Editor's note: This album is available exclusively from the Wayō Records Store.
The best video game soundtrack fits perfectly with its game. It sets the tone, establishes the world, and brings life to something that, by its very nature, lacks any tangible quality. In this way, the soundtrack for Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch stands out as some of the best work in the medium. Joe Hisaishi's orchestral score sends you to another world, and I doubt many would find fault with his gorgeous arrangement.
Like the best movie or television soundtracks, the main theme for Ni no Kuni permeates the entire score. The subtle notes, booming horns, and pleasant violins of "Dominion of the Dark Djinn" appear over and over again, giving weight to your quest and constantly reminding you of the main goal young Oliver undertakes. It also gives a great deal of consistency to the world and characters. Much like the best themes in John Williams' scores, Hisaishi gives life and meaning to this world. His work on the Studio Ghibli films feels right at home here. Between the soundtrack and the art style, Ni no Kuni feels like an anime film brought to stunning reality.
Special mention has to go to the world map track. Reaching the sprawling overworld of Ni no Kuni felt like a nostalgic journey back to the classic Super Nintendo days of 16-bit RPG greatness. Everything feels epic at the start of the track, but then a moody melancholy seeps in to remind you that this world is under threat. Nothing can remove the sense of adventure, however. Big, ambitious and bold, the world of Ni no Kuni begs for exploration, and the world map music exemplifies this in the best possible way.
Not everything is rosy, however. The battle theme you'll hear over and over again during your journey suffers from a similar problem found in most JRPG soundtracks. In game, you'll hear the opening bars again and again, with battles ending before you get to appreciate just how long and in-depth the theme actually is. It's a real shame, because this level of grandeur and spectacle deserves more.
The town themes help to distinguish each area from one another. "Ding Dong Dell" sounds upbeat and fun, while "Al Mamoon" thrives on the desert setting and landscape. You can almost envision each place without a screenshot, which, again, is a sign that the composer really understands the game and all of the intricacies associated with it.
Probably the most surprising thing for me was how much I loved the vocal track "Kokoro no Kakera." I'm not a big fan of this type of inclusion in a JRPG soundtrack, but here it fits perfectly. There's a somber quality, and the world map theme is once again present to make things feel cohesive and unified. The English translation is included as "Pieces of a Broken Heart," but I prefer the original Japanese and its Ghibli feel.
The Ni no Kuni soundtrack is everything I look for in video game music. It fits the world perfectly, features a great deal of care in its craftsmanship, and remains memorable far after you've turned the game off. I never finished Ni no Kuni, but listening to Hisaishi's work makes me want to revisit Oliver's adventure, and that's probably the best recommendation I can give.
Reviewed by: Robert Steinman