Saturday, September 06, 2014

Soundtrack September: Secret of Mana

Game: Secret of Mana / Seiken Densetsu 2 (1993)
Platform: SNES
Composer: Kikuta Hiroki

Back in the days when Squaresoft was making seemingly arbitrary decisions about which of their games to localize for overseas markets, they developed a Final Fantasy spin-off which would become a series of its own. Secret of Mana is not the first game in this series, but it's the first one that enjoyed as much fame as the original Final Fantasy. It mercifully departed from FF's turn-based battle system which was already becoming tiresome for some gamers, and introduced a cooperative mechanic whereby the hero's allies could be controlled either by AI or by another player.

The music, like the game, alternates between lighthearted and grim tones. One minute you're hanging out with a comical bunch of dwarves, and the next minute you're worried that a Mana Beast will destroy the planet. Kikuta's soundtrack covers these extremes and everything in between using a rich pallet of Western and non-Western folk, impressionist and electronic elements. The lush, introspective harmonies of "Mystic Invasion" and "The Wind Never Ceases" contrast nicely with urgent tracks like "Prophesy." Meanwhile, "Into the Thick of It" presents a respectable example of acoustic guitar emulation on the SNES.

The game's last two boss enemies also have notable themes. The battle with the Dark Lich ("The Oracle") pits gamelan gongs against a relentless industrial din. The final confrontation with the Mana Beast is accompanied by an upbeat progressive rock track ("Meridian Dance") that makes you feel thrilled to be alive.

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