Pikmin Original Soundtrack
Pikmin Original Soundtrack
July 10, 2002
Buy Used Copy
Nintendo’s Pikmin saw microscopic creatures crash into a alien world and search giant environments to build an escape scaceship. Fun, colourful, cute, scary, and just a tad bizarre… Its score was crafted by Hajime Wakai, the versatile composer that has also contributed to Star Fox 64, F-ZERO X, Nintendogs, and New Super Mario Bros., and implemented by a team of experts so it made the most out of GameCube hardware. It was widely described as ambient due to its emphasis on representing the scenery and monsters of its world. However, considering so much ambient game music just consists of percussion rhythms and suspended strings, this description is hardly a testament to Pikmin‘s astonishing musical colour. Time for me to give this underexposed score the attention it deserves…
The title theme’s “Pikmin” depicts the organic, alien, and microscopic elements of the game all in well. Its minimalist soundscape incorporates all sorts of exotic percussion, sound effects, and cutesy sounds topped off by the distinctive sound of an ethnic flute emulating ullulation. What follows is a cutesy twist on a waltz, a gorgeously soundscaped select theme, and the brief and dramatic opening theme. The opening of “Complete View” almost reminds me of Ocarina of Time’s “Morning Theme”. The contented yet enthusiastic body gives that sense of anticipation for an adventure that Nintendo does best. This piece is clearly inspired by Nintendo’s classic soundtracks but is also definitively Pikmin.
The centrepiece of the score are the five area themes. Taking a closer look at one, “Forest of Hope” uses ethereal synth pads, piano arpeggios, and suspended strings to establish a reassuring sound. It sounds very typical but beautiful at first, but the unconventional development ensures its anything but a standard theme in the end. There’s an intelude dedicated to impressionistic piano chords against minimalistic string and glockenspiel utterings of a descending melodic fragment. An exotic drum line enters at 1:23 as the main theme is repeated to enhance motion and the otherworldly timbre and, finally, there’s change in instrument palette at 2:45 in which detached tuned percussion as opposed to smooth synth pads treat the main theme adding to the cutesy feel.
“Impact Theme” builds gracefully and whimsically upon a handful of cutesy motifs passed from all sorts of instruments. Unfortunately, it’s catchy in a very intrusive way and this makes it a bit grating even during its 6:39 playtime on the soundtrack. Given the piece is played for multiple hours in the game, the thought of listening to it again will likely be offputting by those who have played the game. “Forest Navel” uses an impeccably synthesized steel-stringed guitars above a new age backing to create a hybridised sound and develops excellently without become intrusive. An especially beautiful track is “Flood Source”, which slows the tempos down for a impressionistic experiment with tone colour; the fluid development and mellows timbres while the eccentric development section still feels perfectly fitting. “Final Trial” initially feels like a less catchy version of the opening track but the eventual introduction of a percussive piano line and the foreboding if annoying repetition of a xylophone motif certainly gives a sense of impending conclusion.
The enemy encounter themes are a bit sparing. “Huge Living Thing Approaches” reminds me quite a bit of The Wind Waker’s battle theme, which Wakai incidentally probably composed. Despite its outward dissonance and randomness, it’s very fitting. The ascending brass motifs paint an image of something big approaching (to pikmins, near enough anything is big though) while the percussion use provides a lot of vitality. “The Last Huge Living Thing” uses the old cliché of organ-led final boss music. The organ synth being a bit questionable — seemingly more influenced by organs used in pop music rather than classical music. However, the track is definitely impressionable and the dabs of prepared piano and percussion give a sense of exoticism without the cuteness.
After the final opponent music, the soundtrack loses its way and includes everything else composed for the score. “Let’s Try Hard!” and “Challenging Result Announcement” demonstrate that Pikmin cuteness does not reconcile well with bombastic melodies. Subsequently, ten short themes feature, most of them dedicated to events concerning spaceship parts; they feel abrasive due to their brevity and, in many cases, annoying musicality, even though their composition was necessary. Tracks 25 to 33 contain many brief skippable entries too, mostly used for cinematics, but there are at least a few substantial compositions among them. “Today’s Record” decorates its chillout bass line with a distorted cutesy treble melody, but repeats far too much to be worth its 2:05 play time. “Spaceship Completion, Now to Outer Space!” is one of the most enjoyable cinematics, entering a variety of quirky sections within its minute of playing. Three brief concluding themes following: the triumphant “Escape, and Hokotara Star!”, the militaristic fusion “All Records of an Accident”, and the poppy synth-laden “Trip Directors”.
The end credits theme, “All Records of a Living Thing”, is far longer than any of the other themes on the soundtrack, the area themes aside. It mostly uses a conventional jubilant melody with colourful march-like accompaniment as opposed to reprising preceding themes. The melody repeats no less than eight times without variety during the 5:18 playtime and three disappointingly brief interludes do little to deter from the repetition. It’s made worse by the fact that the melody is repetitive within itself as well and the accompaniment soon becomes transparent. After all the quirk previously, I had hoped for something far better, but this theme just resorts to ‘drag on and on until the credits are over’ strategy that I abhor in game soundtracks.
The final three themes are renditions of the vocal theme “Song of Love”, used in the Japanese commercials for Pikmin but not in the game itself. Composed and sung by Strawberry Flower, the enchanting youthful song became a massive success in Japan and its single outselled even Pikmin itself. Unfortunately, the soundtrack only contains three CM Versions that barely exceed 30 seconds long, one of which is in French. While these were the renditions used in the commercial, their inclusions as opposed to the main version tease and frustrate. Their inclusion only serves a commercial purpose.
The Pikmin sound is unparalleled. Hajime Wakai melded all sorts of musical and artistic influences together in weird but wonderful ways here. Its unconventional instrumentation, whimsical phrasing, catchy motifs, and endearing personality come together to portray Pikmin‘s world and creatures excellently. Many will find it endearing and delightful. Not all will, as the soundtrack can inspire a variety of negative reactions; it isn’t as instantly captivating as some more direct catchy music, has irritating tendencies, and can be alienatingly random at times. It’s a unique addition to music so may polarise opinions, but that doesn’t undermine its worth as a stylistic experiment, game accompaniment, or independent listening experience. I’d recommend anyone with an open mind to at least check out the Pikmin sound and they might well be impressed.
That said, the Pikmin World Original Soundtrack is a problematic purchase. Be aware the album has its share of stinkers, some functional, others unpleasant whatever the context, as well as disappointments such as the incomplete “Song of Love”. While it gets full marks for being a technically complete score with some great setpieces, the tracks from 12 and beyond really damage the score and aren’t worth much attention. Only about a third of the tracks are worth one’s time here and they’re almost all at the start of the soundtrack. The inconsistency will make the listening experience mixed and may result in the Pikmin sound being associated with mere novelty more than it deserves. But at least we got a soundtrack release for a change and nifty timing with the stop button should ensure one won’t have to listen to “Let’s Try Hard!” and successors. If you’re looking for something different, this album is still a decent purchase.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on January 19, 2016.