BY DIGICUBE, 2003
The little soundtrack that could
The first and most noteworthy thing about the music on disc one of the FFTA OST is how absolutely wretched the instrumentation is… or, to be more accurate, how absolutely wretched half the instrumentation is.
Unlike the second disc, which is virtually indistinguishable from live instrumentation, disc one contains music direct from the GBA. And while high and mid-pitch instruments such as horns and strings come across with perfect clarity, virtually all deep notes have a grainy, cheap feel to them – it’s as if the upper range of music was being played on a modern, digitally-oversampled keyboard, with an early-80’s Radio Shack synthesizer in place of the lower half of the keys. It’s hard to overstate what an odd hybrid this produces; while FFTA sounds better in many respects than most SNES games, at least those SNES games were consistent in how the music sounded from note to note. Listening to disc one, it’s hard to make up your mind if you’re listening to a PSX game or a Game Boy Pocket that’s trying way too hard.
That said, the composition itself is aces. Anyone who’s listened to either FFT or Vagrant Story will at once be aware that this is the same composer; both individual hooks and overall feel of many songs echo back to the earlier games. What’s somewhat surprising, however, is how whimsical and lighthearted most of the tracks here feel. In comparison to the passion of FFT, or the soft, slow sounds of Vagrant story, Sakimoto’s created music that almost feels like Yoko Shimomura’s Legend of Mana soundtrack, or Noriyuki Iwadare’s Grandia OST, to a lesser extent. This is music that brings to mind bright sunny fields and whimsical characters, with relatively few tracks that immediately stand out as being background music for dark, heartwrenching scenes.
Of course, it’s generally ill-advised to anticipate what games will look like based on their soundtracks – did anybody who listened to the Chrono Cross OST before the game’s release end up playing the game they’d imagined? But it’s almost impossible not to build up mental images when listening to Sakimoto’s music, as he’s created some wonderfully evocative stuff here. Certain themes are reprised from the FFT soundtrack without being outright recycled, while battle tracks and action music bring to mind a game that feels far more free-flowing than the menu-driven FFTA is likely to be. In fact, if there’s anything to fault here, it’s that no single track stands out the way that, say, Mitsuda’s "Time’s Scar" opening theme to Chrono Cross does… but if the main complaint about a portable, cart-based game soundtrack is that it can’t stand up to one of the greatest musical intros of all time, then there’s not that much to complain about.
Also worth noting is that, whatever gets said about disc one, disc two’s sound production is absolutely perfect – this is the disc you’ll end up listening to while sitting at the computer working on a project, driving around, or just relaxing and reading a book. Although the number of tracks is less (32 vs. 42) the runtime of the second disc is longer (73 minutes vs. 52 minutes): disc two comes off as the actual soundtrack while disc one is just a nice bonus for the sake of completeness. Both discs come packaged in a handsome two-disc single-size jewel case with some rather nice package art and liner notes filled with character sketches. It’s disappointing that the game didn’t come with the paper cover, character-class poster and moogle trading card of the original FFT OST, but that aside, this is a prime package that’s easily worth the ~$30 to diehard fans. –Chris Jones