Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Original Soundtrack :: Review by Jared
The Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Original Soundtrack is certainly different from the other, well-known Final Fantasy albums. Instead of series' favorite Nobuo Uematsu, composer Kumi Tanioka was put in charge of this soundtrack. Though not as well-known and loved as Uematsu, she proves she can pull of a stunning soundtrack full of feeling and emotion.
While not exactly what expected, the inspiration woven into Tanioka's melodies has a distinct older feel, particularly because of the unique choice of instruments used. Unlike the synth or orchestrated albums Uematsu delivers, Tanioka uses a brilliant array of ancient instruments. The whole album is pre-recorded using these instruments, with greater quality and more emotion and dynamics than a computer generated album could ever compare with. This is certainly the highest quality soundtracks released as of yet in terms of sound quality and realism. The choice to allow Tanioka to helm this project was obviously well thought out, as her pieces match nearly perfectly with the game they are paired with. The older feel compliments the medieval atmosphere of the game itself.
Being a multiplayer RPG with customizable characters, there are no character themes. Therefore, the game is mostly comprised of dungeon and location themes, including towns and the overworld. Because of that, most of the themes are more ambient in nature as opposed to thematic. A few themes, such as "Kaze No Ne" and "I'm Moogle" are more melodic in nature and fill the gap left by the ambient themes for more distinguished melodies.
The album starts off with one of the most repetitive pieces I have ever heard: "Echo of Memories." While its appropriate for the title screen of the game, the track gets irritating very fast, with no development and no change throughout the piece. However, this is easily the worst piece on the first disc, and its absolutely wonderful from here on out. "Kaze No Ne" is the next piece on the album, and it certainly makes up for the dull "Echo of Memories." The vocalist's mature voice and talent surpasses those of past Squaresoft divas Emiko Shiratori and Faye Wong. While the past vocal themes have been rather hackneyed pop/love ballads, Tanioka provides a very relaxing and refreshing theme with a distinct feel. The use of older instruments gives the piece an ancient feel, and Yae's soothing, mature voice harmonizes very nicely with the instrumentation. This piece is absolutely one of the best pieces, if not the best, on the album. The next two pieces, "Serenity" and "Today Arrives, Becoming Tomorrow" are simple, peaceful themes. They are very easy to listen too, however, they become repetitive very quickly due to little development and choice of instruments.
Most of the tracks following the initial beginning pieces are location themes. These themes are started off by "The First Town." While the title isn't particularly inventive, the piece itself is a welcome change from the stereotypical town themes present in most RPG's. However, this piece also suffers from the common problem of little development; however, due to the larger ensemble, it doesn't get irritating as quickly as the preceding "Echo of Memories" and "Today Arrives, Becoming Tomorrow." "Twilight in Dreamland" is one of the better location themes in the game, with soothing mallet percussion parts and a mellow flute melody carrying the piece. The rustic feel presented is a welcome motif in this piece, and this is one of the better examples of Tanioka's unique style. The piece never loses its charm, and manages to stay fresh throughout the entire length.
One of the more experimental location themes, "Promised Grace," also happens to be my personal favorite. The instrumentation here is outstading, with wonderful woodwind harmonies and percussive and bass sounds to provide a firm foundation for this piece to grow upon. It also manages to stay fresh throughout, and never does it get too repetitive or annoying. Another great thing about this piece is the distinct style; it has a very jazzy feel to it, which I can't adequetly describe. It remotely reminds me of old Irish pieces, but I'm not sure on its origin. Its very unique, and I have yet to hear anything close to this style. In contrast, perhaps the worst location theme present is "Goblin's Lair." The militaristic drum and bass line take away from the other sections of the piece, and are a little too overbearing for my taste. The choice of instrumentation in this track wasn't as wise as the majority of the album. The instruments don't harmonize together very well, and the drum and bass line are way too repetitive to positively add to the track.
Aside from the location themes, the first disc has a few more highlights. The boss battle theme, "Monster's Dance~Rondo," is a very unique piece that is well composed and recorded. The instant percussion and bass give it a very upbeat tempo from the start, and provides a solid foundation for the woodwind melodies to harmonize against. Though it inspires a sense of urgency, however, it doesn't convey danger very well at all, with its cheery melodies and overly upbeat tempo. One of my favorite Final Fantasy themes makes an appearance in this soundtrack. "I'm Moogle" is a very upbeat, happy piece used to convey a sense of friendship and peace. Its played and recorded well, however it has little development and can get very irritating very quickly. "My Den" is a more unique, enjoyable rendition of the Mog theme. Its a very laid back, slow piece with lower instruments playing and a friendly string strumming the foundation for the catchy theme. Overall, the first disc is very enjoyable, with few tracks disappointing. It has great variety, and some of the best tracks on the album are present on the first disc. "Kaze No Ne" and "Promised Grace" are my favorites from the first disc.
The second disc starts off with a great piece called "Endless Sky." It's very unique, much like the rest of the album. This piece is also, if I'm not mistaken, the music for the trailer of the game. Its one of the better tracks on the album, and is basically and intrumental version of "Kaze No Ne," with high woodwinds taking the friendly melody with support from mallet percussion and low strings. One of the more unique earlier tracks on the second disc is "Sleeping Treasure in the Sand." The combination of instruments is very different, but it succeeds well for this piece. The shaker and low strings go great with the higher woodwinds and strings to form an interesting ensemble that is very enjoyable to listen to. Unfortunately, not all the second disc is great, as the repetitive "Echo of Memory" makes a return late in the album as "Echoes In The Heart." This time, I find it even worse, due to the piano projected throughout the annoying bell motif. It adds nothing but randomness to the piece, which is not a good thing in this case. Overall, I must say, this is the worst track on not only the second disc, but the whole album itself.
The final boss themes, "Sad Monster" and "Unite, Descent," are absolutely extraordinary. They are very unique for boss themes, and play the role quite well. "Sad Monster" is the first of the two battle themes. It starts off slow, and soon an intimidating drum beat is added, along with small mallet percussion flairs. Soon, the piece adds bagpipe to the melody, and it is wonderful. It's one of the best uses of bagpipe, especially in a piece like this. Throughout, the piece feels intimidating and dangerous, however, it lacks a sense of urgency. The piece survives well without the urgency, as the feeling of danger is so great it makes up for it. Late in the piece, a pipe organ plays a creepy melody that, unfortunately, is very short. It is great while it lasts, and makes a nice "climax" to the piece. Overall, this is a great battle theme that is worth waiting through the whole soundtrack to listen too.
The second battle theme, "Unite, Descent," is superior to its predecessor, with a more dangerous, urgent feel. This feeling keeps up throughout the entire theme, until it eventually gets to a mystical part with harp arpeggios and choir that has a very holy feel to it. After that section is done, it continues with the original melody, which is more than welcome. The piece also uses parts of "Kaze No Ne," which is very unique, considering "Kaze No Ne" is a slow, friendly piece. However, it works well for the piece, and gives it familiar feeling. This piece seems to survive due to its excellent feelings of danger and urgency, and unique melodies that most battle themes lack. And while its not as epic and grand as most final battle themes, its a welcome, refreshing change from the usual formula.
The ending theme, "Starry Moonlit Night," is another superb vocal theme sung by Yae. Its very simple and peaceful, with a friendly feel to it. The piece consists of Yae's voice, light bass, and basic string parts, later adding some flute. Its very relaxing and calming, and is very easy to listen to and enjoy. Overall, while I don't find it as catchy and enjoyable as "Kaze No Ne," its still incredibly enjoyable, and ranks with the best vocal themes in the series. The last track of the album is an arrangement of "Starry Moonlit Night." Its certainly very interesting, and has a very holy feeling to it. Towards the end of the piece, it gets quite active, adding in drums and even electric guitar! While I wasn't quite expecting it, it works very well and operates nicely as the end to the album.
When I first heard this album, I was immediately impressed by its very unique style. I had heard very little music like this before, and it was a refreshing change from the previous Final Fantasy soundtracks. Through several listens, it definitely ranks with the best of them. I have high hopes that Tanioka will compose another album for a Final Fantasy game. It would be great to hear how she grows and changes with different material, such as character themes and event themes, moreso than ambient themes. The Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Original Soundtrack is truly a gem that recommend to all. Though it may not seem your style at first, give it a chance and listen to her unique style. With its incredible diversity and unique instrumentation, this is one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard in any game.
Overall Score: 9/10