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This week, we'll be covering the unfortunately-overlooked Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: Sound Collections! And don't judge the music by the game, folks.
To view our previous reviews, check out the archives
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, released in 1992, is certainly infamous for being a « mistake » to be created as it was a disappointment to many fans who were expecting another epic RPG like Final Fantasy IV(released as 2 in the US). Despite having the difficulty toned down even lower than the original Final Fantasy and having little to no plot whatsoever, it did have one redeeming grace : The music. Before moving on, let’s learn a bit about the background of its composers.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is the first in the franchise NOT to be composed by Nobuo Uematsu, but rather by newcomers Ryuji Sasai (who had just recently scored Final Fantasy Legend 3 with Chihiro Fujioka, and will be composing for the Japan-only Rudora No Hihou) and Yasuhiro Kawakami, as far as I know, this is his first game for Square, Kawakami will be returning to Square 6 years later to compose for Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon 2 along with Tsuyoshi Sekito (of Brave Fencer Musashi fame), Kumi Tanioka and Kenji Ito(of Romancing SaGa fame). Since Rudora No Hihou and Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon 2 respectively, both composers were not heard from since…
Now for the good part, the Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Sound Collections not only contains all the tracks from the game, but it also contains 3 arranged medleys, 2 by Sasai and 1 by Kawakami.
We start off with the rocking « Mystic Re-Quest I », a very cool arrangement of the Doom Castle theme, in the middle we get a nice arrangement of the Volcano Area theme then return to the Doom Castle’s theme to close the track, very well done. « Mystic Re-Quest II » has a medley of all the battle themes from the game, first it starts off with notes of the Dark King’s theme, at first it sounds sinister, then the guitar rips through and rocks like there’s no tomorrow, you could say that Ryuji Sasai has grasped the power of the electric guitar to its finest potential in this track. Then the actual game OSV tracks follow. First off is the Title theme « Mystic Quest », an excellent opening for this light-hearted RPG, and you see that the game has a fair amount of trumpets and drums like in Uematsu’s works, the difference here is that the style is light rock, which was meant to appeal the younger audiences, and it really does. « Hill of Fate » plays when the Hero must save the old man from the Behemoth, it’s an excellent opening in my opinion, the beat is steady and doesn't bore. « World » is the map theme, it’s pretty short, but it still has an epic feel to it, it fits the mood nicely as you make your way around. « Beautiful Forest » is one of the most beautiful tracks, very soothing and mysterious, something that Kawakami is good at. Then Sasai comes back with his own version of battle themes, « Battle 1 » is obviously the main battle theme, and simply sounds cool, you never get tired of hearing it over and over, just love that guitar Sasai uses ^^ . « Victory Fanfare » doesn't offer much, but it’s there, heh, deal with it :P « City of Forest » is another beautiful, peaceful track, nothing more can be said about it, really :P « Fossil Labyrinth » is the theme for the Bone Dungeon, it starts out with a military drum beat, then trumpets make their way, then it loops back, it’s a short track, but still enjoyable. « Battle 2 » is the boss theme, once more, Sasai takes out his guitar to create an excellent theme, it’s very epic, and it gets you into the spirit of « Beat that boss ! » feeling. «Focus Tower » is a slow, but epic song played as you climb the legendary Focus Tower, which the « focus » of the hero’s success in the game. « Shrine of Light » is reserved for holy places like uhhhh…. Shrines !! :D It’s very calm and relaxing, although it does get boring quick. « Rock Theme » is the theme for good ol’ Treasure Hunter Tristan, he’s so cool he gets his own guitar-based theme :P « Fanfare of Friendship » is when a partner joins, now dance like an idiot as your new friend joins in the fun :P « Dungeon of Ice » was used in the Ice Cave and the Frozen Pyramid, it gives off a cold feel as you trot around in these chilly places, and you gotta love the echo effect used here. « Dungeon of Waterfall » is another excellent theme, used in the Mines which I remember best, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just like how it sounds, very epic and mysterious. « City of Fire : Faeria » is the theme for Ruben’s town, it’s simply an upbeat version of the normal town theme, very cool indeed. « Rock & Roll » is the theme of the No Name Band that plays in the Fireburg Hotel, again Sasai demonstrates what he can do with a guitar. « Lava Dome » is another rocking theme, it’s so good you just can’t hate it, and gives off a « Hot Hot Hot !!! » feeling as you explore the volcano very fitting ^^ . « City of Wind : Windaria » is the theme for Windia, it simply a slower version of the town theme, complete with « whoosh » sound effects, very cute. « Mountain Range of Whirlwinds » is the theme for Mount Gale and Pazuzu’s Tower, this is a very epic song and it helped me to endure the frustration going through Pazuzu’s tower (Yeesh, that place is SO confusing, especially through your first session of MQ). « The Crystal » is the magical theme when a big boss is beaten and the Crystal shines again, nothing else comes to mind. « Last Castle » is the rocking Doom’s Castle theme, it’s some of the very best music in an RPG, ever !! The guitar used here sounds very realistic, another winner by Ryuji Sasai. « Battle 3 » is the theme for the Dark King, it’s an excellent final boss theme, very epic, and keeps you in the fighting spirit. « Mystic Ballad » is the Game Over theme, no comment here. « Ending » is a very heartwarming theme to end this lovely RPG, this song made me cry the first time I heard it, no joke !! It’s so beautiful. Then we finish up the review with the last remix, entitled « Re-MIXTIC-QUEST », it has the calmer themes, they are very nice, although the guy who just says « Mystic Qu-Qu-Quest, …. » between tracks just ruins the entire track. That guy should be shot. >=>
For the conclusion, if you want this CD……. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is among the three Square Soundtracks that didn’t get a second print (The others being Hanjuku Hero and All Sounds of SaGa), so the only place to go is Ebay, however you’re more likely to run into bootleg versions than the real thing….. don’t buy those, they’re bad. If you encounter the real CD, you’re not leaving with it under a 100 $ + price tag. If you’re a true Square fanatic, I’m sure you won’t mind shelling in the cash as it is a wonderful soundtrack.
As Shinryuu said before, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Sound Collections (that's a mouthful) is composed by two Japanese guys: the funky Ryuji Sasai, and the serene Yasuhiro Kawakami. The two have very different styles, so I thought I should do you a favor and label each track so you know who composed what. The letters in parentheses next to the track titles are the initials of the person who wrote that track.
1. (RS) Mystic Re-Quest I: The bulk of this kickin' remix is an arrangement of track 24, Last Castle, which you'll have the joy of hearing later on. Sasai sure picked a great song to open up this soundtrack, let me tell you. Guitars and drums are the dominant instruments, which is pretty typical for a lot of Sasai's later tracks. The song sticks to the original version for the first two minutes, though the great instrumentation makes up for the lack of arrangement. Then track 20 (Lava Dome) makes a surprise appearance, and this tune is truly arranged rather than just orchestrated. The familiar harmony is the same, but the melody is all new stuff, pulling all sorts of crazy riffs with an electron-ified guitar sound. Then it's back to the Last Castle remix again. Despite a minimal amount of arrangement, this track is fantastic. The playing style and instrumentation sound so real, you sometimes forget that it's not a live band playing.
2. (RS) Mystic Re-Quest II: Don't let the slow opening of this piece mislead you -- this song is intense. It's a remix of all three battle themes that appear on the soundtrack, blended to perfection. After the opener (from Battle 3), we hear a symphonic-rock remix of Battle 1, the guitars and strings battling for control of the melody. Then it's off into Battle 2, taking an already superb song and improving on it with arranged riffs and quality drum work. But before you can catch your breath, we wind up back in Battle 3, the instruments still blazing with compositional brilliance. The drums really start pounding, and then the guitars do their squealing-distortion thing, which are just a couple examples of the little goodies that Sasai throws into this track. For an ending, a short melody segment from Battle 1 is repeated, fading away, as the drums keep pounding. This is... my favorite arranged game music track of all time. Even if you're not into the kind of hard rock style that this song uses, there's still a lot of compositional and instrumental work you can appreciate. And if you are into this kind of music, I guarantee you'll be waving your lighter around before you finish listening to it. ^_^
3. (RS) Mystic Quest: For a song with really repetitive bass, this is pretty good. The horns carry the melody, which is pretty catchy, I must admit. But what really makes this track worth listening to is the work done by the other instruments -- while the high-pitched "piccolo" is playing around the melody, the strings are expanding the harmony, providing a nice amount of variation.
4. (RS) Hill of Fate: A great fast-paced track, with an interesting harmony. The melody really takes off from the beginning, dancing all over the keyboard in a very unconventional pattern. A slower, string-heavy section near the end also keeps things interesting.
5. (RS) World: This is a variation of track 3, Mystic Quest. It's a lot shorter, but it uses the same basic instruments in a marchy arrangement.
6. (YK) Beautiful Forest: Kawakami's first song on the soundtrack introduces you to his style, which is much mellower than Sasai's. This song has a slightly mysterious feel to it, but it's pretty cheery for the most part. Unfortunately, I think part of the effect is ruined since the choice of instruments tends to ruin the ambience.
7. (RS) Battle 1: This battle theme may seem too slow for some, but don't worry -- Sasai's just starting to warm up! Here we have some rock influence going on, which really helps the song seem more battle-ish. The bass guitar and drums fit in perfectly, and the composition is top-notch.
8. (YK) Victory Fanfare: Now Kawakami is getting into a rock style in this track. It's a short, sweet fanfare, which gets the job done with a minimum amount of fuss.
9. (YK) City of Forest (Foresta): Okay, back to the slower stuff. I like the choice of instruments in this piece, which are predominantly strings. The melody moves along at a smooth pace, though it's not much to listen to. Instead, direct your attention toward the harmony, which is one of this song's stronger points.
10. (RS) Fossil Labyrinth: It's a heroic song, and it's high in compositional talent, to boot. Listen to individual instruments, and you will hear them actually taking turns playing the melody, cutting in to boost the harmony in places, and then letting other instruments take over. My favorite part happens near the end (just before the repeat), where the bass takes on this atmospheric quality that seems to surround you, and gives such wonderful depth to the song.
11. (RS) Battle 2: If you were sleeping through the earlier original version tracks, this one should wake you up. This one's almost all guitar and drums, with a few minor parts played by horns and some synth-sounding instruments. It's got non-stop, catchy, hammering, compositional goodness, blazing through one melodic section after another. Sweet Soundtrack Gods in the sky, this song is absolutely amazing! 8D
12. (RS) Middle Tower: This track maintains a steady string-based rhythm and an ever-present mysterious quality. The instrumentation is fantastic, even if the melody sounds somewhat cliched. It has a lot of the intertwining qualities that track 10 has, and the symphonic technique Sasai uses adds an extra dimension to the harmony.
13. (YK) Shrine of Light: Yet another soothing melody from Kawakami. It's a very simple song, but the progression that the melody undergoes makes it a nice semi-narrative piece. I like the harmonies here too -- it just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. ^_^
14. (YK) Rock Theme: Sheesh, what's with the rock music? Game music isn't supposed to borrow from other genres! I jest, of course. The instrumentation makes this track seem kinda corny, though, and the melody also needs some improvement.
15. (RS) Fanfare of Friendship: It's three seconds long. And it probably took Sasai about that same amount of time to compose it. What else could I find to say about it? :P
16. (YK) Dungeon of Ice: A somewhat ambient track. I say "somewhat" because with all the drums and annoying melody, it's kind of hard to slip into the mood. Too much of this song seems to be wasted notes.
17. (YK) Dungeon of Waterfall: The superior counterpart to Dungeon of Ice. Now we have a truer ambient feel going on, and the low sounds that echo every so often also add a nice touch. The feel is somewhat reminiscent of track 6.
18. (YK) City of Fire (Faeria): Very catchy, this piece is. It's a jazzier remix of track 9, which suits the location in the game (a lively city). The catchy beat and the good instrumentation make this a very enjoyable track.
19. (RS) Rock 'n' Roll: Not only are we getting Rock 'n' Roll in this track, we're getting some serious Old School composition going on. Translation: simple but catchy melody, simple but catchy beat, simple but... you get the idea. It's all simple, it's all catchy, and most importantly, it's all good.
20. (RS) Lava Dome: Sasai really cooks up a storm with this track, which is definitely the "hardest" rock song in the soundtrack. Gone is the simplistic harmony of the previous track -- it's replaced by some serious dissonance and composition. The melody takes on the same unusual feel that was used in track 4, and puts it to even better use in this piece. A bit on the slow side, but damn, it's catchy.
21. (YK) City of Wind (Windia): Another variation on the town music of track 9. This piece is filled with noise samples that sound like gusts of wind, which wouldn't be so bad except that they are constantly blowing, sometimes even overpowering the actual music. Whereas track 9 focused on string instruments, this one uses woodwinds, which I think gives the song a more beautiful sound (if you ignore the wind, anyway).
22. (RS) Mountain Range of Whirlwinds: This piece adopts a style very similar to the one used in Fossil Labyrinth. It's heroic, inspirational, and puts the instruments to great compositional use. The harmony is also quite a knock-out, especially when the brass kicks in.
23. (RS) The Crystal's Appearance: The melody in this song hints at the title theme (track 3). It's quite repetitive, and although the harmony is good, there is so little happening in the piece that it makes the cycling melody get old very quickly.
24. (RS) Last Castle: Guitars and drums make another appearance in this track, but they are accompanied in full force by strings and chimes. Instrumentation is awesome as always, and so is the composition. As the song progresses from one theme to the next, listen to all the instruments doing their own creative parts, and you'll get the maximum effect of this track's greatness.
25. (RS) Battle 3: Here, Sasai sacrifices some of his head-bangin' guitar riffs, but he makes up for it with a melody/harmony combination that just screams "epic showdown". The strings and horns give this song a special Symphonic-Hard-Rock kind of feel, which truly needs to be heard in order to be experienced.
26. (YK) Mystic Ballad: This song features a pretty melody and harmony, although the composition is weak. The two loops you hear in the soundtrack aren't so bad, but woe to those who listen to this track any more times than that (which can happen in the actual game).
27. (RS) Ending: Quite a departure from the usual Sasai style, this song sounds more like the ending theme to a movie than a game, but I guess it would seem out of place if he put another rock track in at the end, wouldn't it? The harmony is delicious, and keeps the song progressing forward, despite the somewhat repetitive melody. I also love the choice of instruments, which makes the song sound very dramatic, especially the last minute.
28. (YK) Re-Mixtic Quest: Kawakami's arranged track has quite a variety of music in it. It starts off with a church bell ringing in the wind, and then a slightly jazzed-up version of track 6 comes in. It fades out to give way to... what the hell?! A synthesized voice saying "Mystic Quest Quest Mystic Quest Quest", etc. barges in out of nowhere! After a short original piano-based composition, we get a remix of the moody track 17, followed by that annoying voice again. Then it's on to an nicely-arranged version of the Shrine theme from track 13, followed by a brief segment from the Town theme, and another original tune with a very haunting sound. More random voice synth and brief original music, and the piece closes with a tranquil remix of track 26, complete with ringing church bell. Although the remixes are really more of orchestrations rather than arrangements, they still sound pretty good individually. My main complaint with this track is that horrible voice saying "Mystic Qu-Quest" over and over again, which adds absolutely nothing to the music, and only diminishes it. The track samples are also much too short, always cutting out just as they become interesting. Perhaps Kawakami should have made two remixes instead of one. This would have also left him more room for his original music that, for the most part, kept the track interesting.
There you have it. The album that came so close to being my favorite Square soundtrack, and ended up losing that title... all because of some ill-used, cheesy, artificial voice samples. Although Yasuhiro Kawakami's music was very enjoyable to listen to, it's obvious that the real genius behind the soundtrack is Ryuji Sasai. I suggest that if you decide to go after this CD, do it based on your feelings for rock music. If you like that style, this soundtrack will be your best friend. If not, I doubt that the mellower work of Kawakami will make it worth your while. Again, I have nothing against slow music, and Kawakami is a pretty good composer -- however, the bulk of the quality songs are written by Sasai, and given the rarity of the album, you need to really love it to shell out $50 or so for it.
Don't take my warning the wrong way. You don't need to be a hardcore rock fan or metal head to enjoy Sasai's composition. But if you don't like that style of music, this album is not going to change your mind. If you are indifferent to the rock genre, you should be fine. Mystic Quest Sound Collections is a great compromise between the heavy distorted stuff and the lighter, catchier material. If you have a strong positive inclination towards rock music, and you are not one of those mindless drones who simply head-bangs to every song they play on the radio, you'll be in heaven while listening to this soundtrack.