Little Big Adventure 2 Soundtrack, Philippe Vachey, 1997
Little Big Adventure had won gamers’ hearts with its charming, open-ended fantasy world. Fans didn’t have to wait too long for a sequel to hit store shelves. In May 1997, Little Big Adventure 2 was released and even better received than the first game. Gamers hoping for a title that was bigger and better still than Little Big Adventure were duly rewarded. Little Big Adventure 2’s world was significantly larger than that of its predecessor and even included multiple planets.
Philippe Vachey’s score for Little Big Adventure had turned out to be a milestone of Western orchestral game music. If there were any complaints, it would have been that the soundtrack was rather short. The larger scope of Little Big Adventure 2’s world would suggest that a more extensive soundtrack was the logical result. However, the Little Big Adventure 2 score is even a smidgen shorter than its predecessor. Mind you, it’s not a substantial issue – Vachey’s writing is at least as strong as it was on Little Big Adventure.
The Little Big Adventure 2 soundtrack has more surprises up its sleeve. Its opening track “Song for Gabriel” is strikingly minimalist compared to the franchise’s trademark orchestral richness. All that the track initially presents is a beautiful, sparse piano melody, backed by the sounds of playing children. It’s a surprisingly static, pensive opening that underscores a peaceful state of mind, contently frozen in time. But as on Little Big Adventure, Vachey has perfect control over how to build a composition. The initially scant cello accompaniment grows more continuous and string synths build the music’s scope, until reverberant live drums drive a hopeful, uplifting string melody.
Beginning on a note of serenity – rather than outright optimism – the Little Big Adventure 2 soundtrack quickly turns out to be a much darker, heavier work than its predecessor. What hasn’t changed though is Vachey’s masterful command of orchestral colours and moods, and their development. His pieces on the Little Big Adventure 2 soundtrack might not be as immediately ingratiating as those heard in the first game. However, these new compositions are even more fully realised and densely orchestrated – and most importantly, as emotionally multi-faceted. This helps to compensate for the fact that the musical world of Little Big Adventure 2 feels more coherent, but also smaller and less varied than that of its predecessor.
Little Big Adventure 2’s story does feature an evil empire, and “The Empire” creates the expectedly menacing mood, but in surprising ways. Of course, imposing, ponderous brass progressions feature heavily. However, Vachey handles this instrument group with far greater melodic skill than what many other Western game composers can muster. Where “The Empire” surprises is how it contrasts the towering brass with busy solo violin lines that recall a jig. Further hurried along by pacey woodwind motifs, the jig’s upbeat mood and constant motion soon turns breathless, maniacally driven when pushed forward for too long.
“Zeelich”, underscoring the antagonists’ planet and as sombre as “The Empire”, features the soundtrack’s most virtuosic orchestrations. Skittish violin accents cheekily answer deepest string and brass chords, before the live cello plays a fragmented melody. Throughout the composition, Vachey finds new ways to break up the cue’s melodic lines, denying any feeling of security. Chromatic woodwind ostinati keep the music uncomfortably moving, while the density of the solo instrument lines ingeniously contributes to the claustrophobic atmosphere.
It’s up to “Honey B.” and “Emerald Moon” to lighten the mood and introduce less shadowy locales to the world of the Little Big Adventure 2 soundtrack. “Honey B.”’s bumbling tuba and string pizzicati rhythms are soon joined by layers of jolly melody fragments. True to the soundtrack’s emotional richness, a hint of tension remains in the high-pitched violin chords. And surprisingly – and seamlessly – the composition segues into a dramatic brass climax that amplifies the threat emanating from the strings. But mostly, this is upbeat, nearly comedic music that thankfully never feels cutesy.
“Emerald Moon” recalls Little Big Adventure‘s “Desert” with its wispy mood. Melancholic synth washes and a tinkling, silvery melody offer respite from the album’s general busyness. Calmly meditating, “Emerald Moon” still produces a beautifully yearning melody. The composition feels like an unlikely candidate for another grand brass finale, but that’s precisely where the track is headed. And astonishingly, it’s a conclusion that still feels true to the composition’s emotional core.
After all this, the unabashedly celebratory closer “Lba’s Theme (1997 Version)” feels a bit jarring, particularly as it follows the mournful string adagio “Purple”. True, Little Big Adventure didn’t feature much of a sustained album flow either. However, it worked perfectly fine as a series of colourful vignettes. Little Big Adventure 2 doesn’t quite achieve the same flow. Then again, it’s hard to argue with a composition as beautiful and delightful as “Lba’s Theme (1997 Version)”. Essentially, it’s a reorchestrated version of Little Big Adventure’s “Lba’s Theme (1994 Version)”. The focus is a bit more on the pop influences now, with jangling guitar added and more pronounced percussion. But all in all, little has changed – thankfully. Ultimately, the Little Big Adventure 2 soundtrack might only run for slightly more than 20 minutes, but Vachey makes every second count.
- 01 - Song for Gabriel Philippe Vachey 3:54
- 02 - The Empire Philippe Vachey 3:45
- 03 - Honey B. Philippe Vachey 3:14
- 04 - Emerald Moon Philippe Vachey 3:29
- 05 - Zeelich Philippe Vachey 3:40
- 06 - Purple Philippe Vachey 0:50
- 07 - Lba's Theme (1997 Version) Philippe Vachey 3:51
What synthesizer do you think was used to make it?
Simon Elchlepp says
Good question… I’m not sure. Several reviews (on Hardcoregaming101 and Adventure Classic Gaming) mention that the game is using Redbook Audio and digital audio tracks – which I imagine means Vachey might have been using any kind of synthesizer or sample library that was around in the mid-90s. Considering the superb quality of the orchestrations on both Little Big Adventure games, I wish there were more interviews with Vachey that go into the technological details of the scores!
Some people think that the Roland JV1080 is a candidate. But it’s hard to tell/guesswork. Lovely sound track, it added a whole new dimension to the game.