I’ve had nearly a year to bathe in the warm glow of this fine album. Yes, some people were disappointed in it. “There’s not enough Chrono Cross source material! There are too many vocal tracks! It’s too short!” These complaints are all variants of “I didn’t get what I wanted, my expectations were not met.”
Here, my friends, is a helpful suggestion: find a new expectation.
Where to find it? It’s right there, in the liner notes. Yasunori Mitsuda writes:
Come to think of it, I’ve wanted to make an album like this for a while now. Of course, it didn’t always have a title like To Far Away Times. When Chrono Cross was released, I wondered, “What happened to Kid, or Schala, after the ending? Was she able to cross time and meet Serge?” I was sure the players felt the same way.
The characters, each with his or her own grand story to tell, are what make the Chrono series unique. Kid and Schala, however, were particularly prominent characters in both games and are very special to me; so, for a long time, I wanted to reapproach them from a musical standpoint. The Chrono Cross soundtrack has three discs entitled “Cause,” “Unveiling,” and “Change,” and I dreamed of one day adding another called “Connection” as Kid and Schala’s album. That dream has at last been realized here as To Far Away Times. This album, connected to my own feelings towards Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, has finally given me closure. Kid’s journey doesn’t end here, though. It transcends time and continues on into eternity. Until the day we meet again, Kid.
This album tells the story of two interwoven characters. Spoiler alert: we’re talking about a girl who sacrificed herself and ended up stuck across various dimensions and times alongside the evil creature Lavos, and another girl who, somehow, was genetically cloned from the original girl. These two girls have their voices heard on this album. Sarah Àllain seems to represent Kid on tracks 2 and 10, while Laura Shigihara represents Schala on tracks 4, 8, and 9. There are also vocals in the opening arrangement of Time’s Scar, which now has a Jimmy Page / Robert Plant rock motif going for it. Koko Komine, the vocalist for “Time’s Scar,” serves as a sort of narrator or muse to open our grand tale.
I’m deliberately choosing to stop myself from walking you, dear reader, through a track-by-track review. Instead, I will bombard you with some simple facts and judgments that should help you determine the value of the album.
First: many of the Millennial Fair artists from Brink of Time and CREID are back. This is most obvious in the instrumental arrangement of “Marbule,” a track that seemed to shock and delight everyone I’ve spoken to about it. However, alongside the new vocalists, there’s one instrumentalist I cannot leave out: Kumi Tanioka. Yes, the composer for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, among other Square Enix products, is an amazing pianist. I can personally attest to it, having seen her perform at FFXI FanFest ’08 in Los Angeles. For this album, she provides piano accompaniment for Àllain’s vocals on tracks 2 and 10. Her improvisational skills are impressive, and she knows exactly how much to fill the musical space, and when to pull back. Check that audio sample on track 10…you’ll hear it.
What next? Oh, this is awesome. Indie darling Laura Shigihara, the composer of the Plants vs. Zombies soundtrack and vocalist for Kan Gao’s classic game “To the Moon,” has an absolutely perfect voice for Schala. Even better, Shigihara invented a pseudo-language for “Schala’s Theme” — remember, like how Emi Evans did it for NieR? — that we can only imagine is the language spoken by the ancient people on the floating islands of Zeal. With this new language, Shigihara expresses Schala’s deepest thoughts, and yet we are kept in the dark as to what they mean…though they definitely mean something. And they sound beautiful: every syllable more fitting and more perfect than the last. This is my favorite song on the album. Note: on tracks 8 and 9, Shigihara switches back to English, and those lyrics, while sometimes a little too on the nose, are filled with meaning and match the character’s sentiments so well.
Another important thing about “Schala’s Theme” is that the arrangers snuck the “Star-Stealing Girl” melody from Chrono Cross into the bridge. This was huge for me; when I didn’t see this stand-out song on the album’s tracklist, I was furious and disheartened. But when I got a solid 30 seconds of that haunting melody in the middle of Schala’s Theme, I wept tears of joy. So good. So good.
Here’s a fun fact! “The Frozen Flame” is performed by a string ensemble. Strings, strings, more strings, and only strings. No piano, percussion, or anything else to fill out the sound. The result is completely unlike the pitched-percussion-heavy original version, and yet, it’s really something of a marvel. I didn’t think it would work; I was wrong.
Finally, I will give this one conjecture and express the hope I hold. By adjusting my expectations, as I recommend to all listeners, I was so much more able to appreciate this arrange album. If you know what it is, what Mitsuda was trying to accomplish, it changes everything. In that regard, this album is a true success, and fans of the Chrono series ought to enjoy it.
However, this is still not a dedicated Chrono Cross album. Chrono Trigger has received a full arrange album and many orchestral medleys from VGM tours and concerts over the years. Chrono Cross has gotten precious little in comparison. So, if I were Mitsuda, I’d say to myself: “Okay, I made Brink of Time for CT, and then I bridged CT and CC with To Far Away Times. My job isn’t finished…”
I still want my Chrono Cross arrange album. I love this work. I love the effort. But what about Chronopolis, People Seized With Life, Gale, and so many other great songs that Millennial Fair could spruce up? I’m counting on you, Mitsuda-san!