Dragon Quest I Symphonic Suite :: Review by Georg Vallant
The first. When it came to 8-bit sounds with only three channels to work with, video game composers were often limited in their prospects of arranging plain melodies into satisfyingly full instrumental pictures. The Nintendo Entertainment System got its first sound enhancements around 1990, hence earlier game music had the repute, consisting of nothing more than superficial beeps and clicks. Dragon Quest, alongside Final Fantasy, was one of the first role-playing games with really catchy and interesting songs. Though gameplay and controls were still lacking, the music spreaded it's charm even with three synthesizer channels. It was 1986 when Koichi Sugiyama recorded the Dragon Quest score in the way he originally intended it epic, classical, and fully-orchestrated.
For the Super Nintendo remake in 1994, the famous London Philharmonic Orchestra, which should be well known for its work with Star Wars componist John Williams, was entrusted with the production task under the conduction of Koichi Sugiyama. In SRCL-2733, the Original Sound Version of the Super Nintendo replaces the arranged synthesizer tracks and the "NES Sound Medley" from the 1986 Dragon Quest Suite, whereas the orchestrated versions were just re-recorded, not modified. In SVWC-7457, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra interprets the suite after having tackled the suites for the seven other Dragon Quest games previously. It includes a music effects collection for the majority of the Dragon Quest series extending the disc time.
The CD starts off with the "Overture March," the opening idea, which appears in every Dragon Quest game. An Overture is usually an epic piece which introduces a big musical work or an opera. German composers Richard Wagner or George Frideric Handel, for example, were famous for their opera openings, "Xerxes" and "Tristan und Isolde." Nothing could do the job better of outlining the mood of an adventure world like Dragon Quest than an 4 minute lasting meeting of fanfares, floating strings, and propulsive orchestral percussion. The only problem: If you've played a lot of Dragon Quests you'll rather skip the "Overture March" in your player than listening to it for the 100th time. But a few new passages were composed for the midsection of the orchestrated version.
"Chateau Ladutorm," written in minor key, can be heard first in the Castle of Tintagel. It reminds of an baroque organ fugue. Sugiyama takes full advantage of counterpoint, the movement of two or more independent melodies over harmonic shifting, giving the listener the feeling of walking through an imposing old castle hall with soldiers and maids. "People" is the BGM used in villages and towns and my personal favourite on the disc, besides the overworld theme. In contrast to the original 8-bit track, the arranging-scope was widened; there are whole musical sections added, which are fitting perfectly. It's very light-hearted, especially when the contrabass enters.
"Unknown World" is the theme of Alefgard, the world of the first Dragon Quest trilogy and the first overworld theme in the series. The leitmotif, which steadily switches color between flute and strings, has enough emotion to make the listener shake. Splendid work. At two minutes long, it's perhaps a little too short. Anyway, if you take a look on other Dragon Quests and their field themes you will discover something weird; the chord progression utilised is identical, at least for the first 8 bars. This is one thing that makes Koichi Sugiyama's music so interesting. You won't get 30 different tracks, totally seperated from each other in terms of musical structure, but one big score, which draws you into an functional fantasy world.
"Fight" is nicely arranged, with good use of percussion and velocity changes. The initial melodic motif sounds slightly enhanced and faster paced. "Dungeon," with a duration of approximately four minutes, uses the musical apparatus of modulation. Inside the game, the music is pitched down with each level you are venturing deeper into the underground dungeons. This would be way too easy for an orchestral performance, which features great use of instruments, but is more killing than thrilling. "King Dragon," the BGM for the last boss, mirrors the situation of a bloody and reckless battle with deep strings and brasses. Extreme changes in volumes mark this track, but it's not the top of the iceberg anyway.
Forget the last two tracks if your impression became flat. "Finale" has anything a ending song must have. The melody is easy to remember, starting out slowly and calm, then switching between the various musicians and their instruments. The London Philharmonic Orchestra performed a true masterpiece that stands for itself as a fully grown movie/staff roll piece. Whether or not you succeeded in beating King Dragon on the NES/SNES or listening through Dragon Quest's Symphonic Suite, this track flows like water and ends with an bombastic crescendo as the strings rise.
The first Symphonic Suite is good, but the problem is the plainness in the original material and the consequent short disc length. But it's not to be missed out though, for it's the entry of our beloved series into orchestral halls.
Overall Score: 8/10