Some of the least popular games have nevertheless had some of the best soundtracks. Take Mystic Quest, for example. Now I personally liked Secret of Evermore... well, let's just say I didn't hate it. Now the soundtrack for that game was one of its better aspects, as even the game's harshest critics would have to admit. It's very unfortunate then that SoE's soundtrack got horribly under-marketed. I believe that this CD was only available to people who specially ordered it from Nintendo of America -- probably mentioned nowhere but in Nintendo Power. What a shame, too, because this soundtrack is more than just the original songs... it also has seven tracks arranged by Jeremy Soule, who also did the in-game music. These arranged tracks are simply fantastic. To me, they are second only to the ones in Seiken Densetsu Sound Collections.
1. "10 Print Hello World". Okay, maybe this sounds like a little bit too much like part of a Disney soundtrack, but it's still a hell of an opener. It's an orchestrated piece, and the instruments are extremely well-selected. I especially like the vocal bits and the drum work, which plays these little thra-da-dum patterns that sound very heroic. The harmonic variations and composition make this track a true arrangement, not just an orchestration. Simply one of the best arranged pieces I've ever heard in a game soundtrack.
2. "Variations of Castle Theme". Writing piano solo pieces is not a task for amateurs, but when done well, it's one of the coolest things you'll ever hear in music. Soule proves himself up to the task with this wonderful track. It's written in 3/4 (waltz) time, dancing in and out of major/minor key signatures like they were nothing. At about 2:20, Soule throws in this really cool syncopated dual-hand technique. I think Chopin would be proud. ;)
3. "The Secret of Evermore". Smooth and jazzy, performed by one of my favorite instruments, the saxophone. It's got plenty of electronic synth to fill in the background, as well. Jazz is a difficult genre to review, but this is better than most of the jazz that I hear played nowadays. Good stuff.
4. "Ancient World". More dark mood music, but this one is ambient rather than jazz. There are seagull sounds in the background, and the mysterious melody is carried by an exotic wind instrument. Interesting, and nice choice of minimalism.
5. "Greek Temple". This track features one of those special musical techniques that I like to call "layered instrumentation". Throughout the piece is a consistent percussion rhythm (which in itself has a few noticeable layers), and piled on top of it are a flute and some chimes. There is no single melody here, but rather a cooperative effort of melody and harmony all flowing together. Very pretty and mysterious.
6. "Pirate Theme". Who says simple themes can't be good? This short ditty features only a few instruments, which pretty much do the same thing over and over again. But it's a well-written melody, and it sounds just like the sort of thing a bunch of pirates would play to pass the time.
7. "Ocean Theme". More ambiance. Personally, I think this track is superfluous, since we already have track 4. It's just some ocean sounds with some brooding woodwinds. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. :P
8. "Merchant Theme". Similar to track 6 in some ways, it's very simple. The whole piece is a guitar solo, and a highly enjoyable one at that. The harmony is really sweet, and the timbre of the instrument is wonderful. The transition from arranged to original tracks was pretty painless, eh?
9. "The Queens". Here we start out as a minimalist guitar and chime duet, but later a bass comes along to flesh out the harmony. Nothing fancy, with the exception of a short interlude by some quiet woodwinds. But it's got some great composition... a very unusual piece, to say the least. Great mood music, calm and a little sorrowful.
10. "Flying". The bass on this track is a bit annoying to me, so I can't really say I like this one. I think this piece started out as a good idea, but Jeremy Soule just didn't wrap it up properly. It's got a healthy helping of variation, but I don't feel any coherence to it... it just feels like a random string of pseudo-melodies.
11. "Greek Temple". Extremely cool. I like the original version even better than the arrangement of track 5. It lacks the degree of layering in the arrangement, but I think the overall tone is better. Plus the instruments stand out better. Something about this track (maybe its creepiness) reminds me of the music from Castlevania IV.
12. "The Scientist". This song is played whenever the plot thickens... so it sounds pretty mysterious. It starts out as a little flutey melody with some chimes in the background, then a harp takes over the harmony and a very drawn-out string-like instrument handles the melody. The structure of the piece itself lends itself perfectly to mystery.
13. "Introduction". The opening credits music, if I remember correctly. There's a duality to the tempo here... the guitar and percussion move very quickly, but the bass and melody move slowly. I love the composition on this one, especially because of the changing harmonies.
14. "Puppet Song". Probably the most narrative track on the whole CD. Unsurprising, because it's only played once in the game, as the backdrop to a surreal Shakespearean puppet show. It uses instruments that should be familiar to you by now: an exotic flute (or clarinet), a piano, and some chimes. Employs some very cool progressions. Compositionally sound as well as a perfect mood-setter.
15. "Mini Boss". A confusing name, as this actually is the music played for full bosses. This track is dominated by tribal percussion (several instruments worth of it), with a guitar playing around with the melody a bit. Interesting for sure, but way too short.
16. "Greek Temple II". Noticeably faster than the first "Greek Temple" piece, this track uses the familiar chimes and guitar, as well as a high flute for the melody. And a very interesting melody it is, too, complementing the shifting harmonies perfectly. About halfway through each loop we get a gradual shift to a major key, and then back to minor again. What can I say... I'm a sucker for those kinds of musical tricks. :P (Also note that this track gets a double loop, which is very unusual in this soundtrack.)
17. "Cecil's Town". Referring to Ebon Keep, the nearly-abandoned town. It's very mellow, without too much going on. For some reason, I really don't like the melody in this song -- it's just way too simple and dumb. Otherwise, it's a nice piece.
18. "Over the Waterfall". A few seconds ambiance is all we get, followed by a cascading set of chords.
19. "The Rat's Chamber". There are contrasting themes here. In the background, we have industrial sound effects and general ambiance. But the melody sounds very exotic, like many of the tracks in the World of Antiquity. So you're not quite sure if you're wandering through a factory or an ancient tomb. The two ideas complement each other though, rather than clash.
20. "White Castle Town". One of my favorites. The harmonies used here are absolutely perfect for setting the mood. The idea is that this town, Ivor Tower, is very clean on the outside but hides some sinister secrets within its walls. The flute's melody in itself sounds kinda creepy by itself, but when you add the piano harmony, there's just no hiding the evil here. This is another track that gets a double loop, and deservedly so.
21. "Quicksand Field". From the selection of ambient tracks that this soundtrack gives us, you might get to thinking that Jeremy Soule is no good at that genre. Don't believe it. This particular piece is rather weak, but there are much better ones like it in the game itself.
22. "Dark Castle". It's dark, it's a castle, and it's jazzy. And it's got an awesome melody to boot. Very slow and deliberately unsettling, the tempo gives me a visual of some cloaked figure limping along silently in the shadows. Oh, and there's a double loop too.
23. "The Tinkerer". Here Soule makes up for quality with quantity. The harmony instrument (which sounds like some child's xylophone) bounces all around in a very rapid fashion. The melody leaves much to be desired... not even putting in the mysterious strings at the end can save this one. If there's any way for a song to be "dorky", this is it.
24. "White Castle". At the beginning, this track sounds very repetitive and not very interesting. But once we hit the second segment in a major key, you'll notice the changes. The third segment switches to an entirely different harmony (but the same melodic structure), and even changes instruments to a guitar! There's even a cool little harmonic turnaround at the end to bring us back to the beginning again. I really wish they had gone through with two loops for this song, it really deserves it.
25. "Freak Show". With a mysterious tone reminiscent of "The Scientist", this track takes a look at the darker side of Ivor Tower. It is kind of in jest, though, which you'll realize if you have played the game. Even though the track sounds serious, it's played during a funny part of the game. The tribal drums (very out of place here) should give you a clue that this song itself is a bit of a "freak".
26. "Dog Maze". Whoever chose the songs on this soundtrack sure loves the Gothic era pieces. I say that because this is not one of the better songs in the game. By now, the listener is rather sick of that same mysterious and creepy tone, played out always on the same instruments each time. The only thing going for this piece is the slight bit of harmonic change at the end, which is just barely enough to keep your attention.
27. "Final Boss Music". It's a lot like the regular Boss Theme, but the sound effects are industrial rather than tribal. We can count multiple harps dancing all over the place here, with the flute taking on the melody (what a surprise). Though it's not perfect, it does have a great boss-fighting tone and tempo.
28. "Ending Music". You'll recognize the opening for this one as the opening for the very first track. I love the melody that was chosen for this track, and the narrative changes that Soule puts it through. Admittedly, more could have been done with it, but I think it was a great way for the characters to say their goodbyes quickly. And if there's one thing to be thankful for, it is that Secret of Evermore's ending was not dragged out. ;)
29. "The Return". The first half of this song is even more foreboding than any of the others -- I thought this was supposed to be an ending! Oh wait, there is a happy end afterall. The harmony and melody switch over to a major key, and close this one up in a mildly interesting way.
To someone who's never played Secret of Evermore, this soundtrack would be a sure winner. Even if you bought it only for the arranged tracks, it'd still be well worth it. However, to someone who has played the game, the first thing you'll notice is the lack of *many* of the game's original tracks. There are only a couple taken from the Prehistoric World, a handful from Antiqua, and only a single one from the futuristic Omnitopia. The vast majority of songs were taken from Gothica, the medieval world. Now, there was nothing wrong with that world in the music department, but to have such an overwhelming number of tracks taken from it is rather unfair. Especially when you consider that there were a few filler tracks included, yet awesome songs like the Pyramid music and the battle with Thrax (the giant bug) were left out.
Ambient tracks were also heavily under-represented, as they made up quite a large portion of the game's music. And I'm not just speaking of the "sound effects" variety... there were also a number of excellent tribal songs that will never see the light of a CD drive. Omnitopia, as well, had some good tracks, but its sole contribution to the OST was the final boss theme. Equally unforgiveable is the number of songs that were given the "Secret of Mana" treatment (only one loop). A few got two loops, but half of those tracks didn't warrant it.
This OST deserved a full two CDs, period. Much like the game itself, Nintendo took an awesome idea, developed it almost to the point of perfection, and then royally mucked it up in the worst way possible. If I were Jeremy Soule, I would mourn the loss of so much of the game's music from the soundtrack. (I cannot believe for a second that Soule himself selected these tracks, cutting out a huge portion of his great work.) But, also like the game itself, it's definitely worth going through from start to finish. Fortunately, the arranged tracks almost make up for the omission of all those great in-game songs.
If you can find this rare soundtrack at a reasonable price (less than $50), get it. Otherwise, I'm sure you can find the arranged tracks in MP3 form somewhere. As for the original tracks, a full SPC set of all the in-game music is much better than what you'd find on the OST.