Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Kingdom of Torna
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Kingdom of Torna
|Record Label: Procyon Studio|
|Catalog No.: SBPS-0039|
|Release Date: December 14, 2018|
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The fact that Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s DLC expansion even has its own soundtrack is, in some sense, impressive enough. Given the sheer volume of original music (nearly five and a half hours’ worth) at Monolith Soft’s disposal, the developer could have just as easily opted to reuse musical assets, calling it a day then and there. To some extent, Monolith Soft did rely on old assets; but even so, they invited Procyon Studio to liven up their Torna, the Golden Country expansion with fresh contributions. That’s just fine by us: here at VGMO, we’re big fans of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s musical score.
Yet Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Kingdom of Torna is anything but more of the same. Where its predecessor reveled in grandiose orchestration and high-octane, synth-infused battle themes, Kingdom of Torna narrows its focus in large part to smooth jazz and acoustic arrangements. Just how well does this contrast distinguish Kingdom of Torna from the main body of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 music?
Back in 2017, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 made a strong musical impression right off the bat, with a sentimental piano piece by lead composer Yasunori Mitsuda. True to form, so did Torna: The Golden Country – and the Kingdom of Torna album begins on that very same note. Yet where Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s title music introduced players to its main theme, Torna: The Golden Country has no such theme to speak of. Instead, listeners are treated to a sneak preview of “A Moment of Eternity” (more on that to come) in a style evocative of Yiruma’s “A River Flows In You”. The piece still makes a charming first impression, but fans seeking Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s same attention to leitmotif and interconnectivity will have a tough time finding it here.
They will, on the other hand, find a radical new direction for Xenoblade music that’s totally unique to Torna. Where previous Xenoblade installments packed rollicking field exploration themes, driven by invigorating beats and ecstatic orchestration, Torna turns to smooth jazz for a milder – and perhaps more mature – approach. No track better demonstrates the juxtaposition than ACE CHiCO’s new take on “Gormott”. In its Torna iteration, “Four-limbed Titan/Gormott” mutes the excitement of the once exuberant fan-favorite, trading its iconic, thunderous beat and soaring strings for lighter drumming, spunky piano clusters, and Ryoji Ihara’s sleek saxophone lines. The pace is still brisk, but the tone is decidedly less grand and predominantly minor.
The same could be said for the album’s titular exploration theme, “Kingdom of Torna”. ACE TOMOri’s weeping piano arpeggiation and sympathetic strings suggest he may have taken a leaf from Yoko Kanno’s “Walt”, were it not for the addition of Ihara-san’s subtle sax flourishes. The combination inspires feelings of nostalgic longing and lamentation, in both the track’s daytime and sparser nighttime iterations.
At times, Xenoblade fans may yearn for the franchise’s traditional sound: sweet melodies, resonant percussion, and some of the most colorful instrumentation every set to a JRPG. To that end, Manami Kiyota’s contributions don’t disappoint. “Lasaria Woods” sets woodwinds, strings and guitar wandering through a thicket of tactile percussion and perpetually curious harmonies. “Auresco, Royal Capital”, in its daylight form, rings with the titular castle town’s collective wish for peace, conveyed in the lilts and quavers of an impassioned violin lead. The evening rendition retains the same regal grace, trading violin for guitar and consequently cooling the temperature down.
Listeners may notice that these tracks share one thing in common: a notable lack of electronic sound. Save for the presence of a synth pad in the first few seconds of “Kingdom of Torna”, Torna’s soundtrack is a purely acoustic operation, void of the rock elements and synthesis that gave Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s battle themes their “extreme edge!” Yet even with their acoustic limitation, Torna’s battle themes stand toe-to-toe with any battle theme from the main game. Kenji Hiramatsu’s “Battle!!/Torna” will enthrall listeners for almost seven straight minutes with crashing drums, crunchy piano syncopation, snappy upright bass, and feisty strings, occasionally giving each element its own moment to shine.
Likewise, Torna’s two final boss themes pack an unplugged punch. “Over Despair and Animus” opens with the same mournful guitar articulation that made Metal Gear Solid 4’s “Old Snake” theme so heart-tugging, and then reworks Mitsuda-san’s boss theme for a certain major Xenoblade Chronicles 2 villain into a flamenco-style texture capped off with a gorgeous violin solo. “Our Paths May Never Cross” works similar wonders on Mitsuda-san’s theme for the protagonist turned antihero, Jin. Even stripped of its previous orchestral grandeur, the theme benefits from glistening piano riffs and emotional string writing, and playful moments with the guitar and woodwinds lend the theme a sense of youth and novelty. As an added plus, the arrangement’s more grounded instrumentation creates the impression that Jin’s theme, like Jin himself, is just beginning to come into its own.
“A Moment of Eternity” brings the album to its sweet close, with the same sunny lyrics and instrumental sensibilities that make Mitsuda-san’s songwriting perpetually pleasant. Here, Jen Bird – the vocalist on Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s “One Last You” – gives voice to the words and wishes of Jin’s companion and protectee, Lora. Though the lyrics themselves border on cheesy, Jen Bird sells the listener on Lora’s sentiment with a beautiful performance; and though the song never reaches the same emotional heights or thematic payoff as “One Last You”, it nevertheless makes for one more solid vocal track in Mitsuda-san’s already impressive repertoire.
With Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the talent at Procyon Studio wove a touching narrative into a soundtrack of epic proportions. Kingdom of Torna may not have much more to say about that narrative, but the album retains the same heartfelt quality as its predecessor. Moreover, Torna’s music stays true to the explorative spirit of Xenoblade, often eschewing the familiar in favor of the unconventional. The fit may not be seamless, but Kingdom of Torna remains a worthwhile addition to an already incredible soundtrack.
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Posted on May 10, 2019 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on May 10, 2019.