Game Music, Reviews

Sakimoto Looks Good in Ivory: Valkyria Chronicles Piano Pieces (Review)

July 12, 2011 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Sakimoto Looks Good in Ivory: Valkyria Chronicles Piano Pieces (Review)on Twitter

It’s finally here! People have been excited for the Valkyria Chronicles Piano Pieces album ever since it was announced, and I think the surprise announcement that Australian pianist Casey Ormond would be responsible for the arrangements and performance of the album drew even more interest among fans. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s work on the Valkyria Chronicles series is regarded by fans as some of his best, so how would this young and relatively untested arranger and performer live up to everyone’s expectations?

We’ve covered the Valkyria franchise extensively here on OSV, so let’s dig into the first official arrangement album from Basiscape Records!

First of all, I know the suspense is killing you. Casey Ormond passes this test with flying colors. Not only are his arrangements varied and interesting, but his performances are heartfelt and dynamic. With that, let’s jump right in!

“Valkyria Chronicles 3 Main Theme” offers a great start with its opening exotic elegance. The first portion of the song, voiced by classy live flamenco guitar in the original, is transformed into a softer and more seductive version here before the defiant main theme takes over. I hadn’t realized just how much this main theme had grown on me until I heard the arrangement here.

Next, “Desperate Fight” is a rather whimsical battle theme from the first game that doesn’t sound all that ‘desperate’ (the translation of the track title is still up for debate, actually). This was always one of my favorite battle themes, and Ormond does a great job with the arrangement and performance, getting into a pretty impressive stride about midway through before breaking it down and coming back with some classy pizazz.

“Theme of Valkyria,” while a key piece in the series, has never been one of my favorites. Here, however, the piece takes on a seductive tango-esque vibe that really sheds a whole new light on the piece. I would have likely skipped this track if it had featured a more straight-forward arrangement, so it’s a joy to hear it take such an interesting turn. “Summer in Lanseal,” on the other hand, was a track that I was greatly looking forward to, and while it is beautifully arranged with a light and airy atmosphere, I couldn’t help but want something more jazzy and ‘cool.’

“Days With Classmates” is incredibly refreshing and relaxing, capturing the playful essence of the characters in Valkyria Chronicles 2, and providing a lovely listening experience. “Nameless Heroes” from Valkyria Chronicles 3 adopts a similar atmosphere, skipping along without a care in the world, and sporting a pretty snazzy swing. It’s really quite beautiful. “OPEN FIRE!,” also from Valkyria Chronicles 3, was a bit of an oddity on the original soundtrack with its synthesized elements, and it retains that distinction here with its pointed and bassy arrangement which contrasts with the other pieces on the album.

It’s then on to the final stretch with my favorite piece from the Valkyria Chronicles series, and perhaps Sakimoto’s entire catalog of music. Yes, the “Valkyria Chronicles 2 Main Theme.” While the arrangement is pretty straight-forward, I’m amazed by how full Ormond manages to make the piece sound, living up to its live orchestral and emotionally rich counterpart. There’s a little skip in this one’s step as it knows it’s the coolest kid on the block.

It’s then on to the first game’s main theme, which has effectively become the series main theme. The melody of this piece speaks to the horrors of war, and Ormond does a great job imbuing his arrangement with a contemplative and melancholy tone that I think speaks for the series. This track would have provided an appropriately reflective closing piece for the album, but highly emotional “Those Who Succeeded” from the first game instead takes that honor. While I hear the original version’s lyrics in my head when I listen to the piano arrangement, I think Ormond effectively captures that same heart wrenching sensation with this one.

In all, I think I love this album not only because it’s a piano arrangement album of some amazing music from one of my favorite game franchises, but also because Ormond is brave in his approach. While a few of the arrangements are straightforward, these few are appropriately so, whereas Ormond takes liberties with other tracks, turning me on to some tracks that I never cared much for in their original versions. The key pieces of music are here, even if they only total ten tracks at just over 40 minutes of music. The album artwork isn’t all that impressive (I would have loved to have seen some artwork from the game), but if you’re a fan of Valkyria Chronicles or piano arrangements, I can’t recommend picking this one up enough. You can also check out an interesting promotional video below featuring Ormond discussing his work on the album as well as some background about how the album came about.  Here’s hoping that this means we’ll see more arrangement albums of Valkyria Chronicles music in the future.

What do you make of the song selection and of selection of Casey Ormond as arranger and performer? Do you think this album leaves the door open for more piano or other kinds of arrangement albums from the series?

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