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The Travelers VGM – “Heart of the Forest (Music from Secret of Mana) Review

Exceptional folk arrangements from an early 90's RPG classic
The Travelers VGM
The Travelers VGM

Longtime readers will know I love my game music, and I love traditional ancient folk instruments with a bit of a twist. The Travelers VGM combines both of these and their latest album of an arrangement of music from Secret of Mana, which recently had a resurgence thanks to its remake on consoles and PC.

Across the 18 tracks, most of the big themes are here and they are all presented with organic folk instruments. The flowing “Flammie and I” has open guitar, perky fiddles and wistful woodwind letting you stride out into the open world with pride and hope. “Calm Before the Storm” is like a town music section taken to a quiet pub. “Sawn of the Mana Sword” has some beautiful vocal and harp sections and the harp is recorded in such a way that it sounds like a zither too. There’s a nod to a more Asian folk instrumentation with “Distant Thunder” as kazoo’s and tin whistles intertwine with lush percussion and the richness of string and guitar arrangements reach a cute peak with “Into the Thick of It”. This track shows off so much of what makes The Travelers VGM such a great folk band and also how they interpret game music into a variety of different instruments all taking their turns to shine. The melody may only be about 40 seconds in length but by switching it up and letting an ebb and flow of pace and feeling take over, these tracks become so much more. I also love that they aren’t afraid to try something different. The quirky tuned percussion jig of “Peramal Kematrian Tiba” is like its trying to channel a jews harp being played by an evil jester, “Secrets of the Arid Sand” has a spooky soundtrack quality where lots of strings are bending and firing off notes like they’re out to scare you and “Pure Lands” is an almost pure vocal choral piece but as if fair maidens and axeman were singing.

I feel a little lazy to do but the album instantly reminds me of Final Fantasy IV’s Celtic Moon and “It Happened on a Moonlit Night” could fit on that album without people noticing any production difference. The Genso Suikoden Celtic collections also fit perfectly alongside this and “Heart of the Forest” can stand tall in the top throws of being among some of the best folk interpretations of game music over the past 20 years.

Recommended track: The Fortress Rises

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