I had no idea of what to expect when I first approached Chocobo Racing OST. My initial thought was that anything music-related attached to a solo Chocobo game would end up in mediocrity. So, while I could go either way with the games, I really wasn't expecting much from the music. As usual, my sense of judgment steers me wrong again.
Right off the bat, it must be told that this soundtrack nary has a trace of any fully original music whatsoever. Instead, Chocobo Racing almost serves as a sort of tribute to the Final Fantasy music series - a compilation of many themes and songs from FF1 to even FF8. Kenji Ito's arrangements vary from being extremely faithful to sounding very different while adding innovative alterations to the melody lines. There isn't one track that I'm truly disappointed with.
One can easily contrast most of the songs to their original Final Fantasy counterparts. I think the one that jumps out for many is "Mysidia's Sky Garden," which is based on FF5's godly "The New Origin" ending theme. Make no mistake, this *is* my most favorite FF song of all time, and hearing a new revision of this masterpiece left me in complete and utter ecstasy. The tempo is sped up considerably, and rather than sounding like the epic song it once was, it now sounds like a highly upbeat, march-style medley.
Other tracks are closer to the originals. "Cid's Theme" retains the same playful nature that was in FF4's "Hey Cid!", as does "Mithril Mines", which stays true to FF1's whimsical "Gurugu's Volcano". One of my favorites is "Goblin's Theme," which has become a sort of Arabic dance style mixing of FF5's "Pirates Ahoy". Tracks like these are instantly recognizable, and they pretty much follow the originals note by note.
Some of the tracks, on the other hand, have much more vague references. "Ruins of Giants", for example, was still not recognizable after hearing it a dozen times; it finally took someone to point out to me that it was, in fact, a sort of Latino hip-hip rendition of FF3's "Battle 2". In addition, the much faster tempo played on "Gurugu's Volcano" made it a bit difficult for me to realize that it was FF2's "Battle 2". Perhaps the most perplexing song of all is "Mogri Forest," which possesses a striking resemblance to the unreleased town theme on the FF6 single album, Special Tracks.
The rest of the soundtrack consists of an equally hearty dose of other FF-oriented songs. Perhaps a lot of people wouldn't get too excited here, since the selections aren't the number one choices they probably would want to see (nor even recognize). Nevertheless, any true FF music fan worth his salt would be much surprised to see even the most obscure tracks present, such as "Good ol?' Fellows" and "The Book of Sealing". At the very least, I myself have found it very refreshing to not have songs like "Tina", "Theme of Love", or "Final Fantasy" in here. Still, anyone who's even remotely familiar with FF will surely recognize "Crystal Legend" as being the ever-popular "Prelude", sung in a very candy-coated, angelic voice, as well as "Win!", the famous FF1-6 original fanfare theme. (Isn't it a bit ironic that we see these melodies ending up in nearly every other Square game, except the actual Final Fantasy titles?)
The now-famous Chocobo theme has also been remixed quite a number of times, establishing exactly what should be the main theme in this game. (Square wants to make sure you know who is the star.) Out of the many reprisals, one of the most notable is the opening theme, "Dash de Chocobo." A jamming and bombastic version of the already-bouncy song, the sax makes a stellar performance, giving it a very upbeat and jazzy feel. "Cid's Test Course" is as faithful as they come, while "The World's Tomorrow" fits the Chocobo theme in a grand symphonic outfit.
In addition to doing a great job on the remixes, Ito has also managed to fit the Final Fantasy musical meaning with the game's content. The characters have songs specially devoted to them that match their personalities to a tee; the Black Mage's mysterious nature is apparent in the ghostly rendition of FF4's "Mystic Mysidia", while the Goblin's thievery ways are expressed in FF5's "Pirates Ahoy". The gentle disposition and kindness of the White Mage is seen through the tranquil FF1 City Theme, while the mogri (or Mog, whichever you prefer) retains his totally quirky attitude with his self-proclaimed theme.
Minoru Akao serves as sound programmer, fueling the classic tunes. Though some would debate that the more recent FF songs serve no difference in sound quality to their SNES counterparts, no one can argue that the new renditions of the NES music (namely FF1-3) sound remarkably better. I melted when I first heard the "White Mage's Theme", a deeply rich and beautifully crafted music box, whistle, and guitar ensemble that re-enacts the timeless FF1 "City Theme" wonderfully. "Golem's Theme" and "Behemoth's Theme" uses FF2's "Ancient Castle" and FF3's "Crystal Cave" respectively, and they sound as epic as they could have been prior, had they appeared on the more powerful consoles. Really, who would have imagined that we'd ever hear these songs again, this time in splendid 32-bit sound?
The only original song comes in the form of the ending staff roll theme. As it has now become a tradition for Square games to have some sort of vocal song in it, Chocobo Racing serves up "Treasure Chest In The Heart". Orchestrated by Shirou Hamaguchi (of FF7 Reunion Tracks and FF8 fame), and performed by veteran Japanese vocalist Hiromi Ohta, the result is a powerfully played but light-hearted musical piece. Ohta's child-like voice fits the cute and carefree nature of the song perfectly.
All in all, I must say that I'm extremely impressed with Chocobo Racing OST. Though it won't exactly get the award for most original soundtrack, Kenji Ito must be commended for his fantastic achievement on these remixes. Fans of Final Fantasy's music should surely pick this album up ASAP. Even Nobuo Uematsu himself was proud of these arrangements, as is noted in the liner notes. It doesn't look like the real Final Fantasy series will be going back to this kind of simplistic, richly melodic style again. Chocobo Racing, however, paradoxically proves that by delving into the past, one can find a refreshing change of pace in Final Fantasy music.