John Milton, c. 1667 AD: “Paradise is lost…”
Kan Gao, c. 2017 AD: “Hey guys, I found it! But you won’t find it for yourselves unless you’re prepared to experience all. the. feels.”
Finding Paradise is the latest entry in the series that began with To The Moon; two scientists from Sigmund Corp. attend to the final wishes of dying patients by diving into their minds, Eternal Sunshine/Inception style.
The story of Finding Paradise, if you’ve not yet played it (and let me join in with reviewer Bob Richardson in assuring you you need to play it), flips the script on a franchise that already prides itself on script-flipping. All the while, the one thing that remains the same is the heavy emotional themes. I suspect that this soundtrack will be mildly enjoyable for people who have not played the game. Once you have played the game, however, I suspect you will find yourself loving it.
That was my experience, at any rate. For example, look at all the variations on the same themes: “The Scale Theme,” “Time is a Place,” “Paradise,” “Faye’s Theme,” and “Finding Paradise” are all found in multiple forms on this soundtrack. That may feel tiresome to the novitiate; if, however, you have played the game, you’re likely to remember where and how the different versions are used. This is especially true for “The Scale Theme,” a song that ties the game’s unplayable protagonist Colin to his two greatest loves: his childhood friend, and the woman that he would eventually marry. The variations mean something…and every version is fantastic. The explanation in-game as to how Colin’s cello performance, a simple attempt to play up and down a single scale, provides the backbone for what can be a complex and beautiful piece, is a wonderful concept all its own.
There are also pieces pulled in from previous Freebird Games titles. The direct prequel to this title, “A Bird Story,” has multiple songs pulled in. Then there is that short title “The Mirror Lied,” which had exactly one song written for it…and that one song made it onto this soundtrack.
And then, of course, there is Laura Shigihara. Her vocal performance on To The Moon, “Everything’s Alright,” is absolutely unforgettable. She brings back all that emotional power in the new ending theme song, “Wish My Life Away.” It ties together all of the beautiful and painful moments of the game’s plot and interpolates some of the chord progressions from the game’s key themes.
Surprisingly, there’s a second vocal theme from RIOTxRYKER that was produced as a sort of “image theme,” not used in game. This piece, composed by Adam Dincorn with lyrics and vocal performance by Chris Ryker (of RIOTxRYKER), is a surprisingly decent mid-tempo rock piece, and one whose lyrics still work with the game.
There are silly songs along the way. Fans of the franchise will recognize “Bestest Detectives in the World,” and those who played Finding Paradise will remember the nonsense that went behind “HNNNNNNGH” and “Power Overwhelming.” Of course, those lead up to the surprisingly impressive final “battle” theme (battle in quotes because this isn’t a traditional RPG with a typical battle system). But seriously, the piece, “Final Confrontation,” matches some of Uematsu’s best with some of Sakuraba’s best. It feels like a solid JRPG battle theme.
Speaking of JRPG influences, be sure to check out “Winds from Our Younger Days,” which is definitely channeling Yasunori Mitsuda’s work on the Chrono franchise. The flute and the broken guitar chords sound like a beautiful mix of Chrono Trigger’s “Wind Scene” and about half of the Chrono Cross OST.
Kan Gao is, to me, the consummate indie developer. He is a renaissance man, writing the plots to incredible games and writing the music on his own as well. He also does a significant portion of the art and programming by himself. We waited six years between To the Moon and Finding Paradise (with some create DLC content and the FP prequel “A Bird Story” released in the interim), and the wait was absolutely worth it. I patiently await the next chapter…but as I wait, I now have that much more incredible music to listen to in the meantime. If you want to support a developer who truly “gets it,” I urge you to pick up the soundtrack for Finding Paradise. Again, if you play the game first and then buy this soundtrack, I cannot imagine any listener not enjoying this music.