Number 9: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
Looking back, it's a shame that Crystal Chronicles wasn't the title that it could have been. As a game, it was fun to play, especially with friends, but the difficulty in tracking down the requisite number of Game Boy Advance Systems and connector cables just to play (plus the lack of an online system to transfer saves or carry characters with you) made the simple process of playing a single session daunting. Lets face it, most gamers out there didn't have amount of capital it took to get a four player game of Crystal Chronicles running, and it wasn't exactly designed for single player.
As a result, most people missed this charmingly quirky spin off, passing over it in favor of other more common multiplayer titles for the system. Which is truly a shame, because while yes the gameplay was entertaining fun with four people frantically running around working together, the real star of the title was its soundtrack.
Practically speaking, Crystal Chronicles soundtrack is the black sheep of the Final Fantasy series. It is not composed by series regular Uematsu, and it hasn't even been featured in any compilation discs released by Square. In fact, the only acknowledgement it has received outside of standard two-disc release is a single track performance at a game music concert. It seems almost as if Square is content to let Crystal Chronicles music suffer the same fate as the game: forgotten by all but a select few fans.
It's a fate I hope it manages to avoid. You see, one of the first things that struck me about Crystal Chronicles, even before I started to play it way back when (yes, I was one of those lucky individuals who had enough GBA owning friends that we could get a four-player game of Crystal Chronicles together) was how uniquely beautiful the soundtrack was, and still is. I wasn't the only one who noticed either. Our little group had barely played for twenty minutes when a conversation about the music started. Let me restate that so it sinks in. A bunch of high school teenagers, half of which are currently into scream-metal (of which I wasn't one, thank you), being so impressed by a game soundtrack that they had a whole conversation about it.
Part of Chronicles attention-getting quality stems from the uniqueness of the sound. When creating the sound of Crystal Chronicles, composer Kumi Tanioka chose to use ancient medieval instruments, such as the lute and the recorder, rather then the more modern 'classical' instruments most are familiar with. When you add that these instruments are performed live instead of being synthesized recordings, the result is a truly unique sound. An apt comparison would be the well-heard soundtrack from the second Lord of the Rings movie The Two Towers, which made use of a hardanger fiddle for the films more famous moments. Everyone remembers the sound of that fiddle, because it is a unique instrument that most are not familiar with. Well, now imagine a soundtrack where the majority of the music is being played on instruments such as that fiddle, instruments that most have never heard in their lives, and you've got an idea of what makes Chronicles so unique to the ear.
Of course, no soundtrack could get this far up the list simple by being a one note show, and Chronicles is no exception. It's not just a unique soundtrack, but a well composed one as well, with a truly large number of differing compositions, each featuring different musical styles. Tanioka herself declared that she wanted the soundtrack to not be limited to any single culture, but instead have a large variety of inspiration from many different histories around the world. The result is a soundtrack that could almost be described as having a 'rustic' quality, with heavy hints of Irish and Celtic inspiration, although it wears many other styles openly.
The large amount of styles also helps give Crystal Chronicles variety that other soundtracks don't have. The aforementioned Two Towers soundtrack for example made use of the hardanger fiddle, but only sparingly, as too much might have turned off the audience to the sound. Chronicles on the other hand, has no such problem. It's many compositions are varied, each with star instruments that keep it's unique sound and instrumentation fresh the entire way through.
Chronicles scores impressively high in all categories and earns the honor of being the first soundtrack on our list to have not a single score dip below a 4.5. It also easily picks up a bonus point for Non-Gamer Enjoyment, although it misses the Nostalgia point by one year only, meaning that there are very good odds that it could place even higher next year.
Final Fantasy: The Crystal Chronicles
Stand Alone Quality: 4.75
Emotional Reaction: 4.5
Game Representation: 4.5
Non-Gamer Enjoyment: 1
Until then however, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is an unheard gem of quality and style that well earns place number 9 in 2012.
Number 9---Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles by Kumi Tanioka