Final Fantasy XII Piano Collections :: Review by Don
For the longest time, Final Fantasy XII was the only game without an official piano collections album. Finally, after six years of waiting, the album was finally released to coincide with 25th anniversary of the series. Casey Ormond, who first collaborated with Hitoshi Sakimoto on the Valkyria Chronicles Piano Pieces album, reprises his role as arranger to tackle the diverse array of music found in the game. The resultant recordings were available as both a stand-alone piano collection and as part of a five disc bundle with the original soundtrack. How does the stand-alone album rank among the other piano collections albums dedicated to the series?
The album opens up with a curious juxtaposition of "Opening Movie (Theme of Final Fantasy XII)" and "The Dream to Be a Sky Pirate." In this adaptation, Casey manages to capture the adventurous tone of the original opening theme, while also throwing in some very playful tones as well. The second half is dedicated to what I consider an extremely beautiful piece of music that was woefully short on the original soundtrack. "The Dream to Be a Sky Pirate" section is just as beautiful as the original, but rather than expanding and elaborating on this motif as Hamauzu did with "Song of Prayer" from the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections album, Casey incorporates motifs from the other tunes featured on the album. It really helps bring you into the world of Ivalice.
Another staple theme to the original soundtrack, "Theme of the Empire" stays fairly true to the original vision of the piece. There are some nuances that keeps it from sounding like a plain adaptation of the original work, which really helps in its favor. In fact, there is definitely an essence about it that is reminiscent of Neo-Classical artists, particular in its daring chord choices and the staccato performance of the accompaniment. In fact, many will draw parallels with "Kefka" from Final Fantasy VI.
Two character themes are also explored on the album. The first, "Penelo's Theme," is a marked improvement over the original. It really manages to capture the personality of the character, providing an overall jovial atmosphere. The dynamics of the piece really entice the listener throughout the piece, ranging from softer to more powerful passages, as well as passages that give a bit of a jazz influence. The other character, "Ashe's Theme," takes on a more classically-oriented approach, with hints of Impressionism. Since her theme is quite disjointed on the original soundtrack, it was interesting to see how Casey handled this and I think that his darker, melancholy approach really works well to capture the struggles of the main character, but also provides a bit of a romantic side as well.
Speaking of which, I would say that "Nalbina Fortress Town Ward" offers a pronounced classical touch with some more modern elements. It really manages to capture the upbeat nature of the original, but at the same time, expand upon it to make it a much more diverse array of soundscapes by the addition of some more poignant passages. "A Moment's Rest" is also quite transformative, also harboring some classical and jazz elements in its approach. I really like how Casey was able to distill the atmosphere of the original into a single instrument, offering romantic, yet contemplative tones, into the piece.
Casey Ormond also explores some more fully realized jazz arrangements on the album. "Rabanastre Downtown" takes the percussion heavy original and turns it a fun piece with plenty of groove. While it isn't my favorite arrangement on the album, I think it manages to convey the sultry, yet playful, atmosphere that really works well given the nature of the original. Casey's take on "The Royal City of Rabanastre / Town Ward Upper Stratum" also adds some nice jazzy elements that really capture the bubbly nature of the original, although they aren't nearly as pronounced the aforementioned piece. "To the Place of the Gods" is probably the most successful of the jazz-styled arrangements on the album. It turns the mystical original into a spectacular jazz piece that captures the mysticism of the original, but also adds a nice romantic touch as well. A surprising and successful transformation.
The two highlights of the album, for me, are "Dalmasca Eastersand" and "Near the Water." The former is a piece that highlights the strengths of offering a varied, dynamic approach to an arrangement. While the original was quite adventurous in tone, something which Casey certainly captures in the arrangement, he also offers some more romantic interpretations of the theme. In the booklet, he mentions that he did this to showcase how a desert also goes through extremes and I think it was a smart idea to use as inspiration. The end result does the original justice and throughout its entire duration never feels repetitive or uninteresting.
When it comes to "Near the Water," however, the first time I heard it, I sat in awe of what I was hearing. Casey takes the calming original and turns it into something that retains the nature of the original, yet at the same time, elevates it by manipulating the tempo and pace of the melody line. The easiest comparison I can make is that of Masashi Hamauzu's brilliant take on "Besaid Island" from Final Fantasy X. It's truly the star of the entire album and its range of romantic and reflective tones to passages that conjure up images of playing in the water is a treat for any fan of the original.
The last two pieces on the album are both pieces which Casey had arranged before he started collaborating with Sakimoto. The first, "Eruyt Village," is certainly the most interpretative piece on the album. It is a very moody piece with plenty of sultry jazz tones and magical, dream-like sequences. While the original melody isn't as clear as with many of the other arrangements, I find the interpretative take on this piece akin to something that Masashi Hamauzu would do. Lastly, Ormond's "The Skycity of Bhujerba" is the very piece that caught Sakimoto's attention years ago and led to their recent collaborations. It is a very contemplative piece, taking the exuberant original, and turning it into a slightly jazzy, romantic tune that still retains the wispy and magical elements of the original. It is the perfect closer for the album and certainly one of the strongest pieces on the album.
Among the various Final Fantasy piano collections that have been released, I would personally rank the Final Fantasy XII Piano Collections album among the very best. It manages to capture a variety of moods, tackles many of the more story-related pieces on the album (even if they aren't among fan favorites such as "Giza Plains" or "The Phon Coast"), and the end result is something that flows quite nicely and is very cohesive from start to finish. I can only hope this collaboration between Casey Ormond and Hitoshi Sakimoto continues, as I have noticed a growth in Casey's ability to interpret Sakimoto's more orchestra heavy pieces into a single instrument. Perhaps in the future we can see something like a piano collection dedicated to Final Fantasy Tactics or even Opoona, both of which I'd imagine would be very desirable in the eyes of fans For fans of the original soundtrack and those longing to hear the overdue piano interpretations for Hitoshi Sakimoto's work, I'd definitely recommend picking this one up.
Overall Score: 9/10