Secret of Mana+ Retro Soundtrack Review
By: Kirsten Grove-White
Sometimes you don’t need an analysis.
Sometimes things just make you feel – and that’s all you really need.
This is the case for me with the Secret of Mana+ album recording that was recently linked to on Nubuwo. The album was originally released in October 1993 by Hiroki Kikuta, a few months after Secret of Mana released. It has recently been posted in its entirety on Nico Nico, so listeners can stream and enjoy it in full. Taken in the context that this recording is nearly twenty years old now, it has all the hallmarks of digital experimentation and would’ve been incredibly progressive for its time – just as the original music from the game itself was.
The whale’s call used in the title screen of the game, which would have been very difficult to digitize and put into the game’s audio back then, is evocative and at the time was incredibly unusual. For me, it brings back memories of sitting in my aunt and uncle’s basement during a hot summer and waiting for my sister and cousins to let me have a turn.
Onto the arrangement, then. The album is a single 49 minute track, largely done in a minimalist style. Minimalist music is sometimes hard to take – you have to be in the right sort of introspective mood to appreciate it, I find, lest it wash over you and feel boring. Looped ambient noise is repeated throughout and sometimes layered – birds calling, typing noises, prayer bells, phones ringing and being dialled, water noises, whale song, bell towers, that sort of thing. What I would normally roll my eyes at and call cheesy, or even find irritating – but it’s done with a light hand and, in minimalist style, starts out as a focal point and then fades into the atmosphere as enhancement to the melodic line.
Check out the beginning of the soundtrack in the video below.
The music is largely digital, using somewhat unsophisticated samples, including a puzzling jazz organ sound – by this I mean they clearly sound synthetic – but this was 1993. They’re impressive considering the time period. The feel of the piece weaves around between quiet and zen-like, to driving, with electric guitars and synth drums pushing the beat forward. This is the kind of music that you can put on in the background and go about your business and not find it terribly distracting. However, I think it’s best experienced when you can sit down and listen to the whole thing and focus on it – which can be an exercise in patience, I admit, with minimalist music. But if you want it to, it can become an introspective experience.
When I finally did decide to listen to this, I was in a good situation for it: not able to do much because I’d been rear-ended a couple days before and was stiff from that, and had gotten vaccinated that afternoon so I couldn’t use one arm – and, I will admit, was a bit hazy from the resulting fever which allowed me to be a little more emotional about the music without feeling silly and overly touchy-feely.
So, overall, I would recommend this. If you played the game, and especially if you have that same childhood attachment to it as I do, I imagine you’ll like it. If you haven’t played it, give it a try anyway. It feels as fresh and experimental – without being jarring – as it did nearly twenty years ago.
If you want to hear the album in it’s entirety, please visit NUBUWO.
About the Author:
Kirsten is studying biology at university currently, but has studied music extensively for most of her life. She has won awards in musicology/music history and performance in both piano and voice. She was also a choral scholar for four years, studying and performing primarily medieval church music. She was introduced to video games as a little girl by her grandfather (weird, right?) and has fought her older sister for controller time ever since. She has a particular passion for video game music, naturally, and is vocal in the fact that she believes it’s some of the best modern music out there and is grossly underrated.