Valkyria Chronicles Piano Pieces, the first official piano album features Hitoshi Sakimoto's music, has finally been released. On the album, the composer collaborated with arranger and pianist Casey Ormond originally a fan artist introduced to Sakimoto through this site. The obvious question to be asked is whether or not the latter can properly transform the former's often complex, multilayered music to the grace of the piano. An attempt was made using the music of the composer's recent, well received series, Valkyria Chronicles, so how does it stack up amongst the plethora of piano albums already extent in the game music community?
Each of the main themes from the series' three titles is present, with the third one opening the album. "Valkyria Chronicles 3 Main Theme" is the most mature and this reviewer's personal favorite of the bunch. Ormond manages to handle the timbre quite well, delivering a fluid and emotional rendition of the piece. Essentially, he handles the arrangement with a complexity that doesn't mirror the original's, instead bringing out the piano's strengths. "Valkyria Chronicles 2 Main Theme," a piece whose original melody was far more lighter in tone, thankfully receives an arrangement similar in style to the preceding, strengthening the somewhat weak original into something less blissfully cheerful and more powerful. The already strong "Valkyria Chronicles Main Theme" receives the most stirring arrangement of the bunch. Ormond handles the piano rather expertly here, providing the melody with a grace it never before experienced.
The lightest theme on the album is undoubtedly "Summer in Lanseal," a melody which would be instantly familiar to anyone who played the second title given its prominent nature therein. The arrangement is pleasant, though being based on a relatively underwhelming track it isn't quite as thrilling as the rest. Somewhat surprisingly, Sakimoto's jazzy "OPEN FIRE!" receives an arrangement, and it is just as wonderful as the original. Ormond's arrangement fits so perfectly that it makes one think the piece was always meant to be scored for piano.
Moving on, the ever popular "Theme of Valkyria" receives a rather exciting arrangement. Ormond never lets the relatively simple melody get old, mixing it up well with fun variations over the track's length. "Days with Classmates" and "Nameless Heroes" complement each other quite well, each being the theme from the squad from the second and third games in the series, respectively. Both are light, replete with melodies displaying camaraderie, yet each stands apart from the other, both thanks to the original melodies and their arrangements; the former receiving a lighter one and the latter rightly receiving a slightly darker, more serious one, mirroring the tone of each game.
Unfortunately, there is only one battle theme present, and it's good enough to cause one to bemoan the fact that it doesn't have a companion. "Gallant Fight" proves that, given the right arranger, even the most complex Sakimoto orchestrations can find a comfortable home on the piano. The arrangement isn't as fully bombastic as the original, instead mixing it up quite a bit, once again showcasing Ormond's excellence with regards to handling timbre. The album closes with an arrangement of Sakimoto's only vocal piece for the series, "Those Who Succeeded," from the first title. The piece begins quite gently, slowly building in complexity until it reaches a crescendo that leads to a fitting conclusion to the piece, and album as a whole.
I would never have believed Hitoshi Sakimoto's complex orchestrations could receive such incredible arrangements, but Casey Ormond has proved me otherwise. There really is only one flaw with this album, if it could be called that, and that is its relative length and lack of variation. Certainly some more battle themes would have been nice. Still, amongst the tracks present there is excellent variety, and I can only look forward with bated breath to the duo's next collaboration. Perhaps, finally, a Final Fantasy XII Piano Collection? Recommended to any fan of Sakimoto or piano albums.