Before even delving into the content of this album, I have to point to my favorite trend happening in game music: breaking down the invisible barriers. Japanese games from a Japanese composer getting a piano solo arranged collection. Wouldn’t you expect the performer to be Japanese? Or, even if the performer isn’t Japanese, the arranger(s) would be, right?
Less than a year after the surprise album from Germany, “Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu,” Hitoshi Sakimoto’s fantastic work on the Valkyria Chronicles series has a piano solo album arranged and performed by one Casey Ormond, who hails from Australia. There’s been a strong connection between Basiscape and “the land down under,” so I’m not surprised. But whenever I see the borders falling, I have to cheer. So, cheers to Basiscape, Sakimoto, and Ormond for making this happen. Now make it happen for Final Fantasy XII please!
Now then, let’s critique this puppy.
I can explain Ormond’s arrangement style in one word: full. These aren’t arrangements that take artistic liberties on the source material. It’s essentially like this: transcribe all parts of the audio, put as much as you can into an advanced pianist’s two hands, and go nuts. As far as I can tell, Ormond doesn’t deviate from Sakimoto at all. Readers are free to point to counter-examples. I’d love to be proven wrong on this point.
This arrange style has its ups and downs. On the up side, the battle tracks sound absolutely brilliant. “Desperate Fight” and “OPEN FIRE!” were already awesome in Sakimoto’s original version. So the piano arrangements don’t suffer, and Ormond keeps the excitement alive. On the down side, there’s not a lot of dynamic variation. Ormond rarely, if ever, chooses to subdue himself for the sake of presentic a more artistic expression. Instead, it’s just full-on piano for every single song. That “wall of sound” feel is fun to hear from time to time, but a full 40 minutes of it may leave the listener mentally exhausted.
All told, I’m not chomping at the bit for a follow-up album. But considering there are now three titles in the series, and Ormond has only scratched the surface of source material, I wouldn’t mind seeing if Ormond could improve his craft and pick some songs that bring variety to the soundscape (I’m thinking of the Kingdom Hearts piano albums here, and how the second album so thoroughly surpassed the first thanks to a broader track selection). This is good stuff, and I’m sure Valkyria fans will dig it. As an outsider just studying the music, I like it, but I’m not head over heels in love with it.