It was over 15 years ago that I got my hands on the CD Theater albums for Dragon Quest I and Dragon Quest II. I knew precious little about drama CDs back then, so I don’t think I totally understood that what I had in my hands was special. Not only did these “CD Theater” albums come with beautiful artbooks, but they included newly-arranged music by Koichi Sugiyama’s de facto protégé, Hayato Matsuo. Sadly, you will never find this music isolated outside of the dialogue and sound effects of these drama CDs, though some tracks on these albums do offer unmitigated sections of music, particularly in the first and last tracks of each album. Nonetheless, as a poor monolingual English-speaker, I almost wish someone would “fansub” these drama albums so I could read in English what I’m hearing in Japanese.
For Dragon Quest IV, Enix realized they couldn’t do what they’d done with DQIII; it was too much to release three CDs’ worth of drama in one package, especially given what that would mean for the size of the artbook. So they split it up into three volumes. If you’ve played the game, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Volume 1 covers the first two of the game’s five chapters.
Chapter 1 follows solo hero Ragnar McRyan on his quest to help his home kingdom. It is a relatively short quest; it teaches the player some of the game’s mechanics, and the overall flow of Ragnar’s quest serves as a sort of mirror to the first portion of Dragon Quest I. There is minimal battle music in this section, and you can hear Hayato Matsuo’s arrangement of the castle/chateau theme loud and clear in the opening track.
In chapter 2, we are introduced to the larger, more lively party: the princess Alena, the surprisingly-strong priest Kiryl, and the elderly magician Borya. In their opening track of “Saintheim,” you can hear the overworld theme very well as the party discusses (and disagrees) about what ought to be the next move…namely, whether or not to return home. In the next track, Alena and friends are treated to the game’s standard battle music as they face off against an evil creature.
Ultimately, the music in Volume 1 is a little redundant, both within itself and across the other volumes. We hear a little too much of the castle, world, and battle themes, and not much of anything else. In the subsequent volumes, Matsuo and the producers offer up more diversity in the background music.
As for the artbook, DQIV Vol.1 has some of my favorite art. The illustration of Ragnar on his horse overlooking a scenic landscape atop a promontory is probably one of my favorite illustrations among the entire set of the CD Theater artbooks.
If you’re going to pick up this album, I suggest you go ahead and try to secure all three volumes. As a set, they are a nice addition to any Dragon Quest fan’s collection, especially if you value Dragon Quest IV as much as I do (hint: it’s probably my favorite in the series, though it is hard to say for sure until I’ve really given DQVII a fair shot).