Everybody loves Falcom. If you don’t, then you need to be removed from society (my bias is sickening, I know). Their 1993 special box, an impressive portfolio of their greatest work for the year, is amazing. What’s so great about Falcom Special Boxes is that they not only include soundtracks of theirs that have already been released, but they also contain special tracks that can’t be found anywhere else; soundtracks that have been re-arranged for your listening enjoyment. The first disc contains tracks from Lord Monarch, a little known PC game that was really strange. Lord Monarch was also released on SNES, and it used the same music, but for reference, only the PC version is covered in this Special Box. This disc also contains tracks from Lord Monarch’s PC sequel, Advanced Lord Monarch.
If you’ve never heard Lord Monarch, it’s good stuff. Personally, I prefer the SNES soundtrack, but the PC version has the same songs and similar themes. If you like the good old fashioned PC music, this album is oozing with it. It starts with “Opening,” which is a laid-back, old fashioned song with a pretty cool melody. It does a good job in setting a tone for the rest of the album. “Menu” is one of my favorite songs on the album, probably because it was adapted into a vocal song (in fact, several of the Lord Monarch songs were adapted into vocals). “Lord Monarch ~ Common” is a typical march (without the heavy snare drum), and a lot of songs follow this particular style. “Fuse Panic ~ Common” is a similar song, but it’s got a great melody that you’ll be humming for days. “Mechanic Techno ~ Common” is another really good song that is the most unique on the album; it has somewhat of a Latin melody and well developed accompaniment. “Ending” is another great track that is pretty hard to describe. You just have to listen to it. “Shipark ~ Common” is a pretty neat track that’s got a good groove, a neat bass line, and a Sonic-like melody.
My only gripe with Disc 1 is that many of the victory themes sound exactly the same. They’re almost anti-climactic, since they are preceded by such great songs. For most of the disc, every other track is a victory track, so hopefully you can see how much of a roller coaster this disc can be.
The second disc contains music from Brandish, another early Falcom game that was for both SNES and PC. I’ve never been a fan of Brandish music (or the game), and I prefer the SNES version, but this is worthy enough if you’re a Brandish fan. The songs worth mentioning are “Shop 1” and “Shop 2,” which are some awesome songs that really make you think of a shop. “Hedress” seems to be a battle theme, and I love the opening section, which has sort of a tribal feel mixed with rock. It’s a solid battle theme, and the highlight of the second disc. “Black Widow” sounds like an urgency theme, but it lacks substance. “Fortress” is a pretty good fortress theme, though. Since this type of music is so hard to describe, I’ll say that it will remind you of a fortress. Other than the rockin’ “Ending 2,” everything else on this disc is forgettable.
The third disc contains music from the lovely Popful Mail. Overall, this is the best disc in the set (although the fourth disc comes pretty close). The Popful Mail soundtracks have a loyal following, and for good reason. Every song on this OST is just so inviting. And even better, every song matches its image perfectly: for songs like “Cave (Exploration)” and “Iceberg (Battle),” I can imagine a deep dark cave and an epic battle atop an iceberg, respectively. The disc starts off cheery with “Opening Demo 1” and “Opening Demo 2” which are very bouncy and playful. Then, we are introduced to “Jungle Exploration” and “Jungle Battle,” which are playful, too. But after we stop at the shop with “Shop,” this music progressively loses its playfulness. “Cave Exploration” comes off as a fanfare that takes itself very seriously, and gives you the image of several brave heroes spelunking in a daunting cavern. “Stage Boss,” which is meant to be the boss theme, does a very good job of creating the intensity and urgency that makes boss battles so important. “Volcanic Zone” is an awesome map theme that you must listen to get its full scope. If you like PC Engine music, then you should check this song out. “Volcanic Zone (Exploration)” is similar to the other ‘exploration’ tracks except that it is more fast paced and more aggressive. The bass line is steady, and the synth melody never loses its fire. “Iceberg (Exploration)” cools things down a bit and uses different synths to give you imagery of an iceberg. “Iceberg (Battle)” is the best song on the album, and is one of my favorite Falcom battle themes. “Castle (Battle)” keeps the same pace with a fast paced melody and a some interesting percussion work. “Ending 1 ~ Somebody Loves You” is a beautiful ballad that ends too soon. The disc ends with “Ending 2,” which is your typical Falcom ending track: rockin’, dynamic, melodic, and very memorable.
The fourth disc contains pre-released arranged tracks from Brandish 2, Legend of Xanadu, and Ys IV. I’ve already voiced my disgust with Brandish, but the tracks featured here are actually really good. The disc gets off to a great start with a remix of “Celceta, the Sea of Trees” from Ys IV. This was one of my favorite tracks from the game, and it gets great treatment here. The rhythm section carries the song along well, and there’s an awesome guitar solo in it, too. I really enjoy the synthesizers that are used on this disc; they are strong, harmonic, and they never get in the way. “Battle #58” is another enjoyable track with a catchy techno beat. “Ridge Ruins” is everyone’s favorite overworld theme from Ys IV, and it sounds fantastic. I like the lead synths that carry the melody; they sound very “gamey,” but I think it’s a nice touch. In many ways, this song is similar to “Celceta” but it’s still very good. “Hoping and Wishing” is a somewhat heavy rock track that isn’t as memorable as the rest. It’s got a decent melody though. “Dawn of Makria” is the most well-known Xanadu track on the disc, and it’s also the shortest. This is probably my second favorite song on the disc. “Ship” takes a more orchestral approach to things, and it is the oddball on the disc. It relies on a melodic oboe accompanied by an orchestra instead of heavy drums and guitars. It’s a nice break from the chaos, but it comes a little too late. “Soldier’s Sorrow” starts off the Brandish music, and it’s my favorite song on the album, ironically. It’s a somewhat heavy rock piece with very warm harmony, and of course, a nice guitar solo in the middle. I like the pan flute echoes that pop up here and there, too. “BR2 056 (Lab)” is very mechanical; several instruments’ pitches are bent and distorted to give you the image of a dark, evil lab. Next to “Ship,” this is the most unique song in this entire four-disc collection. Last but not least, “Carl Kyares” rounds off this spectacular album. It follows the same suit as the rest of the songs, with a powerful electric guitar and steady percussion in the background. It’s a great ending, and when you hear it, you’ll know the album is over.
All in all, Falcom Special Box ’93 is a solid anthology with some nice surprises. All four discs should appeal to Falcom fans, but the third and fourth discs are the champions. The weakest link is the second disc, because I didn’t particularly care for the Brandish music. Technically, there aren’t any flaws, but I wish the first two discs would have been inspired by the Super Nintendo chip rather than the PC Engine. I give this album an eight out of ten.