Monday 1 October 2012

Best of the Valkyria Chronicles - Critical Review

Hitoshi Sakimoto was the composer for this album. He compiled a bundle of tracks from the Valkyria Chronicles series. It was featured on the Humble Bundle website as well, as part of the very first music oriented bundle on the website. The bundle provided FLAC and MP3 formats of the album which means both are available. The whole collection is of 24 songs, spanning from various games, including themes from the second and third game and many other memorable tunes if you have ever played the games before. Hitoshi has composed some memorable soundtracks before including those for Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII. His reputation with Square Enix shows his high budget projects from the past. I think it is safe to say he has a decent library. Though he has also done work for Aniplex and Digicube, meaning there is a good chance he will be expanding and continuing to provide for your listening pleasure. 

The track seems to be instrumental with possibly slight vocals being used in harmony with many instruments. It is almost not noticeable, with so many different sounds being used together, a harmonious voice just blends in well. It’s a big contrast from the major focus so many songs put on the singer. Here it seems as if the singer is not any more important than a musician, or even less so. A nice and well done change. Various kinds of instruments are used such as the cello, violin, drums, trumpets, bells and many of the chimes are done so with an impressive clash of different notes and musicians. A combination of them all creates a very dynamic presentation. As an experience the songs do a pretty good job of replicating tones of intensity which are to be expect in a game and can very vividly describe the scene of a war. With battles going on in the Valkyria games consistently, it is actually easy to tell what parts of the game each song would fit into.

Each track is themed and transitions in very harmonious and fluid manners which indicate a very natural form of progression throughout the game. Transitions are very epic (filled with various sounds and decently long). There is a pretty good constant pace with not much build up. The amount of activity which occurs during the majority of the song leaves no room for build up. It’s an extensive thrill ride all the way through the song, and in turn the album. Moving into higher notes to represent suspense of urgence; a very effective method which does not take up a very significant portion of the song, rather just quick sections and transitions which are there just to provoke certain emotions. Producing emotions that keep you on edge while not distracting you, add to the immersion of the game. Placing importance on a games music to the point where it feeds into the engagement of the gameplay, is a great use of what some people consider; a simple side element not essential to the game. It’s an opportunity to do something amazing.

Diversity is not too clear. The compositions are unique but there is a pretty big similarity throughout all the different songs, but a common style is expect from any album. The instruments remain the same. The games are supposed to be a representation of war, so all the songs are fast paced. The transitions are indeed harmonious (mostly because they are not sudden, but gradual) though they are not given too much importance in the song. By this I refer to all the different parts which change throughout the song which are mostly done through many quick notes and consistent alterations between instruments. Aside from a similarity of the songs (which is to be expected), listening to the album all at once, seems as if it’s an expanding piece of art that goes on for sometime. Keeping the style present through the hole album allows for a very fluid experience. While some look for diversity in each song, this album is best observed as a whole, a collective of pieces if you will, similar to that of a jigsaw puzzle.

The art cover depicts the characters in somewhat odd uniforms but hey, people have their own style. The guns and tank are a clear representation of the scene of war that takes place within the game. With that in mind while listening to the album, you can get a good understanding of what is trying to be depicted within the game through the music. Even without visuals, the tone of the sound can be very heavy and very uplifting. It fluctuates in a very clear and melodic fashion. 

Editing in the music seems to be almost unnoticeable. The majority of all the instruments (if not all) that you hear at one time is due to the orchestra who Sakimoto used at his disposal. This means it could potentially be heard live with no equipment other than the instruments themselves. When listening to the complexity of all that is going on and how many different people are required to make the one moment of sound being listened to, it is quite impressive. Composing such a record is quite the feet.

 (not the orchestra from this soundtrack)

Uniqueness of the all encompassing music you hear from an orchestra is present in this album, with folk type elements and other more rock and heavy components. Though the general pattern within orchestra music can be found (it doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but that isn’t required to be good). Even though the songs tie together really well, the range of tone and theme of each song (past the theme of war) is vibrant. Some tones being quite sad, reflecting death, while others joyful and laughable, reflecting reuniting and victory. The story of the game, as far as I can tell is displayed quite well through the music in this soundtrack.

Is this really the best? Well it was terrific; the rest (and there’s a lot) is worth a lot of looking into. This album is a great collection of Sakimoto’s work and it’s great for getting started in the library of music he has composed.

Check out the Humble Bundle blog post about the sale which included this soundtrack (where I bought it):

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