Sound of Valhalla Knights
Sound of Valhalla Knights
May 29, 2008
Buy Used Copy
Valhalla Knights is a critically panned series of action RPGs published by Marvelous Entertainment. A pre-order bonus with the second instalment was Sound of Valhalla Knights, featuring a range of original music from Valhalla Knights 2. The music was composed by Shojiro Nakaoka, who has experience in many of Square Enix’s projects, yet only as a sound editor. How does he fare as a composer here? Unfortunately, not impressively…
For the most part, this score features the generic orchestral music most would expect from a medieval fantasy RPG. There are brassy militaristic fanfares such as “Introduction”, Baroque-styled string pieces like “Royal Palace”, and more fleshed-out action orchestrations such as “Soldier’s Symphony”. Given they’re composed so strictly to an RPG formula, the themes all work fine in context: they provide sufficient weight to the cinematics, character to the settings, and intensity to the battles. It’s also clear that Nakaoka worked hard to make them compositionally competent and convincing. Furthermore, they are reasonably well-synthesised despite still being limited by the PSP’s technological capacity and some poor brass synth. Unfortunately, though, they sound utterly formulaic and predictable for the most part due to the composer’s imitative approach. They have nothing special to make them stand out against 90% of RPG music out there.
Like much game music out there, most compositions are composed in a homophobic texture — with prominent melodies against functional accompaniments. Unfortunately, most of the melodies are either unmemorable or quickly laboured by too much repetition. Furthermore, most of the accompaniments tend to be so sparse and uninspiring that the compositions lack any real dynamism or richness. The introduction is a good example — featuring nothing more than a piercing brass fanfare with a snare rolls. Rather than featuring contrasting B sections, Nakaoka just labours the same phrase over three minutes, to the point of both tedium and irritation. Admittedly, the introduction does feature some sort of countermelody if analysed carefully enough, but it’s not enough to colour the composition. It’s pathetic that this fanfare forms the basis of the main theme for the score — reprised in everything from the relaxing bossa-nova “I Am” to the bittersweet fanfare “Heart of Combat” — always to contrived effect.
The score’s greatest strength is probably its diversity. It’s clear that Nakaoka is competent in many styles, even if he has made few of them his own. For example, listeners are offered his attempts at moody ambient soundscaping in “Under the Human’s Rule” and “Underground Church”, or epic cinematic underscoring in “Antigod Mechanism” and “The Universe Rumbling”. They’re fine in context, but lack any of the timbral richness or developmental intricacies most would expect from professional film composers. Other additions range from traditional Japanese pieces in “IKUSA” to gothic organ passages in “Ruins” to anthemic trance in “Battle Lamentation”. While these tracks all have the appropriate stylistic features, Nakaoka almost always sucks all the life and ingenuity out of them. The closer attempts to go for the lavish romantic approach — complete with piano decorations and choral chants. While probably the most impressive addition to the soundtrack, it still sounds forced and unnatural.
There is something tragic about Sound of Valhalla Knights. It’s so evident that Nakaoka put a lot of effort into the music and really tried to build a solid RPG soundtrack. However, it’s all too clear he is a craftsman rather than an artist, as might be expected from someone more of a technical background. As a result, the album is essentially never superficially interesting or musically inspiring during its hour playtime. The final soundtrack is serviceable in the games, but absolutely not recommended for stand-alone listening. If it is to continue, the Valhalla Knights series desperately needs to find a voice of its own, as neither its music or gameplay cut it among the heavyweights out there.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.