“When listening to this soundtrack, I suggest you imagine being with the characters and crew on a ship ready to set sail for an adventure to uncover what lies beyond the horizon.”
-Rieko Kodama, producer, liner notes for Skies of Arcadia Eternal Soundtrack Vinyl Edition
The sound team working on Skies of Arcadia clearly knew what they were about. They pushed the Dreamcast’s sound capabilities to the limit with a dynamic soundtrack that could change based on in-game events, yet they somehow still managed to create a general tone for their work that complements the game world perfectly, weaving together elements from it through music. This highly regarded soundtrack has gained some attention lately with a large OC Remix project dedicated to it, but nothing else quite like the Skies of Arcadia Eternal Soundtrack Vinyl Edition by Wayô Records exists. It’s a collection of roughly half the original music with two new piano arrangements, and it’s even a licensed SEGA product, which is definitely noteworthy and has me entertaining hopes that the game could be remastered or re-released sometime soon.
Now, the very first item of note in this collection is the extensive bonus material that comes with the music itself. Creating this special edition box set was no small undertaking: it includes commentary from the producer (Rieko Kodama) and director (Shuntaro Tanaka), insights from the music team (Yutaka Minobe, Tatsuyuki Maeda, and arranger/performer Ramon van Engelenhoven), and lovely new artwork. Not to mention the work that went into designing the packaging and choosing the color and look of the records themselves. (The first print features a lovely light blue marbled pattern that looks like a cloudy sky.) The sleeves for the records are gorgeous prints of some of the familiar artwork, with the addition of a new bonus piece by Itsuki Hoshi, the game’s original artist, that also graces the front cover. The collection even has a treasure box to store the records in, but alas, the pattern on the back of the box is a very uniform clip art-looking wood pattern that looks even worse over a large surface and alongside the other artwork.
The booklet layout is clean and neat, and the aforementioned interviews are worth reading as the team reflects on the creation of the music. There is even a cute little poem, the Arcadian alphabet, and a coded message. Unfortunately, some typos and little errors (why does the Arcadian alphabet have L twice?) took me out of the experience when browsing. One would more than likely seek out this soundtrack with a high opinion of the music based on in-game experience, so these extras add a lot of potential value for collectors and sky pirate aficionados. Is it enough? I think that may be up to individual listeners and how much they value the artwork and interviews over getting distracted by the small annoyances. I would like to be less nitpicky about it, but the presentation is one of the significant differences between this and other formats of the soundtrack, so it’s important.
Onto the music itself: If you’re familiar with Arcadia’s music, this is the same soaring, ethereal, pretty journey through the sky that you expect. The original soundtrack represented this journey beautifully with a characteristic Arcadia sound comprised of mid-range strings and winds with some brass here and there; this is exactly the type of sound that is served by the warm, uncompressed nature of vinyl, and the mastering also takes full advantage of it. When you listen to the music in this format, it feels like each part in a given song is clear, making it easier to hear how they complement each other. At the same time, many of the disadvantages of vinyl are mitigated: there aren’t many super high or low notes, and the grouping of the tracks onto their respective record sides makes the pauses and transitions unobtrusive. I would say the vinyl version generally enhances the ability to hear and track each instrument throughout the entire record.
Having a coherent and cohesive sound for the world of Arcadia is crucial in order for any dynamic sound changes to be most effective — you really need a lush background so changes in the music are clear and create the desired mood or effect. One example of this is the description from the booklet of the opening and main themes: The opening theme deviates a bit from this standard sound, is very energetic, and “sparkles,” and that’s why the calm and wistful main theme that follows after it works. The main theme becomes emblematic of Arcadia next to the opening theme, which represents the journey and events of the game.
This description of music as representing places or things is already treading on the idea of the leitmotif, so I want to highlight how this version of the soundtrack uses that device well. In music, a leitmotif is a certain melody or musical mood used to represent a specific event, character, or setting. Think of the specific music used for the hobbits, orcs, or traveling Fellowship in the Lord of the Rings films if you need a direct example of what this sounds like. Listening to the vinyl Eternal Soundtrack made me aware of just how much the music in Skies of Arcadia does this. Those same opening and main themes get referenced in many other songs (including the final battle!). Some of the island themes like “Sky Pirate Isle” sound similar to each other and the “Main Theme” when compared to far off destinations like the “Kingdom of Ixa’taka.” There are also some strong character themes and melodies with unique instrumentation: I like the muted brass that characterizes “Drachma’s Theme.” The risk here, and the flip side of the coin, is that songs can start sounding too alike. I think some of the battle themes suffer from this, particularly A7 “Battle.” Because the vinyl format highlights each music part, the subtle repetition of themes and variation between songs become all the clearer.
The real charm of this collection (other than the soundtrack itself) lies in the two solo piano arrangements on the last disc. Ramon van Engelenhoven gives us “Voyage En Arcadia” and “Souvenir d’Arcadia,” two arrangements that make piano, an instrument that doesn’t figure into the original soundtrack too much, right at home in Arcadia. The first of the two clocks in at over 15 minutes and has a bit of a medley feel based around the opening theme. I love how joyful that theme sounds at the beginning of the piece and appreciate the attention to dynamics and use of silence when transitioning between moods and melodies. Everything flows extremely well, in fact. My only issue is that with all the seamless juxtaposition of pieces, the individual songs can sometimes get lost. Because of its length, this journey runs the risk of blending together like the scenery on a long road trip. Consequently, it’s worth it to mentally prepare or listen to this one when there’s adequate time to focus on it. “Souvenir d’Arcadia” is much shorter and elaborates on the main theme. It’s a music box-style take on the music that reminds me of the way some Chrono music like “To Far Away Times” is often treated. It’s meant to bring back memories, like its namesake, and feels like a smart way to wrap up the collection with the main theme reprised.
Because the original Skies of Arcadia soundtrack fit the game world so incredibly well, pushed game music capabilities of the time to their limits, and featured songs that changed dynamically in game, the best context for the music is the game itself. That’s probably still the best way to listen to it, which is rather unfortunate since it’s relatively difficult to find. This collection is a valiant effort to capture some of that magic, though, and does provide some hidden treasures. It’s definitely the most fitting alternative to the game experience due to the mastering and suitability of the music for vinyl, as well as the beautiful piano arrangements.
This review is based on a free physical review copy provided to RPGFan by the publisher. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer’s opinion of the album.