The Auditorial: Ni No Kuni
The music of PS3’s JRPG exclusive, Ni No Kuni, does a superb job of accompanying the incredibly stunning artwork that Level 5 and Studio Ghibli has created. The soundtrack pulls no punches, sometimes feeling even more grand than the adventure itself. It’s clear composer Joe Hisaishi (who has worked on many other Studio Ghibli films,) as well as everyone who participated in the work, really set out to create a score that could stand amongst the best of all time, game of film. While in some instances the goal is easily met, there are a few tracks that fall flat, and others that simply feel out of place when accompanied by gameplay.
What I love most about Ni No Kuni’s score is just how grandiose it is. There just aren’t many games like Ni No Kuni that put so much into its orchestral presentation and keep things fresh with a wide variety of instruments, sounds, and moods. Every piece of in-game music was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, an honor few videogames are a part of. The sound is phenomenal. The recording is spot on. Every single instrument that’s used in the orchestra seems to shine on this soundtrack. Things like this are a clear result of having such talented musicians and audio engineers back a wonderful composer like Hisaishi.
As with any game’s soundtrack, the music by itself can’t just be “good”, it needs to convey the spirit of the game and accompany what’s going on on-screen. When Ni No Kuni’s music is light-hearted and full of wonder it matches the overall feeling of the game perfectly. When things turn sour, the also takes an appropriate turn, but with mixed results. Some of the more dark tracks capture a slightly eerie tone that reminds you of late Halloween nights, a mixture of wonder and dread. These instances are great. Other times, the music seems to dire for the situation your character is in and doesn’t quite match the tone set by the rest of the game. These moments are rare in the overall scope of the game, but they are there.
The biggest disappointment of Ni No Kuni’s score is the battle theme. With so much time being spent fighting, grinding, and leveling up in JRPGs like this one, you really want a tune that figuratively throws down the gloves and makes you feel like “…bring it.” This track does not capture that mood of battle at all, nor the magic of using cute, unique creatures a la Pokemon to get the job done. It’s simply a lackluster piece that doesn’t convey the emotion it should, and because battles happen so frequently the track becomes incredibly repetitive very quickly.
Overall, Ni No Kuni’s soundtrack is a fantastic piece of game music that shouldn’t be missed. The epic feel of the adventure is reflected in the music so well that sometimes the compositions themselves become more grand that the visuals. Even with its few problems in how it accompanies certain scenes and it’s boring battle music, Ni No Kuni easily stands tall as one of the best game soundtracks in years.