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Moonlit Shadow :: Review by Harry

Moonlit Shadow Album Title: Moonlit Shadow
Record Label: Sleigh Bells
Catalog No.: SBPS-0007
Release Date: February 23, 2005
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


One of Yasunori Mitsuda's most recent contributions to the video game music industry is Moonlit Shadow, which is one of five major works he has been involved in over 2004. It is very different to all his other scores in several ways, however. First, Mitsuda was joined by Miki Higashino, famous for the composition of Konami's Genso Suikoden series, who composed half of the tracks here. This makes the score very diverse and two distinct styles are evident due to this. Second, the score adopts a jazz feel throughout and also features experimentation with electronica and rap, giving the score a very different feel from Mitsuda's typical Celtic and symphonic scores. Further, the whole score is performed by a band of jazz instrumentalists and vocalists; while most of Mitsuda's post-Chrono Trigger scores featured at least one live performer, his others tend to feature a lot of synthesized music, too. Clearly, this score was to be an innovative joint effort from Mitsuda and Higashino, so let's move on and see whether it was a largely successful one.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Tsukiyo Ni Saraba -Opening Theme-

The first theme by Yasunori Mitsuda is fantastic! The band really knows how to groove in style. Mitsuda definitely expanded the track to its fullest potential with little room to improve. In "Tsukiyo Ni Saraba -Opening Theme-," the horns and the saxophone really take the spotlight, being the loudest and the most "in your face" instrument on the track. This track may also be called a mood setting piece because the album is jazz-oriented and if you don't like this piece, then chances are you won't like anything else on the album. Now I'm not a big jazz fan, but this piece is really gets your blood moving and your head grooving. It's an exceptional opening piece from Mitsuda. (9/10)

2) The Maximum High Speed

To start off, just imagine a car chase while listening to this track, as it will make it a little better to listen to. Indeed, Miki Higashino's first track is a mixed bag. On one hand, it successfully incorporates an acid jazz style and you can definitely groove to it, but on the other hand, it's fairly average, being nothing memorable, and it can be a bit tedious at some points. The best example of this is on the 1:16 mark where the trumpet repeats the same note for about 10 seconds. It's nothing but a pain to listen to. Also, the trumpets sound a tad off to my ears. But besides those minor quarrels, it has some pretty good sections spread across the track. The drum solos are catchy and the saxophone solos are pretty nifty. Other than that, there's nothing else which really grabs your attention; it's a nice jazzy piece, nothing more. (7/10)

3) Smooth Blues

After Higashino's previous track, one would think that Higashino isn't used to composing jazz pieces, but after hearing this track, she completely redeemed herself. Not only does this track have great solos but it also has a rapper that does a fine job at expressing Higashino's music. "Smooth Blues" is exactly what the title suggests. It's a very smooth and laid-back piece with a few twists and some wiggy lyrics that barely make any sense. Once again, the trumpet reigns the track, acting as the melody and sometimes as the base melody. The percussion is also very good serving very appropriately to help mix things together. The best part of the track is definitely the synth parts towards the middle because it just sounds so right and adds exceptionally to the groove. It's a great track that is memorable and original. (9/10)

4) D.O.L.L

Now this is jazz! Mitsuda returns to the album and composes another strong track that screams fun and groove. Before I say anything else, I must comment on the absolutely awesome base line. It is simply the best bass line I've heard since Nobuo Uematsu's "Digital Predator" from Hanjuku Hero VS 3D. It is also perfectly accompanied by the percussion which helps you feel the groove and the rhythm. The saxophone solo is very catchy and you might be humming it in the future. The only problem with this track is that it leaves a lot of spare room and doesn't develop to the fullest extent. I really enjoy "D.O.L.L" because it is fun and unique. It may not be the best track on the album but it is certainly an enjoyable listen nonetheless. (9/10)

5) Cool Sky

This piece is different to the previous tracks. Not only is it jazz arranged in a chillout style, but it also incorporates a bit of electronica, which I believe is a first in Yasunori Mitsuda's career. The trumpet and the flute are the main instruments here acting very 'chilled out' playing smoothly over the electronica beats. You can certainly imagine a clear and cool sky when you listen to this track. Surprisingly though, this track isn't boring, which I must say tends to happen a lot with most chill out pieces. Everybody knows Mitsuda is talented at creating melodic tunes, but for a piece that isn't melodic, it is very good and combines electronica, jazz, and new age in a very effective way. (8/10)

6) Joni Scott Club

"Hey Johnny," Big Joe the Gangster said, "I need the money by Friday, caprice?"... Oh, sorry, I was just vocalizing what I imagine in this track. It really sounds like a dim lit club with a single fan rotating slowly and gangsters playing cards while smoking. Higashino does well to succeed creating this, even lowering the volume to make it sound like a private club. The bass melody is very fitting with the right instrumentation chosen to play out the track. It's very smooth but sadly not very interesting as it is repetitive and sometimes can be quite dull. Fitting is what best describes this track, but sadly it isn't much more. It's a pity though; it could have been a lot better. (7/10)

7) An Illegal Messenger

Mitsuda usually does a good job at making dark or sinister tracks and "An Illegal Messenger" is among those other good tracks. Once again, Mitsuda uses an electronica beat to start with that works wonders to add a certain dark eerie feeling to the scene. It then progresses further, adding on more instruments as the track continues. Afterwards, it suddenly evolves into a fast paced danger piece with an incredibly fast beat. And if you thought that it was it, you're wrong; a distorted electric guitar comes out of nowhere and sums up the piece before it repeats. It's another great inspired jazz hit by Yasunori Mitsuda and the band. (9/10)

8) Red Shot

"Red Shot" is what I consider an excellent track. It is unique to the Moonlit Shadow album because it is both chaotic in nature yet very controlled. The track starts of smoothly like any other track on the album but has a very different taste than the other tracks composed by Miki Higashino. The band works really well on this track because you can feel the energy that it sends you. I love the part at around the three quarters of the way through because it sounds very chaotic and has some clever cacophony scattered around in it. This is the best Higishino track on the album so far. (9/10)

9) Urban Fantasy

*Sigh* This is another really relaxing track by Mitsuda, and it just sounds plain boring and slightly mixed up. It seems like it wants to be a smooth jazz but it turned out to be reggae-inspired with a dash of chillout and a whip of sadness. Frankly, the only good thing about this track is the reggae beat which totally sounds whack and out-of-place compared to what else is featured in this track. I don't know if Mitsuda was having a bad day or just felt too lazy, but compared to other tracks on the album, this one really falls short. (6/10)

10) Hit Man

Now this track is tight! It's a great jazz piece by Mitsuda that seems to be inspired by previous tracks composed by the artist. "Hit Man" is also another track that has the ability to 'zap' your imagination and let's you think about this mysterious hit man. The trumpet solos are the highlight in this track as they are smooth, inspired, and memorable. Once again, Mitsuda uses an electronic beat for part of the track which works well as it adds a feeling of mystery to the atmosphere. Mitsuda, once again, creates another successful and inspired track. (8/10)

11) Striking Distance

I'm having a hard time reviewing this track. It has some good features about it, such as its electronica beat, but most of the time it is extremely boring with the main melody being less than memorable. But luckily the track is short, so you don't have to put up with it for more than 3 minutes. I think the problem with this track is the fact that it is extremely underdeveloped and it also seems to be quite rushed. Perhaps Higashino needs more practice in writing jazz pieces? Indeed, it's a very dull attempt at creating a jazz/electronica track. (6/10)

12) Junk! Junk! Junk!

Finally, we have another good track by Miki Higashino. In "Junk! Junk! Junk!," the same rapper from "Smooth Blues" returns to 'bring down da house' with his extremely weird lyrics and unconventional yet good style. Unlike "Smooth Blues," the rapper takes a much more major role, rapping through most of the piece. The percussion is also an odd choice as it sounds like a man blowing a raspberry down a pipe while hitting a drum kit with his feet. The piece portrays the imagery of a midnight city with a few people walking down the street. It's a great smooth hit by Higashino which equals "Red Shot" as her best on the album. (9/10)

13) Target

As the album approaches its end, the pieces get more intense. This is the first of these pieces. Mitsuda creates a piece that is full of the great feeling that we all like to call mystery. It also develops and builds up very well, starting from the distorted drum beats in the intro to the full band ending. I thought the idea of the xylophone and a guitar being used to convey the sense of mystery was a clever idea as it clearly worked out. The trumpets are also very catchy in this piece as they work well with the xylophone and the rhythm. Mitsuda did very well to compose this piece, as it bears no composition flaws and is very enjoyable to listen to. It's certainly another Mitsuda favorite. (9/10)

14) One Note Blues

After previous mishaps by Higashino, it's pieces like these that redeem her. "One Note Blues" is a jazz track that slightly borders the blues with its rock organ; the way the trumpets play and how the saxophones just sound bluesy altogether. A standout feature about this track is the rock organs. They really sound with the trumpets and are perfectly in time with the drum beat. I also like the trumpet solos that are located towards the middle of the track. They add something special and just sound so right in the track. But after all that praise, there is one little bit of criticism I would like to share: I don't think the track develops itself properly leaving more room for improvement. But other than that, I think the piece is great, fun and bluesy. It's another Higashino hit. (9/10)

15) Jungle City

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Yasunori Mitsuda's best piece on the album! This is an awesome piece that contains some 'ubertastic' drum and percussion solos while still keeping the jazzy feeling and adding something completely new to the album. It has that smooth jazzy city feeling that I love and with the percussion, it really sounds wild and full of energy. It also seems our little rapping friend from "Junk! Junk! Junk!" and "Smooth Blues" decided to pop up towards the end of the track and do a short little rap which has absolutely no or little relevance to the track. It's like he's got an addiction to rap! But, nonetheless, his little performance does boost the tracks likeability up about 20%. This track is held up with other Mitsuda classics on his previous albums. It's just far too good. (10/10)

16) Asian Kung-Fu Foundation

It's strange that both composers decided to compose their best tracks right next to each other. Now, if this were an RPG that I were composing, this track would be the best piece to be put as the final battle theme. It is truly a jazz masterpiece with a touch of ferociousness and a touch of funkiness that adds to the whole experience. Higashino had the right idea by heavily distorting the electric guitar which serves as a bass melody and also adding bongos instead of a drum kit really makes a big difference. Another nifty and VERY effective idea she used was the idea of a female rapping while her voice was HEAVILY distorted and extremely inaudible. Everything works exceptionally well in this track, from the bongos to the electric guitar. It's by far Miki Higashino's best track on the album and also my personal favorite piece, just beating out "Jungle City." Great work, Higashino! (10/10)

17) Blue Moon

After the magnificent previous energetic tracks, we get a lovely piano and trumpet duet. The piano in this track is really flowing, divine, and sad, whereas the trumpet represents hope, passion, and desire. They both mean different things yet blend in so well together that it's painfully sad to listen to. I feel like it is constructed well, but could also be more developed. Overall, I feel its nice, but nothing particularly special. (7/10)

18) Au Revoir Dans la Nuit de Clair de Lune

Miki Higashino took the pleasure to compose the final instrumental track on the album. It sounds very much like a mix of Mitsuda's "Tsukiyo Ni Saraba -Opening Theme" with its energy and speed and Higashino's "Red Shot" because of the cacophony involved in it. "Au Revoir Dans la Nuit de Clair de Lune" is very full on. It sounds like it takes bits and pieces from previous tracks and forms it into one grand (but short) piece. It's not extremely interesting but it develops well and features some nice bits and pieces. It's a good and solid instrumental that ends the instrumental tracks on a high note. (8/10)

19) Maria

Mitsuda's final piece is a very surprising vocal theme. He has never done a short vocal theme before and he's never used a vocalist quite like the one he chose here. He decided to choose Mayuko Karasawa, a vocalist who specializes in Baroque music, to perform this solo track. It is very short, getting straight to the main point, and sounds similar to "Creid" from the Xenogears Creid except without instruments. I like the sound of Karasawa's voice because its haunting attributes sends a chill down my spine and she is definitely one of the better vocalists Mitsuda has worked with. The track is simply haunting and nothing else. It's actually quite frightening when you listen to it in the dark. The piece would border the empty feeling because the lack of instrumentation really makes the piece feel void, but Karasawa's voice makes up brilliantly for this lack of instruments. To say this piece is excellent is an overstatement but it is still very good on whatever level you see it. (9/10)

20) Lullaby

After Mitsuda's haunting beauty, Higashino's vocal piece falls short. It's a lot longer than Mitsuda's piece and it has instruments supporting the vocalist, but I can't say its better or more inspired than Mitsuda's piece. Higashino decided to do a jazz piece consisting of a piano and a drum kit here and chose a jazz vocalist by the name of Kaoru Yuki here, whose voice is extremely different to Mayuko Karasawa. Personally, I like the sound of Kaoru Yuki's voice because it really suits the style and tone of the piece that Higashino set, but the piece itself is very dull. It sounds like Norihiko Hibino's "Can't Say Goodbye to Yesterday" from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, except less jazzy and not quite as interesting. I can respect the fact that Higashino was trying to create a fitting piece but this is not the way to go. It's a disappointing attempt at creating what should have been a great finish to this album. (7/10)


What an album! The two styles are so different and so unique that you could easily pick out what tracks Mitsuda wrote and what tracks Higashino wrote. It is clear that Mitsuda has more experience, especially after doing Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time, and also his tracks are more appealing to newer jazz fans or even people who don't like jazz. I have a few opinions about Higashino's jazz. Although it's fresh and inspiring, some of her tracks are a little dull ("The Maximum High Speed," "Lullaby," etc.) and one track which I don't want to mention (but will anyway and that track is "Striking Distance") is horrible. But that doesn't mean that she has no experience in jazz for pieces like "Asian Kung-Fu Foundation," "One Note Blues," "Junk! Junk! Junk!," and "Red Shot" are amazing and prove otherwise. Mitsuda has proven his leanings towards jazz before on Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time, but Moonlit Shadow expands on his talent and takes it to a new level. I feel his strong pieces belong among his classics from previous albums such as Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Chrono Cross, but aren't quite as memorable as the other classics due to the melodies not being catchy. Higashino's pieces are much the same as Mitsuda's being unmemorable but still great when they're on. But the real problem with this album is the fact that not many people who listen to VGM like jazz, therefore, many people would not be very thrilled with Moonlit Shadow. It is even more damaging that people who disliked the Chrono Trigger arranged album would avoid this album altogether. This is also disappointing for Higashino for she does a great job composing jazz and people who don't buy the album would never know her talent.

So take a venture into the new realm of Mitsuda and Higashino and buy their album. It may be a bit different to what they both usually compose, but it's a refreshing change of pace and style. It is worth your money.

Overall Score: 8/10