Rie Sugimoto, the winner of Falcom’s “Miss Lilia” contest, released a series of albums during the 90s with Falcom. Celceta is the fourth and last truly Falcom-related album, though Rie continued to put out releases until 1999. For more information on the history of Rie and Falcom, see the review for Lilia, the first album.
Coming around in 1992, Heal Ring is Rie Sugimoto’s last explicitly Falcom-related album. She would go on to do a few more releases with King Records (as well as a few before this) that had little to do with Falcom, as well as appearing in film, TV shows and even a video game.
Out of the work she did with Falcom, Heal Ring has the highest production values, along with the previous album Celceta. This set also has the highest ratio of arrangements of game music versus originals, giving fans more to look forward to.
The album starts strong with an arrangement of the Sorcerian track “Beautiful Morning,” another fairly obscure but great tune. The Super Arrange version is better, but this one is well-made enough to be listenable and not too far off stylistically. Track two, “A Doll Hidden in My Heart,” is most assuredly cheesy, sounding very “early 90s dance” with those 808 drums and deviates from its Ys III source material enough to be confusing at times. “Don’t Be Sad” fares much better, with a nice harpsichord and cello introduction that breaks into a very nice rocking classic 80s J-pop sound, creating an equally exciting and soothing take on Ys II’s “Ice Ridge of Noltia.” “Noltia” is a song which usually feels a bit weak to me, but the arrangement here is superb and brings out the best in the track.
Track four, “Glass Labyrinth,” a slower ballad, almost sounds like it could have been a vocal from Wild Arms or maybe even Lunar with its nice, very slightly Western sound. “The Story of my First Love” is more early 90s cheesy dance, which shouldn’t surprise me seeing as this came out in 1992, but after the stunning quality of Celceta, I think I set my standards a bit high. Anyway…looking past the silly intro, it’s an enjoyable song based off of Ys III, and I really love the chorus, Rie’s unusually breathy voice, and the guitar break. An update to this tune would fare very nicely.
“The Key to my Heart” is predictable super cute. I kind of thought Rie had outgrown that a bit, but then again, this is a remix of Ys II’s game over tune (which is oddly kind of cute sounding anyway) so I’m not sure what I was expecting. Impressive for the fact they could turn a 30 second ditty into a full song, but it’s nothing next to “Eternal Fantasia” from the previous album, Celceta. “Piero’s Premonition” brings back the Ys III tracks for a nice, if odd, take on another Falcom classic. It’s odd for the fact that at one moment it sounds like it could have come from the Clash or the Police, but then it jumps back into happy J-pop land.
Track eight – YES MOAR SORCERIAN. A very cheesy sound again, though. Its got all the ingredients – synthy bass, reverb-heavy 808 drums, and a sappy FM Rhodes piano. But the original song’s quality shines through anyway and sounds great. Shoko Minami’s version called “Tears of Love” wins out again, as it’s aged a bit better and benefits from Yonemitsu’s master’s touch. Despite all this, Rie’s version comes out as one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album. That’s the power of Sorcerian!
“Beyond the Maze” sounds like it came from Ys VI in a strange bit of premonition. Ys II’s “Subterranean Canal,” an awesome song that deserves more attention (see tragically short Plus Mix Version for proof), gets a vocal treatment here, though once again pretty much no longer resembles the original tune after a few verses. Good original tune otherwise, but dissapointing seeing as the original was more than adequate, and offered much more material.
The last actual song on the album, “The Ring of Peace” is an original tune, and doesn’t get the luxury of being from a game. However, it’s quite good anyway, being one of the sweeter songs I’ve heard in recent memory. Rie displays a great vocal style that is nice and smooth, and much less kawaii than the usual sound. The song is awesome and really sounds like it came from Sorcerian or Ys. A very nice conclusion to both the album and Rie’s main career with Falcom.
The final track is a message from Rie, with FM rhodes noodling away in the background. It’s a little too cutesy for my taste, but she does have a nice voice, ne?
As mentioned before, Rie would go on to act and sing elsewhere from this point on. She appeared in several shows as a regular performer, such as “The Las Vegas” and “Kotatsu de Pasocon,” was the lead actress in “Shishyunki Dairai” and had a role in the Fuji Television-produced film “Cult Seven.” She still maintains a blog and seems to have a loyal enough following. Maybe Falcom should bring her back into the the new JDK Band fold? I know, unlikely, but I feel that her career with Falcom ended before it could have really flourished. Maybe if Falcom had cooled their jets and released a new album of hers every year or so instead of every few months, that could have happened, but I get the feeling they wanted to suck the cute-tastic entertainment out of her while she was still a wee lass.
Enough what-ifs – the albums are fun relics as they stand, and serve as a cheap but fairly rare collectable for the Falcom fan that wants something that strays from the norm. It’s hard to picture the Falcom of today pulling a stunt like a beauty contest – though they are surging back as a strong developer, they had a very dry spell in the late 90s that seemed to almost kill them off, and their music side of business is still recovering after a beating of MIDI soundtrack after MIDI soundtrack. Only recently have they brought back the live performers with the excellent (and much improved) JDK Band after tip-toeing into vocalist territory with Sora no Kiseki and Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Said JDK Band’s Spring release was fantastic and displayed they still know how to put on a show. Let’s hope Falcom continues the trend and the tradition!