Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack
Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack
DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (2nd Edition)
December 18, 2000; June 29, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
There may be no video game in the history of video gaming that has created more controversy than Chrono Cross. Though the game received almost universally high praise from professional critics, gathering nines, tens, and A’s from a majority of reputable gaming web sites, the video gaming fan base has not always agreed, many feeling that the game failed to hold up a certain standard, which was set by Chrono Trigger. As with the game, the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack has been met with a similar amount of scrutiny. Yasunori Mitsuda who was also responsible for Chrono Trigger‘s soundtrack composes for Chrono Cross, and though its value is widely debated, I consider the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack to be one of the finest collections of game music ever created that everyone at least owes a listen in order to form their own opinion of.
One of the defining traits of the Chrono series is been its development of a single setting through different points of view. In Chrono Trigger the settings are differentiated by time. In Chrono Cross the settings are worlds in parallel, altered by one pivotal moment in time. In both games, Mitsuda’s soundtrack is essential to creating the contrast between settings. In Chrono Cross, the importance of Mitsuda’s music is elevated further in that the graphics are quite similar in the two worlds. The score fulfils its purpose wonderfully. The sense of contrast between the two worlds is evident early on the soundtrack, between the two island map themes in the game. “Fields of Time ~ Home World” features a robust rhythm section, which supports the memorable main theme from Chrono Trigger, and bustles with joyous energy. “On the Beach of Dreams ~ Another World,” which happens to be one of my favourite pieces on the album, is not at all similar. This piece is one of haunting beauty. A choir sample being played against a touching guitar ostinato, which both bow down to the interplay between the fretless bass and violin. The overall effect is absolutely beautiful, although it has an overhanging feeling of melancholy. In either case, both pieces are very different and reflect the different between the two worlds before the characters get a chance to explore further into the world.
Many of the town themes in Chrono Cross are given similar treatment, although more often with the pieces maintaining some melodic similarity, with other aspects changed to fit the differing character of the towns in the different worlds. Mitsuda’s command over town themes has always been one of his greatest strengths, and his ability to create similar town themes without just relying on the “Change the melody to minor to make it sadder” theory, thus allowing him to evoke our emotions more subtly and suitably, not to mention allowing him to show us the flexibility of his fabulous melodies. Observe the difference between “Arni Village ~ Home” and “Arni Village ~ Another.” You will recognize similar motives in the two pieces, but the difference in instrumentation, tempo, and of the unfamiliar melodic material emphasizes that these two settings are indeed the same place in different worlds. In other situations, Mitsuda uses stylistic similarity instead of melodic similarity to draw the parallel between locations. Take “Termina ~ Another” and “Termina ~ Home.” The melodies do not bear the resemblance that the Arni tracks did, and, in fact, along with striking rhythmic differences, this is what gives each piece its individual character. Here, Mitsuda uses the Celtic style to draw the comparison between the two locations. The town themes throughout the rest of the album are a real highlight on the album, with both Guldove themes remarkable in their sweet melodies and direct simplicity, and the Marbule themes brimming with varying degrees of Celtic energy. “A Narrow Space Between Dimensions,” one of the few tracks for a unique setting altogether, is one of the finest compositions in this collection. A piece for solo guitar that, despite its relaxed mood, reflects on the hollowness of living in a dimension with no consequence to anyone.
Mitsuda’s creations for the other various locations in the game are well done as well. They range from primal rhythmically based tracks such as “Hydra Swamp” and “Navel of the World” to mostly ambient tracks such as “Island of the Earth Dragon” and “Forest of Illusion.” There are a few pieces of this nature which really do not work, such as “Isle of the Dead,” which is simply oppressive and uninteresting. Some tracks like “Ghost Ship” also fail to work for me, with this example feeling like the accompaniment to cartoon sneaking as opposed to being any serious atmospheric piece. Beyond that, however, Mitsuda is generally spot on in creating settings for the action to take place within. Some of these themes indeed end up being highlights from the album. Take “Dead Sea/Tower of Destruction” as an example. One of the most fully realized tracks on the album, “Dead Sea/Tower of Destruction” creates an absolutely chilling effect, a large part thanks to stellar manipulation of production effects and instrumentation. “Fortress of Ancient Dragons” is another strong track, alternating between a very ambient sound and a much more rhythmically powered section.
Unfortunately for the listener, these themes are interrupted often by the game’s much less consistently wonderful battle themes. “Between Life and Death,” the first theme heard in the actual gameplay portion of the game, and which also serves as the theme for many of the game’s boss fights, is sadly mediocre. While its rhythm is driving, there is never any real harmonic tension created, there is no melody worth remembering, and the overall effect does not really get the listener up for doing battle. “Gale,” the game’s normal battle theme, taken from Radical Dreamers, is not much better, and often ends up being nothing more than annoying. Again, rhythm is not an issue, but melody and harmony are, which is a shame, as the listener will hear this piece an awful lot in the game. The battle themes from later in the game, on the other hand, are exceptional. It’s a great shame that each of these pieces are only used once each, as they are far better than “Between Life and Death” or “Gale”.. The first, “Fates ~The God of Destiny~,” is rhythmically tame compared to the earlier battle themes, but much more inspired instrumentation and melodies of actual value make the piece far more intriguing. The second, “Dragon God,” is easily the album’s best battle track, and one of the best pieces on the album in general. This piece is full of rhythmic intensity, has memorable motives, and uses fine instrumentation. With the quality of this piece, it’s a shame that it only shows up once in the game. Even more tragically, it is followed by “Dark Realms of Time,” the game’s final battle piece, which I’m not even going to comment on out of fear that I will injure someone in anger by going any further.
Though none of the event-specific tracks in Chrono Cross turn me off nearly as much as “Dark Realms of Time,” the game’s music is just as uneven in that territory. That’s not to say that it is bad though, as there are some truly remarkable pieces of that nature. “Prisoners of Fate,” which could almost be considered a battle theme if stretched to its limits, is one of the most emotional themes I’ve experienced in a video game. Though there is nothing especially unique about it, its melody is crafted with such precision that I cannot help but surrender my heart to it. “Garden of God” emanates a sacred atmosphere that reflects on the grandeur of the dragons to whom this theme is dedicated. “Lost Fragment” combines beautiful guitar with the fine melody from the game’s opening sequence. There are many more great tracks of this nature, but also a deal that do not work for me. Sadly enough, one of the tracks of this nature, which I did not like, is related to the game’s only prominent musician. “Magical Dreamers…” combines rock and Mitsuda’s Celtic influence into a piece that offers little besides its melody. There are other pieces such as “The Splendidly Grand Magic Troupe” whose title is longer than the piece can actually contain the listener’s interest. Also present are tracks such as “Ephemeral Memory,” which end up being far too sentimental to really evoke a real emotional response from me. For the most part however, Mitsuda uses music fairly effectively to push the game’s dramatic scene’s forward.
With most of the music from the game itself out of the way, that leaves us with two tracks that absolutely must be mentioned when dealing with Chrono Cross. The first track, played during the game’s introductory music, is a great encapsulation of the game itself. Its introductory segment features a beautifully warm synth pad that captures the mood of Chrono Cross‘ tropical waters perfectly. Mitsuda’s melody is soaked in nostalgia, and with the wonderful timbre of the fretless bass and acoustic guitar, there is a definite sense of reminiscence, as if going through the events of the game in retrospect through the introductory movie. As the action picks up, Mitsuda answers with a quick and powerful melody that would have been perfect as a melody to one of the melodically devoid battle themes in the game. The mood is chaotic, but the sound is clear and intense. “Chrono Cross ~Scars of Time~” may well be the best track on the album, and is certainly the most memorable. “Radical Dreamers ~Unstealable Jewel~” plays over the concluding credits. The vocal melody is very pleasant, and carries the benefit of being accompanied very idiomatic guitar styled harmonies that are not often heard. Though the piece is rather simple, it does a good job of capturing the feeling one might expect after the events of Chrono Cross. Not an incredibly noteworthy piece, but very pleasant; it meddles with my emotions in ways I cannot figure out
The one thing I’ve not mentioned yet, but deserves to be mentioned is the superb sound quality throughout the album. No PlayStation work possesses music that is allowed to sparkle with as much clarity as this. Thanks to synthesizer operator Ryo Yamazaki, the independent synths are well done, and the instrument emulations are surprisingly well done in many cases. The quality of the sound is remarkable, especially for its time.
Though Chrono Cross‘ score is not the most diverse or complex soundtrack available, its high points are so good that I cannot help but consider it in the upper echelon of game music. Mitsuda’s melodies are as wonderful as ever, and he does a great job of creating unity between the game’s two worlds, while emphasizing their emotional differences. There’s a very human quality to the entire album that helps bring the El Nido Archipelago to life. Very few video game albums besides this have been able to create as strong a sense not only of place and of character and of drama, but also of person. There are not a lot of soundtracks that I talk less about the actual musical make up of each piece than this one, but there are no soundtracks like this where I can actually feel like I could walk into one of the game’s many towns and actually hear a group on the street playing some of these themes, even among Mitsuda’s other scores. That is an intangible quality that no musical schooling ever needed to teach Yasunori Mitsuda, and it appears with remarkable effect on this album. That being said, the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack still succeeds on all other accounts. It features memorable melodies, serves the drama of the story, and is interesting to listen to for its own merits. Yes, there are weak tracks, and, indeed, some tracks do not work out of context, but that is no excuse for me to not give Chrono Cross‘s soundtrack high marks. It is simply one of the best experiences I have ever had with video game music, and a staunch reminder that complexity need not be treated with superiority.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Richard Walls. Last modified on January 19, 2016.