When I was asked to review this album, I had no idea what was in store for me. However, since it was an album by Mitsuda, I was inclined to think I might like it. I underestimated the album by a lot. In short, I'm blown away by it. It really is the kind of album which brings together many different kinds of sounds and instruments and combines them in interesting ways to create haunting harmonies and melodies, which is rare on most 'cinematic' video game albums. Although it may appear as if I'm giving a track-by-track review of the album, I'm more grouping my thoughts together with references to the album as a whole, instead of to a single track. So, let's get into it.
We begin with "The Door," a track populated with strings, flutes, other woodwinds, and some piano. I think this is the track which surprised me the most. The haunting choir in the background of the piece really brings out the melody with some very interesting chord choices, which are supported by the lightest touch of percussion in the background. These drums really are amazing, because those single or double hits at the beginning of each bar really bring the phrasing of the piece to a whole new level. Instead of a simple choir melody, you get an impression of majesty and awe. The lack of a traditional bass line really makes this track even more amazing, because you still get a phantom impression of movement within the piece. Something that is very difficult to do, and can be ruined by the smallest of flaws.
Two tracks which complement each other well are what I'm calling the 'elemental' tracks of the album. "Rhythm of Red" and "Melody of Aqua" both provide a very different sound to match not only the color they are describing, but the element they could be associated with. "Rhythm of Red" provides a very Spanish sounding theme, complete with light clapping and lots of acoustic guitar use. The rhythm of this track is one that I have identified in other reviews: the 6/8 time with the illusion of a 5/8 time signature. In my opinion, this is one of the strongest rhythms in video game music, and I'm not surprised that Mitsuda made use of it. This track has a real air about it that really makes you think of 'red' or maybe brown, orange, tan, or other warm colors. So in this sense, the title of this track is very appropriate. "Melody of Aqua" provides almost the opposite. Instead of fiery rhythms of Spain, you get impressions of islands and oceans. Violins, percussion, guitars, and flutes help to bring this feeling across. In this track in particular, you can really heard flashbacks to Mitsuda's work on Chrono Cross. The triple note rhythms which were common on that soundtrack also appear here. Other contrasts in this track, include the must softer and slower 6/8 waltz rhythm, and the instrument changes are quite diverse, providing a real sense of being everything that is 'aqua'.
"Sailing to the World" is the album's title track, and the first of two vocal themes. The melody of this track is very calm and provides a real sense of harmony, but not in cheesy way as many other vocal themes tend to sound. The instrumentation of this track is very similar to that of Chrono Cross, in that you get violins, island percussion, as well as traditional bass and drums. The only drawback to the piece is the vocal melody. Koko Komine has a lovely voice which suits this track extremely well, but she puts too much power into her voice for most of the track, causing it to lose the gloss that it's capable of creating. This is a shame, because the contrast between Komine's voice and the harmonies produced through the other instruments is very well done. Similarly, the album's closing track "Reincarnation" suffers the same problem. Another fantastic melody and great instrumentation, but too much power in the voice causes the track to falter. But besides the vocals, this piece is very well done. The instrumentation is light, but still dominant. The bass line is prominent, but not overbearing on the rest of the track, allowing each instrument to be fully heard. The flutes about half way through make a very pretty addition to the track, as do the light brass sounds in the background. The dramatic contrast in these two tracks really makes them worthy additions to this album.
You may have noticed that I did not address all ten tracks in my review. This is because I felt the need to point out not only the strongest tracks, but also the most interesting ones. If a track didn't appear, it is because it did not fall into one of these categories. That is not to say that the tracks are bad; far from it. Overall, I have never heard a soundtrack for a game that could be considered 'whole', until now. Every track has its own purpose, and its own uniqueness about it that makes it an important addition to the soundtrack. This is why this album has achieved such high regard from me in this review. There is a real sense of individuality about the album, in that it doesn't fit the mould of traditional soundtracks, and that is why I am recommending this album to anyone who is lucky enough to get the chance to hear it.