Dark Cloud 2 Premium Arrange
Dark Cloud 2 Premium Arrange
April 21, 2004
Buy at CDJapan
The Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange is a diverse arranged album featuring a dream team of arrangers. Each of the main arrangers, comprising Motoi Sakuraba, Noriyuki Iwadare, Yoko Shimomura, Shinji Hosoe, and Kenji Ito, interpreted Tomohito Nishiura’s promising but mostly unsophisticated original pieces for Dark Cloud 2 with a unique style. The result is mixture of rock, electronica, ethnic music, Latin dance, and orchestral fusion music. To make things even better, Yasunori Mitsuda contributed a vocal theme and Square Enix’s The Black Mages made a special guest appearance.
Yasunori Mitsuda’s “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 quite minimalistic. 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.
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. It’s definitely an atmospheric gem that does a lot emotionally with a limited original, though is overly long and unfulfilling. More impressive is “The Dark Battle”, a chaotic and dissonant progressive rock fest. Already weird due to its chromatic nature, the melody sounds effective on the distorted 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 sound is highly intimidating, though a series of interludes bring some relief and depth to the piece.
In contrast to many tracks on the album, Yoko Shimomura’s “Sun” refines rather than transforms the originals. 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. In addition, 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. The arrangement builds up incredibly up to its conclusion and is constantly driven by an electronic beat that transforms dramatically as the piece progresses. There aren’t any major flaws in this piece, but it may get a tad bit repetitive, as Shimomura doesn’t vary from the original track much. “Flower Garden” is a significant contrast to “Sun” — calm, passionate, and emotionally moving. While the original was already well-developed, the arrangement has much more refined production values and strong imagery. In particularly, the gentle and stately lead violin line inspires the image of walking around in a castle’s grounds. 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.
Perhaps the least impressive contributions on the album are by Kenji Ito. His arrangement of “Balance Valley” inspires significantly less imagery than Nishiura’s original. The lazy and calm mood of the original is overrun by overly sentimental piano wanderings and overly sad string samples. Led by a simplistic piano line offering diatonic harmonies and predictable progressions almost exclusively, the arrangement becomes very boring too. Some may find the resulting piece relaxing, though most will think the unimaginable: Nishiura’s original was better. With “Stella Magic Temple”, Kenji Ito’s second arrangement on the album simplifies a beautiful, if already thin, composition and presents 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. Ito’s contributions to the album kill its centre.
The Black Mages also make a surprise appearance on 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 takes centre stage, the arrangement becomes rather good. Though fairly straightforward, the guitar-led interpretation of the melody is catchy and enjoyable. Between each rendition of the main theme, a series of virtuosic guitar solos featur. 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. However, few will be blown away by it, especially given its dodgy start.
Later in the album, 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. On “Moonlight Tango”, the composer also convincingly transforms Nishiura’s catchy original into an authentic Argentine tang. It remains close to the original in terms of its melodic structure, though is significantly faster and is now performed by an orquesta tipica,. 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 from the seductive introduction to the fulfilling conclusion.
Shinji Hosoe, head of Super Sweep, effortlessly transforms Tomohito Nishiura’s dull “Moon Flower Palace” 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 and the features are rather generic, despite growing sophistication as it reaches its conclusion. Finally, “Time is Changing” elaborates and technofies 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 are ignored, and the vocals are replaced by an incomprehensible vocorder. It’s a fresh new perspective, though stupidly placed on the album and inappropriate given the rest of the arrangements.
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, the artists involved mostly 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 provides a misleading introduction to the album and the closing track feels very unconclusive, 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.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.