Seiken Densetsu -Rise of Mana- Original Soundtrack
Seiken Densetsu -Rise of Mana- Original Soundtrack
April 23, 2014
Buy at CDJapan
A free-to-play smartphone title, Rise of Mana certainly wasn’t the game most fans of the dwindling series were looking for. However, Square Enix tried to go all-out on the soundtrack front from the game. While most of the music was written by Tsuyoshi Sekito, franchise composers Kenji Ito, Hiroki Kikuta, and Yoko Shimomura returned to write a new composition each, while KOKIA wrote and performed the theme song. But while the resultant soundtrack has its moments, it doesn’t prove as emotional as earlier instalments in the series…
Rise of Mana is easily Tsuyoshi Sekito’s most acoustic soundtrack to date. Just one of the tracks here features his signature rock style, “A Worthy Foe”, and it proves unsurprisingly spectacular. The rest adopts a more organic flavour typical of the Mana series and the results are a mixed bag. Some of the highlights include the whimsical classically-orchestrated orchestration of “Ode to the Workshop” or the vibrant march stylings of “The Enemy Appears”. With such pieces, Sekito has shifted away from his usual approaches in favour of something a little richer and more abstract. In some of his compositions, particularly “Breath of the Goddess”, he hides his fingerprints altogether and attempts to emulate what Hitoshi Sakimoto might write. However, the very best tracks are those that recall his setting themes on The Last Remnant. “Those Who Delve the Darkness” and “On Windswept Lands” capture all the marvel of striding through the lands. Both are encompassing, worldly fusion pieces, with the latter boasting some top-notch acoustic guitar performances.
While Rise of Mana evidently features its highlights, unfortunately the majority of the tracks here are far less enjoyable. This exemplified right from the first instrumental track on the soundtrack, “Silent Resolve”. In line with his approach for the rest of the soundtrack, Sekito blends ethereal strings and acoustic guitar to create a beautiful soundscape befitting Square Enix’s most organic and spiritual franchise. Even though this is a smartphone game, the quality of the samples is top-notch and surpasses those of all previous Mana soundtracks. But where it lacks is on the memorability front. The composition simply repeats a few chords throughout without ever introducing a melody or any sort of unique musicianship. Similar approaches continue in “Sunlight through the Trees”, “Luck of the Draw”, “A Map Unfurled”, and “One Bard’s Tune”, all of which are perfectly listenable but lack the melodies or personalities to rival the best of the series.
Among the best tracks on the soundtrack are those from the guest contributors. Yoko Shimomura’s “Where the Hearts Beat Free” is greatly reminiscent of Legend of Mana‘s “Hometown Domina” with its playful, dreamy aura. Hiroki Kikuta’s “The Drip Drip Drip of Memory” meanwhile recalls Secret of Mana‘s “Into the Thick of It” with its unconventional instrumentation and tonalities. “Fear the Messenger” homages Sword of Mana‘s final boss theme with lyrical violin leads above rock and orchestral textures. These tracks are such blatant fan services that I fear the three composers weren’t given the chance to really express themselves. However, they’re so excellent in composition and production that this won’t matter to most. The theme song from the game, “Believe in the Spirit”, is a rare example an RPG theme song done right. It avoids typical J-pop clichés in favour of subtle vocal melodies and a gorgeous Celtic soundscape focusing on acoustic guitar and tin whistle. In many ways, it is reminiscent of Xenogears‘ theme songs but with more modern production values.
Back to the disappointments, the darker tracks on the soundtrack mostly fall flat. “The Far Side of Grief” attempts to create the sense of an impending climax with staples such as suspended strings, choir chants, and harp arpeggiations. But between its unappealing melody and dull integration, it fails to ever make a connection with the player. Even less appealing are the moody scene-setters “Ominous Clouds”, “Heart’s Content”, “Quickening Light”, and “Omen”. While hardly as amateurish as his cinematic cues on Dawn of Mana, they fail to draw in the listener as they should have. Sadly, Yasuhiro Yamanaka’s “This Way to Another Dimension” falls into the same boat and is yet another skippable track. The soundtrack is rounded off with two half-decent booming orchestrations from Sekito, “The Sanctuary of Mana” and “Back to Mana’s Embrace”, before closing with a simple piano rendition of series’ main theme “Rising Sun” courtesy of Ito.
The Rise of Mana boasts soundtrack stellar production values and fantastic guest contributions. Musically, there have been much worse smartphone adaptations of popular series than this one. However, it lacks the rich melodies, idiosyncrasies, and emotions that characterise the best soundtracks of the series. The ratios speak for themselves: Rise of Mana features ten excellent tracks and eighteen skippable ones. This simply isn’t good enough for the soundtrack to live up to its predecessors or justify the album’s 3000 JPY pricetag.
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Posted on January 14, 2016 by Chris Greening. Last modified on January 15, 2016.