The composers of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles ~The Crystal Bearers~ Music Collections smartly disregard what expectations listeners might have of a Final Fantasy score right from the outset. How many Final Fantasy soundtracks - even Crystal Chronicles ones - begin with a jazz serenade and a ragtime number? And while there may be no shortage of RPG town themes done as Celtic music, none to my knowledge combine a Celtic jig with funk like the insanely addictive "Alrigaria Capital City". From the rambunctious frontier-Western strings and acoustic guitar of "Getaway" to the folksy banjo and harmonica rock of "The Pioneer Spirit", The Crystal Bearers jumps from style to style with a frequency and a competency matched by few soundtracks.
The compositions that adhere more closely to RPG norms are similarly impressive. After the soundtrack's eclectic intro, the New Age "The Sacred Haven" tones things down, while the soothing "Moogle Forest" creates a lush musical environment for the staple Final Fantasy creatures. The venerable chocobo theme gets a charming country arrangement that benefits from a resistance to following the theme note for note. "Ephemeron" and "Kuule taa unelmain" provide some of the most beautiful combinations of soft female vocals with orchestra since Kameo Original Soundtrack, while "Snowfields" and "Existence and Oblivion" are quiet and atmospheric but no less enchanting. Throughout the score composers Hidenori Iwasaki and Ryo Yamazaki's demonstrate their skill at arranging their compositions for live instrumentation, which includes everything from a mid-sized orchestral ensemble to fiddle and tin whistle to electric and acoustic guitar.
The score shows inspiration at times from both its namesake series and the film music world. "Althea's Waltz" brings memories of Final Fantasy VIII's "Waltz for the Moon" (but with more expressive live instrumentation), while you can hear traces of Danny Elfman in "The World is Changing" and John Williams in the orchestral fanfare "Queen's Garden". The only track that borrows too freely is "Althea", in which the combination of light percussion with acoustic guitar and cello is uncannily similar to the pretty "Eating Alone" cue from Shrek.
Though the variety of styles and the consistently high quality with which they're implemented is a great strength of the soundtrack, I can't help but think that the composers have dipped their fingers in one too many pies. Specifically, the dark rock tracks that serve as battle themes - most frequently at the score's climax - feel out of place. They're fine for what they are, but it's easy to imagine arrangements of the very same themes done in the jazz and orchestral styles that the composers manage so well - styles that would fit more in line with the rest of the score.
Despite having 70 tracks crammed onto two discs, The Crystal Bearers Music Collections flows surprisingly smoothly. Some low-key tracks in the last third of disc one drag just a bit but are capably crafted nonetheless, and shortly into disc two the soundtrack regains its stride with some fantastic compositions. I just wish the composers had more time to devote to certain tracks. Take for example "A Moment of Repose" - its soft orchestral synths and elegant vocals are remarkably poignant for a 67-second track, but give it another minute or two to develop and it would be a true classic. Of all the releases from 2009 this is the one I'd most like to get an arranged album for, just to hear Iwasaki and Yamazaki expand on their work.
There's no need to wait on an arranged album, though, when the original soundtrack is as good as this is. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles ~The Crystal Bearers~ Music Collections is a virtual highlight reel of modern and fantasy musical styles, one that rarely makes the listener wait very long for its next impressive achievement.