01 - Overture IX
02 - Angelic Land
03 - Destiny ~ Prologue to Tragedy
04 - Oboe Melody in the Castle
05 - Beckoning ~ Dream Vision of our Town ~ Tavern Polka ~ Beckoning
06 - Hills and Meadows ~ Together in the Fields ~ Soaring in the Sky ~ Hills and Meadows
07 - Village Bathed in Light ~ Village in Darkness
08 - Build-up to Victory ~ Confused Ambitions
09 - Gloomy Cavern ~ Dungeon Waltz ~ Atmosphere of Death
10 - Gathering Place ~ Altar of Change ~ Sadness of the Heart
11 - Sandy's Theme ~ Sandy's Tears ~ Sandy's Theme
12 - Pathway to Good Fortune ~ Cathedral of Emptiness
13 - Final Battle
14 - Journey to the Starry Sky ~ Protectors of the Starry Sky
Before digging into the specificities of Dragon Quest IX, let me just make one thing clear. If you've never listened, and I mean truly listened, to one of Koichi Sugiyama's "Symphonic Suite Dragon Quest" albums, you are missing out. Turn off the lights, be sitting or laying, and do nothing but actually listen, actively, to the music. It really doesn't matter if it's I, IX, or anything in-between. If you've never had the experience before, it will blow you away.
So IX is no exception to the rule. In many ways, yes, it is more of the same. Melodically, it's not the strongest Dragon Quest entry, though we already knew this simply by listening to the OST released in 2009. The Symphonic Suite, however, allows us to appreciate some of the pieces that were simply difficult to enjoy on the OST. Namely, the battle music.
But let's start with the obvious. Everyone I've talked to about the Symphonic Suite is buzzing over "Angelic Land," which is probably the most interesting and memorable track on the album. Following the Sugiyama formula, this piece doesn't fit the schema. It's supposed to be Overture, Castle, Town, Field, Battle, Dungeon, Event themes, Ending. This piece, as well as Destiny ~ Prologue To Tragedy, are inserted between the Overture and the Castle music. What "Angelic Land" is for, I don't know. I haven't played the game yet. I suspect it's a generic theme used throughout the game, and most likely for when you're in this "angelic land" (which is where you start the game). Musically, it's some of the best music on any DQ Symphonic Suite. Period.
Jumping to the castle and town themes, I have to point out that the "variation on a theme" approach must have worn thin, because these themes sound so far, so distant, so different from earlier castle/town themes, it is hard to imagine where the relation is. The pizzicato strings in the town theme are about the only common thread between IX and I.
The "field" (travel) themes in the track 6 medley are reliably bouncy and beautiful. I say "reliably" because this is one medley you can always count on in a Dragon Quest. "Hills and Meadows" is a little softer than I expected it to be, but "Soaring in the Sky" is the wild romp I expected it to be. It could stand to have a little more xylophone (see "Flying Bed" in DQVI), but I'm satisfied with it as-is.
Now then, let's get to the point I made at the end of the second paragraph. Many times I have wanted to skip over battle music in Dragon Quest Symphonic Suites. They tend to be dissonant and irritating, at least for my tastes. And the OST version of "Build-Up To Victory," the standard battle theme, also left much to be desired. But the Symphonic Suite version sounds great! I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it. The percussion is a little overwhelming at times, but otherwise, it's a great melodic piece. The second half of this medley, "Confused Ambitions," is the jarring sort of music I've come to expect from Sugiyama. And yes, I could do without it, particularly the ultra-loud brass sections. But with "Build-Up To Victory" sounding so good, I guess I shouldn't complain.
The other surprise is that I enjoyed the "Final Battle" track (13). Again, I almost always hate this track on previous DQ albums. I mean, I can appreciate it for what it is, but it tends to make me feel sick. It's too intense for my liking. While this is still an intense piece of music, there's enough here melodically to keep my interested without making me feel dizzy. There may be some detractors for this piece, as well as the standard battle music, but me? I'm well pleased with it.
Everything else on this Symphonic Suite which I haven't mentioned is of the highest quality as well. I'm not going to go track-by-track, because I think you get the idea. This is good music. This is Sugiyama doing what he loves, writing music for full orchestral symphony. If there's even a part of you that loves hearing this kind of music, and you'd like to hear it for game music, I cannot recommend this and the other albums in the DQ Symphonic Suite series to you enough. But, for the sake of convenience, you may as well start with IX since you're reading this review. And if you have heard and/or own any of the other DQ symphonic suites, I don't know exactly why you bothered reading all this. You knew what you were getting into already, ne? There have been some changes in the patterns, the formulas, etc... but not much has changed. Sugiyama is still a master of orchestral game music, and this album proves it.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann