Chrono Trigger Symphony Volume 2 continues the standard set in the first volume in giving the beloved SNES RPG soundtrack a more modern, more realistic suite of sampled instrumentation, along with some modest but beneficial arranged touches. Just as Volume 1 was focused on the first disc of the three-disc original soundtrack, Volume 2 features arrangements of every track from disc two. The few problems to tarnish the impressive first volume have largely been addressed, meaning that despite not having quite as great a selection of original themes to work with, Volume 2 is just as enjoyable as the first, and comes thoroughly recommended to Chrono Trigger fans.
From the very outset in "A Desolate World" we get examples of some of the beneficial changes in instrumentation and arrangement, with soft strings and choir adding both a beauty and a sadness to the piece. At the same time it stays true to the original, from the metallic percussion to the desolate wind effects. "Those Without the Will to Live" gains noticeably more lifelike orchestral instrumentation and a nicely done original outro, while staying faithful to the OST right down to the sitar. And the more nuanced instrumentation in "The Last Day of the World" makes the already pretty original piece even more so, especially when delicate string swells and choral accompaniment come in.
Interestingly some of the least orchestral pieces of the OST are the most delightful of the album. The jazzy "Johnny of the Robo Gang" was catchy from the start, but arranger Blake Robinson's much upgraded instrumentation gives it an added authenticity, and while the arrangement closely follows the OST in its first pass, an nicely improvised second verse adds even further to the jazzy quality. Chrono Trigger fans will remember "Bike Chase" as perhaps the most Uematsu-like of that composer's nine contributions to the soundtrack, featuring the upbeat rock-influenced synth and backing organs characteristic of so many of his Final Fantasy battle pieces. Well except for the backing guitars, Robinson gives the piece the full orchestral treatment and it works amazingly well, from the dramatic opening strings to the supercharged lead horns. And then there's the quirky and charismatic "Jolly Ol' Spekkio". The happy lead flute and bouncy xylophone are present as always, but along with an extended intro and outro come backing brass and choral accompaniment that give the piece an almost gospel-like energy.
One of the weaker segments of the OST for me was always the four primeval-era pieces near the end of the second disc, and the same holds true for the arranged album. That said, Robinson manages a nice approximation of the quirky instrumentation in those pieces, utilizing some tribal instrumental samples and even some chanting. Overall the segment is hit or miss - the strong brass in "Primeval Mountain" and "Burn! Bobonga! Burn!" adding to the drama of each piece while the moody string bit in the former and the percussion in the latter sound off, the backing instrumentation in "Ayla's Theme" conveying the energy of the theme while the lead instrument falls short.
Volume 2 concludes with the more orchestral trio of tracks set at Magus's castle. "The Fiendlord's Keep" and "Strains of Insanity" were surprisingly effective at establishing tension for an SNES OST and the arrangements here remain so, even if the pretty original outros in these cases are counterproductive. As for "Magus Confronted", like "Frog's Theme" from the first volume, I wouldn't say it's the ultimate arrangement of the fan-favorite theme (especially following the extremely impressive live rendition in Symphonic Fantasies), but it is nice to have as an alternate version to the OST.
One of the few issues I had with Volume 1 was that several arrangements felt too short. Fortunately that's not so noticeable an issue in Volume 2, though a couple of favorite tracks (Spekkio!) I do wish were longer. Conversely a few tracks actually feel like they go on too long - "Mystery of the Past" extends far past what the original mini-melody requires, and as beautiful as the "The Last Day of the World" is, a more succinct finale would have perhaps made it even better. As a whole though the album flows quite well. Without applying the simple loops of the OST it comes out to nearly the same length, and though it's only seven minutes longer than Chrono Trigger Symphony Volume 1, those extra minutes go a long way towards making it feel like you've experienced a complete album by the end.
Followup albums among arranged game soundtracks have in my experience been almost evenly split in both directions - about half continuing the quality of their predecessors, with the other half being at least modest disappointments. Thankfully Chrono Trigger Symphony Volume 2 counts as one of the former. Though the first volume has a few more nostalgic original compositions in its favor, the lively batch of excellent arrangements in the middle section and the more substantial feel of this second album overall compensate very nicely. As with its predecessor, any Chrono Trigger fan interested in hearing Yasunori Mitsuda's original compositions with a more modern, more lifelike instrumental sound will find plenty to enjoy.