Don't be mislead by the gaudy cover art - SimAnimals Original Videogame Score is a lovely instrumental soundtrack bursting with naturalistic charm. It's also one of the exceedingly few game soundtracks that emphasize texture over melody. Variations of a memorable main theme and a variety of other mini melodies abound, but it's the arrangement of those melodies in a colorful tapestry of varied instrumentation that makes the album unique.
"Sim Animals Theme" sets the playful mood and the nature theme of the soundtrack from the outset in a delightful opening suite. The ending credits arrangement "Forest Song" is even better, showcasing the theme at its most harmonic and energetic state in a jazzed-up, festive reprise. Yasunori Mitsuda fans should take note that this closing piece sounds very much akin to some of the celebratory pieces from that composer's soundtracks, and the very best of them at that. The main theme makes numerous other appearances throughout the soundtrack and is welcome every time.
Other melodies appear too briefly to make a long-standing impression, but the instrumentation is so skillful that sometimes all it takes is a couple of small touches to make a track. In "Happy Place" it's a playful banter between woodwinds and chimes, in "Perfect World" it's the album's sole appearance of a grand choir. Almost all the pieces have an innocent air about them, sometimes upbeat and playful but more often quiet and calming. "Quality Time" is possibly the most beautiful of the bunch, a patiently arranged piece with various chimes and woodwinds embellishing a constant, soothing piano.
In a refreshing change of pace for an instrumental game soundtrack, there is no string section to speak of, just the occasional violin solo. In fact the soundtrack never relies on any particular instrument en masse. Instead we get a plethora of solo wind and brass instruments which, along with piano and light percussion, give a fresh, brisk sound to the album, and will have anyone who's ever enjoyed a live brass concert right in the mood to go to another. Joining the instrumental ensemble in most tracks is an array of ambient nature sounds - twittering birds, running brooks and the like. Surprisingly they're hardly even noticeable after the first few listens, simply adding to the atmosphere as they should.
At 36 minutes SimAnimals Original Videogame Score is a bit short, but that's a half hour of glorious game music that radiates colors most soundtracks don't even include in their spectrum. Skeptics and cheapskates might first want to sample tracks like "Forest Song" and "Quality Time" to see if the naturalistic sound of the album is for them, but anyone with an appreciation for beautiful instrumentation and atmosphere in a soundtrack should jump right into the whole album.