Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Original Soundtrack
August 20, 2003
Buy at CDJapan
Following in the footsteps of Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy XI, the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube is quite a diversion from the series’ roots in its musical approach. Kumi Tanioka decided to portray the environments of the game with traditional instruments and organic arrangements, while still retaining a strong melodic focus throughout. The resultant soundtrack sometimes suffers from its consistent stylings, but features numerous fitting, enjoyable, and fascinating tracks.
As a result of its early styles, the soundtrack boasts some excellent use of early instruments throughout — the serpent, recorder and hurdy-gurdy are all utilized, and even the kazoo and bagpipes are prominently used. While the liking of such instruments is often determined only by one’s personal taste, their unique sounds ensure that they are never detractive from the soundtrack’s overall quality and instead make it more distinction. Much of the soundtrack is performed by the original band of musicians known as ROBA HOUSE, who specialise in performing such early music and bring an authentic tone to the soundtrack. The use of pre-recorded sound in this way was a clear advancement in game music technology and pushed the GameCube towards its limits.
The ancient instruments are used to portray a wide range of settings convincingly. On “Echoes of the Mountain Peak”, there is an adventurous ‘scale the mountain’ feeling present in this track, for instance. This is particularly well enforced by the tribal percussion beats that run throughout. While it verges on the repetitive at times, there is a wonderful bridge section created by the kazoo that eradicates this from becoming a more prominent flaw. In “Overlooking the Great Ocean” meanwhile, the strumming acoustic guitar creates a rugged feel ideal for representing the battered shores of the ocean. However, the wind melodies that sing over them create a much softer and airier feel. Both tracks are pretty simple in their approaches, but fit beautifully and bring some novelty to the series.
The consistent use of early instruments and minimalist styles throughout a soundtrack is always going to be quite a mixed blessing: while this gives an album a distinctive style, it also runs the risk of it becoming quite dull as a collective whole due to lack of diversity of styles. Unfortunately, this soundtrack considerably succumbs to the latter, as many tracks are barely distinguishable from each other or recognisable, particularly the endless array of setting and town themes. “A Gentle Wind Blows,” “Moving Clouds on the River’s Surface,” and “Voice of Wind, Song of Time” are all tranquil setting themes, for example, and while perfectly likeable on their own, collectively they are totally unmemorable. How many times can one album use a recorder as an airy, I ask?
Thankfully, this album does have a fair diversity of styles despite the abundance of town and setting themes. There are experimental gems like “Meager Advance” and “Mag Mail,” some beautiful new age themes like “Nostalgic Profile” and “To the Successor of the Crystal”, and even the slapstick march “Goblin’s Lair.” Let’s look at the enormous contrast between the numinous last dungeon themes for instance: The first, “Echoes in the Heart” is highly minimalist in nature — Tanioka sparingly places a few mysterious high-pitched piano passages to contrast against the heavenly accompaniment of a bell ostinato. The other two, “Light and Shadow” and “I Don’t Want to Forget,” use backing vocals to create a holy eminence similar to that of a chorale; however, they also use celestas, tuned percussion, and the high-pitches of the piano to create a certain amount of frostiness. Each takes very unique approaches, but work wonderfully individually and collectively.
The town themes are some of the most enjoyable tracks on the soundtrack from a melodic perspective. The leads in “The First Town” and “Prosperity and Tradition”, for instance, capture the light-hearted nature of the game’s town with their lyrical melodies and airy timbres. The folksy stylings give just the right mood here. That said, it can be frustrating that these tracks, “Magii is Everything,” and “Annual Festival” all use the kazoo to play their primary melodies. The kazoo has a quirky effect at first, but it grows boring and predictable quite quickly. Like many others on the soundtrack, these pieces are great on an individual level but unremarkable on a collective one.
Still, the vocal themes are probably the most memorable additions to the soundtrack. “Kaze No Ne” serves as the ideal opening theme, adventurous and bold, while the much more subtle beauty of “Starry Moonlit Night” and its arranged is ideal for creating a bittersweet ending theme. Although Square vocalists have the tendency to sound a little shallow, Yae is not one of them, and she sings these themes with an airy worldly style. Her voice was the perfect choice for the album — it is so good not to be drawn through the mill with a pop diva yet again. Tanioka’s instrumentals are pleasing too, with gliding flutes and rustic guitars. This ensures the success of “Endless Sky” and “Thoroughly Blue,” the identical instrumental versions of “Kaze No Ne”, in addition to several other versions of this primary theme running through the soundtrack.
Most of the battle themes are also unthinkably dreary. I swear that my dead goldfish could inject more life into a boss battle than “Monster’s Dance ~Rondo~”, for instance. The fast-paced ostinato in the harmony creates some excitement and the rondo-based form brings some variety during the developments. However, the bland and seemingly thoughtless melodies fail to create the gripping atmosphere strictly needed here. Thankfully, the two final battle themes make up for this. Dominated by the unlikely bagpipe, “Sad, Monster” is slow and brooding for the most part, but develops in a way that is wholly satisfying. “Unite, Descent” is also spectacular with its multi-tiered development, blending tribal drum beats with renditions of the main theme.
Upcoming musician Hidenori Iwasaki is also an asset to this release. In addition to ensuring stellar programming, he was commissioned to write one track for this album, “Eternal Oath”. It develops chillingly from the delicious low-pitched wind sounds in the opening into a fully-fledged ambient soundscape. The ambience he creates here is not at all bland or dull — unlike a few other tracks on this album — but rather deep and enigmatic. While I do not discredit Tanioka, the additional diversity that a different composer provides in just one track is simply incredible.
While I believe it is often wrong to ponder on the olden days of the series’ music, the fact that Nobuo Uematsu’s classic “Cripper Tripper Fritter” from Final Fantasy V was revived in not one, but two arrangements, is definitely a good thing. “I’m Moogle” is as catchy and lively as ever with Tanioka’s ancient touches, and fits snugly into the rest of the soundtrack. “My Den” is a much more experimental an arrangement, but is even more effective. It amazes me how the Moogle theme still manages to be the catchiest in a soundtrack containing two discs worth of otherwise new themes — this shows just how wonderful Nobuo Uematsu’s melodies can be. It’s just a shame there was no “Ancient de Chocobo.” Don’t you think it has a certain ring to it?
Overall, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is a remarkable but inaccessible achievement. This soundtrack has many features unique to the series: the streamed early instrumentation performances, the beautifully sung vocal tracks, and the minimalistic ancient stylings. That said, these styles are a considerable departure from Nobuo UEmatsu’s more pop-influenced approach and may alienate some listeners. It lacks the diversity in styles present in most game soundtracks and the individual themes may bland and indistinctive when listened to as a collective whole. While this soundtrack will take some time to appreciate, many will find it a fulfilling and enjoyable experience, particularly in conjunction with the game.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.