Falcom’s arranged albums are many, and they are probably most well-known for the semi-cheesy J-Rock and pop vocal tracks. Other arrangements have come about as well, including orchestral performances, techno-synth, and my personal favorite: piano solo.
To date, Falcom has released four “Piano Collection” CDs: Ys Piano Collection, Ys Piano Collection 2, Legend of Heroes Piano Collection , and Brandish Piano Collection. These CDs are some of the least-recognized among Falcom fans, yet I think that they are some of the best. In fact, if one were to choose the best of the best, Brandish Piano Collection would be it. I chalk it up to the work of Keiichi Shibata, who did an incredible job arranging these once-mediocre pieces from Brandish and Brandish II.
Brandish Piano Collection is almost entirely piano solo, but the occasional background synth or percussion joins the mix to make the CD brighter and more energetic. Falcom has always done this, while other Piano Collections out there (such as the many FF Piano CDs) are strictly piano, no other instruments allowed. And while I generally prefer piano-only, this CD has caught my attention in a way I never thought possible.
First and foremost, look at the titles on this tracklist. Among them, you see words like “Shop”, “Game Over”, and “Stage Clear.” In almost every RPG score the world over, these sorts of songs are tiny 30-second jingles that are usually unimpressive. For Brandish Piano Collection, however, each of these tracks are nearly five minutes long, and they are some of the most beautiful piano pieces I’ve heard in years. Most composers and arrangers wouldn’t waste time with songs that accompany an item shop or a “stage clear” screen: the focus would instead rest on battle themes, dungeon themes, and dramatic-moment music. That a CD such as this would have some of its best tracks be in the least expected places is a phenomenal and wonderous thing.
These tracks are very “whole”, so to speak. There are very few half-steps played, ever. The minor keys are natural minors, and the fourths and fifths (intervals) are present in almost every moment of almost every song. The exception to this rule is “A Journey Without Rest”, which is a slow jazz piece. The chord progressions are nothing special, but the effect made through dynamics, harmonies, and the many spaces of silence that Shibata puts into the CD are beautiful.
The added synthesizers are usually a plus, though I have a minor complaint with the woobly/wobbly synth of the first track: it just sounds awkward at points. Perhaps an adjustment to the sound would’ve made the difference.
Other than that one little complaint, I have to say that this album is outstanding. I know that I am not alone in saying this: many Falcom fanatics have taken note that Brandish Piano Collection shines where other piano CDs have faltered. Even those who are unfamiliar with the game Brandish and its original score (such as, oh I don’t know, myself) will be pleasantly surprised by the strong arrangements presented by Shibata on this album.