Klonoa of the Wind Original Soundtrack :: Review by Juan2Darien
I'll admit that my tastes in music tend to be on the darker and brooding variety. I love the steady action music of Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masashi Hamauzu's use of creative dissonance, and battle themes in general. There comes a time, though, when you experience something so cheerful, so absolutely adorable that you can't help but love it. That would be where Klonoa: Door to Phantomile comes in. There is that 'cute factor' on nearly every piece of this album that should, in theory, become tiring very quickly, but under further examination, it turns out that these are not just shallow, cheesy pieces. There is a lot of musical depth to this score, which holds up to repeated listens and has the power to bring a smile to anyone's face. There is quite a plethora of composers from this title, but the styles are not so different as, say, the trio on Final Fantasy X, that it distracts; instead, each composer contributes something to the complete whole of this score that I can barely tell the difference when a piece is composed by one composer over another.
To bring back Hamauzu from the last paragraph, the first piece on the album is actually reminiscent of some of Hamauzu's more simplistic piano pieces (specifically "DG – Sadness" from Unlimited SaGa). Short and lovely and surprisingly memorable and emotional for being just barely over 20 seconds in length. It presents a theme that will come back in the score quite a few times. After this track comes the onslaught of pure joy: "Inquisitive Waltz" is actually probably one of the more cheery tracks on the album. This little waltz keeps up a constant motion and is scored for all manners of chimes and accordions. The same theme is found a few tracks later in "The Windmill Song". This is one of the tracks that, in a sense, epitomizes this album. The instrumentation in this track becomes very typical for the rest of the score: guitars, percussion, and woodwinds, usually recorders. There's also another instrument used here that sounds rather like a whistle or theremin; it too becomes used quite often in the album. "The Ruin's Air" is another example of this melody and quite an interesting one. The piece alternates regularly between peaceful and happy and discordant and anxious, with the typical instrumentation of winds, guitars, and percussion.
"Melancholy Soldier" is, ironically, another incredibly cheery song on the album consisting of pizzicato strings before some awesome piano, strings, and chimes come in and create a wonderfully beautiful, uplifting atmosphere. Another oddly upbeat track is "Weeping Karal". It's slightly jazzy in its rhythmic melody, performed by the theremin and chimes, and with some light percussion, including snapping, furthering the jazzy atmosphere. More cheery tracks come up in the form of "Forlock Twist" and "Truck a Go Go". The former is perhaps the most percussive track on the soundtrack. There is much ethnic percussion, shaking and rattling away, but even the woodwinds are used in a percussive manner, and there is something akin to a hammer dulcimer used here. "Truck a Go Go" is just one those tracks that is like, for instance, the infamous "Kumbaya" lullaby, in that you just want to sway with its blissful waltz motion. The melody is heard by recorder, at first descending, then ascending, constantly alternating and becoming increasingly faster until it ends abruptly. "Balue & Lephise" is another interesting track. There is a rather heavy beat kept during the whole track while a kind of rock feel begins to develop, only to be overtaken by more adorable sounding chimes, which eventually end the track.
"Mine of Lights" shows a side of the score first explored with the opener "And I Begin to Wonder". It features the typical instrumentation I mentioned, but in an entirely different vein. The woodwinds are in constant counterpoint with each other, creating a peaceful, pastoral atmosphere that is later enhanced by soft strings and light percussion. "Spiral Truck" is a piece worth mentioning simply because, though I've not played the game in years upon years, I have a clear picture of, well, spiraling. It is a wonderfully short track that is able to somehow exactly depict its title. "Grandpa's Chair" is another one of the highly enjoyable, soothing, and emotional pieces on the album. It features light strings and percussion under slightly new-age sounding electronics playing one of the main themes of the score. "Sad Forest Drum" is another soothing track. Despite the constant clanging, banging, twinkling of percussion, it is overall a very slow theme with melodic fragments provided by woodwinds amid soft washes of strings. "For the Time We've Spent" is another beautiful, melancholy, yet uplifting track with some very interesting chord progressions and almost angelic ambience created with soft electronics and chimes. Ironically, this is followed by another emotional, but highly urgent track, "Fry Over the Wind" for percussion and winds.
And now I dedicate much of a paragraph to two of my favourite tracks on the album: First, "Blue Cave Echo" is astounding for its sheer energy. It is constantly moving forward with fast-paced pizzicato strings and lots of clapping, rattling, and shaking percussion. In many ways, it reminds me of some of Sugiyama's "Gypsy themes" from the Dragon Quest series. The piece moves so fast that melodies hardly have time to settle in, but it is a remarkably enjoyable track nonetheless. Another splendid track comes a bit later in the form of "Baladium's Drive". Drive is certainly one thing that this track has. A perfect mixture of strings, winds, and ethnic percussion, always in motion, whether it be the constant drumming, string arpeggios and woodwind trills, this track earns its place as one of the more enjoyable pieces on the album.
"Darken" marks the first appearance of yet another side to the album: you guessed it, a much darker side. It starts innocently enough with chimes before electronics come in, droning away, adding more layers and becoming increasingly dissonant and strangely frightening. This darkness is further explored with "Ghadious Appears". The beat in this track, like the first track on the soundtrack, reminds me a tad of some of the beats Hamauzu used in SaGa Frontier II. The similarity ends there, however, as the track continues with sparse and discordant woodwind writing. "The Rongo Lango" isn't necessarily dark, although it is intense and has a splendid 'urgent' quality about it. It has some interesting fusions going on between the rock instruments and the woodwinds. "Cursed Pamela" is a track that combines the best of both worlds darkness and intensity into a highly emotional, urgent battle theme scored for mainly strings and lots of percussion and heavy beats. Speaking of beats, "Beats from Above" is pretty much what you'd expect: an onslaught of heavy percussion and beats with electronic ambience and droning in the background. It gets special recognition for its relentlessness. Now do you remember in Miyazaki's film "Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind" whenever people were speaking of the ancient Warriors who destroyed the planet? The music in those scenes is quite reminiscent of "When the Wind Stood Still" here, or vice versa. It begins with a pulsing, electronic droning amid constant, dissonant chimes and occasionally loud and frightening string-chords. It is one of, if not the only time when the music on the album doesn't have a slightly 'adorable' edge. This track is all terror like never heard before in this score.
"Red Heat Coronia" is a track that has a strange memorability factor. It's not that the piece is so original that it is memorable, but rather it sounds so familiar that you will swear you've heard it before that is how I have been since I heard the piece for the first time (although I have yet to figure what exactly it reminds me of!). It has a constant beat kept amid slightly rock-inspired string and brass writing, with ethnic percussion. More important than its familiarity, however, is the fact that it brings in a new section of the score: area themes. There have certainly been area themes before this, but one of the things that makes these next few tracks so special is that there are two variations to each piece. There is the more robust track usually depicting outside of an area, then a second, more soothing and ethereal track, usually depicting the inside of an area, like a cave (this technique of having two pieces for each area is used extensively in the sequel game, Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil). "Red Heat Coronia" is followed by "Nevertheless", featuring much toned-down percussion, consisting of twinkling and chiming, and woodwinds performing the same theme, but with a surprising amount of added depth and sadness. The next piece, "Dawn Over Dawn, and Dark Into Dark" is particularly memorable for its exotic soundscapes achieved by percussion and sitars and electronic droning. This is met by "Out of Time", in which the percussion is less prominent and the sitar mixed with much resonance.
"Joker Mood" brings something new to the score: it isn't necessarily a theme, more of a short motif characterized by descending motion. "Joker's Move" reprises this motif in a very ambient manner. There is a descending electronic droning, and the more melodic presentation of this motif, heard in "Joker's Mood", is sped up considerably. It becomes a very intense track with relentless electronics and percussion. "I See" is an interesting track that, I believe, fits in with the other "Joker" tracks. The beginning is ambient and consists of ascending motions by strings and piano before the piece begins its literal descent with descending piano and even wind writing. "No Jokes Around" is perhaps the most low-key and least threatening of any of the "Joker" tracks, almost sounding like a cave piece (as described in the previous paragraph) with extra resonance and toned-down percussion. The beginning of "Façade and Blade" sounds like it may be another "Joker" track, but it takes an interesting turn from there, being a marvelous fusion of techno, via a heavy beat and much electronic percussion, and classical, via strings, both softly emotional and skittish. It actually reminds me a tad of some of Hamauzu's and Nakano's work on Blademaster.
"Untamed Heart" sounds to be the beginning of the end, the autumn of the album. Including this track and after, the album consists of very dark pieces, either in emotionality or intensity. A constant heartbeat is kept, and some interesting clanging percussion is used under the melody, provided by strings. This piece reminds me a tad of some of Joe Hisaishi's earlier works when he used primarily electronics. It is very emotional, although the refrain sounds a tad like it belongs in a pop ballad (although that's not necessarily a bad thing), being a variation on the theme heard in the opening track, "And I Begin to Wonder". "Difficult to Say" continues with another variation of the previous track's theme with nothing but chimes of different timbres and registers. Ghadious Laughs" is a slightly disturbing piece, very atmospheric with a single phrase being repeated over and over again by chimes with soft washes of electronics and random melodic fragments fading in and out. Next is "Wheel of Woe", which is one of the album's few missteps. It is about as repetitive as any track you could probably think of. A single motif, if you can even call it that (about a single second long) repeats and repeats and repeats and... oh, you get the picture. But the problem is that the piece isn't just some 30-second ditty; it's three minutes long, longer than most of the other tracks in the score. "Quiet Choir" is a misleading title. Given the preceding drama, you may think that this is another highly emotional, ethereal track, or you may even assume that it will feature the choir prominently (or at all!). It consists of pizzicato strings and chimes along with woodwinds providing some extra colour. After sweeping strings come in to carry the melody, the theme repeats with only chimes.
"Nightmare's On" is a noteworthy addition to the album simply because it is strikingly different than anything else in the score. It's loud, ambient and incredibly discordant, almost atonal. Next, "The Instrumentality" is like a hodge-podge of different cultures, beginning with sitars and electronic percussion, it segues into a slightly Oriental-sounding piece complete with ethnic woodwinds and gamelan. The next two pieces, "Rapid Eyes Inside" and "The Ring", follow suit with the instrumentation. "The Ring" even transforms into a variation of "The Instrumentality" with the gamelan motif being taken over by marimba and guitar. "Advent" is a short, but sweet track giving the image of something quite grand and beautiful, and "Peaceful Moment" presents a slightly distorted variation on the "And I Begin to Wonder" theme. Finally, "I'm On Your Side" takes the same short theme and expands it over the course of the piece, adding a refrain and some great developments to keeping the theme fresh. "Farewell" is perhaps the first time in the score where we find utter sadness. The main theme of the game (found in "Inquisitive Waltz" and "The Windmill Song") is heard in this piece, repeated over and over by twinkling chimes while the piano and electronics provide very beautiful touches, although not altogether melodic. From here on out, it only gets better. Perhaps the best piece on the album, even topping my beloved "Blue Cave Echo", "Resurrection" features the first and only live performance in this score. The synth-ambient electronics are still there, as are the strings and piano, but there is a young vocalist humming the longing, hopeful melody.
Ending themes are usually the place where the composers wrap up the entire score in an epic fashion, bringing together all of the emotional or playful elements of the score into a definitive piece. Well, here the composers have chosen something quite different. "Staff Roll" is sparsely orchestrated and presented for piano and solo violin. The piano writing is, at times, reminiscent of some of Hamauzu's less challenging works, and the piece literally flows with emotion. The piano is simply lovely, and while this isn't the bombastic end I may have hoped for, it is entirely satisfying and simply gorgeous. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the album. It would have been quite desirable to end the score there at the climactic moment, emotionally, but it continues with a few more short pieces such as the "Good Night", "Continue", "Title", and "Sound Effects Medley" tracks. While these short pieces are fairly enjoyable, they disrupt the listening experience.
While the score to Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is not perfect, I would definitely argue that it comes close more often than not. In addition to an overall very enjoyable album, there are some absolutely remarkable pieces here, which is not what I would have expected from such an adorable game. Many pieces have a surprising amount of depth and even complexity. While there are also some darker pieces, in emotion and intensity, the majority of the tracks are simply joyous. They are the kinds of pieces that can brighten any day, turn anyone's frown upside-down (to use an appropriate cliché), and perhaps even make the world a better place. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but know this: I have never walked away from listening to this score without an infectious smile present, consuming my face. I have heard professors tell me that the purpose of art is to move the audience emotionally or profoundly. Usually when we think of this goal, we associate it with pieces of music that inspire us to tears, to outrage, to solemnity, but often we forget how it feels when art can move us to joy. I offer Klonoa: Door to Phantomile as that piece of art.
Overall Score: 10/10