Final Fantasy XII is a game that I initially felt indifferent to, but have come to love in recent years. As I became deeper entrenched in the lore of Ivalice, I found myself connecting with the game’s music and art design more than any other aspect. Today, I hold its soundtrack in high esteem, and I feel it is one of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s best efforts. When I discovered that a Piano Collections album for the game was in the works, my excitement was tempered with trepidation. I wondered if Sakimoto’s complex melodies would maintain their identities when rewritten for the piano. After hearing only a few tracks, however, any reservations I had were immediately dispelled. Casey Ormond’s stunning arrangements have tremendous variety that breathe new life into the Ivalice soundscape.
The album opens, fittingly, with the “Theme of Final Fantasy XII,” a dramatic piece that begins with a furious pace. Climbing notes give way to a steady, upbeat tune that sets the stage for the drama to come. Next is “The Royal City of Rabanastre / Town Ward Upper Stratum,” featuring a bounding harmony that any fan is sure to recognize, played against a lively melody, paying homage to the spirit and resilience of Rabanastre’s city folk. “The Dalmasca Estersand” is at first raucous and adventurous, evoking images of Vaan’s first foray into the wilderness, and then closes beautifully with soft arpeggios, like the moon rising over a silent desert. My favorite track is perhaps “Near the Water,” a whimsical balance of high and low notes that reminds me of helpful moogles flitting about a bazaar, offering accoutrements to wayfarers with gilded pockets.
“Penelo’s Theme” and “Ashe’s Theme” are in stark contrast to one another; the former is lighthearted and airy, while the latter exudes strength and determination. The personalities of these women truly shine through in Ormond’s nuanced performances. And speaking of character, “Theme of the Empire” is played with all the might and bravura of the Archadian Empire’s fearsome judges. I was pleasantly surprised by the brightness of “Nalbina Fortress Town Ward,” a track that I don’t remember especially well from the game. This arrangement has an air of eccentricity that lends it a uniquely captivating quality. From there, I was transported to the clouds by a gentle rendition of “The Skycity of Bhujerba,” awed by the grandeur of the forest in the majestic “Eruyt Village,” and left to explore the twisting waterways of an enlivened “Rabanastre Downtown.”
This is not only in my top five albums of the year, but it is easily one of the best piano collections I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. Casey Ormond shows reverence for Sakimoto’s original material while exploring musical ideas in a style all his own, and I fervently hope he continues to grace the world with his talent. Playful yet grounded, dramatic yet relatable, Piano Collections Final Fantasy XII is an aural adventure for any listener.