Chrono Trigger is truly a very special game. In my mind, it is the epitome of the term "classic RPG". It boasts enormous popularity amongst light role-players and hardcore ones alike. It also marked the first joint venture between Square and Enix -- hopefully with the upcoming merger we will see another great collaboration like this one.
The soundtrack for Chrono Trigger is another collaboration of sorts. While the bulk of the music was written by the then-unheard-of Yasunori Mitsuda, a handful of the tracks were composed by Nobuo Uematsu. The resulting 3 disc OST is as stellar as the game itself. For this review, assume all tracks were composed by Mitsuda, unless I specify otherwise. There is also a third composer who helps out with one of the tracks, who I will mention when the time comes.
* * * Disc 1 * * *
1. "Presentiment". Not the knock-your-socks-off opening some listeners might be expecting (but don't worry, that one's just around the corner). It's just a few clock ticks followed by some chords and arpeggios, simple and to the point.
2. "Chrono Trigger". This song plays during the opening credits. Listen to the melody very closely, as you'll be hearing it a lot throughout the OST. It's quite possibly one of the best themes in the universe of music, so powerful that it needs little support from the harmony or drums (though the addition certainly helps). All you need to know about Mitsuda's unique style is here in this outstanding piece. The odd key signature is neither major nor minor, but a gray area that combines many different feelings at the same time.
3. "Morning Sunlight". Imagine waking up to this piece in the morning. It's short, but a nice peaceful way to start your day.
4. "Peaceful Day". And speaking of peaceful days, here's what one would sound like if it were music. The melody work in this narrative piece is (like so many tracks of Chrono Trigger) simply amazing. There are no surprises here, just a quiet bit of relaxing harmony in the strings. It's my second favorite town theme of all time -- only slightly outdone by the one from Terranigma.
5. "Memories of Green". A more reflective and mysterious rendition of the main theme presented in track 2. The melody starts off on a flute, then moves to strings, while a couple hands on the piano keep the harmonic juices flowing. It's quite a nice theme to begin with, but the instrumentation is what really makes it work here.
6. "Guardia Millenial Fair". Back to the happy tracks. This song takes things somewhat slow, but it still carries quite a bouncy tune. Each instrument takes a simple part in the beginning, letting the sounds mingle, then the main melody gives way to a hand-clapping segment, and after a slower interlude returns back where it started.
7. "Gato's Song". The infamous karaoke robot performs this number each time you fight him. It's kind of a funny song if you know what the lyrics are: "My name is Gato, I have metal joints, beat me up and win 15 silver points!"
8. "A Strange Happening". Now this track is somewhat lacking in my opinion. The melody is quite repetitive, and the other instruments just sort of dance around it without any originality. It does fit in with the mysterious tone of the game, however, so I'll let it slide. :P
9. "Wind Scene". Like "Peaceful Day", this track is all about the narrative side of music -- that is, it tells a story. Quite fitting as this song is played during a time period from the main characters' past. It's almost entirely played out on strings, first in a plucking fashion, then in the more conventional style. Note how the piece goes from one harmony to two and finally to three. Fantastic!
10. "Good Night". Typical good night theme of 8 seconds.
11. "Secret of the Forest". One of the longest tracks on the whole OST, this one bears some careful attention. Like track 5, it is mysterious, but this one is a bit calmer and darker. At times it becomes beautiful and tempting, but like so many things in the forest, appearances can be deceiving. And again, like track 5, instrumentation is key. Gotta love those background animal-like sounds.
12. "Battle 1". Not the best battle theme I've ever heard, but it gets the job done. The layered instruments make for an interesting listen, it's just that the harmony is too constant. I need more action, dammit!
13. "Courage and Pride". The theme of Guardia castle, and I'd say they picked a good one. Not even the mighty armies of Magus could penetrate the harmonic progression we have going on here. With each measure, the music seems to build itself up higher and higher. Strings and drums and blaring brass, oh my!
14. "Huh?!". Another quick one, not really worth a review.
15. "Manoria Cathedral". Short yet sweet. It's a simple, ambient church piece, designed to help you rest... in the eternal sleep of death! Yeah, it's not just your imagination, there is definitely something sinister at work here.
16. "A Prayer to the Road That Leads". Yet another quickie, a few chords on an organ.
17. "Silent Light". Uematsu's first appearance on the soundtrack. It continues the creepiness introduced in "Manoria Cathedral". A single hand deliberately treads down and then back up the piano keys, augmented by some ambient strings and woodwinds. There's even some synth voices in there to help with the general atmosphere.
18. "Boss Battle 1". Time to let the master work. This track is again by Uematsu, but it also has some help from Noriko Matsueda, a newbie like Mitsuda at the time. It makes up for the deficiencies in the regular battle theme, sacrificing composition and length for a great level of detail and instrumental blending. Guaranteed to get your blood pumping.
19. "Frog's Theme". Like a shining star, here comes a single flute to cut through the darkness. Much like Frog himself, the melody sets its goals high, and reaches them with a little help from some friends (the backup instruments in this case). A sweet tale laced with Vitamin Victory.
20. "Fanfare 1". Also doubling as Lucca's Theme, this lively track is perfect at what it does, delivering a solid theme with awesome instrumental work. Heroes: 1, Lavos: 0!
21. "Kingdom Trial". Another one of Mitsuda's great "character" songs. You can picture the evil Chancellor pacing slowly across the courtroom floor, the strings rising and becoming more intense as he asks question after question. Then the instruments back off for a little while before looping, letting the poor defendant stew.
22. "The Hidden Truth". Not to spoil anything, but let's just say that the outcome of the trial doesn't sound too good for our hero. It's a much harsher version of the main melody of the previous track, with pounding drums and all that good stuff.
23. "A Shot of Crisis". This three-part piece has "escape!" written all over it. The first part features a climbing string harmony, and most escape tracks would stop with this. Not Mitsuda. The second part comes in with some ambiguous synthesized instruments, picking up the pace. The third part sounds almost like a brief bass solo. Drums and a quick tempo hold this thing together, making it more than just the sum of its parts.
* * * Disc 2 * * *
1. "Ruined World". Disc 2 sets us down right in the middle of a post-apocalyptic world. Things start to get a bit ambient here, and strong melodies are traded in for odd harmonic fragments. This one's interesting, but it's very hard to review it, as it's mostly just a mood piece.
2. "Mystery of the Past". Oooh, a creepy little melody by Uematsu.
3. "Dome 16's Ruin". The bass keeps this track moving at a steady pace, reminding our heroes that they should be getting through the mutant-infested ruins as quickly as possible. The harmony actually sits above the melody (in terms of pitch), and adds just the right touch of mystery.
4. "People Who Threw Away the Will To Live". Nobuo Uematsu's work again. Nice instrumentation -- very odd, though. The melody starts off on what sounds like an electric steel drum, complemented by a saxophone. About halfway through, it's taken over by a new instrument that sounds like an electric organ or dulcimer. Composition is great... it really feels like the dome survivors are telling their sad tale.
5. "Lavos's Theme". Like a fallen angel, this piece is full of wrath and ominousness (if that's a real word :P). It begins with a slow cascade of organ chords, then proceeds into a series of string harmonies that sound almost heroic... almost. There's no doubt that this song heralds a being whose intentions are far from good.
6. "The Day the World Revived". This song, appropriately, doubles as the "game over" theme and as the song played when a special item is brought to the starving people of the future. It's sad, but it also has a touch of hope in it. Simple and sweet.
7. "Robo Gang Johnny". Johnny is one slick robot, and this cool jazzy theme suits him well. It's a nice one, even if jazz normally isn't your thing.
8. "Bike Chase". The first of Uematsu's rock tracks, and not the last either. Fiery and inspirational, though it is rather short.
9. "Robo's Theme". If there's one good thing remaining in the bleak future, it's Robo. His song is very cute, bouncy, and has a wonderfully bright harmony. Hating this theme would be like hating kittens.
10. "Remains of a Factory". This track operates with layers and variations. The low bass and drums keep a constant rhythm (just like a factory! ^^), while the woodwinds and other instruments play around by filling in the gaps and experimenting with little sub-melodies. It's almost got an improvised feel to it.
11. "Battle 2". Here we have a track not included in the actual game. Why it was left out is beyond me. I like it much better than Battle 1, it's way fiercer and sports a more appropriate harmony sequence. The guitar also features more prominently, though the other instruments still provide great backup.
12. "Fanfare 2". Yet another victory theme.
13. "The Brink of Time". Set in 3/4 time, this is one of those unusual tracks that really helps to define Chrono Trigger musically. It's primarily a piano piece, though the strings help out with the harmony. It's a very beautiful theme, and is outdone only by a select few such as "Memories of Green".
14. "Delightful Spekkio". This bouncy track sounds a lot like some sort of caribbean party limbo music. This swinging melody is definitely one that you'll be humming to yourself after you hear it.
15. "Fanfare 3". Writing reviews of four-second fanfares is not an easy thing to do. Oh wait, yes it is.
16. "Underground Sewer". Shining with narrative brilliance, this track is one of my favorites in the whole OST. It opens with a mysterious bit of string work with minor chords, then continues to tell a musical mystery story with two echoing woodwinds and a complementary piano or harpsichord. Gotta love those progressively eerie harmonies. Oh, and it's by Uematsu as well.
17. "Boss Battle 2". Reserved for only the biggest of bosses, this theme is pretty extravagant. The chief instruments are brass and drums, but you'll find some strings in the background as well. The melody is pretty simple and repetitive, but the instrumentation and pure "extremeness" of the song makes it a perfect battle piece.
18. "Primitive Mountain". Another contribution by Nobuo Uematsu, this track is pretty weird. It's a nice piece in its own way, however, as it starts out sounding like some sort of alternative rock song -- but after a couple repetitions, it turns into a jazzy brass and piano duet. It earns major points just for being different (but still enjoyable).
19. "Ayla's Theme". Thankfully, this song is not heard much in the actual game. It's got a slowly increasing bass, with a bit of an improvised melody thrown in. The instruments sound great, but the song doesn't really DO anything. Highly forgettable, IMHO.
20. "Rhythm of Wind, Sky, and Earth". Highly appropriate for a prehistoric world map theme. It's entirely percussion, just a bunch of drums and tambourines and such. Nevertheless, Mitsuda manages to pull off something that actually keeps your attention.
21. "Burn! Bobonga!". This Uematsu track reminds me a lot of the caveman scenario of Live A Live. It's a weird prehistoric dance-like thing.
22. "Magus's Castle". Although merely an overture to the horror that awaits inside, this short song is still extremely creepy.
23. "Confusing Melody". Don't believe this song's title, as there really is no melody. Atmospheric strings in the background make for an ambient experience like no other. If only it had been longer... still, it's very effective as a mood piece.
24. "Battle With Magus". This one's a perfect end track to the second disc. It's one of the best battle themes I've ever heard. The strings, the drums, the brass -- it all fits together perfectly. Intertwining melodies, creepy sound effects of wind and wailing, and it tells a story too! Just listen to it as it moves from one short movement to the next. I remember one of my favorite alternate endings to Chrono Trigger was one in which Frog and Magus have a one-on-one battle. All you can see is the credits scrolling past, but you hear this song blazing in the background, accompanied by battle sound effects, and it's really enough to make you feel like you're actually seeing it unfold.
* * * Disc 3 * * *
1. "Singing Mountain". This is the second "unreleased" track on the OST. The beautiful piano melody and accompanying harp arpeggios make this a piece that did not deserve to be cut. With the wind blowing in the background, it makes another great mood piece, a sad one at that.
2. "Tyrano Castle". Another Uematsu track, and in my opinion, his finest on the whole soundtrack. Opening with a creepy string and electric organ prelude, it turns into a hard rocking guitar song. After a few bouts of somewhat dissonant harmony, it takes another drastic change and drops out into a soft (but still creepy) chime-like section before it repeats again. Just a nice piece overall, compositionally rich and catchy at the same time.
3. "At the Bottom of Night". This one always reminds me of Disc 2's "The Day the World Revived". It's sad in the same way, and uses the exact same instruments. However, I think this track puts them to better use... plus it has a melody that's more interesting and complex.
4. "Time Circuits". As the theme song of the magical Kingdom of Zeal, this piece is one of the most famous in the game. It's got a distinct East Indian flair to it, very mystical and tranquil, like the river of time itself. If there is a musical equivalent to inner peace, this song is it.
5. "Zeal Palace". Ah yes, even beautiful Zeal has its dark side. Starting out on the ambient side, the song churns out a slow melody, executed perfectly with ringing piano notes. Another melody appears, drawn out like the first, sustained by atmospheric strings, and punctuated by interesting percussion.
6. "Schala's Theme". This used to be one of my favorites on the OST, though it has fallen out of favor to a degree. It uses the same instruments and style used for "Time Circuits", but this is a much sadder piece. The repeating chime melody is simple but very effective, working with the other supporting melody in a very controlled manner.
7. "Sealed Door". Uematsu's final contribution to Chrono Trigger. It's another sad song, but not like "At the Bottom of Night". No, this one is definitely out to tell a story. Hope is not lost, and a bit of mystery at the end is enough to convince you that something can be done to undo the damage caused by messing around with time.
8. "Undersea Palace". Another great Zeal piece, this track puts electronic and industrial sounds to their best use so far. It's essentially made to make you tense right before the showdown with Lavos. Somewhat of a repetitive song, it nevertheless has a decent amount of variation, and the instrumentation (and overall effect) is great.
9. "Crono & Marle". Played out like a music box, this soft little melody is a nice change from the extremely heavy tracks that precede it. I like the duality here between the melody and harmony... it's almost like a short lesson in musical composition.
10. "Wings of Time". Man, I had almost forgotten what inspirational songs sounded like. Sweet and jazzy, this one is sure to put us back on track. Most of the quality can be found in the melody alone, but I have to say it was an excellent choice of instruments as well.
11. "Black Omen". It seems Mitsuda is always able to stay three steps ahead of my expectations with this soundtrack. This time he takes the jazzy style of the previous track and twists it into something evil and nightmarish. It's mostly an improvised-sounding piano, backed up by few other instruments, but towards the end it receives some power from the bass. Not a track to listen to idly, this one requires some careful attention to get the full effect.
12. "Determination". A shorter variant of the second track of Disc 1, this track is a bit more grim. Do our heroes go forward to meet their doom? Only time will tell.
13. "World Revolution". Some might call this piece too narrative to be a battle track, but I say... bring it on. It's nice to have a battle song with a symphonic style, and with the way it bounces from one theme to the next, it keeps things interesting. Interesting instrumentation, great composition, and even a cameo of Crono's Theme on strings. I like it even more than the track that follows.
14. "Last Battle". The constant in this track is the odd electronic bass that wavers back and forth from the left speaker to the right and back again. The variable is the drawn-out melody (or melodies rather, there seem to be many working together). Not what I'd choose for a final battle theme, but it has its surreal beauty, and I guess that's appropriate given the unusual nature of the final boss.
15. "First Festival of Stars". Think of this piece as a more elaborate version of "Guardia Millenial Fair". The tempo's a bit different, and the happy tune makes a nice way to begin the ending trio of songs.
16. "Epilogue". More "elaborated" material. When it begins, you think you're just hearing "Crono & Marle" all over again. But this time something special happens. First, a group of strings joins in the melody, and then a brand new melody appears and expands the original song to make it much better. As with many other tracks, it's kind of sad. It is meant to be a final farewell to some of the main characters, so it's very fitting.
17. "To Far Away Times". Absolutely brilliant. With the possible exception of Final Fantasy VI, no other game has such an awesome ending theme. I think this is my favorite piece on the whole soundtrack. It's predominantly strings and woodwinds, but there are brief piano passages in there that just tickle your emotions in a wonderful way. And when you think it's over, Crono's Theme makes a final appearance, closing the song with a nice little cascade of notes.
There's a reason that Yasunori Mitsuda became such an overnight success -- and that reason, in my opinion, is none other than the fantastic Chrono Trigger OST. The music is terrific on an individual track basis, but it also functions as a cohesive whole, despite incorporating many different musical styles. If you played only the slightest bit of this game, or heard only the tiniest music sample, you'll know if this is the stuff for you. Hopefully it is, and if so, you're in luck, because this CD set is still very easy to hunt down at any good import website. It's a very magical soundtrack, and is my second favorite OST of all time.