Mugen Kairou: Hikari to Kage no Hako: a Soundtrack
In the summer of 2008, Hideki Sakamoto composed the soundtrack for Echochrome, a highly imaginative puzzle game released for both the PSP and PS3. Sakamoto's approach to the score was as equally ingenious as the game's concept itself, being a collection of string quartets that were masterfully composed and quite highly regarded by all who were privy to hear them. Two years later, Echochrome got a sequel — known as Echochrome II in the West and Mugen Kairou: Hikari to Kage no Hako in Japan — and Sakamoto was understandably on board to compose another stirring collection of string quartets.
For this soundtrack, however, in addition to throwing a few piano quintets into the mixture, Sakamoto even took a bit of an artistic license and meshed all of his pieces into one single 75 minute track — surprisingly, twice the length of the first game's entire soundtrack and now a Guinness World Record holder. This format portrayed the tracks more accurately as they play in the game, but how do they work as a stand-alone experience?
The track is indeed 75 minutes long, but it's more multiple string quartets played one after another, melded into one another with fantastically veiled transitions, than it is a single extremely lengthy piece. Considering the music for both echochrome games loops indefinitely as the game is running — as if the soundtracks themselves were playing in the background, without regard to what is happening onscreen — the track as presented herein seems to be a logical progression from the multiple, split tracks in the predecessor, which felt jarring in the first game as each track switched.
For the listener familiar with the original Echochrome, the little opening motif of "prime #4507" on the piano will be a pleasant little surprise as the piece's first string quintet begins. It does not take long to realize, however, that the addition of the piano (and exclusion of vocals) has not changed the intrinsic quality of the compositions themselves. If the listener enjoys the beginning of the track, then there is no movement he or she would not appreciate.
Indeed, the entire piece takes an obvious classical vibe — combining the elegant phrasing and rich melodies of Mozart's string quartets and quintets, with a somewhat more gushing quality akin to the early romantics. The result provides an interesting ambience in the game and is satisfying on a stand-alone basis too. There are no atonal sections to disturb the flow of the music in the game and as background music. This is particularly important considering that any disliked section would be difficult to skip, and most should find the track pleasing from start to finish.
That said, the content of this piece is startling. From fast to slow movements, the breadth of diversity rivals if not surpasses that featured on the original's wonderful collection, despite its much longer length. The addition of the piano from time to time really helps augment the mood and allows for greater degree of expression. Personally, after struggling to determine some choice sections to point out, I was unable to settle on any one. Each movement has its own endearing quality that causes it to rival every other one.
The production qualities here are stellar, and the overall quality seems to be a notch above the original. The players do a very stellar job of bringing out the best in their instruments, while integrating well with the rest of the ensemble. Thanks to expert recording engineering, each instrument is clear and balanced well with the other members. Those who already experienced the live stream of the recording sessions may have seen the meticulous effort that went into producing this soundtrack, and the final result certainly pays off.
Anyone that enjoyed Echochrome's soundtrack, or anyone that enjoys classical music — specifically, of course, string quartets — will most certainly find much to love about this album. It must be kept in mind, of course, that the track's singular nature means that this soundtrack serves its purpose best as background music, to be listened to either exclusively or as an accompaniment to another activity, over an hour long timeframe. While this is certainly an off-putting quality, the piece works so well with this limitation that it's hard to imagine it any other way, after some time is spent listening to it. This soundtrack was an experiment, and I believe it was a spectacular success.