instrumentation with a guitar serving as the main melody and the accordion as the bass melody. I do like the way the track develops starting off like magic, then goes into something completely different, but it could have been a lot better if it were longer. Overall, I felt this track was a nice, but not overly needed on the album. (7/10)

30) Box Garden

"Box Garden," or "Hako no Niwa," is the ending theme on the album, and Mitsuda concludes this childish tale magically. "Box Garden" contains the best synthesized instruments on the entire album, except maybe for "The Story Starts Here" which had equally amazing instrumentation. The track itself is also different to the majority of the album as it has a different style of composition. The duet string samples that play at the introduction are magnificent. Although they are turned up a tad too loud, they sound 'emotionally connected' to the track, which helps make the listening of this track easier and more memorable. The middle section onward is my favorite part because it sounds incredibly beautiful with all the different kinds of instruments blending in together sensationally. But, sadly, there is a slight problem with this track and that problem is in the ending. The track ends with the piano which is really beautiful, but unfortunately it ends rather suddenly and because of this problem, you don't feel that sense of completeness that you usually feel after an ending theme. Grudges aside, this track is stunning. It wraps up the wonderful album of Hako no Niwa fantastically and emotionally, making you want to listen to the album again. Bravo, Mitsuda, Bravo! (9/10)


After listening to the whole album of Hako no Niwa, the first thing that you should be aware of is the fact that Mitsuda has never, that's right, composed music like this before. In fact, there hasn't been anything like this composed before, making this album entirely original in every way possible. If you asked me to compare the music of Hako no Niwa to another VGM album, I couldn't say anything because you can't compare an album like this to anything else.

Another great feature about Hako no Niwa is the way the tracks are structured. At the beginning of the album, there are the overly happy and bouncy pieces that are guaranteed to make you bounce up and down, the laid back tracks which are equally great and there was also the tracks that made you think. This is the case until track 10, which is "Cactus", where the track structure changes. Now instead of being the bouncy, laid back, and thoughtful tracks that were present before, they change into more active and more composition worthy pieces. Once again, this is the case until track 19, where the pieces change from active and composition worthy into mostly darker and more serious pieces. I, for one, like this track structure as it would have been the best way to utilize the albums strengths, emotions and capabilities.

There are many standouts in the album that many people of all ages would enjoy, including "The Story Starts Here," "Cactus," "The Boy's Small Hope and Weak Breaths," "Sand Tower," "Forest of Illusion," "Sealed Key" and "Box Garden" and there are a few 'clunkers' like "Treasure Chest of the Wind" and "Transparent Sadness" whcih should just be skipped over, but overall, the album has no awful tracks that degrade the album's likeability factor. Although the majority of the tracks on the album are built and based on simplicity, there are the few complicated compositions that would have taken a bit more time to create. These tracks are "Cactus," "Sand Tower," "In Search of a Falling Star" and "Forest of Illusion" which all bare at least some form of complicated development.

As for the happy vibe that flows through the album, it is best compared with the happy feeling that you get from the majority of tracks from the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack except for that Hako no Niwa is a lot perkier and a lot less complicated. There is no denying that Mitsuda likes his Celtic flair and his style is scattered everywhere on the album. There are even the few tracks that are reminiscent of Mitsuda's previous works. Those tracks mix the best from his past scores and are all signature trademark styles of Mitsuda.

So now you're probably wondering if there is anything wrong with Hako no Niwa, and the answer is yes and you've probably picked it up by now anyway. If you are a person who doesn't like happy and upbeat tracks and likes more darker and more complicated compositions, I whole-heartedly suggest you erase Hako no Niwa from your 'VGM Shopping List' and don't consider buying this album at all. Hako no Niwa is unique, inspired, and beautiful in its own right. I rate it No. 5 in my Mitsuda Collection behind the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack, Xenogears Original Soundtrack, An Cinniùint, and Xenosaga Original Soundtrack. So go on, visit CocoeBiz's VGM World and take a chance at Hako no Niwa I recommend it to everybody who is a fan of Mitsuda and likes simple pleasures.

Overall Score: 9/10