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Dragon Quest VIII Symphonic Suite :: Review by TheShroud13

Dragon Quest VIII Symphonic Suite Album Title: Dragon Quest VIII Symphonic Suite
Record Label: Aniplex
Catalog No.: SVWC-7261/2
Release Date: June 22, 2005
Purchase: Buy at Game Music Online

Overview

When Dragon Quest VIII was released in the U.S. last year to critical acclaim, many reviewers praised the game's fully symphonic score, both as an improvement over the Japanese synthesized Original Soundtrack and as a generally high quality accompaniment to the heralded game. The basis for this score was of course the Dragon Quest VIII Symphonic Suite, a sparkling rendition of the Original Soundtrack orchestrated and conducted by composer Koichi Sugiyama, and performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. The result is the definitive recording of the music from Dragon Quest VIII. The definitive recording of a score with some spectacular tracks, but one that falls a bit short on a few occasions, both as concert music and as a game soundtrack (although rarely at the same time).

Body

The highest points on the album are, ironically enough, based around flying and feature thematic material pulled from Dragon Quest III. I'm certainly not going to complain about the reuse of such a gorgeous theme, as I could hear "Heavenly Flight" endlessly in any environment and still be struck by its beauty. It is one of the most beautiful unifications of melody, harmony, and timbre that I've explored in any genre, and the subtle variations in texture and performance in each statement of the melody are all effective and allow the piece to capture me more each time. Sugiyama uses the theme once more for the second part of "Dormaguez ~ Great Battle in the Vast Sky". Though the "Dormaguez" segment is somewhat forgettable dramatic music, its later moments which are not simply based on brass thumping around are quite interesting. The second half of the medley, however, earns my vote for the most spectacular piece on the album. The theme from "Heavenly Flight" is figured and accompanied in such a way that it works as a battle theme, but still maintains the beauty of the original theme. A middle section reiterates the "Dormaguez" theme which is followed by a statement of the "Heavenly Flight" theme much as it was performed in the original rendition. By my mind, whether it be from coming after such a dramatic section of music, that it was rendered in a new key, or for whatever reason, this is the most breathtaking statement of this already stellar theme. It is then restated in the same way but punctuated by bright brass chords, propelling the piece right back into high octane battle theme mode. A highly recommended track.

Other standouts on the album include "Poet's World" with its delightfully liquid harmonies and its suitably otherworldly melody, scored in such a sensitive and colourful manner that transforms all the parts of the piece into a deliciously ethereal piece of listening. "Memories of an Ancient Ocean" affects as well; its melody one of the most stunning and memorable on the album. Though the piece wanders in the middle, losing some of the piece's oceanic character, the effect of the main theme is too pleasant to dismiss. The regal themes, though not as up my alley as some from games past, are still in good form; "Sanctuary" especially captures my attention, although the "Majestic Castle ~ Gavotte de Ch√Ęteau ~ Majestic Castle" medley is also excellent, especially in the minor mode sections of "Majestic Castle" and the whole of the "Gavotte..." "Overture" of course is present, and is performed with a great deal of gusto, adding another highlight to the album. The final major stand out is "War Cry ~ Defeat the Enemy", an energetic medley of the game's main battle and boss themes.

Just as some of the album's greatest moments come from the sky, some of its worst come from underground. "Cold and Gloomy ~ In the Dungeon Depths" is appropriately creepy, but feels a bit rushed compared to other versions of the same track. "Ruins of Darkness" generally doesn't feel nearly dire enough for the game environment. The initial five note horn motif helps tense up the atmosphere a bit, and the trumpet melody is quite affecting, but when the strings are forced to carry the mood themselves, the effect is more dull than scary, and once the bouncy brass segment begins, I find the result more energetic than imposing. The conclusion of the piece is quite effective, but unfortunately it only encompasses about twenty seconds of the piece's whole length.

The weak moments from a concert perspective mainly come from medleys of pieces that aren't particularly interesting in and of themselves, such as "Peaceful Town ~ Quiet Village ~ Alchemy Pot" that take the chance to listen to any of the pieces individually away, but end up being uninteresting to listen to over their duration, even though they generally only last five or six minutes. Still they tend to drag, and often when quick transitions can't be pulled off smoothly, Sugiyama will spend a lot of time wandering around after leaving one theme before finding the other, with not a lot of musically interesting things happening in the mean time. The other weakness is that a lot of pieces from the album that were perhaps not interesting enough to be orchestrated have been, and there are a lot of tracks that, while not unpleasant, aren't worth listening to more than once.

Summary

The whole of the Dragon Quest VIII Symphonic Suite is quite uneven, with some very spectacular moments, very few truly terrible moments, and a lot of music that just doesn't seem to have any fire under its bottom. Still, the album is full of character, and features some truly stellar orchestrations. The high points alone are worth the price of admission, and none of the lows are truly obnoxious, and are actually really quite pleasant, they just tend a bit on the boring side to make for good pure listening music. Either way, for a fan of Dragon Quest VIII's music, this album is essential, as it is doubtless the best treatment this game's music has received.

Overall Score: 7/10