When I first heard the Dragon Quest VIII OST, I was quite disappointed: Still no real-sounding orchestra, too much quantizing, only the original sound version without orchestral arrange tracks…I own so many better OSTs, so I sold this one, planning to spend the money on the orchestra album which I was sure would be released soon…WRONG DECISION!
I really listen to DQ arrange CDs a lot, I’ve listened to DQ VII about 40 times and still like it, so my expectations were quite high. A 2 CD set for the somewhat outrageous amount of 3990 Yen can’t be bad, can it? (lots of dough = high production values). Oh, wait, there’s only 82 minutes spread out on 2 CDs. Ok, it comes with a 58-page booklet containing the complete score, but that doesn’t help: unbelievable as it may seem, this live-orchestra recording actually sounds worse (!) than the chip-sound OST.
The problem is this: in contrast to the London Philharmonic CDs of previous episodes, which were recorded in a small studio with a microphone for each instrument, DQ VIII was recorded by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra in a rather large concert hall with only about 7 microphones for the whole orchestra and – no audience! The result: There’s so much reverb and ambience that sometimes the single notes blend into each other, resulting in a very “muddy” soundscape. Listening to this CD is like looking at a beautiful painting through fogged glasses – you know it’s there, but you can’t quite see the details that make it a masterpiece. Especially the woodwinds are sometimes simply drowned in the whole arrangement. A few tracks feature percussion and drums, which would be nice if they weren’t lost in the mix due to too much reverb. The dynamic range is too large, and the violins are often too loud. I noticed it sounds better on headphones, but I prefer listening through speakers.
Okay, now I think you’ve got the picture, let’s move on to the good things I can say about this CD: Once again, Sugiyama delivers music that can stand on its own – you don’t have to know the game to be moved by the melodies. Overall, there are more quiet and slow tracks than fast and action-packed ones. Although not every track from the OST has been remade, it feels like all the good tracks can be found here (except the bar-piano track). The harpsichord, choir and organ sounds from the OST have been rearranged for harp or violins – on the one hand, this makes the album more coherent, but at the same time it has less variety.
The best tracks on the CD are the inevitable and triumphant ocean theme and “Poet’s World”, a very quiet and mystic tune that reminds me of 70s Sinbad movies. In fact almost every track on this album is good, so I chose some sound samples at random and hope they help you to decide whether you really need this CD or not…
If DQ VIII Symphonic Suite hadn’t been this expensive I could have forgiven the sound quality, but things being as they are I’d recommend the DQ VIII OST or any other of the “London” CDs over this album…I just discovered there’ll be a Dragon Quest String Quartet CD soon, so I’d better start saving money for it now.