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Grandia Original Soundtracks :: Review by Weabblewill

Grandia Original Soundtracks Album Title: Grandia Original Soundtracks
Record Label: Two Five Records
Catalog No.: KICA-5002/3
Release Date: December 22, 1997
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Grandia is one of the earlier works of Noriyuki Iwadare's career that was developed in 1997 with Game Arts and published by Kings Records. Grandia as a game contained all the traditional elements of an RPG, but it wasn't particularly groundbreaking. As a result, this soundtrack also didn't receive the same type of hype and glamour as other VGM soundtracks. For others who have had a bad hangover experience with the superficial themes of Radiata Stories, don't let that hinder your expectations of this soundtrack. I thought my initial indifference to Radiata Stories was because I didn't understand Iwadare's earlier works. However, after listening to Grandia, I realize how its style and structure was vastly different from Radiata Stories. If you compare Grandia to Radiata Stories, the musical progressions of ideas on the former are wholesome and interwoven so much tighter than the latter. Most of the tracks on the Radiata Stories album never lasted beyond one minute and just about as useful as sound clip advertisements. Iwadare was able to blend several diverse themes on each track and avoided the pitfalls of repetition.

This soundtrack is two discs split in half, one with synthesized tracks and another based off of orchestrated tracks. Disc One is at its best in demonstrating Iwadare's ability to transition from theme to theme on the same track to create a unique piece of music. This disc is contains all of the symphonic themes of the game. The themes on this soundtrack range from its bright sunny fields ("Delightful Adventure") and whimsical characters ("Leena's Theme" and "Farewell Sue") to more serious or darker tone themes ("Ghost Ship" and "Approaching Crisis"). He can change the mood of a track in a remarkable way that it isn't disjointed or fragmented. Most of Disc Two relies heavily on electronica and atmosphere to control the tone of the pieces. It is obviously weaker in comparison to Disc One in terms of instrumentation, but there are several pieces that hold its own in terms of being addictive such as "Stand on Alone" and "Sea Cat Restaurant".

Disc One

The adventure themes come to my mind first, so I'll discuss them first. The disc starts out with "Theme of Grandia" which reminds me of the grandeur style of "Legendary Sword" of Radiata Stories, but more mature. The strings move rapidly with the drums in the background initially and then the brass takes over. One of the excellent features about this track is that it changes from section to section subtly without being abrupt. As a result, this track is delivered coherently without sounding repetitious or monotonous. At 1:37, the pace turns for a slower section, but it doesn't distract you away from the main motif. It's as if the paramount feeling of being at the top of the world without anybody stopping you. At 3:15, the electric guitar joins the fray to provide the extra edge and melodic power in the track. Iwadare continues with "Delightful Adventure" as you'll hear the strings, brass, percussion, and clarinet working together very nicely as an uplifting and jazzy fanfare track. It's sumptuous, addictive, and exhilarating to your ears of what an adventure or overworld theme would sound like for an RPG. The addition of the wood block mallets, woodwinds, and harp crescendo on this track is what gives that extra zany feeling to distinguish it from your normal jazz piece. Then you'll hear the piano at 1:55 inserted for a more pensive section. With all this swirling thick instrumentation, you'd think the track would easily sound too busy, but instead they work together as a pair of shoes side by side. Then Iwadare tries to sweep you off of your feet with the thrilling military track of "Mullen". You first hear the steady moving solo cello and later on the entire string section carries the main melody in the first half. The flute is played in sixteenth notes just like a type of march, while the string and underlying brass movement maintains the track's triumphant statement.

There are a few romantic and sorrowful moments in the disc such as "Farewell Sue" when you hear the solemn quartet of the piano, flute, violin, and oboe. This calm track is executed extremely well and doesn't stray from its sense of direction. At 1:11, the oboe enters into the fray and 2:18 the violin completes the full reprise of this pensive theme. The sentimental piece of "The Sandy Beach of Ganbo" is rendered well with the duet of the violin and piano. This track seems to almost be from a movie drama picture and is one of my favorite pieces on this album. At 3:15, the piano goes into a different movement, but seemingly more gloomy than before. There's so much chord variation that it doesn't sound too minimalist even with just two instruments. Later on, a lighter track can be found when you hear "The Beautiful Woman of Alent". The female synth choir imbues you with a white pure image while the chiming provided by the electronic keyboard provides the acoustic effect. This piece may have been done almost too careful, because nothing particularly stands out. Although most could argue this theme is quite antique or generic, it suffices for the designated scene. But, perhaps the greatest highlight of this group is "Leen's Love Theme". The harp and flute seems to dictate the harmony of song with a very elegant tone that matches "Farewell Sue". The duet of the flute and clarinet musical cue reminds me a lot of "Across the Stars" from Star Wars Episode II, a simple yet stunning piece of music. After the clarinet crescendo, the strings swing the melody in pendulum fashion between exasperation to optimism. This piece is perhaps sentimental, but it mixes it in with the right balance of emotion. At 2:50, you'll hear the piano, string, and chimes paint a brighter environment that is a slight contrast from the beginning of the piece.

The next set of themes are outliers from the previous two categories. The bassoon of "Ancient Illusionary Castle" initiates the funny, clumsy, and waltz-like tune with the snapping fingers in the background. Again, Iwadare demonstrates how he masters the technique of musical transition, when the track takes a turn for a bolder treatment of brass at 1:05 and then goes into its climax at 1:27. It sounds mischievous and reminds me of Gogo's theme from Final Fantasy VI. Then at 1:40, there's a type of bounciness emphasized with the woodwinds and strings that is reminiscent of his Lunar series. As I said before, each track on Disc One is filled with so many colorful ideas that you'll never feel it's monotonous. "Ghost Ship" is a sly piece turns into a noble and gut-wrenching climax when the brass plays a small rendition of "The Edge of the World". Then it falls back into its background music at 2:13, with the woodwind ostinato. Iwadare effectively balances out the ambience some bright moments to turn this into a contemplative track. "The Edge of the World" is a heroic and epic theme that is blended it with a facet of mysticism. This track reminds us of the bleak situation, but at the same time, a sense of hope is radiated. At 2:24 you'll hear a decent brass movement along with the snazzy snare drums to bring life into the track. The woodwinds play smoothly from one chord to another in a very coherent section. Iwadare concentrates on his ideas with force and passion from one section to the next on this track. Then you have the harsh and abrupt "Approaching Crisis" which relies on the drums and trumpet fortissimos. This track doesn't seem to know where it wants to lead the listener and conveys only massive confusion. Not necessarily a bad track, but it fails to the extent of being memorable for the listener.

Disc Two

I'll begin discussing on the successfully executed electronic tracks that are quite noteworthy and imaginative. Iwadare displays a faint amount of Scottish and ethnic diversity with "Prelude", featuring highly sharp and loud electronic bagpipes. This is an ominous and atmospheric track, but it's also potent at the same time. There's almost a sinister and dark cerebral tone if you listen to it carefully. I felt this piece seemed unfinished and too short to be completely analyzed. In "Town of Palm", you'll hear the quirky electronic bagpipes played in the same fashion as "Prelude" but not as overbearing as the latter. There diversity of percussion instruments is the main highlight of this upbeat tempo piece. The tin cans and a bunch of other unique metal parts clank off of each other as if you're walking into a bustling metal shop warehouse. Some of the musical inspiration from this track would later be evident in the tropical tone of "Hopping Sun" of Radiata Stories. "New Parm ~Frontier of Our Hearts~" is essentially a derivation of the "Town of Palm", but with the electronic accordion. Motivation is the same as "Town of Palm" but the clarinet, bongos, and cowbell at 2:10 spices up the track by giving it a ragtime (almost polka-like in some sections) groove. "Kafu Village" serves as your typical background music, but thankfully the trumpets and the zany Jamaican drums ties up the loose ends of this uneven track so it doesn't lose your interest.

The electronic keyboard, pan flute, and alto saxophone of "Stand and Rise" are utilized quite well to pump the flowing energy to the listener. But if there's something that just broils me is when nonsensical verbiage that doesn't provide musical support is inserted to a track. The man howling in the back reminds me of the terrible shout from "Ceremony of Gods" in the Final Fantasy IX soundtrack. But the pristine construction of the track makes this forgivable. Sadly, if Iwadare had formulated more pieces like "Stand and Rise" on this disc, he wouldn't have had to create wasted tracks such as "Daito Town" and "Jilpadon". Next is "Sea Cat Restaurant", which is a cute synth theme that relies heavily on the harpsichord and keyboard. This bizarre piece stutters later on into a corny rhyme that makes the environment even more amusing. Nonetheless, it was an eccentric track that jumped right out at me with an unorthodox manipulation of the synthesizers and xylophones. At 1:14, Iwadare tries to fancy the piece by vamping up the speed of the synthesizers. As much as Disc Two is supposedly the synthesizer half of Grandia, there are a couple of tracks which I felt should have been left in Disc One. "Duel with Godwin" is perhaps a misplaced track should have been left on the orchestrated disc because of its authentic instrumentation. It's a mellow western music flick that combines the Huaca (multiple chambered pan-cultural vessel flute) and banjo. Later the majestic trumpet plays a solo section that will bring some nostalgic memories of Uematsu's Shadow's theme in Final Fantasy VI, but much bolder and assertive touch. Almost makes you envision that there's a showdown between two gunslingers out in the open at high noon. Then you have "Snow Town Raynu" which immediately caught my attention when I marveled the steady cello riff and glockenspiel. The combination of the French horns refines the dreamy state of this European dancing track. It's one of the catchier tracks on Disc Two when you consider how much ambient music is present on this disc.

However, after you get past these themes, everything else on this disc seems to go South from here. "Sart Ruins" seems to be more of a filler piece, as it starts out with techno beats while the timid flute plays aimlessly in the desolate setting. I felt the instrumentation was inappropriate, because the harmonica would probably have provided a better accompaniment to the techno beats. The same tin noise from "Town of Palm" is reused in this piece but its magic is no longer there. There are a couple of mandatory but nuisance themes in the soundtrack such as "Daito Town" which reminds me of the hideous "Magical World" and "Town of Deception" in Radiata Stories. The Indian tribe drums, percussion, and gongs can bore even the most patient listeners to sleep. This type of theme has just been beaten to death like no other types in game music. "Prayers of Ganbo" follows in the same ambient trend with tribal outcries and that chilling marimba that gets into your skin. When I heard the aggressive the tribe sounds, it was almost like a war cry rather than a prayer. The erratic chords can grate your nerves after a while, but thankfully it's short. The sharp pitched electronica and techno beats in "Twin Tower" drones out into an uninspiring six-minute electronic cacophony like a cartoon theme. Equally lacking in development is "Jilpadon", it hangs on to the repetitive electronic accordion and synthesizers in a failed attempt to blend the chord structure of "Town of Palm" into "Daito Town". Lastly, "Domu Ruins" is a sporadic electronica driven piece that tries to fuse the harpsichord with a techno background.


It was hard for me to almost give any criticism on Disc One because every track seems to complement each other so well. Each track on the first disc metaphorically speaking brings splendid musical ideas without being over complex or confusing. Disc One left me speechless because each track contained so much depth and no filler material. But, as I was listening to Disc Two, I could examine several weaknesses of Iwadare's experimentation with his synthesizers. Even though there were some pieces that demonstrated moments of brilliance such as "Stand and Rise" and "Town of Palm", they still appear quite mediocre in comparison to the solid tracks of Disc One. There are a couple of stinkers such as "Daito Town" and "Doma Ruins" in which Iwadare abuses his electronica chords like whipping a horse to death. It's such a shame that these two pieces ruined the album's overall quality, which would otherwise have made this album nearly flawless. These tracks foreshadow his later experimental problems with Radiata Stories because of the lack of movement and ideas. However, unlike Radiata Stories, Iwadare never tries to recycle any material in Grandia, only constructing them on top of one another. The redeeming factor of this soundtrack is truly Disc One where Iwadare's orchestration shines at its best. For example even an ambient track like "Ghost Ship" can sound like filler for the first minute, but quickly transitions into a splendid woodwind cue.

Overall, this is one of the more appreciable and important albums of Iwadare for me because it contains all the crucial elements for a game music album. If you're interested in listening to game music that falls in the category of symphonic and orchestral, you should give this classic soundtrack a try. Iwadare should guide himself back to his origins because this is where he's able to fully excel and innovate.

Overall Score: 9/10