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valkyria-chronicles-review-and-exclusive-liner-notes-from-hitoshi-sakimoto

Valkyria Chronicles Review and Exclusive Liner Notes From Hitoshi Sakimoto

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A lot of people have been talking about Valkyria Chronicles, a visually-pleasing strategy title that SEGA is releasing in North America this month. Despite the game’s stunning visuals and engaging gameplay, the main draw for me was a soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto, performed in part by the Eminence Symphony Orchestra.

Rather than hit you with a traditional review of the game’s score, we thought it would be a lot of fun to pick some of our favorite tracks and have Sakimoto himself pick some of his own favorites, then have him provide something similar to liner notes to give some insight into a few of the many amazing pieces featured on the game’s soundtrack. It’s always a lot of fun to get a dialogue going between composers and their fans, so we hope you enjoy this approach.

Read our Valkyria Chronicles coverage after the jump.

Sakimoto has had a busy couple of years in 2007 and 2008. Valkyria Chronicles, Final Fantasy XII, and Opoona were among the slew of titles scored by Basiscape, and I think most will compare the Valkyria Chronicles soundtrack to Sakimoto’s work on Final Fantasy XII. All the music is composed by Sakimoto, and the bombastic orchestral style that he has come to be known for is present here in a big way. It definitely represents the core Sakimoto sound after the whimsical approach we saw with Opoona last year.

I always like to start with the main theme, and the sweeping opening track, titled “Main Theme,” is both beautiful and wrought with conflict. Brass and military snare drums accent the setting of war, but the powerful string section leaves a lasting impression. I’m surprised by the seemingly Western sound in this track, as it comes off as very cinematic.

Sakimoto on “Main Theme”
To tell you the truth, I didn’t realize it had a “Western” sound until Western people told me. When I started this project, I wrote the melody of this piece first and then made 3 different types of arranges for it. They then selected this and it became the main theme. I think the reason this arrangement was chosen as the Main Theme was because it best suited the games theme on war.

One of Sakimoto’s personal favorites is “Beautiful Gallia,” an upbeat piece that combines an emotionally charged piano performance with angelic strings. The rich, encompassing sound offers a warm and inviting atmosphere before the deployment into battle.

Sakimoto on “Beautiful Gallia”
For me, it is fun to write with these kinds of chord progressions and the careful expressions of the piano. Usually when I write music, I decide on a vision and then start writing small details. But for this piece, the piano part was already done from the beginning.

The first battle track I want to mention is another Sakimoto favorite, titled “Street Fighting.” It features an airy string progression over a heavy brass foundation, but the most interesting aspect of the piece is the sudden outbursts of explosive percussion, lending the piece a unique sound and energy.

Sakimoto on “Street Fighting”
I think the atmosphere of this piece has to do with “strong advances in a serious fight,” and is expressed rather well. The explosive percussion parts were snare drumbeat by using a deep gate. It is one of the sound tones I like, and have used for long time. And an interesting part of this piece was the use of Japanese instruments as well.

Taking a new approach, Sakimoto manages to work the game’s main theme into numerous pieces throughout the score, helping create a cohesive listening experience. “Europa at War” is one example where the main theme takes on a desperate tone, whereas “Farewell and Tears” features a heartbreaking arrangement of the memorable theme. This is the most prominent use of a unifying theme in a Sakimoto score to date, and it’s quite effective. Perhaps this approach has something to do with Sakimoto’s interest in scoring Western games in the future?

Sakimoto on “Europa at War” and “Farewell and Tears”
This kind of approach, which manages to work the game’s main theme into numerous pieces, is quite usual to give a good effect to the music. I always use this approach in my music, so its not really related to scoring a Western game.

When I write a theme’s melody, I need to make lots of unusual arrangements of chord progression and format while changing the shape of the melody little by little, so that the melody gets its own characteristic sound. I try to make an intimate melody for everybody.

Jumping back into battle, “Close Combat” stands out with its use of pizzicato strings. A powerful segment follows with heavy hitting percussion, strings, and brass all hammering down on each beat, creating one of the most high energy tracks on the album. There’s a brief interlude voiced by brass that hints at hope despite the ominous sound that dominates the rest of the piece.

Sakimoto on “Close Combat”
Actually this piece isn’t used in the main game. It is only used in the downloadable content, which was released in Japan just recently. It is always a bit of trouble for me that there are so many battle scenes in game music composing. When I write this type of music, I intend to make music that is dynamic and develops dramatically.

Taking a look once more at some of Sakimoto’s favorite pieces, “Valkyria’s Awakening” offers something new in that it features a choir, which is something I have never heard him emphasize. The piece is hectic and trudges along tirelessly at full blast. The approach actually reminds me of “One Winged Angel,” but with a more chaotic ambiance.

Sakimoto on “Valkyria’s Awakening”
There are 3 important theme pieces in this game. “Main Theme,” “Succeeded Wish” and this “Valkyria Awakening.” I put a little mythical colour in “Valkyria Awakening” and also included a few classical music expressions to give the feel of a fighting woman. It’s showy music because it’s used for a scene where Valkyria is on a destructive rampage. The musicians enjoyed performing this piece, so the recording was fun as well.

Next up, Sakimoto enjoys “Empty Loneliness,” yet another piece that makes use of the main theme. This time it comes in the form of a sweet piano ballad that is reminiscent of the “Defeat” theme from earlier on the soundtrack. The rich piano is accented by deep string notes, highlighting the emotional impact of the piece.

Sakimoto on “Empty Loneliness”
As I said previously, when I created the main theme, I made a melody line and arranged it into 3 pieces. Usually when I compose music, I record the whole of the piece’s “vision” briefly by piano and then start arranging. This piece is the closest to the original melody I wrote the first time. So in such a way, I have deep feelings for this.

Now on to one of my favorites, “Chronicles of the Gallian War” is an absolutely gorgeous piece that makes extensive use of woodwinds and a repetitive piano motif in the background that gives the piece a magical quality. The string swells and flute melody create a serene atmosphere that I can’t help but compare to some of Jeremy Soule’s work on Oblivion. The sound is just amazing.

Sakimoto on “Chronicles of the Gallian War”
I was asked to make this piece like “historical facts and legends,” making you feel like you are reading a picture book, as well as using the main theme. So I made this piece as my own interpretation. Comparatively, I’m great with this type of music genre. The flute is synthesized.

Yet another surprise is unleashed with “A Moment of Relief,” which is a whimsical orchestral ballad with pop elements. The hi-hats and side stick percussion match with a bass and a sweet piano melody that is accented by a full string section. The result is simply beautiful, and the track sounds ripe for a vocal accompaniment. This is definitely a change of pace for Sakimoto.

Sakimoto on “A Moment of Relief”
This music is for a scene where the main characters are playing at a beach as ordinary people away from the battle. The arrangement is far from the key words of the other pieces like “military” or “battle.”

This piece also used a modern drama-like format, maybe that’s why you feel it is different from other pieces. There is lots of music like this piece in the anime Romeo x Juliet, which I wrote in 2007, and I actually quite like composing this type of music.

Another great moment comes with “Randgrith Archduke’s Family,” which makes use of my favorite instrument of all time: the harpsichord. There is a seemingly improvised flute melody that, combined with the harpsichord and string swells, features a regal sound. However, the improvised nature of the flute melody lacks the disciplined structure that one would expect from a piece focusing on royalty, creating an interesting conflict within the piece.

Sakimoto on “Randgrith Archduke’s Family”
This flute sound is an Egyptian instrument, called “Kawala.”

The kawala’s and harpsichord’s melody gives the piece a type of medieval, regal type of sound. Other than that, I didn’t relate it to any other elements. But still, if you feel something else, it’s the power of the instruments. If the flute comes out as sounding “improvised,” it’s probably because I emphasized various particular expressions in the piece.

We’ll close out with the game’s ending theme, “Succeeded Wish,” which is another one of Sakimoto’s favorites. It actually appears in multiple forms at the end of the album, starting with a stirring orchestral version with vocals by Megumi Toyoguchi, who sings the memorable melody with absolute control, giving the piece a sturdy quality. A pure orchestral version follows, titled “Those Who Succeed,” complete with piano and violins. “Succeeded Wish ~Piano Solo~” is yet another version, and is the final track on the album.

Sakimoto on “Succeeded Wish”
“Succeeded Wish” is one of the important themes in the game, and serves a very important purpose. I don’t want to spoil what it is here, but it would be an unforgettable piece for people who have played this game.

This song is by the Japanese voice over artist on the sound track, but an English voice over artist is singing in the Western version. It’s really nice. Please listen to it when you’re playing the game.

The melody is set and made for a Gallian traditional song. In fact, I was going to write a brief version of this piece, with a more traditional sound, but I was told that it wouldn’t be used in the main volume of the game. So I decided to use the orchestral back music instead. Who knows, you might be able to listen to this melody sometime in the future.

Sakimoto on Valkyria Chronicles and Basiscape
A special thanks to everybody who is reading this. Basiscape is a collection of composers and sound creators who have more than 20 years of experience in producing music and sounds for games.

After 5 years, it was founded as a formal company, and we now have 13 creators working on sound and music projects, and suitably so, as we work on around 30-50 projects a year, ranging from games, anime, movies and pop.

I hope you’re always looking forward to our next projects, and that you get to experience our music in some way, and find enjoyment in listening to it. Thank you very much.

I am completely impressed with Sakimoto’s work on Valkyria Chronicles. I recommend picking it up at CD Japan or Play Asia, as it’s some of Sakimoto’s best work to date. The fact that the main theme is so effective helps the rest of the score immensely as it’s worked into other pieces so frequently, and I think you’ll find a lot of memorable tracks on this 2-disc soundtrack. This is definitely a fitting score for an amazing game, so be sure to check out Valkyria Chronicles if you have a PS3.

Have you been looking forward to Valkyria Chronicles? What are some of your favorite soundtracks from Hitoshi Sakimoto?

[Special thanks to everyone on the Basiscape team for coordinating this coverage]

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