Last year’s controversial Secret of Mana 3D/HD remake came with some funky tunes. Over a dozen arrangers contributed to the project, making for a unique, though jarring, collection of audio. However, Japanese consumers who were willing to spend significantly more money and preorder direct from Square Enix were treated to this album. Though only four tracks total, this set of “Illustrated” arrange tracks take up a solid 30 minutes of time. Self-arranged by composer Hiroki Kikuta himself, the goal of this album was to paint soundscapes of key scenery from this cherished classic.
So, how did Kikuta fare in his quest?
Generally, quite well!
Given that this is not Kikuta’s first time arranging his classic work — it’s actually his fourth or fifth time, depending on what you count — I cannot help but compare this unique disc to his other recent endeavors: namely, Secret of Mana Genesis (no relation to the Sega console). Also worth the comparison are Kikuta’s self-arranged tracks on the SoM remake itself.
A three-part comparative study on “The Boy Will Aim to Walk in the Wilderness” (also rendered “Into the Thick of It” elsewhere) reveals much. This classic theme, the field music in the first major area of the game, got upgraded in “Genesis,” got worked over in the remake, but got … cooled off? Fixed into place? There’s something about this language of “illustration” that fits the nature of these lengthy self-arrangements. It is as though something with so much movement, so beautiful, becomes stuck out of time, a fixture in a story book. It isn’t better or worse than other recent arrangements from Kikuta, it’s an entirely other creature. And, for what it’s worth, it probably wouldn’t work well in the context of the game.
If that’s the case for the beloved field music, is that also the case for the classic opening, the beautiful “What the Forest Taught Me,” and “Flight into the Unknown?” (Aside: this album had its own English titles that do not match with Square Enix’s “official” rendering of the localized tracklist.) Yes, yes, and yes. This whole album is a musical experiment. The experiment works. It’s not as simplistic as an orgel (music box) collection, but the softness, stillness, and slight change with each pass through the melody across four or more refrains — it adds up to something special.
If you want that something special, you will have to look into the secondhand import market. I would still label this one a hard “for collectors only” due to obscurity and a likely high price, but if you are a collector of Mana music, you’ll find a lot to love with this album.