There’s a fine line between nuance and repetitiveness, a line over which many film and game composers skirt–and most cross–when creating a score for an epic story. When that division is breached, it turns otherwise poignant melodies into recycled drudgery that reeks of dullness, and can actually make the epic seem less so. It is a line upon which Hitoshi Sakimoto balances in each one of his albums, and I can’t always say that he manages to stay on one side. However, what tends to save him is his ability to create a powerful, moving central melody upon which he bases the entirety of a game’s score. And with that, enter Valkyria Chronicles 2.
The first track on the album is, as usual, the central theme. Beautifully played by the Czech Film Orchestra, it feels like the opening of a film score, with horns, strings, and percussion playing a theme that drifts between military cadence, fantasy, and heraldic fanfare. I’d have to put it in my top three favorite Sakimoto melodies, right up there with “Return” from Radiant Silvergun and “ODIN SPHERE’S” theme from Odin Sphere, and this is a very good thing, as a great number of the tracks on this album are variations (and often slight, at that) on that theme.
There are some tracks that don’t focus on the main theme, though, most of those being battle themes. Since Valkyria Chronicles 2 is, like its predecessor, a strategy RPG, the melodies mimic those of Sakimoto’s other SRPG scores, such as the Final Fantasy Tactics series. While some listeners may find it derivative and uninspired, Sakimoto gives the pieces a range of emotional emphasis; peppy, upbeat tunes such as “Exciting Battle” give the feeling of a friendly match, and would be something you’d find in Tactics Advance. Other tracks, such as “The Rebel’s Assault”, carry frenetic or ominous overtones, such as those you’d find in battle themes from the original Final Fantasy Tactics. All in all, though, the battle themes in Valkyria Chronicles 2 are solid and fit well into the game’s militaristic setting.
Valkyria Chronicles 2 isn’t all epic scores and battle music, though. Tracks such as “Are we a Spoiled Class?” bring out the playful side of the game’s story, and “Summer in Lanseal” evoke images of relaxed, carefree days. And yet, running throughout most of the more lighthearted tracks is, as always, the central theme of VC2. There’s also always a smattering of epic feel to even the most innocuous of pieces on the album, so the listener is constantly reminded that important things are going on.
Also, while there is some borrowing from the first game’s soundtrack, overall, the Valkyria Chronicles 2 soundtrack manages to be epic enough to make you forget you’re playing a PSP game, and can be enjoyed completely on its own merits; I’ve never actually played the VC games before, and when a game soundtrack can become one of my recent favorites without that context, it’s definitely good. And the addition of a few arranged versions towards the end helps a lot to cement the themes in your mind (if the main soundtrack hadn’t already!) So pick it up if you get the chance, especially if you’re a fan of Sakimoto’s work. You won’t be disappointed.