Mitsuda’s last few years have not been prolific; with periods of a year (or more) between generally small-scale releases, he seems to have scaled back from his efforts a few years ago. However, despite the scale of the intermittent albums, Mitsuda has displayed remarkable growth as a composer: he has shown a stylistic versatility and command of rhythmic complexity remarkable in the work of someone so young. Some have longed, however, for the particular style found in the younger Mitsuda’s work, particularly that in his scores for Chrono Trigger/Cross and Xenogears. For Soma Bringer, Mitsuda again collaborated with Tetsuya Takahashi (of Xenogears/Saga fame), for whom he had composed some of his best music in the past. Additionally, the score is his largest scale work since Chrono Cross, and the second-largest he’s composed.
In some ways, Soma Bringer’s style is reminiscent of Mitsuda’s earlier scores; the remarkable variety in instrumentation complements the very small instrument groups that he utilizes for each track. The score only calls for a full orchestra sound on occasion, but the individual parts are very well defined and articulated, complementing rather than overpowering each other. As per Mitsuda’s standard, harp, guitar, and piano are used throughout, but Soma Bringer’s soundtrack also makes frequent use of xylophone, celesta, pizzicato strings, and triangle (seriously…lots of triangle). Organ and sitar make a few appearances, and percussion is as diverse as can possibly be expected. The sound quality exceeds the quality of any DS music I’ve heard.
Three themes appear in the score: the “Soma Bringer” theme, the theme in “One who Soars Over the World,” and Idea’s theme (pronounced ee-day-ah). The score doesn’t make frequent use of these, although a few tracks refer to them, and the majority of the tracks are independently developed pieces, but they each appear multiple times. The first of these, appearing in the album’s first track, is the kind of theme, simple and emotional without sentimentality, that Mitsuda loves, played without ornamentation on piano, then sung in three part harmony in “-Ring-.” The “Soars” theme, an upbeat melody played by flute, appears the most frequently, but Idea’s theme seems the most important. Named after the game’s central female protagonist, the theme displays the complex emotions that Mitsuda’s music conveys with such apparent ease. More melancholy than sad, and yet somewhat hopeful and yearning, it defies obvious classification.
The first disc contains a wide variety of moods, but a majority of it has an easygoing feel, from the Mario Party-esque clarinet and electric piano of “Myrtle -The Knowledge of the Journey-” to the syncopated flutes and mandolin of “Amaty, the Ancient City”. On the other hand, “A Memory That Cannot be Pursued,” which introduces Idea’s theme, portrays beauty rather than relaxation, and “Country of the Main Faith -Guiding Sound-” introduces an element of uneasiness with its minor key organ chords. A couple of action themes finish off the disc, the last of which features a 3-5 rhythm (3 beats, then 5 beats) common to danger themes (It is the primary rhythm for Dewprism’s final battle theme, for example).
The second disc begins with the beautiful Idea theme, but the first disc’s sense of relaxation is shattered by the halting dissonances of “Footsteps of Stupor,” which opens with a crashing chord and continues in an unsettling manner more associated with Masaharu Iwata than Mitsuda. The offbeat Bass Drum hits leading to the repeat complete the piece well. The second disc continues in a brooding manner for quite a while, with thoughtful and melodic pieces that contribute to a rising tension. “Village of Snow” alleviates these tensions briefly with its celesta and pizzicato strings, but “Relic of Ancient Times” moves back into darker and more dramatic territory.
The final disc closes with dramatic flair and emotional resolution. The disc begins with the insecurities and unease of the second, culminating in the layered sounds of “Seeking the Road That Sinks in Illusion”. It moves on to the dramatic, with “Decision” recalling the theme from “Soars”. “Soma Palace” and “Unleashed” mark the return of the organ, with the uneasiness of “Country of the Main Faith” amplified by the timpani hits and harp ostinati of “Soma Palace” and brought to its apotheosis in the climactic “Unleashed,” which occasionally uses the instrument for melody, instead of always an underlying drone. The closing track, “Looking at Trouvère,” brings the main portion of the soundtrack to a triumphant close; closing not a naive triumph, but in a resolute and optimistic manner that acknowledges the weight of struggle. The extra tracks at the end of the disc benefit from higher sound quality and increased spatial separation, but the introductions added to two of them don’t add much.
Soma Bringer is Mitsuda’s best score in years. The writing is complex and detailed, yet it has the simple charm of his earlier work. The first disc may strike some as being overly similar to his past scores, but the second and third discs display little-seen sides of his ability. Mitsuda’s music has not failed to impress me in the past few years, but in this score, he managed to surprise me. I recommend this soundtrack to even those fans of Mitsuda who have become less interested with his work in recent years.