Full disclosure: I am a big fan of the original Sora no Kiseki FC soundtrack. It isn’t as immediately gripping as you would expect from Falcom; in fact, it’s one of the most laid-back JRPG scores I have ever encountered, but one that evokes a spirit of light-hearted adventure that perfectly complements the game. Even a good RPG soundtrack can wear out its welcome by the end, but this one actually grew on me over the course of play, and I still find myself frequently coming back to it.
Sora no Kiseki FC Evolution is an enhanced Playstation Vita port of the original game, released in Japan during June 2015. It boasts a graphical facelift, voice-acting, a variety of quality-of-life improvements, and a new arrangement of the original soundtrack. While more music is always good news, arranged soundtracks tend to be tricky beasts, and even the beloved Falcom Sound Team have fumbled them on a few occasions. Fortunately, Sora no Kiseki FC Evolution is a success, and one of the most consistent arranged soundtracks that I have ever encountered.
Arrangers Toshiharu Okajima and Yukihiro Jindo show remarkable restraint in their treatment of the original soundtrack. Almost none of the tracks are dramatically reworked. Rather, they are enriched by more live instruments, more varied instrumentation, and generally higher sound quality. Many of the arrangements make relatively small changes that dramatically improve the track. “Silver Will” is one of the most popular tunes from the original game, but I always felt it lacked the driving intensity you need for a late-game boss theme. Not so in the arranged version, where an aggressive backbeat ratchets up the intensity and some tastefully layered guitar adds menace without overwhelming the rest of the instruments. Every other aspect of “Silver Will” is essentially the same, but these small changes make it a strong contender for my favorite track on the album. It also perfectly represents the general approach taken by Okajima and Jindo.
Most of the other battle themes benefit immensely from this aural face-lift. There is a much greater emphasis on percussive elements this time around, which is hardly surprising since arranger Okajima is also credited as the drummer, and the results are generally positive. Light, energetic drumming and tasty ambient strings invigorate “Sophisticated Fight,” without the loss of the original’s relaxed charm. Heck, even “Pinch!!” is pleasant to listen to now, with its percolating drum-set and bongos. Unfortunately, a few stylistic choices mar some of the other battle themes. “To Be Suggestive” uses some shrill synthesized brass that tends to dominate the mix. The new version of “Ancient Makes” is much more intense, but it almost completely abandons the thematically appropriate electronic sound of the original and feels less distinct as a result. The more orchestral battle themes, however, are excellent.
In fact, the orchestral tracks are universally better here. The instrumentation is more layered, the tracks exhibit a larger dynamic range, and the overall sound is rich and warm. The original “Hollow Light of the Ancient Land” was already one of my favorite final dungeon themes of all time, but the arranged version outshines it in every way. “Secret Green Passage” and “How to Walk in Liberl” were both strong travel themes in their original incarnations, but they are even more evocative here. Even the “White Flower Madrigal” Suite has never sounded better. However, this also brings me to the one piece that was substantially reworked, and that is the title track, “Sora no Kiseki.” Now a vocal piece, the arranged version of the opening theme makes interesting use of strings with acoustic guitar and the bridge has some lovely harmonies. It’s not bad, but not nearly as memorable as its orchestral version. This feels like a missed opportunity, since an arranged version of the original would have been a real treat.
The original soundtrack established stringed instruments, and the violin specifically, as a defining aspect of Sora no Kiseki’s signature sound. The violins are real this time, and they play lead more than ever, but the results leave me with mixed feelings. They gives some of the tracks a more organic timbre and further emphasize the general feel of the series, but the album’s instrumental variety suffers as a result. I missed the accordion on “Rock on the Road” and the woodwinds on “The Byway of Departure.” The lead strings also sound strangely anemic throughout the album, as the tracks that involve a combination of highly-produced elements and relatively unaffected strings tend to overwhelm the latter with the former. The issue completely disappears on the orchestral and chamber tracks.
I’ve thrown a few criticisms at this soundtrack, but I reiterate that the good far outweighs the bad. As a whole, Sora no Kiseki FC Evolution succeeds because it recognizes what the original soundtrack did well, and then frequently does it better. There are a handful of tunes that I prefer on the original, but the overall collection of music feels reinvigorated by these new arrangements. If you could only purchase one version of this soundtrack, I would advise you to go with this one.
Of course, this is a moot point if you are a Falcom fan. You should be used to buying five versions of the same soundtrack by now.