|Catalog No.: NSLCD-0004~5|
|Release Date: 30/Aug/2007|
|Composed by: Hiroki Kikuta|
|Arranged by: Hiroki Kikuta|
It’s rather cold tonight, so I’ve decided to turn in early, disconnect from the internet, and sit here in bed with the cat clawing at my toes while listening to the latest album from the hands of Hiroki Kikuta, the composer that brought us the soundtracks for Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, among others. To write a review on this album is very difficult. I have to admit to having a soft spot for Kikuta-san’s music, which was one of the things that captivated me most about the Seiken Densetsu games, and also inspired me to pursue music myself.
One of the wonderful things Kikuta can do is evoke story, image and emotion with great power through his music. It no longer is just an accompaniment to the stories that are being played out by the games that he is soundtracking, but they also stand alone as a unique item with stories of their own embedded in the notes and beats, and each listener will gain something different from the experience. For this very reason, the nature of this review will be to put into words the images that each song evokes in me.
The 35 songs of Alphabet Planet are curiously enough all named with a unique starting letter or number, so there is a track name for every letter of the alphabet and each digit in our numeric system. Whether the story of the album turns out differently if you listen to the songs in alphabetical order rather than their current ordering I have yet to find out.
From the moment you start the first song, you can tell straight away that Kikuta is at the reins. There are hints back at previous compositions (though not rehashing) and the instrumentation as a whole is very reminiscent of the titles that he worked on with Square.
1. Vivid (04:18)
2. 6 pence and moon (01:51)
3. 1 plus 1 equal 1 (02:46)
4. Queen Charlotte (02:49)
5. Heckle and Jeckle (02:25)
6. Love of Seven Dolls (03:18)
7. Far from a fairy tale (03:27)
8. Never on Sunday (03:36)
9. Uriah Heep (02:55)
10. Erendira (02:41)
11. 813 (04:24)
12. Alpha Ralpha (02:48)
13. Intervista (04:34)
14. Oval of Cassini (02:30)
15. 9V (03:19)
16. 5 minutes pleasure (02:25)
17. 7th Heaven(04:31)
1. Dog crying in the distance (02:58)
2. Joe 90 (02:35)
3. Zeal (02:36)
4. Mimic (03:29)
5. Stigmata (03:16)
6. XTC (02:49)
7. 2nd variety (02:52)
8. T (04:08)
9. Greed (02:59)
10. 4°C (03:45)
11. Krishna (03:03)
12. Willie Lomans (03:10)
13. 3.14159265 (03:07)
14. Plan 9 (02:01)
15. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) (04:57)
16. YAABH (00:30)
17. Crimson Child (01:46)
18. Beatniks a GO GO(03:15)
The song start slowly with a simple, almost music box feel, that shortly breaks in to an upbeat piece that has very “Colour of the Summer Sky”-esque arpeggios going on in the background. This feels like a slow, almost reluctant waking up as the sun flows in through the window, that then is given energy from seeing a lot of activity outside on the streets with children running about under clear blue skies. Guitars kick in, so time to join in the bustle, there’s stuff to get done. After a brief pause and reduction to just drumbeat, the guitars kick in again for a final run before fading out with the underlying xylophone arpeggios trailing off into the unknown.
2. 6 pence and moon
Funny, I used to frequent a pub called the Moon and Sixpence. A lot of mischief going on in this track, and exploration, like young boys exploring a cave. A simple yet effective track that is also rather short.
3. 1 plus 1 equal 1
Oh now this is lovely. There is inventive spirit going on in here, and discovery. The theme for a team of friends working together on a project that is slowly coming together and near the final stages, with excitement brewing in the summer air.
4. Queen Charlotte
I’ll let myself be swayed a bit here by the title of the song, since it’s quite fitting. A young queen or princess who is rebellious to the idea of staying locked away in this castle and being responsible for the rest of her life, and planning escape. A mix of Angela and Carlie from SD3 springs to mind. It feels like the weather is a bit chilly, but there are still some birds in the trees watching the girl as she gazes out over the castle walls and dreams of walking freely through the town.
5. Heckle and Jeckle
Close friends have a chat over some coffee in a bar and catch up. Some unexpected accordion in here breaks the consistency and adds a bit of extra personality to the track. Reminds me of a town theme from SD3 mixed with the second overworld theme from SoM.
6. Love of Seven Dolls
A slow soothing piece, as if remembering childhood memories, but good ones. There isn’t any sadness in the song other than maybe missing those carefree times.
7. Far from a fairy tale
This song shouts “Popoie” at me in a big way. A complex personality lies within this song, combining a playful nature with a serious undertone of wisdom, in particular with the second passage that combines Mandala and Legend of Mana almost.
8. Never on Sunday
The title almost says it all. Kicking back in the workshop on the day off, sipping at a cool beer with your feet up on the hood of the car.
9. Uriah Heep
They’ve just knocked old grampa George off the ladder, straight into the horse trough, and the young whippersnappers are fleeing for the hills where their hideout awaits. Clouds of dust are thrown up in the air as they dash through the market, knocking over the occasional box of eggs.
The pranksters have been caught and although they’ve been given a bollocking by their music teacher, the old man let’s them off lightly. They’re sorry and run on their way.
Ah, there is a mystery afoot. Some tale of old that needs looking into, I feel, somewhere off in the depths of a cold, frozen forest. There’s a castle with walls of ice there, has a touch of sophistication to it, emanating perhaps from an ice princess within. Very soothing track.
12. Alpha Ralpha
The agenda for this track would seem to be a picnic in the mountains, with a few minor embarrassing incidents among friends who maybe are starting to realise that there is more to their friendship than they thought. Not that they’ll easily admit that though. The subtle muted guitar in the background makes for a wonderful feel, though I’m not keen on the horns.
Another easy-going track with a nice swinging irregular beat to it, some simple guitar, accordion and harpsicord carrying the melodies. It puts me in mind of an old-lady sitting in a rocking chair with a fat tabby cat on her lap, telling stories to the grandchildren.
14. Oval of Cassini
All towns are peaceful ones on Alphabet Planet and this is no exception. This one has a river running through it though. This track may well define the turning point at which I said “I need some non-happy tracks.”
This tracks flows along the same lines as the last, but it is aptly titled as it does feel like the setting is more futuristic and electronic, in spite there not being a huge change in instrumentation. Again, the genius of Kikuta-san for creating whole environments with his choice of composition.
16. 5 minutes pleasure
Suit you, sir! These 5 minutes of pleasure sound like they are spent meditating in a quiet setting though. String instruments used to great effect here to create flow and punctuation at just the right moments.
17. 7th Heaven
Things sound like they’ve gone horribly wrong. A beautiful guitar and pipe requiem to a dying friend, laying in the shade of the trees as the world comes crashing around, her heartbeat slowing with every passing second. Finally it is over, and the reaper comes from the darkness to take her away.
1. Dog crying in the distance
A heavier piece compared to what we’ve heard up until now. Time’s running out as the menace looms over our heroes, fighting for their lives. While victory is in sight, it’s not going to be an easy journey. Keep that adrenaline pumping. The looping on this track isn’t quite as fluid as I would have liked, but at the same time it does make for an interesting counterpoint to the action to suddenly have a breather.
2. Joe 90
An underground palace with crystalized walls hides many mysteries, and we don’t want to spend too long here, as the enemy is closing in fast. Half the time it’s unsure whether the images of mechanical interceptors are real or reflections on the walls.
A darker piece from Kikuta, which up until now I had been starting to miss. Very prominent industrial sounds, mixed in with soothing instruments set to a fast beat. Who would have thought we’d be stuck on an airship with a glass bottom, sailing over the waves of a green sea? That’s exactly where we are, hacking through growing numbers of bloodhounds.
The airship is sailing higher now, and we’re closing in on the big guy behind the whole operation, giving us glimpses of snow-covered mountains as we pass portholes. The menace is not just tangible now though. Danger lurks even on a spiritual plane, and face appear to form in the smoke that rises from the floor vents that lead to the engine room.
For a second I thought there was a hint of Meridian Circle at the beginning. We made it out of the airship, but we’re in hostile lands now. We can’t stop here, it’s bat country, even during the day. Trees tower overhead, strobing our vision as we run through the forest trying to get away from the tribe following close behind.
What’s an overloaded mechanoid doing here? What’s it doing attacking us with such ferocious speed? Maybe we should fight back… Sparks fly and set some of the flora around us on fire, turning the clearing into a veritable circle of death.
7. 2nd variety
Heroes unite and plan out their strategy before the war, atop battlement ridden castle walls, gazing over a valley scarred by fighting and explosions.
This track, I’m afraid, is one that I don’t like. Something about the main melody just rubs my ears the wrong way, and I haven’t quite pinpointed what yet. Things improve toward the end of the passage, but the underlying backing isn’t strong enough for what I think it trying to come across to me here, an adventure starting out.
A wealthy sultan opresses his people in the desert towns while feasting on good food and wine, so it’s up to someone to stop him, but he’s heavily guarded. Not that that’s going to stop us.
Although the title suggests it should be cold, there’s not a great deal of frozen instrumentation here. Or maybe the pace is keeping us energized as we make our way through the snow.
A curious track in that nothing outstanding happens, but it does have a very solid base to it, and suggests a great network of tunnels just waiting to be explored in a rickety mine-cart going at full pelt.
12. Willie Lomans
Willie was unfortunately not dead for this adventure, and has just found himself stumbling upon some midget monsters that he wasn’t expecting. There’s a surprising number of variations on the theme crammed here in to the same song, and one that I really like is the sound of an old record player taking over the fidelity.
Hmmm, pi! It’s a nasty nasty boss come to eat us for breakfast. He fades in and out of existence it seems, but comes back with a little variation each time, adding a new flavour to the battle in unexpected ways. Almost three songs for the price of one.
14. Plan 9
This time the boss is on the move, and we’re moving along with it, deeper toward the confines of the earth. And the worse thing is that you know that this isn’t going to be the last one you face! After years of hiding out in the subway, he’s got one mean apatite.
15. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)
Rossum made some rather nasty robots in his time, but nothing compared to the Universal 5. This song makes me feel like I’m fighting some sort of indestructible enemy, and the only way it’s going to go down is some form of divine intervention.
And there came the divine intervention and victory. Maybe YAABH stands for You Are A Brilliant Human… Either way, this means we’re reaching the end, as we’ve just prodded buttock in a very royal manner.
17. Climson Child
The secrets of the land are revealed to our young hero, who has not only saved us all but discovered more about himself, and can now return home (read as “insert disc 1 again”) to lead a peaceful life under the summer sun.
18. Beatniks a GO GO
A final reprise of the main theme as the mental credits roll by and scenes of grass, water and clouds fly by as seen from atop a flying dragon (no Mana bias there, no sir!). Vivid has such a wonderfully catchy theme, and this reprise does it justice once again, adding some new layers and a different feel to it that truly feels like returning home.
And that, my friends, is the end, my only friend.