Kikuta is back. Again.
The composer best-known for his work on Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2) disappeared from VGM for quite some time. He came back in 2007 with an album on his own "Nostrilia" label, featuring the music he wrote for Square Enix's lesser-known MMORPG Concerto Gate. Since this album, though, we hadn't heard a peep from Kikuta-san.
In 2010 it was revealed that he would be composing the music for the latest in Sega's "Shining" series, Shining Hearts. A two disc soundtrack was announced soon after that. This, of course, is a review for said soundtrack.
I'm going to keep this review relatively short, because I think the audio samples will do most of the talking. It is my opinion that no one makes music quite like Kikuta. Anyone who has listened to the Secret of Mana soundtrack should be able to discern such a thing. However, while there are clear similarities between SoM and Shining Hearts, especially in the realm of percussion, that doesn't mean you'll be getting an instant classic out of the guy.
In some small ways, I was reminded of the Atelier series. It's not just in the music; the art, and of course the emphasis on baking (basically a synthesis system) in the game itself, these all remind me of Atelier games. But the music does have that provincial European sound at certain places. I think this is great.
However, with a few obvious exceptions (and you'll find some of them in the audio samples), the soundtrack is much more a fantastic exercise in BGM than in stand-out melodies. This fits the philosophy Kikuta himself spoke of recently when he flew across the Pacific to host a Q&A panel at MAGFest 9 a few weeks ago. Kikuta said that much of game music needs to work in such a way that it doesn't overstay its welcome. If your melody is too powerful, that may indeed happen. Minimalism is key for looped BGM.
Vocal themes, on the other hand, are meant to stand out. I love the opening and ending themes. There are two versions of the opening theme; I much prefer "Type A." The opening theme is composed by Noriyasu Agematsu, but Kikuta-san takes care of the ending theme.
This philosophy works extremely well, and I love the music here. It may not have the place in our hearts that Secret of Mana holds, but it shows that Hiroki Kikuta hasn't lost an ounce of talent over the years. I think listeners who give the soundtrack a try will be impressed by the quality of the audio and the intricacy of the patterns.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann