Sakura Note -A Future Connected to the Present- Gift of Sound
Sakura Note -A Future Connected to the Present- Gift of Sound
November 5, 2009
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Marvelous Entertainment’s Sakura Note: A Future Connected to the Present is a story-driven DS adventure game dedicated to a boy’s quest to find out why phantoms are haunting the girl Nanami. Though the game might not interest most Western audiences, its musical score should be a great source of curiosity, since it is composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Rather than treat it as a side project, it’s clear that Uematsu put a lot of energy and emotion into the score. The resulting soundtrack is one of the composer’s most melodically captivating and emotional in recent years. In fact, it is filled with the light-heartedness, sentimentality, novelty, and innocence many originally found so endearing in Uematsu’s Final Fantasy works. The 28 piece soundtrack was a bonus enclosure with the game, which is currently a Japan exclusive. Nevertheless, the game might be worth importing for the music alone…
Nobuo Uematsu demonstrates he has put his heart into the soundtrack right from the opener “A Future Connected to the Present”. When analysed technically, it is little more than some sentimental piano fragments supported by synthesized ethereal strings. However, the melodies are so heartfelt and the timbres so atmospheric that the piece has a very striking effect, comparable with that of “To Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X. It shows that Nobuo Uematsu doesn’t require elaborate orchestrations or epic performances to create an effective piece. While sentimentality is not the focus of the soundtrack, there are several other pieces that will inspire some ‘aww’s among Uematsu’s fans. For example, “Everyone in This Family” is so reflective with its electric piano use. Others complement the beautiful scenery in the game and are soothing on a stand-alone basis too. The impressionistic “I’m Always Hills”, harp-based “The Construction Building on a Moonlit Night”, and the Asian-inspired “This is the Chicken Shogunate” are especially fine examples and are on par with some of Uematsu’s finest Final Fantasy works.
Away from these more scenic pieces, the soundtrack is overall a very light-hearted and humorous affair. Most notably, “Let’s Whistle and Go Somewhere” casts memories back to Uematsu’s old-school adventure themes with its lazy pace and curious melodies. In fact, it recreates much the same feeling as Hanjuku Hero VS 3D‘s “Peaceful Kingdom”, yet offers a more diverse palette and plenty of zany moments. It’s a delight in context and, as it’s name suggests, it’s difficult to resist whistling along even on a stand-alone basis. Others such as “About Nanami” or “The Weird Man” actually integrate 8-bit synth. However, in contrast to the Hanjuku Hero series, the effect is endearing rather than jarring due to slightly more compassionate synthesis. As with many of Uematsu’s scores, so many pieces on Sakura Note have an infectious quality and are very memorable after listening. Even those pieces without an obvious melody, such as “A Town Filled with Machines”, manage to be extremely catchy and worthy of repeated listens.
The humorous element of Sakura Note‘s music is best reflected by the slapstick themes intended to represent the phantoms in the game. “It’s a Phantom Festival” certainly complements the dark visuals in the game and is somewhat reminiscent of Grant Kirkhope’s haunted castle themes for Rare. Yet what really makes this one so amusing are the random samples of girls screaming, witches cackling, and, as per Uematsu’s trademarks, dogs howling. Other creepy yet amusing tracks include “Filthy Sewer Dungeon” with its clanky piano work or “He’s a Phantom, but…” with its martial percussion. Going even quirkier, “The Weird Man” combines the least likely of elements — some catchy chiptunes, a funereal clarinet melody, and a chorus of scat singers — into a surprisingly likeable piece. Talking of vocals, one track features nothing other than a series of As, Es, Is, and Us sung at different pitches by a synth choir. It’s one of Uematsu’s most ‘out there’ pieces and even brings back memories of DynamiTracer. I personally think the humour paid off in these pieces, though they’ll be a little too out there for some.
Listeners are bound to find a few familiar chord progressions and cadences from Uematsu’s Final Fantasy works here and there. The references are not as numerous as those in Blue Dragon, but are prominent in otherwise accomplished themes such as the slapstick march “The Dog, Working Hard!” or rock jam “The Factory’s Just Like a Dungeon”. Perhaps most shamelessly, “A Huge Phantom Shows Up” reworks Lost Odyssey‘s villain’s motif with epic chorus and bombastic timpani. These references, intended or not, will bring mixed feelings; some will find them cute or nostalgic, others uninspired or cringe-worthy. I’m personally on the fence. However, one definitive moment of the score comes with the transient appearance of the Final Fantasy series’ famous normal battle bass line at the ten second mark. It makes the synth rock that follows all the more jubilant. I’m also a sucker for sections of “Nanami’s the Heroine”, not least because they remind me of Final Fantasy IX‘s obscure theme “Turn Around, He’s a Frog!”.
The climax of Sakura Note reaffirms its status as a classic score. Filled with intimate passages, bittersweet moments, and heroic twists, “Jumping on the Train with Nanami” certainly captures the emotions of the main characters towards the end of the game. “To the Legendary Last Battle…” is a dramatic orchestral composition to depict the clashes of protagonists and villain. Though the DS is naturally limited in its audio capacity, Uematsu still manages to create a rich and powerful sound with the console in this instance. Though it takes some time to get going, “Fight! Nascaiser” is an excellent final battle theme reminiscent of those of the SNES era. The section from 1:20 is filled with the flair usually only found in old-school game music these days. The composer ties up the emotions of the score with “Try Saying it Kindly”, a gentle piano-based composition with slightly depressing moments, before leading out the album with a sentimental orgel solo in “Music Box of Tears”. Though Sakura Note features no major recurring theme, it feels well-rounded nevertheless by the conclusion of the score.
Sakura Note is quite a soundtrack, but not intended for all. Those looking for the next big Nobuo Uematsu score have come to the wrong place and should redirect themselves to the likes of Lost Odyssey, Guin Saga, or Final Fantasy XIV instead. While it has its dramatic, sinister, and beautiful moments, the Sakura Note soundtrack is mainly about Uematsu-san having fun. Preceding similar efforts such as Hanjuku Hero VS 3D and Blue Dragon gained mixed reviews, but this soundtrack offers quite a bit more in the melodic department and is more consistent in quality too. Overall, Uematsu manages to integrate so many different styles and moods into a score that beautifully complements the game and comes together as a cohesive stand-alone listen. I’d highly recommend it for fans of Uematsu’s older works, although it will be necessary to import the game through NCSX or find a second-hand copy of the soundtrack through Yahoo! Japan Auctions.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.