For some reason, people like to use the word "gem" to describe a really good, hard-to-find CD. I don't know how the terminology ever stuck, but it did. And while I usually disagree with people on their usage of the word, I have to say that this soundtrack is truly a gem.
Sword of Mana ("Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu"), an out-and-out remake of the first Seiken Densetsu ("Final Fantasy Adventure"), made vast upgrades in every aspect of the game from its 4-bit black-and-white Gameboy counterpart.
If you've chanced to read my review of the game "Final Fantasy Adventure", you'd have likely taken note that I gave the game's music a 98%. With that said, you now realize how fond I am of all of these melodies.
However, did the music get the overhaul it deserved? Some say yes, some say no. Generally, we're looking at note-for-note the same melodies here, with little new pieces added here and there. Upgraded synth, added percussion, maybe some new parts (I'd say 20% of the songs had significant changes made on them, not to mention the totally new tracks added to the roster). For Ito, this probably wasn't too much work. But how does one improve on an already amazing soundtrack?
For what it's worth, I think the synth upgrades are fitting, and I enjoy the OST tracks a great deal. There are a few tracks in particular that I would like to point out as having benefited greatly from the upgraded synth quality.
While it was already a great track on the original gameboy version, "Mana's Temple" (track 35) sounds like a newer and more beautiful piece on this version. The strings that back up the synth melody add such beauty. The bass synth, which doesn't improve too much from the original Gameboy synth, I find to be a nostalgic echo of the past (which is exactly what the Mana Temple is!). This synth upgrade was definitely worthwhile.
The first Battle Theme (track 8) had some major changes made from the original version. There's an intro melody looping that was never there before. The percussion here makes a big difference as well. This one is a favorite of mine to listen to over, and over, and over.
Compared to what it was, the Dwarves' Theme fared pretty well. That is, I can actually stand listening to it now, and it makes much more sense melodically with the refined synth.
Finally, track 23, "Temptation of Doom", sounds a good bit better, just from simple synth upgrade. I've always liked this song, but I like it more on this soundtrack release.
Overall, disc 1 (the OST disc) is awesome. These are some of Kenji ito's best compositions, and they're all worth the re-visit. Really, I think if this disc had been released on its own, it would warrant a purchase for any fan of the game, Ito, or Square in general.
But of course, Square gave us a bonus of TWO discs (though the last disc is really uncalled for, clocking in at just under 2 minutes, they could've stuck that track at the end of the second disc).
The second disc is a "Piano Arrange Version"...which generally means, soft, light, good piano fun. In listening to this, I cannot determine if there's just some incredible reverb effect added, or if there are soft synth strings playing behind the piano. Either way, this disc is BASICALLY a 30 minute piano solo.
The seven tracks are given original titles, and most of them are nothing more than medleys. They'll stick together two or three songs with similar melodic themes and make it into one larger track.
Track 5, "Lost Scene", contains an arrangement of "Mana's Temple." Hence, this is my favorite track of the seven. But each of them have their own merits. The Real Audio samples don't do the tracks any justice, since you can't grasp the feel without hearing each track whole. Basically, it's a soft piano album (think of the Falcom "PrePrimer" discs).
The final 2-minute track is a high-quality arrangement of the game's two most well-known themes: Rising Sun (the game's main theme, I'd say) and Endless Battlefield (the overworld theme). The arrangement doesn't contain any live instruments: it's just REALLY high quality synth. It's a nice track, but short. I lament over the fact that if Ito had put more energy into it, he could've done another 30 minute disc of this same sort of "premium" orchestral arrangement. But, I think we're already blessed enough to have the piano tracks, so I'm not disheartened.
Seriously, maybe I just suffer from a strong case of nostalgia, but this is one of the best purchases one can possibly make in the realm of VGM. And, with DigiCube having gone and died on us, nabbing this fine soundtrack before it's impossible to find would be a very, very good idea (edit: there is also a reprint from Square Enix). Those are my two cents: don't forget them.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann