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Valkyria Chronicles Original Soundtrack :: Review by Juan2Darien

Valkyria Chronicles Original Soundtrack Album Title: Valkyria Chronicles Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Aniplex
Catalog No.: SVWC-7550/1
Release Date: May 21, 2008
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


For a while, after I first discovered Hitoshi Sakimoto, I began to collect every release of his that I could get my hands on. This brought me such wonders as Vagrant Story among others. Vagrant Story was the score that made me decide that Sakimoto's works for live orchestra are simply astounding. When Odin Sphere came out, I was introduced to the Eminence Symphony Orchestra. From there, they performed on Sakimoto's scores to Romeo X Juliet and now Valkyria Chronicles. The release date for the score to Valkyria Chronicles was considerably pushed back, letting anticipation and excitement get the best of me. I built up expectations for this score, and when it finally arrived, I listened, hoping that my expectations could be met.


The thing that drew me to this score, besides being composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, was the orchestral performances by the Eminence Symphony Orchestra. The first we receive is the "Main Theme". There are two sections to the main theme, yet they are rarely heard separate from each other. The first section remains in stasis, leaping up and down, yet always returning to the same note, with some noble sounding chord progressions underneath. This section sounds a bit more like Sakimoto's melodic sensibilities, which means that its emotional core is indeterminate. You're not quite sure what to feel when you hear it, and this is also a result of Sakimoto's development of the theme throughout the score. As seems to be the case with many of his themes, they can be worked to fit any mood. The next section, while very good and epic sounding, sounds a bit too cinematic, lacking Sakimoto's usual signature sound. It begins with an ascending phrase that leads into the next phrase, constantly building into a blissful, emotional climax. The "Main Theme" track presents one of the best statements of this theme. Beginning with militaristic percussion, a trumpet solo takes the A-section as the bass continually rises. The suspended cymbals lead the track into the better half, the B-section. It is first heard by soft trombones, then by lush strings. A more disheartening section, which brings in woodwinds, brings the theme to a reprise for strings again, then by brass and synthesized choir. The A-section is repeated again, but with richer harmonies provided by strings and twinkling percussion. The piece ends with an extended solo for snare drums and percussion playing a militaristic rhythm. From what I understand about Senjou no Valkyria, it is a quasi-World War fashioned game. The main theme that Sakimoto has created here is epic, determined, and sorrowful, perfectly fitting the scenario, I assume.

The next orchestral track we receive is nearly at the end of the first disc. "Valkyria's Awakening" presents a new theme for the Valkyria (which, if I am correct, is a land and a people). It sounds dark, sinister, and oppressive and the rhythm here is very heavy. The piece begins with a statement of the theme for the Valkyria with strings and synthesized choir before brass is heard playing only the chord progressions. Then the music shifts gears and sounds downright evil with repeating figures for strings and choir as the brass and inventive percussion choices blast their way through the speakers. The piece doesn't really develop apart from that, for it loops immediately after. The next orchestral performance is "Title Main Theme". It is essentially the same statement of the main theme we received earlier, except cut off here after about forty seconds. "Final Decisive Battle" was a track that I was excited for. It is an orchestrated Sakimoto battle theme, which are always among his best works. It starts with all manners percussion before a seemingly atonal trumpet solo sounds, bringing the piece to its first statement of the main theme. It is performed by violins, enhanced by brass, while the rest of the strings provide swirling figures and arpeggiations. Unfortunately, this statement of the main theme sounds a bit sloppy and shallow, as if Sakimoto was only going through the motions with this battle track (the statement of the main theme is similar to that in Final Fantasy XII's "Battle for Freedom", although that piece succeeded in providing heart and emotion, rather than just technique). The next section, then, is the best. It is not thematic, and presents some good, brutal Sakimoto action music with some very inspired percussion choices. Then the piece returns to the main theme and ends with series of dramatic, ascending chord progressions. The final orchestral performance was a bit of a disappointment for me. "Those Who Succeeded" has the same issue I had with Odin Sphere's "orchestral performances": it's only a piano trio. It's a lovely melody, however, first heard by cello as the piano takes the harmony, and then by the violin.

Apart from the epic, militaristic main theme, this is still a rather standard Sakimoto score, and we have our share of emotional, ambient, and light-hearted tracks. "Randgrith City" is very similar in tone to some of the more playful pieces from Final Fantasy XII, featuring a bouncy melody for strings and tambourines. As always with Sakimoto's playful pieces, they don't stay too light for long, and in the middle, there is a long, reflective, even enigmatic section with chimes and some interesting chord progressions. "The Field" is another track that sounds similar to some Final Fantasy XII compositions. It features a somewhat dry sounding melody with some of Sakimoto's characteristic, busy percussion with chimes, tambourines, triangles, and the works. There is a hint of something epic in the middle before returning to the odd melody. "We Are the Barracks" comes the closest I've heard Sakimoto come to his Final Fantasy Tactics days in a while with the bouncy brass playing a very upbeat, nearly unrecognizable variation on the A-section of the main theme against a constantly shifting bass line. With "Daily Life of the 7th Platoon", Sakimoto combines light-hearted with militaristic with piccolo and oboe solos amid snare drums and punchy strings. "Urgent Instructions" features the same kind of percussion, but with some interesting effects provided by a carillon and mysterious pizzicato strings. "A Moment of Relief" certainly fits the track name. It's a complete departure from the rest of the score. It is rather jazzy, with light percussion and piano. I don't particularly care for this piece because it's simply too relentlessly upbeat in a soundtrack that is otherwise rather serious, with a few aforementioned exceptions.

"Beautiful Gallia" contains some very lovely music by Sakimoto, showcasing his piano writing skills, something we hear from him far too infrequently. There are light strings and horns enhancing the calming effect of this piece. "Chronicles of the Gallian War" is a definite highlight of the entire score, being quite similar in construction to "Beautiful Gallia". It maintains a very magical feel throughout with exquisite orchestrations, featuring flute solos, harp, chimes, and light strings. It took me a while to figure out, but this is actually a very modified version of the main theme. For a bit in the middle, the A-section of the theme is very recognizable with lilting flute solos before it loops and continues its masterful, peaceful atmosphere. Moving on, "Hope for Tomorrow" is another Sakimoto gem, sounding epic and intimate at the same time with noble brass and lyrical oboe solos. There's even a part where the horns and the flutes are combined in a duet, along with some standard choices for Sakimoto, twinkling percussion and harp. "Empty Loneliness" is similarly a beautiful track, presenting the main theme with a piano solo, supported by strings and chimes. "Randgrith Archduke's Family" is a breath of fresh air because of its interesting orchestration choices. It features the harpsichord and strings in unison providing the harmony for what sounds like a tin whistle solo. Continuing the streak of inspirational, emotional tracks is "Strategy Instructions", although it inspires quite a different kind of emotion. This piece is rousing with a steady beat provided by timpani while brass and strings provide some interesting harmonies and colour, building and building into a grand, brassy statement of the main theme. It's a very stirring piece. "Conclusion" follows suit with some strong brass and choir before erupting into a short section for skittish percussion and strings. This leads into a section full of triumphant fanfares and eventually the final statement of the main theme. Here, the melody has been transformed into something much more magical and inspirational.

Now that I've reached the "Conclusion" track of the score, it would seem logical to summarize my opinions and leave you with a rating. But that will just not do, for I have yet to cover one last aspect of this score, and it is perhaps the best. Sakimoto's battle themes are among his most enjoyable pieces and always have been. Final Fantasy XII had some of Sakimoto's best and most interesting battle themes. I feel that after that his battle themes became directionless and even boring. All the ingredients for a good battle theme were there: harsh brass, rhythms, though they became monotonous carried by snare drums, and his characteristic string ostinatos or arpeggios, but the feeling of danger was completely absent. It was as if he was painting-by-numbers: all technique, no heart. Senjou no Valkyria corrects this issue and brings us some of Sakimoto's best, most lively, and terrifically structured battle themes since Final Fantasy XII. "Battle" is a piece that reminds of Final Fantasy Tactics in the beginning with some interesting chord progressions, shifting from minor to major. Interplaying brass solos bring the piece to a more steady section for heavy bass and string arpeggios. "Desperate Fight" may be a bit too sprightly and upbeat to give the impression that this is truly a desperate fight (Final Fantasy XII's "Desperate Fight" fit the description perfectly), but it makes up for it with its thematic sensibilities, as well as orchestral colour. It begins with percussion and some of Sakimoto's intricate string work, much like "Sky Fortress Bahamut" and progresses into something much more noble. By the end, what should have been a threatening battle piece has become a playful, upbeat, and much faster variation on the main theme. "Hard Fight" reminds me a great deal of Vagrant Story with constant, crashing percussion and string arpeggios while "Street Fighting" is awe-inspiring with Sakimoto's choices of percussion and rhythm, with brass choirs providing harmonies and almost subliminal, racing strings.

"Difficult Battle" is sinister, threatening, and harsh, beginning with some extreme dissonance and a battering of percussion. The next section features a rousing combination of brass and choir with unrelenting percussion. There's a section right before the loop where Sakimoto manipulates the synthesized choir to where it sounds as though it's chanting. "Close Combat" begins with low, ominous brass and adds a sense of urgency through another inspired choice of instruments, pizzicato strings. There's a faster, more unpredictable section in the middle, leading to a reprise of the beginning section of the main theme. The only issue I have with this piece is that it inadvertently slows nearly to a halt before the loop, which is odd for a battle track. I feel like mentioning the piece "Resistance" simply because it sounds strangely like Danny Elfman's theme for Batman. It features a steady rhythm with cellos and timpani while brass provides the theme. Speaking of Danny Elfman, "Decisive Battle" opens in a style quite like some of Elfman's work for Sleepy Hollow. That's where the similarity ends, however, as we move into harsher territory with some interesting, yet nondescript brass punctuated by Sakimoto's usual arsenal of percussion. For a bit there seems to a be a motif, sounding a bit like some of John Williams' work for Star Wars, about to develop, but it never really does. Regardless, this track is still very threatening and excellent in maintaining this mood through all its guises. After sounding like all sorts of different Hollywood composers recently, "Defensive Fight" lets loose with material that is strictly Sakimoto. It begins with a constant crashing from the percussion, while maracas and snare drums alternate in keeping up the incredibly fast tempo. There is a magical feel to this track, however brutal the action writing is, because of the inclusion of xylophone, racing and emotional strings, and glockenspiel. "We Are the 7th Platoon" has a seemingly typical build-up to the thematic material, with strings repeating a rhythmic phrase in ascending motion over snare drums. This repeats while layering a trumpet solo performing the main theme on top with some excellent colour provided by brass. Before the loop, there is a majestic statement of the main theme by brass instead of just the trumpet solo.

Now comes the part where I discuss the issues I have with this score, but thankfully there are few. The first is that the orchestral performances all sound a bit muffled, with nothing really sticking out. The brass isn't as punchy as it should be, and the strings sound a bit stale, and the percussion is usually drowned out a bit. There are also a very, very few tracks that sound rather uninspired, as if Sakimoto was just following a formula. The final quibble with the instrumentals is that some of these tracks will probably remind you of others Sakimoto has created so much so that they are interchangeable. Other than the constant snare drums (which miraculously never get oppressive), something that he seems to use often in his scores, providing a militaristic feel and a wondrous main theme, this isn't a very distinguished score. Finally, there are three vocal tracks on this album, although two are basically the same but with slightly different instrumentation. "No Matter the Distance" is the piece that begins and ends the score. I don't particularly care for it because, to me, it just does not fit with anything else in the soundtrack. It belongs on some melodramatic soap opera (or chick flick), but not here, a quasi-war/quasi-fantasy score. The first version begins with that uber-cheesy electric piano (the same that plagued "Fisherman's Horizon" on the Final Fantasy VIII Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec album, to choose a familiar example). The melody itself is hackneyed, but at least the vocalist has a decent voice. The reprisal of this track is pretty much the same except perhaps a tad better (because of the usage of a real piano). The remaining vocal track is "Succeeded Wish". It begins with lush strings before some rather... unattractive vocals appear. I'm sorry, but I find Ohira Sato's voice less than pleasing to the ears. Apart from that, however, the melody, which was featured in "Those Who Succeeded", is still quite nice.


On the whole, this is a marvelous listen if not quite up to par with Sakimoto's greatest works. The album flows very well, and the action pieces are among the best he's written since Final Fantasy XII. I usually think his light-hearted pieces carry a bit too much emotional baggage, but here that extra dose of seriousness was well deserved. It is apparent that Sakimoto was quite rejuvenated after his busy year in 2007, because this score is exciting, colourful and, for the most part, very fresh.

Overall Score: 9/10