by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Just like magic, I was thinking about doing a music review, and the perfect album lands right in my lap. It seems like only yesterday that Square Enix dropped a remake of Secret of Mana, and not everyone was all that pleased with it. There were definitely some issues that needed resolving (some of which did) but one thing has not changed: The fantastic soundtrack of Hiroki Kikuta. My first memories of Secret of Mana are of me reading about it in Nintendo Power, and being incredibly sad that I never got it as a kid. I was able to play it briefly here and there as a kid because I had friends that were RPG fans too, but it took until my adult years to really cherish and treasure this game. WIth that, Materia Collective released a new album from The Travelers VGM – Heart of the Forest, a Secret of Mana folk album. It’s not just American folk, but covers a broad assortment of folk music from around the world, with that special Secret of Mana flare that only Hiroki Kikuta could create.
“The ethereal and earthy textures of the original Secret of Mana soundtrack fit perfectly with the folk concept our group tries to promote,” explains arranger Masha Lepire. “I love how we all brought new flavors and ideas to the table but still captured the original essence and beauty of Hiroki Kikuta’s music.”
If ever there were a “supergroup” for video game music, it has to be The Travelers VGM. This album features members from the Materia Collective, Triforce Quartet, and Tetrimino, and create a unique acoustic experience. I’ve enjoyed both of their albums (The Travelers and Ode to the Lovers) and their contributions to other video game albums. This album can be found wherever fine music is found, such as Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify. Every song on this album is a hit, but other honorable/notable mentions would be D’oscail Mo Shuile, The Wind Never Ceases, and It Happened on a Moonlit Night. If you love global folk music, and Secret of Mana, you owe it to yourself to put this in your collection.
The Fortress Rises (Track 15): Only one of the songs on this album are particularly long (Mystic Invasion clocking in at 5:04) but I will tell you, in this 2:19 track, they pack a whole lot of sinister intent in. The Mana Fortress is on the rise and pairing that terrifying moment with what sounds like acoustic guitar, flute, violin, and viola, it still gives me the same chills from when I heard the song for the first time. The guitar starts off alone and is joined by the rest of the ensemble, and though it feels very light-hearted and relaxing at first, the tone slowly shifts to a more sinister one, as if people can see the gigantic weapon hovering on the horizon for the first time. I enjoy how the other instruments fall off slowly at the end, leaving only the trill of the flute and the violin. It makes me think of the three heroes standing on a hillside somewhere, wind whistling in their ears as the deadly Mana Fortress appears. Very dramatic stuff, that.
Angel’s Fear (Track 1): This is the opening song to Secret of Mana. Any time you start up the game, you hear these dulcet tones, and the only thing this version is missing is that wail of despair at the start of the game. I never understood why that was there, but it’s an eerie sound. However, this blend of acoustic guitar, violin, and a Celtic guitar is, well, the only way I can describe it is soothing. The Celtic guitar tapers off and is replaced by the flute and acoustic guitar, that same relaxing sound. This song would be right at home outside of Potos village, filling the air around the Sword of Mana. What sounds like pizzicato from a violin really sells it for me. I like all the plucking going along with this melody.
Flammie and I (Track 13): This is, I believe, “Flammie’s Flight 1” from the OST because Flammie has three different songs. The strings and guitar really pair together well, probably more than any other song on this album. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s probably this one. I could wake up and start my day to Flammie and I. It’s calming, but still has all the air of an adventuring song, looking towards the horizon to figure out where you’re supposed to go next, but knowing all the while you have a trusty friend, that’s also a trusty mode of transportation. Okay, so that one got away from me a bit . . .while it’s a song that I can close my eyes and relax to, it still sounds a little dark, a little uneasy, but anyone who has gotten to the end of Secret of Mana might know why that is. The peacefulness gives way to that darker sound as the song goes on. Where they are going, it is not safe, but it must be done.
Mystic Invasion / Donncha Lynch’s (Ballydesmond Polka No. 3) (Track 7): I always knew that a Polka would drive the end of the world. Maybe not our world, but a world, most certainly. Mystic Invasion is the main theme of the Mana Fortress itself. It’s unsettling to listen to, and successfully crafts an air of danger and unease. Despite that, this version is far less perilous. The original version was very heavy with high hats and drum sounds to create the atmosphere, whereas this one forgoes that for the flute. For some reason, this reminds me of something I might hear as a pirate shanty, and I’m totally okay with that. The song seamlessly transitions from an air of danger to something a little calmer, and coming right back full circle, quietly trailing off. It makes me feel like I’m about to hear “Next time on Secret of Mana!”