Note: The alternate print was made to remove the controversial “Label Gate” copy protection software which was packaged with the original print.
The Dragon Quest series is a venerable staple in the RPG community. It is truly a massive beast in the Japanese gaming industry, where adults take days off from work and bullies beat up kids to get their copy of the latest game. In fact, it’s arguably bigger than Final Fantasy. Of course, only recently has the series really garnered much attention stateside. The US did see the release of the classic NES games, and even a Game Boy port or two, but we missed out on several titles, and the series never took off the way Final Fantasy did.
Dragon Quest V was one of those games we missed. And how sad that is, because it’s one of the best in the series. Enix even remade the game from scratch for the PS2, and we *still* didn’t get it! Perhaps that will change is sales of DQ VIII are high enough. Regardless, the game is excellent, with a grand story that sees our hero from a baby, grow up in slavery, break out, get married, and have two kids that fight alongside him, all the while kicking butt and doing things heroes do.
This newest release of the Dragon Quest V suite is not only a brand new recording, but is also what Enix used for the background music in the PS2 remake. Performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Mr. Sugiyama, it is the best recording of this work yet. Some of you may be scoffing at the idea of another release of this music. After all, the score has already been performed by the NHK symphony and the friggin’ London Philharmonic, so why do another? According to the man himself, Sugiyama felt it was needed, and thus we have a third performance.
Let me compare the three. The original recording, back in 1992, is emotional, and has a loose, warm, natural feel, but suffers slightly from a dated sound. The recording, while excellent for the time, is not up to the crystal clear standards of today, and the performance style has a dated sound to it that is common among orchestrated music from this time period (see Symphony Ys, Symphony Sorcerian, etc.) Then there’s the London Phil performance, which is like a huge, unstoppable machine. A spotless, tight performance, but somewhat rigid and emotionless in comparison. Since the album was recorded in 2000, the recording quality is amazing, especially with Sony’s SBM technology.
The new recording has found a perfect balance between the two. The performance is spot-on, and almost 100% flawless. And it is also very passionate and emotional, without coming off sounding like an 80’s daytime soap with too much glissando and crap. Basically, it’s awesome. For a DQ suite, the brass has never been louder and more intense, the strings never so clear, the drums so well defined and crisp, and the difference is dynamics so vast. Seriously! During the battle themes, the crescendos start quieter and end louder, and the brass blare just enough to sound a little bit more evil. The entire performance is clean and the ensemble plays as one unit, rather than a collection of individual instruments.
As for the tracks, they’re mostly the same wonderful tunes. There is one medley that is brand new; a section has been sampled for the review. “Make Me Feel Sad” is a beautiful song. Might I add that, despite that being the official English title of the song, the correct translation from the original Japanese is “A Tale of Sadness,” which really suits the song better. Aside from the stupid casino theme, the rest of the score is as powerful as ever. DQV has the strongest battle themes in the series, and “Heaven” and “Bridal Waltz” are two fantastic cuts, both very true to Sugiyama’s classic roots. Don’t let the small number of tracks fool you. Each track is a medley of two to four or more songs a piece, each song getting a full loop or more to shine.
The packaging is also the best yet. The cover art is simple and elegant, the clouds representing the ‘heaven’ aspect of the story (the game IS called Heaven’s Bride, you know.) The liner notes are huge, and have sheet music for every song from the recording. To accommodate the thick booklet, the case has been slightly enlarged as well. The whole package is a very classy looking item, moreso than most albums, VGM or not.
One very odd thing concerning the disc itself – the sticker on the wrapping proclaims this a copy-protected album. However, not only does this album play in every single CD player I own, I also was able to rip the tracks straight off of the CD on my Macintosh computer. For some reason Macs are the ‘forbidden’ computer when it comes to copy-protected CDs, but this played and ripped like a beauty. This is quite the opposite of the Stella Deus album, which I had to download a bunch of software to even get to play. I imagine that either the sticker is a load of crap, or Sugiyama just wanted to scare us now that he owns his own record label. Either way, don’t let it deter you from buying the album.
Final word: if you own one of the older editions, don’t worry about picking this up unless you are a huge DQ fan. Those of you who do not already have this great suite of music, or are new to DQ in general, I highly advise you to pick this up as soon as you can. This album is the first that Sugiyama chose to re-record under his own label (with DQ II, III, IV and VIII being redone so far.) It’s already going out of stock in some online stores, so don’t wait around until it’s gone.