In recent years, there have been some very impressive rearrangements of Yasunori Mitsuda’s classic soundtrack for Chrono Trigger. With Piano Collections: Chrono Trigger, Trevor Alan Gomes is the latest to take on the challenge. The release is also the first CT release for the Materia Collective, so expectations are likely to be very high. Fortunately, Gomes doesn’t disappoint. This is easily one of the best rearrangements of an RPG soundtrack for the piano that I’ve heard, and PC:CT is mandatory listening for anyone in whom the album’s title stirs even the slightest degree of interest.
Given the album title, listeners shouldn’t struggle to predict the nature of the music. That said, the original songs haven’t merely been ported to a different instrument. Gomes does admirably in ensuring that as many instrumental voices from the originals are present, and extra musical ideas and sections have also been added to ease the music’s move to the piano. This renders them more engaging, exploratory, and complex. (A good point of comparison is Piano Collections: Final Fantasy VI.) Since most of the original tracks were written to loop endlessly, many now have introductory or concluding sections. Usually these are some variation or repetition of the verse (such as on “Wind Scenes ~ Yearning of the Wind”), but occasionally these moments are more inspired: for example, “Peaceful Days” switches things around a bit by beginning with an entirely new introduction and concluding with a slight harmonic variation of the original piece’s introduction. Similarly, bridges and interludes separate the verses and provide a sense of progression with the opportunity to add extra elements and dimensions to each song.
Most pieces build towards a key change where the main verse is repeated, typically as part of a piece’s dramatic climax. Other times, pieces contain a brief passage (as part of an aforementioned bridge or interlude) that temporarily transitions from a major to a minor key, or visa versa. Most songs also follow a familiar pattern of beginning softly before expanding towards a larger dynamic and pitch range and then eventually contracting back. These patterns are always handled well, and there are enough shifts along the way that it never becomes repetitive. The music transitions from loud and explosive to soft and delicate (and everywhere in between) often, and with ease, and Gomes virtuosically jumps between strong and thunderous chords, flowing (and something lightning-fast) arpeggios, and more minimalist passages. There is a considerable amount of dynamic and stylistic variability both within and across tracks.
Gomes’ love and understanding of the music is readily apparent. Beyond the thought that has clearly gone into the rearranging efforts, his playing is expressive and thoughtfully tailored to the individual needs of each piece. A staccato-heavy left hand provides a bounciness that complements the adventurous “Chrono Trigger” while the right hand generally sustains each note of the melody, giving the piece a suitably epic feel. A similar approach applies to the whimsical “Peaceful Days,” whereas “Frog’s Theme” projects an air of royalty and knightly valor through the distinctive use of strong, sharp, triumphant chords. On the other end of the spectrum, the percussive prepared piano that interrupts “Black Omen” gives the piece an appropriately alien quality, and it was nice to hear a technique that is rarely (if ever) utilised on these types of releases.
Every piece is performed well and has been rearranged sensitively to have an emotional journey complementary to their original spirit. That said, there were a few that particularly stuck with me. “Wind Scenes ~ Yearning of the Wind” is a highly romantic piece with a clear sense of dramatic progression, and is a good example of the effectiveness of the compositional formulas mentioned earlier. Appropriately, the piece now conveys feelings of yearning and melancholia. “At The End of Time” is a more mysterious piece that prioritizes space and ambience. It starts softly and minimally before frantically shifting between tempos and dynamics. Through moving idiosyncratically between introspection and hyper-activity, Gomes creates an appropriately otherworldly sound. “Magus Confronted” begins on a sinister note with powerful chords echoing away before creating adrenaline with a rolling bass line and a melody that echoes ominously above it. The movement to the upper registers and then back again mirrors the flow of battle as adversaries clash and retreat, and the piece successfully conveys the nature of the encounter with Magus. Finally, “Chrono Trigger” and “To Far Away Times” are more conservative and faithful in the approach taken to rearranging them, but their majesty and emotive power is as evident as ever. Both still create that soaring rush of emotion during their respective climaxes, and the latter effectively conveys mystery and uncertainty as the piano gradually becomes sparser and slower before Gomes rapidly trickles down the keys for a final flourish.
This is a masterful re-arrangement of a true classic that successfully balances between respecting the source material and reinventing it. Gomes is a brilliant musician, and his playing brings the music to life on the piano. Although a few of my favourites were missing, the track selection provides a good overall impression of the original soundtrack. However, this release is a bit brief, and although there is considerable variability in his piano playing, the nature of the instrumentation entails a degree of sparseness that makes this release better suited to more pensive, intimate moments. If you have yet to purchase any rearrangements of the original soundtrack, it might be worthwhile checking out a more comprehensive release that also sounds more faithful to the original first, given PC:CT’s brevity and somewhat niche appeal. Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend this. PC:CT achieves everything that it aims to (and more), and I am eagerly looking forward to what Gomes creates next. Piano Collections: Chrono Cross, perhaps?