Years ago, I purchased and reviewed “Dragon Quest on Piano Vol. II.” And, having the “Final Fantasy Piano Collection” standard in my mind, I couldn’t stand the simplicity of the album. Years later, here I am with the first volume, and surprise! I find myself liking it.
The first volume presents the music DQ IV and I, in that order. For those unfamiliar with the “On Piano” albums, they are more transposition than arrangement. The main melodies and harmonies are pulled from the complex orchestral arrangements and dumbed down to a two-hand piano part that could likely be played by a decent pre-teen pianist. As far as technicality goes, these albums don’t have a lot going for them. But this album seems to fare better than its counterpart, “Vol. II,” because of the original compositions.
The score to Dragon Quest IV, moreso than other DQ titles, lends itself to a traditional piano arrangement. This is because the score seems like a survey of music from 1650 to the present. We hear Bach-style Baroque music in songs like “Palace Minuet,” Mendelssohn-esque Romantic-era musings in “Coliseum,” and “Cursed Tower” sounds like a piano exercise that Bartok would have composed. Other tracks demonstrate Classical-era music akin to Mozart, and still others bring 20th century atonal work to them (especially the battle themes). You’d be hard-pressed to see such accurate representation of musical time periods on another VGM piano arrangement.
And then there is the original Dragon Quest. These eight songs are quite famous, but for the life of me, I cannot get over my bias. My favorite two songs are Ladutorm (the “castle” theme) and Across the Wide Plain (the “field” theme). Koichi Sugiyama has been building off of these two songs, making different variations, for the castle and field themes of each subsequent Dragon Quest. They’re all good, but the originals are just so solid that they even sound good when simplified to an intermediate-level piano part.
One complaint I will forever level against these DQ piano albums is the issue of length. There is no repeating, and like I said, these “arrangements” don’t go beyond simply presenting the song in a simple form. As such, most songs fail to make it past the 90 second mark. This is very frustrating for someone like me, who wants to hear these songs fleshed out in a grandiose manner just for the piano.
But, for better or worse, this album is meant to be simple. And I find myself enjoying it as is. I’d recommend it to all the Sugiyama fans among us. If nothing else, it’s an interesting album to study and get your bearings, so that you can better appreciate the songs in other arranged formats (primarily the full-orchestra format!).