Serge stands alone in a failing attempt to numb himself. He has decided to abandon Kid, who lies wracked with pain from the lethal toxin that spreads throughout her body. Kid saved their lives and yet, when she needs him the most, Serge runs away. Was he having a panic attack? Does he mean to leave her entirely? A silent protagonist won’t say.
But I made the decision. I was in control of Serge’s actions. I abandoned Kid. I was Tony Kushner writing Louis into Angels in America. I looked at my life and my flaws, and as much as I wished I weren’t, I knew that I was capable of this. Many times, we have the ability to recognize our failings, but so often we fall short of permanent change. And as Serge slowly walks through this floating village, I am met by a lone guitar, plucked with absolute adherence to our shared fragility. I’m surprised. This isn’t what judgement sounds like; it’s what I’ve known empathy to be. In that moment, I didn’t need to be told that I was right, because I wasn’t. What I needed was someone to tell me that it was okay to be wrong, and this is exactly what “Guldove (Another World)” accomplished. This is music at its best: identification and evocation twisting around each other like snakes, creating synthesis from mutual understanding.
Chrono Cross is frequently cited by its fans as having one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, and as of quite recently, I’d include myself among those fans. Originally composed by Mitsuda Yasunori as his fifth main work, I have no fears or quarrels in simply stating their beauty as timeless. There is a power at work in Mitsuda’s pieces that gives them the space to be rearranged, reworked, and recontextualized, and among the many YouTube covers, remix albums, and previous performances, the album Chrono Cross Orchestral Arrangement shines. And if it is the finale that Mitsuda-san claims it to be, it is a worthy send-off.
The eight tracks on this album take the PlayStation’s legendary sound chip and give it a glistening polish. Beginning with the fateful, classic theme of “Scars of Time,” we are transported to a lush landscape of twinkling piano and distant bells, safely couched in the swell of violins and brass. Around one minute in, we are introduced to the track proper, and though I cannot possibly adore the string melody of the original more, I am happy to report that Mariam Abounnasr’s decision to give more focus to a full-throated brass section gives the song a sense of grandeur all its own.
Meanwhile, Takeoka Tomomichi’s take on the mournful “Bound By Fate” manages to capture the cavernous regret that made meeting Miguel such a heartbreaking affair. The restraint Tomomichi shows in this arrangement speaks to the wonder he had when he first saw a commercial for the game, and to his own reverence for original track. Perhaps I would have liked to hear more of a departure from Mitsuda on this, but given the gravitas of “Bound by Fate,” I find this decision respectable, especially after the magic Tomomichi manages to find with a lesser track.
I will sing the praises of Chrono Cross’ soundtrack for decades, gladly going to bat for 98.5% of Mitsuda’s 67 pieces. However, I am unable to hold my tongue on “Whirlwind.” Originally known as “Gale” when released for the Super Famicom Satellaview’s Radical Dreamers, Mitsuda’s original take was a fascinating two-minute morsel, featuring some clanging, industrial percussion and an eerie (if low-quality) synth melody. Fast forward to 1999, and “Gale” is “Whirlwind,” Chrono Cross’ main battle theme. The clang is more subdued in favor of a greater emphasis on a xylophone-like tone and a fiddle that I frankly find quite obnoxious. The version of “Whirlwind” found on this album is simply more dynamic, less a collage of experimental sounds than a unified whole. The track invokes the peril and danger of fighting massive dragons and cosmic horrors much more effectively than Mitsuda’s original. What I found to be Chrono Cross’ one musical weakness has become a complete gem on this album.
As a singer, the absence of vocals on Orchestral Arrangement takes some getting used to, as I’m sure it will for many other listeners. The introduction of a harp and flute on Yamashita Kosuke’s “Radical Dreamers” is lovely, but I do find myself more drawn to the original’s supple guitars and the quavering, inimitable stylings of Mitose Noriko’s singing. “Dragon God” remains as threatening and overwhelming as ever, the mystical chants being overthrown in a bombastic coup d’etat of positively filthy trumpets. In this reimagining, it is more befitting of the excesses of its title. And finally, “The Girl Who Stole The Stars” remains an impossibly gorgeous lullaby, and no matter how the piece is performed. Whether graced with gentle coos or the most tender of bells, I will be reduced to nothing but rubble.
Chrono Cross Orchestral Arrangements is an excellent showcase for the versatility of Mitsuda Yasunori’s compositions. Some tracks exist as a heartfelt “thank you” to some of the greatest music of a generation, while others mark more uncharted territory from an original work of pure genius. Yes, this album could have been more ambitious and the composers more confident in their own vision on some tracks, but when asked to give your take on what may be the definitive JRPG soundtrack, you may find trouble even touching the left turn signal, much less giving your hands the necessary power to rotate the wheel. Chrono Cross is often forgotten in favor of its much beloved older brother Chrono Trigger, but the songs found within are transcendent, empathic masterpieces.
Oh, and when the time comes, save Kid.