After a year of hiatus, Yasunori Mitsuda reappears as the crafter of yet another wonderful game soundtrack, one which I have come to enjoy a great deal. It's not the greatest of game music wonder, but it certainly seems close. There are many reasons I have to recommend this. One may enjoy the reappearance of the main themes from the original Radical Dreamers, a game which I have never played, and Chrono Trigger, a soundtrack that, despite it's rather fanatical fan following, I have never truly found altogether interesting or inspiring. Despite my own knowledge (or lack thereof) of the themes' origins, I find them to be quite enchanting, especially in their new tear-jerking arrangements.
Unlike previous Mitsuda soundtracks, this one is dominated by relaxing and even lazy pieces as opposed to more oppressive and action-oriented ones. This can be a boon or a blemish, depending on how you look at it. It took me a while to get used to it, but I came to favor it in the end. Also, this new offering pulls us even further into the ethnic realm that the composer seems to be uncommonly fond of. The ethnic influences have certainly reared their heads before, but never to this extent. The Celtic influence in the first track can be heard immediately upon listening. Other tracks like "Another Termina" continue in a familiar tradition of ethnic festival music. These types of tracks can be heard in all of Mitsuda's works, and I believe that a particular segment in James Horner's score for the movie Willow (Willow's return home) is what originally inspired them.
If there's one wonderful aspect to this score, it's the abundance of different themes. The thematic richness of Chrono Cross is of unequalled quality in video games, with the exception of Final Fantasy VI; one can't help but hum the different melodies from time to time after hearing them. This is not limited to just the main themes, but most of the sub-themes as well, which are most notably carried by the town tracks, receiving a generous two arrangements each. Character themes have been cut down a bit, but there are a few. There is a large amount of ambient music as well, and to be quite honest, I don't believe that any game music composer is as good at it as Yasunori. The best example that I can think of is "Jellyfish Sea", a spectacular track whose aquatic-sounding nature left me awestruck. Another good ambient track is "Phantom Ship", which interestingly enough reminds me of the "Ghost Ship" music composed for the game Grandia by Noriyuki Iwadare. With all of the great tracks though, they all pale in comparison to "Life - A Distant Promise" a track I believe to be Mitsuda's best yet. This *hugely* emotional version of the Radical Dreamers theme is infinitely gripping, and will surely go down in game music history as a classic.
Addressing the sound quality of Chrono Cross, the synthesis, put simply, is the *best* you'll hear from Playstation. There is none better. Some of the synth is so good that you may have to pick your jaw up off the floor after hearing it. There are two instrumental tracks (the opening and closing pieces) that obviously top any synth that might have been used.
Like his previous soundtrack, and Nobuo Uematsu's latest couple, Mitsuda finishes it off the with a vocal piece (another trend that I believe was inspired by James Horner, specifically by "My Heart Will Go On"). Based on the Radical Dreamers theme, it is actually a mixed bag. The Japanese lyrics are good and the vocals are heavenly, but I do honestly wish that the instrumentation had been beefed up a little. I appreciate simplicity in music sometimes, but it seems to me that a solo guitar just doesn't cut it. The song is so simple that it seems a bit drab and lifeless to me.
Though this is one of the best game soundtracks that you will find, it isn't perfect. Unfortunately, although this is just as good technically as Xenogears (perhaps even better), it is probably Yasunori's most difficult to appreciate upon first hearing. If you can believe it, I did not even like this at first, as I was overly interested in hearing what exciting music the composer could turn out. After several listens though, I have come to regard it as my second-favorite Mitsuda score after Xenogears.
Once you've got the soundtrack in your head, it's hard to get it out, and I would recommend it to any fan of game music, with the warning that you may not care much for it at first, due to the lazy atmosphere that seems to be its primary standing point. If you listen to it enough though, I'm almost sure that it will grow on you, especially if you are a fan of the soundtracks of Chrono Trigger or Xenogears. Yasunori's latest soundtrack may be musically soft-spoken, but it has a loud and profound impact.