Phantom Kingdom Original Soundtrack
|Album Title||Catalog No.|
|Phantom Kingdom Arrange Album (Japan)||SCDC-00434|
|Makai Kingdom Chronicles of the Sacred Tome Bonus Soundtrack (US)||N/A|
In the past, Nippon Ichi Software’s arranged albums were more like remastered best selections than ambitious remix projects. This all changed for Phantom Kingdom, though not entirely for the better. Several composers from the original score returned to offer expansive arrangements of a number of compositions and, in doing so, visit practically every style known to man. The resultant album was released in two forms. The Phantom Kingdom Arrange Album was available in Japan commercially, while the Makai Kingdom Chronicles of the Sacred Tome Bonus Soundtrack was bundled with the Western editions of the game.
Unsurprisingly, the score opens with an arrangement of Takayuki Aihara’s main theme. The original melody was quite memorable and charming, but was presented in an overly eccentric way on the original score. Unfortunately, this remix only emphasises these negative traits. Too many elements are packed into this theme — bright orchestration, techno beats, dark interludes, and even a jazzy encore — resulting in a cluttered and disorientating sound. Furthermore, the simple original material is laboured in this arrangement, which continues without much thematic variety for over five minutes. The concept was ambitious, but the final result is simply unappealing.
The other arrangers on the album also attempt to elaborate on their compositions — offering the sort of works they would create for stand-alone listening, free from the restrictions and limitations of in-game music. The results are often spectacular transformations sometimes let down by the sparsity of the original material. Ryo Sakai’s “JOKER”, for instance, sounds impressively like a old lounge theme — with smooth saxophone leads, subtle guitar solos, and even some scat singing. “I am a Boss” meanwhile is an example of a frenzied rock theme featuring punchy chord progressionos and far from subtle guitar lines. Both are accomplished works with authentic part-writing and implementation. However, their appeal isn’t really due to their relatively weak original melodies, which almost become an obligatory and unwanted part of the resultant arrangements. Yet without this melodic draw the resultant arrangements come across as part of a stock pile of imitations rather than anything individualised.
In terms of diversity, the Phantom Kingdom Arrange Album is unparalleled by other arranged albums out there. In addition to the abovementioned arrangements, listeners are offered the flamenco fusion “Darkness Darkness”, the gypsy dance “Demon’s Party”, and the pumping dance remix “Alexander the God of Destruction”. These stylistic deviations are certainly impressively put-together, though generally suffer from being too derivative of the intended styles and too abstract from the original material. Furthermore, while some diversity is welcome on an arranged album, it is often detrimental in this case given the album doesn’t really come together as a whole. In fact, it is even more random and disordered than the original soundtrack.
Away from the electronic remixes and world excursions, there are some orchestral contributions too. Ayako Saso’s “The First Battle” is one of the few tracks on the entire soundtrack that remains faithful to the melodies and style of the original. Nevertheless, this arrangement is greatly elaborated, enabling the arrangement to be even more exciting than before. Tamiya Terashima’s final battle arrangement “Apocalypse” and ending theme “Royal Road” definitely feel tagged on to the end of this release and are almost too highbrow for their own good. Nevertheless, these orchestral epics are very impressive in their own right. The former is spectacular with its mixture of experimental choral work and modernist orchestration, while the latter is an extensive exploration of the various moods and emotions featured elsewhere in the score.
The Phantom Kingdom Arrange Album is certainly remarkable, but not necessarily appealing. This album is highly eclectic, but this isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes stylistic exploration seems to be used to mask weak or limited original material, rather than necessarily enhance the original pieces as they were originally conceived. What’s more, most experiments are quite stereotypical and superficial, albeit competent, leaving the album lacking that artistry needed for it stand up independently of its original material. Furthermore, the sheer diversity of the album results in it being completely incohesive overall, rather than a definitive retelling of the game’s story. Those who are looking for diversity and nothing else will enjoy this album, but everyone else might feel lost and uninspired.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.