Game Music, Reviews

A Series Reborn: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers Music Collections (Review)

December 11, 2009 | | 7 Comments Share thison Facebook A Series Reborn: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers Music Collections (Review)on Twitter

I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t played much of the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series. That hasn’t prevented me from enjoying the soundtracks, however, composed mainly by Square Enix’s adorable Kumi Tanioka. She’s crafted some lovely tunes for the series in the past, the most memorable of which for me are the soothing Celtic-inspired compositions featured in the first Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game. As Don mentioned in our preview earlier this year, get ready for a departure!

While Kumi Tanioka appears on The Crystal Bearers, she only composes a single track and arranges one more. What she’s up to? Who knows, but Hidenori Iwasaki of Front Mission 4 and Final Fantasy XI as well as synthesizer operator Ryo Yamazaki (who also worked on Front Mission 4) have been left to take care of the series in her absence. With these changes, The Crystal Bearers has a truly different sound, which matches well with the new action-oriented direction of the gameplay and visuals.

So, how did they do? Find out in our review after the jump.

Before jumping into each respective composer’s individual tracks, let’s talk for a moment about quality. Just as was the case for previous Crystal Chronicles titles, there are a lot of live performances strewn throughout this score. Of note are performances by Square Enix composer and Black Mages guitarist Tsuyoshi Sekito and KALAYCILAR/Pia-Com pianist Keita Egusa, whose name I was particularly surprised to find here. There are even a few live orchestral tracks on the album, which is a rare treat from Square Enix. It seems right from the start that they’re putting a lot into this game based on how they’ve gone to town with the music.

Hidenori Iwasaki starts us off with “Moonlight Serenade,” a fun but short classic jazz ditty featuring Egusa on piano. This is immediately followed by “Crystal Bearers Rumble,” another authentic jazz piece, this time in an upbeat Dixieland jazz style. Even though I jazz in games, my first reaction was shock, and these tracks had me wondering exactly what Square Enix had in store for me moving forward. Well, “a whole lot” is the answer, as there is an impressive variety of styles and genres here.

Next, “Sacred Haven” comes as a contemplative yet epic track featuring choir, strings, and a filtered electronic bass drum hitting in the distance. There are bits of the Final Fantasy prelude on harp, but the main thing that stands out is the cinematic brass melody that had me thinking Metal Gear Solid or even Lord of the Rings. He continues this cinematic approach with the album’s first full orchestra track, “Sky Dive!,” which could pass for a super hero theme with its over-the-top melody.

Getting into some different styles, “Alfitaria, the Royal Capital,” is a funktacular track with slap bass and… bagpipes, creating a sort of neo-Celtic sound ala Yasunori Mitsuda. “Leto Prarie,” one of my favorite tracks on the album, is more laid back and features fiddle, some excellent acoustic guitar work, and even “ancient instruments,” according to the credits in the booklet. It’s sweet at times and spunky at others, and it will definitely have you bopping along. “Bridge Town” gets us into some 80s hip-hop with a cheesy beat and some goofy scratching sounds, while “Selkies Guild” ventures into R&B with some seriously smooth guitar lines and snappy percussion. There’s a drawn out string melody that sounds like it’s just waiting for some mad rhymes, but they never come “Lebelgosh Monestary” opens with a typical church organ melody (which I love just by itself), but the added bits of male choir add a whole new dimension of realism to the piece. Live waltz is covered in “Althea Waltz,” which is as fun as it is beautiful. “Moogle Forest” sounds like a glorious African sunset, complete with a wide open soundscape featuring tribal percussion and some great woodwind melodies with lots of reverb. Towards the end, “Blockade Buster” gets a little heavy with its chugging guitars while “Sacred Haven ~Kuule tää unelmain~” is a sweet lullaby with an angelic choir and gentle lead vocals.

Ryo Yamazaki’s contributions are also quite varied, but include many of the heavier themes and battle tracks. “Unknown Enemy” is a heavy metal explosion featuring live electric guitars, rock percussion, and even strings to add a dramatic flair. “Historic Ruins” sounds like an undercover espionage theme, although the amazing ascending string section about midway through is absolutely delicious. “Wilderness ~Eastern Wildlands~” is fun with its use of banjo and harmonica, and similarly, “Snarky Tough Guy” brought a smile to my face with its classic rock vibe that would sound perfect in a classic 50s diner with its upbeat yet “tough” sound. In the same vein, “Girls, We Have to Win!” takes on classic surfer rock. While I have no idea what a “Kekkabow” is, the title sounds similar to “Chocobo” and the track itself is upbeat and trancey, definitely standing out from the crowd. “The Interval Between Existence and Absence” has the whole Halo thing going on with some great string swells tinged with electronic ambience and some chillaxin’ percussion. There’s even some snazzy piano chords!

He also tries his hand at the epic cinematic style that Iwasaki established earlier with “Beyond the Horizon,” a completely orchestrated track with string and brass stabs that give the piece lots of oomph while retaining a regal air. “Bullet Rain,” is, as the title would suggest, another gritty rock track with some foreboding electric guitars reinforced by brass and strings from the orchestra.

Getting towards the end, Yamazaki handles the majority of the broodier stuff, starting with “For the Kingdom,” a determined orchestral piece that hints at the battle to come. Then comes the rock trio: “Final Showdown,” “Indomitable,” and “This is the End for You!,” each of which features chugging electric guitars and electronic elements, getting down and dirty with the rest of them but not hitting you over the head with the whole, “Hey, it’s rock music in a videogame!” thing. These tracks could be accused of “lacking energy,” but if anything, I think this measured approach meshes pretty well with the rest of the laid back score. It goes for “cool” over “aggressive.” But don’t think there aren’t some awesome guitar solos in here!

To round things out, I want to mention Kumi Tanioka’s contributions. I mentioned that there are two, but her music also appears in spirit on two other occasions, both arranged by Ryo Yamazaki. “Starry Night” and “Promised Wealth” are both excellent tracks, with the former being Celtic and the second being an awesome flamenco track. Tanioka herself arranges “Chocobo,” taking some liberties with the tune that actually pay off. She creates a sort of soothing country version of the theme with woodwinds and twangy guitars that I actually enjoy a whole bunch. Her only original composition, “Hidden Tales Of Adventure,” is a bouncy Celtic piece that isn’t overly memorable, but it’s nice that she at least contributed something to the score.

I have to say that Hidenori Iwasaki and Ryo Yamazaki have won me over with The Crystal Bearers. There are cinematic orchestral tracks, authentic jazz pieces, and a variety of styles and atmospheres that go down oh-so smoothly. If I had to pick a word to describe this one, it’d be “classy.” The included album booklet features track titles in English and Japanese along with Japanese liner notes, track-by-track commentary, and an extensive list of performer credits, which is always appreciated. This duo has truly outdone themselves, and it’s good to see Square Enix splurging a little on a music budget. It has certainly paid off. I highly recommend checking this one out!

What do you think of this drastic change in direction?  Any ideas what Tanioka might be up to?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


« Next Post

Previous Post »

More like this Post