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Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon Original Soundtrack :: Review by Kero Hazel

Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon Original Soundtrack Album Title: Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon Original Soundtrack
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (Reprint)
Catalog No.: SSCX-10014; SQEX-10064
Release Date: December 21, 1997; February 1, 2006
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan

Overview

Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon suffers the misfortune of being one of Squaresoft's least-liked PlayStation games, second perhaps only to SaGa Frontier. It was never released in North America, and to me that's a shame, since the soundtrack is great, and this reviewer doubts that any game featuring cute Chocobos and a great soundtrack could be all that bad. The composer of the game's soundtrack, Masashi Hamauzu, is a man of extremes. His raw compositional skill surpasses that of any other soundtrack composer, in my opinion, and gives even great classical composers like Chopin a run for their money. At the same time, Hamauzu is extremely repetitive, re-using a single theme for nearly every piece in a soundtrack. In this soundtrack, he uses — what else? — the now-famous Chocobo Theme from the Final Fantasy series. Let's see how well it survives the repetition.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Prelude (orchestrated)

A flurry of musical styles is the only way to describe this fun introduction. The Chocobo Theme makes two brief appearances, with quick symphonic passages fleshing out the rest of the track. It really moves too fast for me to give it a proper review, so let me just say that it's a great soundtrack opener and a great track in general.

2) Beginning of a Journey

Another quick and restless track. The background instruments give this one more of an atmospheric feeling, and the piano and chimes break in occasionally with short melody segments. Good harmony, and some interesting polyrhythms too.

3) Chocobo's House

This track turns the Chocobo Theme into a waltz-like variant. The melody is altered somewhat to fit in with the whimsical harmony.

4) The First Dungeon

Much of this track is almost ambient in nature, but there is an interesting light-hearted harmonic passage in the middle that gives this piece extra points for composition. Outside of this passage, the counterpoint of the layered instruments give your ear a lot to listen to.

5) A Mystery

What a narrative jewel this is! Moody harmony and carefully-chosen percussion instruments make this piece tell a story like no other. I especially love the "ratchet" sound used, which sounds almost like creepy echoing footsteps. Just try to find anything less than perfect in this track, I dare ya.

6) In Search for the Illusionary Item

A single horn sounds off a melody in this track for about two seconds. Almost immediately, an incredibly complex armada of instruments begins playing all at once. Simple passages combine in very intricate and delightful ways as some instruments cut in and out. For some reason this piece reminds me of a factory; it's very "mechanical".

7) Whisper of the Water

I'm not sure what Hamauzu was smoking when he made this one. It's *extremely* unusual, even for him. First it's slow and staccato-like, then the strings kick in and smooth it out. Even the harmony seems to defy reason. It's not bad, but it's a bit too "weird for the sake of being weird".

8) Chocobo Village

Just a happy, bouncy, fun song. The instrumentation never gets too complex, and the harmony is very predictable. Still, though, it's an enjoyable piece, especially when the Chocobo Theme makes a visit towards the end.

9) Fat Chocobo

Just imagine walking along, minding your own business, when all of a sudden a huge 300-pound Chocobo just drops out of the sky next to you. That's what this short piece is like.

10) Shopkeeper

This track is somewhat of a dancy electronica piece that features a couple recognizable themes, including the Chocobo Theme. But with the high-pitched spacey instruments and the different rhythm, you might not even notice them. I don't mind the repetition, but there isn't too much to this track to make it stand out from the rest.

11) I Don't Know Which Way to Go

It starts out with an interesting mix of instruments and brief melodies, a style which you should be getting used to by now. But this track isn't as simple as the others. The first half of the piece (and the looped part at the end) is filled with happy drums and brass, but all of a sudden (at about 1:10), something truly evil takes over, in the form of piano chords and a very spine-tingling harmony. The dark passage is what makes this piece stand out from the others.

12) Wooden Room

One of those unusual pieces that straddles the fence between surreal and sinister. The instrumentation and quick whimsical passages lull you into a false sense of security, but the creepy harmony is definitely not playing along with this image. You gotta love the composition here; there's variation in both instruments and moods.

13) Scythe Man is Coming!

This piece's arrangement of the Chocobo Theme is just fantastic. It's played by a very fast piano, and is accompanied by a handful of other instruments. In spite of the minor key used, this track sounds very humorous. Imagine a cute cartoon Grim Reaper chasing a Chocobo in circles around a room, and you'll get the picture.

14) Let's Go Underground

All sorts of cool special effects are present in this track. The main melody instrument has this echo thing going on, and the sharp percussion instruments make a great contrast against the constant background "droning". A nice ambient piece that has enough going on so as not to make you bored.

15) Challenge

I take it that this is some sort of battle theme. The fast harmonic instruments keep a quick, intense pace, while the melody has more of a "choose your strategy wisely" sort of feel. I love the way the harmony is "stacked up" like this; it makes it sound more foreboding.

16) After the Battle

While this track starts off as a more intense version of the previous track, it finally hits its peak and eases down into a slower symphonic victory theme. When the Chocobo Theme starts, you can almost hear the experience points rolling in! This piece earns major points for its composition; it's good enough to be an ending theme, in my opinion.

17) A Brief Rest

About this time, you'll probably start to notice another theme that crops up from time to time in this soundtrack. This piece starts out with a happy version of this other theme, and ends with a nice creepy twist.

18) Searching for You

Another nice narrative track. The four-chord harmony at the beginning sets a good pace for the piece, and the musical story unfolds from there. The melody changes quite a lot, hence the "narration" I promised.

19) The Unknown Space

This piece has an interesting Eastern touch to it. I believe it's got a pentatonic harmony, but don't quote me on that. Maybe not as rich or varied as the other track in the collection, but a good setting piece all the same.

20) Unresting Wings

This track starts out with an odd one-TWO-three-FOUR melodic rhythm performed by a synthesizer and a couple strings. Despite the light-hearted opening, the central part of this track is quite emotional. The violin section is particularly moody and well-timed, but I must commend the whole track for its great instrumentation.

21) Atora's Theme

A piece that begins as an arrangement of the Chocobo Theme, but fleshes out into a more elaborate march. Like many of the other tracks, the instruments are "stacked" on top of each other, combining and intertwining in all sorts of cool ways.

22) Your Subject of Research?

Recognize any of the common themes in this song? Well you would, if you were listening to the soundtrack instead of reading this. It's the melody from "In Search for the Illusionary Item"! It's slow and more dance-like this time around, being average until at the very end (just before the loop) when we hear a beatiful flute melody backed up by a full string orchestra. Very cool and innovative.

23) Let's Have a Dream

This track is another Chocobo Theme arrangement, but unlike some of the other versions, this one doesn't just use bits and pieces of it. Hamauzu writes a new alternate "ending" to the Chocobo Theme, and I think it fits perfectly. Kind of a hyper little track, the work done on the melody is its best feature.

24) God's Errand

This is a moody, semi-ambient piece which seems to say, "let's go explore that thing over there because it's there!" Cute, but it also has a serious side. Celestial strings and electronic instruments make this pieces most "heavenly".

25) World of Darkness

Creepy. This one is a dark, industrial piece. The melody should sound familiar, as it has made appearances in other tracks. A great bit of composition on a perfect blend of moody instruments.

26) Steel Warrior

All signs seem to be pointing to the ambient end of the musical spectrum at this point in the soundtrack. "Steel Warrior" is another example, though it seems a bit too much like filler to me. Think of a slower "Your Subject of Research?" without the cool ending.

27) Where We Reached

This piece is a very minimalistic story-telling piece. The instruments sound very distant and tranquil; it's too bad they don't really do anything.

28) Courage

A bizarre mix of foreboding string harmonies, followed by a quick battle style passage, ending with a march derived from the Chocobo Theme.

29) Fight, Chocobo!

This track borrows a bit from the same style as the sixth track, using many instruments working in complex polyrhythmic patterns to achieve a very sophisticated sound. While it's definitely a battle theme, it still stays true to the compositionally rich nature of the soundtrack. It's kind of like the Dragon Quest battle themes.

30) Finale (orchestrated)

Much like the first track, this last piece on the main disc borrows from many different orchestral styles, especially the powerful drum-and-brass style of the late Romantic era (for you classical music buffs). But there are also some parts that sound like excerpts from a piano concerto, and others that are string-heavy. With all the style changes and musical variation, I'd have to say this piece has the best composition of the entire soundtrack. It's catchy too, and a hell of an ending theme.

Bonus Disc

1) Chocobo's Happy Christmas

The Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon Original Soundtrack is not strictly a one disc affair. Packaged together with the main disc is a short mini-disc of arranged music. The first track of the mini-disc, as you'd expect, is choke-full of sleigh bells and other fun Christmas-related instruments. Like the other orchestrated tracks, it's a sampler of various musical styles. It ends with a very cool series of chords on a pipe organ.

2) C/W: Dreams on Wings

Softer than what you might expect, this final track is a nice tribute to a more conventional musical style. Strings carry the main melody, which is a slowly upward-creeping series of notes. More and more instruments join in as the song progresses, and every so often a piano will jump in and play around with the melody. While lacking some of the creativity of Hamauzu's other pieces, it's still a great finale.

Summary

With the exception of a couple "filler" pieces, this Original Soundtrack is a solid winner, well deserving of your shineys. Too bad it's hard to find nowadays; the price, however, tends to be pretty reasonable on the rare occasions when it's available on eBay (usually around $30). Hamauzu's brand of music usually requires an active listening ear, which is very unfortunate for soundtracks like SaGa Frontier 2, which had one of the most overplayed themes of all time. In Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, however, it's possible to enjoy this music as simple background mood music. But if you decide to listen in closely, there's all sorts of subtle musical tidbits for you to find; some pieces can be listened to dozens of times and you'll still catch something new each time you hear them. Part of the album's success is owed to the famous Chocobo Theme. Not only does Hamauzu use the theme precisely as much as is needed, but it's a pretty flexible theme to begin with. Catchy enough to be recognizable just about anywhere, but complex enough so that the composer can arrange it in many different ways. Couple this with Hamauzu's amazing compositional skill, and you get this wonderful soundtrack.

Overall Score: 9/10