Look, we all know that Koichi Sugiyama’s orchestrated compositions for the Dragon Quest series are fantastic. We also know that every game in the series has had at least three prints of the Symphonic Suite. Dragon Quest III and IV each had more recordings and printings of the Symphonic Suite than the other titles, so when reviewing individual albums, one must look deeply into the orchestra’s performance, as well as the recording quality.
Using mostly the same sheet music, with some additional arrangement and some extensive mastering/mixing/production, Sugiyama and the London Philharmonic entirely re-recorded the collection of music that was originally recorded by the NHK Orchestra a year before. Then, nine years later, he did the whole London Philharmonic thing again (in commemoration of the DQIV PlayStation release?), split up the sea/sky track, and lengthened a few tracks. And this was the result.
This performance is clean, crisp, and edited to perfection. It makes for a great listen, but as I said in the review of the 1990 print, cleaning a recording too much results in a somewhat artificial sound. I believe this may be the case for the recording done here.
Fortunately, the dynamic levels are retained fairly well here. Pitch levels were normalized a bit though; the highs and the lows have been trimmed a bit. And the extremely soft sections have been normalized a bit, so there has been some work done with the dynamic level. But ultimately, the recording is solid.
The arrangements are slightly changed, and it feels as though the “solo” sections from the 1990 recording have been cut back a bit, though there are still plenty of sections in the music where one solo instrumentalist will take the lead (be it flute, violin, trumpet, whatever).
The 12 track symphony is broken down thematically. If you know anything about Dragon Quest music, then you definitely know the first track, the infamous Overture. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this version, and this recording, more than many other versions of the Overture. The Minuet, (also known as the “castle” theme), has a great violin solo part included that stands out better here than in other recordings.
Then you get the themed medley tracks: character, town, field, dungeon, event, sea/sky exploration, final dungeon, final battle, and ending. Some of these tracks are longer than others because they incorporate more themes. The longest track is “Comrades,” which comes to nearly 10 minutes of music. If you know the cast of characters from Dragon Quest IV, it’s a lot of fun to listen to this medley. Ragnar the knight, Alena the princess, Torneko the merchant, and the sisters Meena and Maya, all accompanying the hero. These songs are extremely memorable if you are familiar with the game itself. The Comrades medley is probably my favorite track on this, and any, DQIV recording.
It has always been my opinion that these Dragon Quest albums are frontloaded. This is because the dark, booming music of the dungeons and epic battles don’t seem to transition to orchestra as well as the town, character, and field themes. The end credits music, while big and bombastic, is also far from memorable compared to the opening tracks. However, this particular recording brought a lot of strength to these tracks that I have always believed “weaker,” because the raw power of the recording, unmitigated by normalization, bring a lot to the table. The 2000 print is fairly hard to find, but this same version released again in 2009. Check it out!