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Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange :: Review by Chris and Harry

Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange Album Title: Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange
Record Label: Team Entertainment
Catalog No.: KDSD-00034
Release Date: April 21, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


What do you get when you combine the works of ex-Square employees Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoko Shimomura, and Kenji Ito, Grandia's Noriyuki Iwadare, Star Ocean's Motoi Sakuraba, and Super Sweep's Shinji Hosoe into one collaborative arranged album? The Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange, a diverse and high-quality experience with a melodic focus. Individually, each of the six arrangers expands, manipulates, and refines two of Tomohito Nishiura's promising but mostly unsophisticated original pieces for Dark Cloud 2 and treats them with a unique style. The result is mixture of rock, electronica, ethnic music, Latin dance, and orchestral fusion music. To make things even better, as Mitsuda only arranges one piece, Square Enix's The Black Mages actually make an appearance to compensate, which should be a source of delight for all those people who enjoyed their solo albums.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Neverending Adventure (Rush's Theme)

A unique grower, "Neverending Adventure..." is an 'a capella' theme sung by Eri Kawai with some light percussion accompaniment. At first, it is easy to respond negatively to this creation, since Kawai's nasal voice isn't particularly accessible and Mitsuda's arrangement is outwardly bland despite its intricate features. For most, though, the surprisingly addictive vocals will eventually endear. Despite about five separate vocal lines being featured in the piece, Kawai is responsible for performing each one, meaning the vocals would have to have been pre-recorded several times over to achieve the sublime effect eventually created. They are layered in a unique way and correspond with considerable intricacy throughout, creating some gorgeous harmonies, particularly once the piece intensifies. Gen Nagahara's drum beats, though seemingly simple, are actually fairly complex rhythmically and create a distinct timbre from which the theme can develop from. They intensify on the second repeat of the theme to add variety and direction. The only major flaw with this one is its placement in the album; it is a misleading introduction, since no other theme shares a similar style to it, and it would have been much more suitable as a finale. (9/10)

2) Moon Flower Palace

Shinji Hosoe, head of Super Sweep, is one of the greatest electronica artists in the video game industry and "Moon Flower Palace" is an adequate reflection of his abilities. He effortlessly transforms Tomohito Nishiura's incoherent and harmonically dull original material into a well-rounded piece of techno music; his arrangement successfully combines the standard techno features of a fast 4/4 beat, ambient sound effects, and driving percussion rhythms with the original's rich melodies to ensure the original piece fits the dance floor appropriately and also stands out for melodic ingenuity. The interludes, especially, are notable additions as these not only maintain the theme's sense of direction, but also add interest and variety throughout. Unfortunately, a little too much time is spent on layering in places, meaning the exposition of the melodies is too slow to grant the appeal to mainstream audiences. Furthermore, its features are rather generic, despite growing sophistication as it reaches its conclusion, meaning most fans of electronica will find it unremarkable on a stand-alone basis. The theme is a convincing remix and a well-executed piece of techno music, though lacks the originality and accessibility to appeal to a wide audience. (7/10)

3) Dark Element

The first contribution from Motoi Sakuraba, "Dark Element," is solely remarkable for the way it constantly variates between creating a haunting and tense atmosphere and representing aggression and vigour. The mysterious sections rely on slow-developing chord progressions, eerie synth vocal chants, and dark brass melodies. In contrast, the dominant sound and unrelentless pace of some intricate electric guitar solos are the keys to representing action. While hackneyed features are used to represent both elements, the effective way the two different styles are assimilated to create a cohesive and chilling creation makes the theme much more appealing. Unfortunately, the ending does feel very anticlimactic after the huge build-up that occurs throughout the track, and this will disappoint many listeners; that's especially given it requires quite a bit of tolerance not to skip the slow-developing and occasionally boring track at times. It's definitely an atmospheric gem that does a lot emotionally with a limited original, though is overly long and unfulfilling. A recurrent theme throughout this album is that collaborative project can create the illusion of creativity through variety and this and its predecessor are partial examples. (7/10)

4) Sun

Yoko Shimomura's "Sun" differs from the three preceding tracks in that it refines, not transforms. Significantly longer than the original with improved instrumentation and interesting use of voices, the arrangement builds up incredibly up to its conclusion and is constantly driven by an electronic beat that transforms dramatically as the piece progresses. The wailing voice samples in the original version were pretty unmemorable and poor quality, but are refined here since their importance is magnified and real voice samples are used. Alongside these voices, a wide range of instruments feature; Shimomura's trademark piano use, particularly, adds deeply to the mysterious nature of the track, while bagpipes also prominently feature to add an epic tone and an unusual timbre. There aren't any major flaws in this piece, but it may get a tad bit repetitive, as Shimomura doesn't variate from the original track much. It is one of the better additions to the album. (9/10)

5) Moonlight Tango

Noriyuki Iwadare convincingly interprets Nishiura's catchy original into an Argentine tango here. It remains close to the original in terms of its melodic structure, though is significantly faster and is now performed by an orquesta tipica — a chamber group comprising of a string section, a bandoneón section, and a rhythm section (drums, a piano, drums, and a double bass) that is typically used to perform Argentine tangos. The manipulation of the instrumentation involved is the principle source of appeal, given most choices made are mature and fitting, and most will enjoy the Iwadarian features that come with this — namely, light-hearted mixing, unique use of bells, and employment of powerful but simple drum samples. While the melody grows a little repetitive and the introduction of a few more original sections would have improved the arrangement, Iwadare largely disguises this through the effective build-up of instruments, which leads to a strong conclusion. Overall, it's a solid and interesting addition to the album. (8/10)

6) Balance Valley

Kenji Ito's arrangement of "Balance Valley" creates significantly less imagery than Nishiura's original, which provided a timeless image of a balanced valley with beautiful scenery. The utilisation of solo piano and string-led orchestra here isn't appropriate, given the lazy and calm mood of the original is overrun by overly sentimental piano wanderings and overly sad string samples. As much of the arrangement is led by a simplistic piano line featuring diatonic harmonies and predictable progressions almost exclusively, it also becomes very boring. Some may find depth through the musical superficiality and inappropriateness, though most will think the unimaginable: Nishiura's original was better. (4/10)

7) Flower Garden

Shimomura's "Flower Garden" is a significant contrast to "Sun" — calm, passionate, and emotionally moving. While the original was already well-developed, the arrangement is more musically intelligent and charming, and this is partially due the superior instrumentation used and the clearer imagery presented. The piece begins flowingly with the harp, which paints a scene of a garden, and its beauty is simulated by a xylophone passage. After the introduction, a violin gently enters to play the main melody, and it sounds very stately, giving the image of walking around in a castle's grounds. The flute soon joins the violin and plays the main melody, and, like the violin, does a beautiful job at conceiving peace. Like "Sun," this piece progresses from a slow start to a strong finish, from the subdued initial sound effects to the grand orchestral finale, making it satisfying all-round. (9/10)

8) Stella Magic Temple

Kenji Ito's second arrangement on the album simplifies a beautiful and already thin composition and interprets it on solo piano. Nearly 4 minutes of Itonian piano use, the occasional chime, and a suspended synthesizer note is not what the album needed, because even though the implementation is sometimes touching, there is simply not enough timbral and harmonic variety for the track to generate interest. It conveys more than the original did and is superior to "Balance Valley" in this respect, but is completely unremarkable in every other way — monotonous, predictable, simplistic, and uncreative. Ito's contributions to the album kill its centre. (4/10)

9) Flame Demon Monster Gaspard

The Black Mages made a shock appearance to the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange to create "Flame Demon Monster Gaspard," their first non-Final Fantasy performance and also their least well-known work. The track's introduction is its weakest point. It takes a long time to develop and mostly consists of some predictable and repetitive imitative structures between the lead guitar and the keyboard. Still, when the theme gets going and The Black Mages' rendition of the main melody becomes its core, the arrangement becomes rather good; though fairly straightforward, the guitar-led interpretation is concise, catchy, and enjoyable. Between each rendition of the main theme, a series of guitar solos feature, which are virtuosic, energetic, and easily the best feature of the track. Michio Okamiya and Tsuyoshi Sekito both get a chance to shine here; the intense solos that lead the track towards its conclusion are particularly memorable. It's an average band arrangement, combining melodic emphasis, solid solos, and lots of hard rock flair into one, though few will be blown away by it, especially given its dodgy start. (7/10)

10) The Dark Battle

The pinnacle of rock arrangement on the album, Motoi Sakuraba's "The Dark Battle" should satisfy most. Unlike the previous track, it wastes no time with a long-winded introduction, since it opens with an overdriven guitar's interpretation of the main theme against some extremely ominous synth effects. The theme, already weird due to its chromatic and dissonant nature, sounds effective on the electric guitar and is continually built-up throughout the track through the employment of rapidly ascending chord sequences, relentless fast-paced drum beats, steadily increasing dynamics, and even a few "Highbrow"-esque piano runs. The resultant awe-inspiring and intimidating sound is supported and contrasted by a series of interludes. Most interludes are fast-paced and loud, leading to the theme building up more; the impressive guitar solos, the first of which is heard at the 1:00 mark, particularly add to such an effect. There are several quiet interludes, however, one of which features synth vocals prominently, and these add a subtle contrast to everything else going on. The most profound contrast of all, however, is at the 2:27 mark, when the rhythm of the track changes completely, a feature sure to intrigue any musicians out there. While the second half of the track is principally a repetition of the first-half, everything is subtly intensified and the conclusion is not a letdown. (9/10)

11) Demon (Dark Cloud Main Theme)

Iwadare engraves his own signature style into Dark Cloud's Main Theme to make an arrangement that is superior in every way to its already accomplished original. Beginning like the original with a fast-paced xylophone passage, the instruments used are heavier and slightly distorted. Introduction aside, a realistic acoustic guitar enters and the playful and unforgettable verse to the main theme enters soon after. Shortly after the verse, the addictive chorus makes a triumphant entrance, dominated by a sitar, some light strings, and Iwadare's signature bells, before an instrumental bridge passage occurs eventually leading to the arrangement's ending. With the reprise of the chorus and the use of more acoustic instruments, it almost sounds magical. With arrangements like these, it's no wonder that Iwadare is a fan's favourite. Fans of Dark Cloud and its sequel will love this. (10/10)

12) Time is Changing

An unbelievable end to the album for good and bad reasons, "Time is Changing" elaborates and technocates Nishiura's unremarkable ending vocal theme of the same name into an upbeat dance remix. It's radical. Around 80% of the arrangement is based on new passages or looped techno effects, all primary instruments from the original fail to be utilised, and the vocals are replaced by an incomprehensible vocorder. It's creative, an excellent piece of electronica, and a fun interpretation of a dull theme, but really shouldn't have concluded the album; it's hardly a grand climax, differs too much from the original for most to bear, and utilises an electronic style most won't be able to abide. A fresh new perspective, though downright stupidly placed. (6/10)


One does not have to have liked or even have listened to the Dark Chronicle Original Soundtrack to appreciate its arranged album's considerable worth. The Premium Arrange stands out admirably in its own right and the arrangements generally seem much more natural and sophisticated compared to the Original Soundtrack versions anyway. Dark Chronicle was certainly an unusual choice to arrange, since it had a strictly average RPG soundtrack and was a game with few hardcore fans. Nonetheless, all artists involved except Ito did a wonderful job in giving Nishiura's work a complete makeover and the individual results were mostly good, despite the abundance of minor problems.

The album doesn't work too well as a collective whole, however. The inclusion of rock, electronica, and acoustic music into one album will mean that most people will not enjoy at least a couple of the arrangements featured. The transitions between each style of music are often unflattering and disorientating, meaning it takes a little while to get used to each piece when they play. The three central arrangements are all slow-paced and, in Ito's case, unaccomplished, meaning the album temporarily loses all sense of direction. Furthermore, the opening track provided a misleading introduction to the album and the closing track felt very unfinished, meaning the track listings could have benefited from some rearranging in order to be more effective.

Recommended? Yes. There's something here for near-enough everybody and the overall quality is good. Nonetheless, its flaws are numerous and it isn't the best Premium Arrange available — this title going to Rogue Galaxy's — so it ought not be top of one's Christmas present list.

Overall Score: 7/10