|Welcome to the music review at RPG
Classics.com! Our goal is help people see the soundtracks they listen
to in a better light as well as help the RPG music lovers out
there know what to get and know what crap they should stay the hell away from before they're stuck listening to something
so bad, they'll want to drive ice picks into their ears to relieve the pain.
Here's something you don't see every day. A review of an obscure OST done by a not-so-obscure composer... the phrase of the week is An Cinniùint, the original soundtrack to the obscure game Tsugunai. And now, here is a non-obscure review by two of your favorite semi-obscure soundtrack reviewers!
To view our previous reviews, check out the archives
The year is 2001, where Sony Computer Entertainment produces their first RPG for the PlayStation 2 : Tsugunai : Atonement. The game featured a decent storyline, good graphics and above all, a unique soundtrack. But who was the composer for this game ??? None other than Yasunori Mitsuda himself, famous for his work at Square. However, Mitsuda takes an unusual approach for the music in this game. How many RPGs are blessed with a full Celtic/Irish/Scottish inspired soundtrack, huh ? Not that many to my knowledge. Anyways, on with the review.
1. Opening : Here we are immediately greeted by violins, cellos, flutes, the works... It sets the mood for the rest of the soundtrack. It’s rather upbeat but resfreshing from the usual opening themes.
2. Tsugunai(Atonement) : Most likely the title theme, it offers a calm melody which the main instrument is a flute, it is very pretty and highly inspiring from what we are used to getting.
3. Whilst I Sleep : A truly interesting piece, it starts off with a few piano keys, then a flute joins in, along with percussions, after a bit, we get a rather dark passage, but it still has a hint of hope through it.
4. Morning Fog in the Village : It starts off with chimes, and is followed by an acoustic guitar and by a violin, it easily represents the quiet and peaceful image of the Hero’s village when he wakes up. Quite charming indeed.
5. Cursed Forest : The title says it all, it gives off a feeling of fear and loneliness, it starts with a few piano keys, then a bit of chimes, then we hear sounds that Mitsuda will use a bit in his Xenosaga soundtrack. It turns to a beautiful but still dark passage, till the song repeats... Really good for the first area to train.
6. Battle – Level 1 : What’s this ???!!! A few weird sound effects, then bagpipes come out blaring out of nowhere backed up by percussion, violins, synthy effects and a bit of electric guitar ??? Unheard of, a type of battle track this is... A very unique and highly enjoyable battle track, Mitsuda has done well.
7. Spirit Tower : Another winner, this one mostly comprises of a piano backed up by a fake chorus, which gives it an etheral feel to the track. Violins and bells soon join in, and a flute as well... Incredible effort by Mitsuda.
8. Enemy in my Path : I’m not sure if this a boss theme, but it certainly makes me think that I’m fighting some tougher monsters, the violins and percussion makes most of the piece, which is a good change from the medieval themes found in most RPGs.
9. Victory :Not much to say about this one, except that it shows off the feel of winning a duel vs nasty creatures.
10. Departure : This one has a bit more « umph » to it, the violins and percussions seems to give impression of escaping from a horde of monsters.
11. Collapse : The Game Over theme, and it just grabs you emotionally with its sad chorus and violins... Very gripping... and fitting.
12. A peaceful Temple : More chorus here, they help convey the feeling of all that is Holy, another nice track by Mitsuda-san.
13. Early Afternoon in the Village : This is a slightly more upbeat theme for the Hero’s village, main instruments are the flute, accordeon(?), and a bit of piano, really nice composition here.
14. Evening in the Village : A more relaxed, slower theme for the Hero’s village, here percussions and flutes do most of the work, which almost puts you to sleep...
15. The Pub : Now if this ain’t irish, I don’t know WHAT is, it’s basically a catchy jig which makes you want to join in and dance a jig like there’s no tomorow.
16. Nabi Fairy : This track reminds me alot of Chrono Cross’ compositions, mostly from the use of the drums and other instruments he used in that project, it’s not as good as the rest of the pieces and sounds « déjà vu » alot.
17. Find him ! : Ah ! A comical theme, now what is the hero up to now, huh ? It’s a rather lighthearted piece that has a goofy feel to it... Very mischievous.
18. Conspiracy Within Castle Walls : Hum... A more serious piece this time around, the percussions and flute gives off a sense that people are planning behind their King's back or something... Not exactly evil, but not bad of a track either.
19. Valley of The Goblins : I love how this piece starts... I’m always imagining the party moving through a mountain chain filled with evil monsters featuring ... what else : Goblins !! The piano and violin really stand out in this piece, which gives it a mystical, magical aura.
20. The Flaming Tree : Oh man !! Piano, violins, percussions, this is truly one of the best tracks, it sounds so mysterious, yet extremely beautiful. The flaming tree must have a really important part in the story to deserve such a masterpiece.
1. Happiness : Disc 2 starts off in a cheerful tone, piano, flutes and accordion make the most of this piece a cute effort.
2. Black Shadow : Despite the title, the music here is anything but forbodding, it starts off with a few piano keys, backed by a fake chorus, taking a somewhat mysterious tone.
3. Ship Run Aground : Another quirky theme, but is has a hint of creepiness in it as it progresses, the violins help convey the creepy feel, while the rest of the composition is quite mischievous sounding.
4. Book of Legends : The next gem in this CD, it gives off the same beauty as The Flaming Tree, except that focuses more on showing off mystery. The piano, chorus, violin and percussions really do this track justice.
5. Vanished Body : This track has a more creepy fell than the rest... it starts off with a few piano keys, but later on, we get to hear voices, they seem to be in pain, as you hear them moan and scream a bit, quite atmospheric and gives off a wonderful effect.
6. Forteress of Orcs : This one is a bit on the odd side, as you get a lot of percussions and fast piano notes, so yeah, conquer that forteress.
7. The Test : This track features a wood flute, backed up by piano, violins and percussions, you can sense that you’re going through some form of trial to prove your worth and strength.
8. Battle – Level 2 : Whhaaaaaatttt ???!!!! This theme is a bit too upbeat, even though the bagpipe and percussions do fit well, the mood is all wrong, it dosen’t feel like you’re fighting tough, nasty monsters at all. But it is still a valid effort.
9. Purification : Another victory theme, maybe ? It’s more melodic than heroic, but it gets the job done.
10. Grief : Another gem in my book, piano, wood flute, it is a sad theme, but it is also sickeningly beautiful.
11. Fisela’s Theme : We start off with a chorus, then a few piano keys, guitar, a bit of flute, this is an outstanding character theme, it is somewhat mystical in feel and sound, but also a bit sad.
12. Cemetary : This one has more a hopeful sound that a scary one, I can imagine the hero wandering through a cemetary looking for a particular clue among the tombstones. The acoustic guitar and flute gives it a calming mood overall.
13. Between Mirrors : Now it gets a bit more serious... This one has a more determined feel to it as the hero struggles to reach his goals, the violin gets the point accross as usual.
14. Battle – Level 3 : This one is more like it, you really get the feeling that you’re fighting a boss and that you need to take your time and attack effectively, the violin has a creepy feel in the music.
15. Sanctuary of Darkness : A very creepy theme, you hear sound effects of a clock cog wheel getting turned, followed by a female chant backed up by a few piano keys... Very fitting.
16. The Devil : Wow, wow, wow !!!!! What a great villain theme, it starts off with a few choruses, followed by periodic piano keys, more chants, more piano... it may not sound like much, but it’s really good.
17. Hell’s Resurrection : The final dungeon theme, quite scary, especially when the weird noises and the organ starts, you can imagine the hero making his wat accross the fiery pits of hell to find his foe.
18. Battle with the Devil : Oh yeah, this is the stuff !! Funeral bells, vocals, percussions, violins, the works !! Mitsuda brings us an envigorating battle theme for a change, unlike his oddities he brought us in Chrono Trigger, Xenogears and Chrono Cross. You really feel that you’re fighting the core of all evil, very epic, very fitting. Go Mitsuda-san !!!
19. Eternal Soul : The ending theme, mostly accordeon and guitar based, it’s quite a nice surprised as it’s more happy than epic.
20. All is Redeemed : The credits music, most likely, this sounds more like a movie score... Lovely guitar and flute use here... It is a most beautiful theme.
Conclusion : Should you buy the OST or not ? That depends, are you willing to directly support Mitsuda for it ? The reason I ask this is that this CD is not sold in any import online shop. It can only be gotten exclusively from Yasunori’s home page : Procyon Studio. Link : http://www.procyon-studio.com/english/index.html
Whenever you want to talk about the genius composer Yasunori Mitsuda, it always keeps coming back to Xenogears. Far be it from poor creatures like myself, who don't think the Xenogears OST was that spectacular, to stand in the way of popular opinion. But as much as I like to go against the grain concerning the soundtrack for Xenogears, I can't deny the fact that it had a profound impact on Mitsuda's musical career. The true beauty in the XG OST, I suppose, is the huge stylistic realm that it opened up... XG itself being merely a door that lead to greater things.
An Cinniùint, the soundtrack for the game Tsugunai, is one of those greater things. It's a special soundtrack for Mitsuda, as the original soundtrack was not released by DigiCube, as the publisher of the game declined to produce it. As a composer, Mitsuda did not hold the rights to the recordings made for Tsugunai -- he did, however, keep the rights to the music itself. And so, after re-recording all of the music, he has released the Tsugunai OST under his own label, Sleigh Bells. Now for the tracks.
As with a couple other soundtrack reviews that we've done in the past, I have translated all the Japanese track names myself. I apologize for any inaccuracies.
* * * Disc 1 * * *
1. "Opening". Did I mention that Yasunori Mitsuda is a big fan of Celtic music? You can certainly tell from this opener. Some cool stuff happens between the fiddles and the flutes... the sounds of the two just seem to melt into a single instrument. It's quite a lively piece, very powerful thanks to the drums and layered harmonies.
2. "Tsugunai". Set in 3/4 (waltz) time, this track is a beautiful little flute piece. I can't help but get an Eastern vibe from it, possibly due to the string instrument in the background, which reminds me of a particular Japanese instrument whose name escapes me. I'm not quite certain of this, but I believe "tsugunai" is Japanese for "atonement".
3. "In the Midst of Slumber". Again with the Eastern flair, and again with the flute. This one isn't a solo, though... it's got several woodwinds participating, although these too drop out in a couple places. It's also a lot more on the ambient side... it reminds me of a dream that hasn't quite vanished after waking.
4. "Village of Morning Mist". This reminds me a lot of the world map music for Xenogears, and it's probably no accident. It begins with some ringing chimes, and we get some pleasant counterpoint from the strings. When the melody kicks in on the clarinet (I think it's a clarinet), it wraps everything up in a neat little package. So many good tranquil songs in a row... I wonder if Mitsuda can keep it up.
5. "Lost Woods". We will never know, for instead of another quiet village theme, we land in the middle of a haunting forest. I love the instrumentation here. It perfectly recreates the sensation of being alone and watched by some unknown presence, with just a hint of the industrial.
6. "Battle Level 1". An interesting fusion of intense battle music and Celtic instruments. Great work with the percussion keeps the beat steady, but at the same time throws in some polyrhythm to keep things interesting. At one point, the action appears to die down as a lone electric guitar plays softly in the background, then everything comes back at once for another round of musical battle. Great battle song -- it gets the point across and has some fun with it.
7. "Tower of Ghosts". If Mitsuda keeps this up, all of us trained in the musical arts are going to have to re-learn music theory. I cannot, for the life of me, place this piece on the ambient/narrative spectrum. It's slow like ambient, but there is definitely a story being told here. But anyway, this track is just chock full of goodness. The instrumentation is an eerie blend of piano, chimes, voices, and this new-age "vibrating" sound that defies description. As the dark harmonies creep slowly toward an invisible climax, you can practically feel the evil dripping from the notes. This is one of my favorites on the OST.
8. "Enemies Blocking the Way". Think of "Battle Level 1", minus the Celtic stuff, minus some of the emotion, and plus a lot more industrial instruments. Whereas the first battle theme seemed to say: "Let's kick some ass!", this battle theme says: "Clear a path through the enemies, and get the hell outta here!" I swear that this piece is something left over from Xenosaga.
9. "Victory!". This is in no way a small victory theme. This is a full-on parade thrown in honor of conquering heroes. Heavy on the drums and cymbals, and its got a catchy melody/harmony combination.
10. "Escape". I can tell we are deep within industrial territory, and it feels pretty good. Like an awakening giant, this song is powerful not because of what it reveals, but what it hints at. The pace is rather slow for an escape theme, but I think that just strings out the tension even more.
11. "Caving In". The Game Over theme, no doubt. For just a brief instant, there is a burst of voices like the musical representation of light, then all is darkness. Okay, it's 51 seconds... that's like a LONG instant, right? :P
12. "Monastery of Tranquility". The name says it all. Pretty much your standard resonating church choir piece. Not to say that it isn't extremely beautiful, it's just that it isn't as unique as the other songs on the soundtrack.
13. "Afternoon Village". After those last two religious songs, the best way to describe this piece would probably be to call it the reincarnation of "Village of Morning Mist". After a minute into it, you'll recognize the same melody. This version is slower, and seems to have more instruments working at the same time, though I personally prefer the former. What I do love about this version, however, is the stronger Celtic flavor, which seems to be very appropriate here.
14. "Evening Village". Though this song starts out sounding like a fluet/clarinet duet, it actually winds up being more like a solo with lots of filler instruments in the background. Each instrument seems to be doing this "cute" little up and down thing, while only the melody instrument actually does any work. It's still a great piece to relax to, though.
15. "Tavern". And what a lively tavern at that! If you really got into the mood, you could just pour yourself a pint and start dancing on the nearest table. I wouldn't recommend it, though. :P
16. "Nabi Fairy". Just like in the Xenogears OST, Mitsuda takes us on a musical trip around the world. This one reminds me of Egypt, sailing down the Nile. It's got that distinctive harmony, and it has some good creative percussion too.
17. "Where'd They Go?!". This is just one of those fun songs that makes you wonder what's happening in the game (for those of us that haven't played it). It almost sounds like some kind of dance, but it's so comical that I think otherwise. Great instrumentation, and the harmony has this cool upbeat jazz feel to it.
18. "Conspiracy Within the Castle". Just as I'm starting to get a little sick of the goofy songs, Mitsuda brings back the dark stuff I have come to love him for. Almost everything here is industrial-sounding, from the percussion to the eerie harmonic chimes, it even starts to permeate the traditional instruments like the strings. The way everything fits together reminds me of a sinister clock, each instrument falling precisely in line with some kind of sound effect cue.
19. "Goblin Valley". Pretty serious, but not exactly what I would call dark, and certainly not industrial. It starts off with an oscillating synth harp, or some other stringed instrument, and picks up other instruments along the way. None of them, not even the harp, stick around for very long, and none of them carry an extended melody. Each one of them, however, adds something to the whole, and this combination of little mini-melodies and jazzy free-form interludes forms a great overall style.
20. "Flame of the Burning Wood". I can't really explain the title on this one, as this piece doesn't sound too much like fire. It's actually quite tranquil, and I think that water would be a more suitable descriptive element. It has sort of a soft jazz feel to it, staying well away from conventional key signatures and harmonies. Nice, but nothing spectacular.
* * * Disc 2 * * *
1. "Bliss". For some reason, the recurring themes in An Cinniùint are really hard for me to follow. For example, I'm sure I've heard the theme in this piece before, but I just can't place it. It's sort of complimentary to the one introduced in "Village of Morning Mist", almost like a secondary theme or an exposition. The instrumentation is pretty subtle, which gives us a nice break from the "crowded" masses of instruments used in previous tracks. Mitsuda scores again with his trademark guitar style.
2. "Black Shade". Despite the title, this piece isn't all that dark. It's a bit sad, but I think the mood is more "contemplative" than anything else. The primary instrument is a keyboard, with some interesting droning ambient synthesizer in the background. Slow moving harmonies, kind of like melting snow.
3. "Ship Run Aground". This is a mysterious song that doesn't have too much going for it as far as melody or composition (actually, there is not really a discernable melody anyway). The clever instrumentation saves the day, though, making this suitable for setting a mood, although it doesn't stand too well on its own.
4. "Writing of Legend". More mystery. The melodic instrument sounds like it could be an oboe, which is always good for this kind of stuff. The soft strings and piano in the background flesh out this piece nicely, and make for a nice interlude when the oboe drops out. Slightly more interesting than the previous song.
5. "Vanished Rest". Here we have some creepy voices forming a dissonant choir of agony... it's straight out of Dante's Inferno. Yet another mood-setting piece which isn't all that brilliant, musically speaking.
6. "Orc Stronghold". A bit like "Nabi Fairy", this piece has some harmonies that remind me of the Middle East. It's fairly ambient, dominated by drums and a exotic-sounding stringed instrument. Pretty simple, but in an elegant sort of way.
7. "The Ordeal". This one continues the general style of the previous track, but in a much more grandiose fashion. The number of instruments is easily doubled here. The instrument that carries the melody is particularly interesting to me, because I can't figure out exactly what it is. When you listen to this one, you just sort of go with the flow.
8. "Battle Level 2". Returning once more to the Celtic style (somewhat), this song doesn't quite fit in my mind as a proper battle theme. First, it's too slow. Second, the Celtic instrument drops out early on in favor of this weird electric organ. Third, the whole bass section sounds more like improvized jazz than anything you'd normally find in battle music. Not that this is a bad song, by any means, but it is definitely not "ready for combat".
9. "Purification". This is undoubtedly a victory theme. It begins with a nice string-heavy cymbal-crashing flourish, then eases into a slow rhythm led by chimes and woodwinds, fading away after a few repetitions.
10. "Sorrow". Now I'm usually not one to judge a song based on one instrument's melody line, but the flute passage here is just too beautiful for words... it has such an emotional timbre. And the piano chords create the perfect harmonic balance. This is just one of those tracks you share with your friends to convince them of Mitsuda's greatness.
11. "Fisella's Theme". Although this track begins with a short prelude of synth voices and clarinet, it is primarily a string piece. Piano, bass, guitar, and a mandolin-like instrument play some wonderful layered harmonies, surely the best aspect of this piece. The melody is simple, the key signature modal as in "Flame of the Burning Wood", and the mood is kind of a cozy warm feeling.
12. "Cemetery". Like "Bliss" and "Village of Morning Mist" before it, this song could easily be another candidate for the world map music. A flute takes the melody line for the whole song, developing a fairly elaborate and pretty theme. Piano and guitar have some broken chord action going on in the background, so the song keeps flowing pretty steadily. Not very cemetery-like, but what are you gonna do? :P
13. "Inside a Mirror". Echoing cellos start off this dark track, soon accompanied by piano, chimes, and even more strings. The melody is pretty simplistic, but very catchy in an evil sort of way. I feel this piece could have been handled a lot better, personally. Just when a new instrument comes in and starts hinting at some development, it promptly fades and lets the same old melody take over again.
14. "Battle Level 3". While the previous battle theme had musical goodness but no battle feeling, this one has plenty of battle in it, but the music just isn't that good. Oh, the instrumentation is great. The problem is that there are exactly three main segments to this song, and each of theme is pretty repetitive. I'm guessing that this track sounds a lot better to someone who's actually playing the game.
15. "Cathedral of Gloom". The bizarre chanting and surreal percussion instruments of this track make for an excellent ambient mood-setter. It includes a few touches of piano and other tones here and there. I shouldn't even need to mention the fabulous instrumentation. Subtle and sinister, two thumbs up.
16. "Devil". The gentle xylophone-like instrument in the background here always catches my attention for some reason in this piece. The chords it plays reminds me of Schala's Theme from Chrono Trigger, very serene and concealing some inner sorrow. Meanwhile, we've got some ethereal voices and nice series of piano notes providing somewhat of a melody. It's pretty ambient, and very minimal, but it's very good all the same.
17. "Hell's Restoration". Cranking out yet another nice ambient track, Mitsuda makes use of some serious electronic distortion here. Even conventional instruments like the background orchestra are twisted until they become so surreal that you can't tell exactly what they are. Whereas "Devil" was on the droning harmonic side, this song is more like noise. (And I mean the Noise style, not something that's merely atonal.)
18. "Showdown with the Devil". Without a doubt the best fusion piece on the soundtrack. I would have loved to hear more of this kind of stuff elsewhere. Large sections of this are taken directly from "Devil", and the rest is the same Celtic flavor that we've been hearing since track 1 of the first disc. It's got a healthy amount of composition and variation, but at the same time maintains a coherent feel throughout. Unfortunately, it does suffer the same tragic fate as "Battle Level 2", not sounding enough like a battle theme.
19. "Eternal Spirit". Well, the big baddie is defeated, so now it's time to relax and enjoy the sweet bliss that is a hero's retirement. Yeah, this song is a bit cliche-sounding, as it reminds me of something you'd hear from the Willow soundtrack. I still have to respect the fact that it's a nice melody, a nice choice of instruments, and great harmonic interaction between those instruments.
20. "Regaining It All". This starts out as a flute piece, with a fair amount of backup from other instruments such as guitar and even some bells. It also features a segment done entirely on strings, and then the flute comes back to finish it off. It's not too spectacular, just sort of a nice simple finishing touch for the soundtrack.
* * * Final Thoughts * * *
I think of An Cinniùint as a middle ground between the Xenogears and Xenosaga OSTs. It's not as dark as Xenosaga, but not as light-hearted as Xenogears. Quality-wise, it's somewhat of a toss up. As for me, personally, I like it a lot. But it doesn't really have anything new from Mitsuda, pretty much the same stuff he's been doing for the past few years. If you liked either the XG or XS OST, then you should definitely give this one a try. However, I would not recommend it for anyone's first Mitsuda experience, as it doesn't have the finesse of his other works. If you are interested in buying it, the only way to get a copy (outside of ebay) is from Yasunori Mitsuda's website, Procyon Studio.