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Dragon Quest III Symphonic Suite :: Review by Juan2Darien

Album Title Catalog No.
Dragon Quest III Symphonic Suite (NHK Symphony Orchestra) BY30-5181
Dragon Quest III Remix Symphonic Suite (London Philharmonic Orchestra) SRCL-3563
Dragon Quest III Symphonic Suite (London Philharmonic Orchestra Remastered) SVWC-7062
Dragon Quest III Symphonic Suite & Game Boy Color Original Soundtrack SVWC-7071
Dragon Quest III Symphonic Suite (Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra) SVWC-7247


In my reviews of the first two Dragon Quest Symphonic Suites, I stated that Sugiyama's music for the series didn't quite take off until he began to experiment a bit. Well, at last, said experiments have arrived, infusing many of the pieces with something so fresh and colourful that Dragon Quest III Symphonic Suite surely surpassed the first two on almost all fronts. Sugiyama experiments with the orchestrations, coming up with some truly imaginative and inspired instrumental choices, and there are some truly creative dissonances to be found among these pieces. Also, for the first time, Sugiyama dabbles in thematic continuity, with one particular theme being heard in at least three different guises for three very different pieces. That said, there are also several simply poor tracks, but they don't put too great a damper on this listen.

The format for this review will be essentially the same as the past two Dragon Quest Symphonic Suites. I will focus on the music's enjoyment, followed by reviews of each of the three performances, in chronological order, focusing on technique, detached from the track's enjoyment level. This time there were performances by the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Roto

"Roto" is merely the standard "Dragon Quest Overture" by a different name. It begins the same way the past two overtures did with the bouncy brass before moving into a statement of the somewhat heroic, completely banal main theme with strings and snare drums. It may sound like I'm being overly harsh on this piece, but the truth of the matter is that Sugiyama has instilled no creativity in any of his overtures", save for Dragon Quest I's. There's only so many times one can hear this piece without being driven mad.

The London Philharmonic's recording focuses on the strings, which provide the melodic content. Everything sounds a bit muted, except of course for the snare drums, which threaten the balance of everything else. The Tokyo Metropolitan fares much better with a well-rounded recording with just the right amount of resonance, and most everything is crystal clear, especially the cymbal crashes. The soft section towards the end seems a bit rushed, but other than that, the performance is far superior to the London Phil.

As for the NHK Symphony, there's no way to describe it. The brass here sounds artificial. Once the piece gets going, the performance does a bit better, although the brass stays weak all throughout. The strings are by far the strongest point, although the percussion is constantly threatening to overwhelm.

Scores: Enjoyment - 5/10 / NHK - 6/10 / London Phil - 7/10 / Tokyo Met - 9/10

2) Prologue

Some of Sugiyama's tracks can function without an emotional core, but "Prologue" is not one of them. It seems like it is constantly searching for the right tone, shifting from melancholy to hopeful, yet always remaining bleak. It is slow-moving, but not entirely soothing as it should be. The main melody is presented by an oboe, then a flute, and a short interlude for wide, dissonant chords brings the theme to a repeat for strings. A sprightly interlude for flute and clarinet solos and pizzicato strings ushers in the 'hopeful' section, which is by far the best part of the track. Then it's off to the same old: An unmemorable melody with illogical chord progressions and hazy orchestrations.

The London Philharmonic is not off to a good start for this album, it seems. The opening oboe solo has an extra dosage of whine that just makes it intolerable, as does the over-eager flautist. Neither recording makes the piece particularly interesting, although the Tokyo Metropolitan at least maintains a kind of fluidity all throughout. Some of the orchestrations are brought out in the Tokyo Met's rendition, such as the lush strings that seem to be absent, or at least masked, in the London Phil's. The NHK Symphony never recorded this piece.

Scores: Enjoyment - 4/10 / London Phil - 4/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

3) Rondo

The first redeeming track of the album is thankfully given to us in the form of "Rondo". One of Sugiyama's best castle themes, this piece boasts an infectious melody and intricate string writing. The chord progressions may be a bit standard sounding, but Sugiyama pushes them to their boundaries, making a piece that is in no ways hackneyed and somehow wholly fresh! There is a very lyrical violin solo towards the middle of the piece before it repeats.

Poor, poor Tokyo Metropolitan. Two in a row seems to be the limit for them, because their rendition of "Rondo" pales in comparison to the London Philharmonic's. The pace is considerably slower, making the orchestrations sound thin, and the violin solo in the middle sounds almost shamefully overdramatic. The London Phil plays with conviction and flawless precision, literally bringing the music to life.

The NHK Symphony plays with this piece very edgily. The strings are sharp, bringing out all the intricate details of the string writing. Unfortunately, the performance comes off a bit emotionless because of it. I know I probably sound like I'm contradicting myself, talking about how castle themes require technicality over emotion and then criticizing this piece for lacking emotion, but the thing is that the performance is literally all technique and very rigid at that. This is especially apparent with the violin solo.

Scores: Enjoyment - 10/10 / NHK - 7/10 / London Phil - 10/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

4) Around the World

If you'll recall, I mentioned in my reviews of the past two Dragon Quest Symphonic Suites that as the series progressed, Sugiyama was constantly reinventing himself through experiments in melody and timbre as to stay fresh sounding. Dragon Quest III is the first one to boast some truly inspired experiments. The beginning of "Around the World", a nearly seven-minute medley, is cheery, featuring pizzicato strings and chimes before introducing playful winds. The whole orchestra ends up joining in to wondrous effect before the next section is ushered in by an almost lullaby-like bassoon solo. The next section is slow, jazzy, and deliciously sleazy sounding, with an oboe part that seems like it should have been written for a saxophone. The oboe slides between notes in a way that I don't think Sugiyama has ever used since.

When the main melody comes in, the piece gets more focused, yet no less fun sounding. It is first presented by winds, then by a trumpet solo with lush, sliding string harmonics. An unexpected, loud climax and harp scales bring the piece to its next, even more experimental section. This would appear to be the gypsy music from the game. At first heard by an oboe, then by a clarinet, the theme is off-kilter and slightly Hungarian sounding (that is, if I understand correctly what Hungary sounds like!). The theme is then repeated by strings with a plethora of exotic percussion and punctuated by muted trumpets. The next section is considerably more normal, but still quite fun to listen to. It presents a sweet main theme heard by solo clarinet. After a short section for strings, the theme is heard by proud brass, taking on a jazzy edge. The piece then ends softly with that theme being heard by woodwind duets.

The opening section sounds unfortunately blurred on the Tokyo Metropolitan recording, and the sleazy oboe solo that I love so dearly is now drowned out by the strings and percussion. There's just far too much reverb on this piece, obscuring some of Sugiyama's most imaginative orchestrations. Obviously, then, the London Philharmonic fares much better. They capture the playful emotional side of the piece through the crystal clarity of the recording. Everything on the NHK recording sounds a bit hushed, as if there is a haze over the entire piece. The brass, again, sounds too plucky to be real, sounding synthetic. The second section's oboe solo is underplayed severely, with the percussion being considerably louder than the actual melody. The same is true about the gypsy music, except that with that section, somehow the winds echo far more than the other instruments, sounding very unnatural. The melody in the final section is the only thing that can be heard, apart from a few times when the strings actually make their presence known. The mixing on this track is below par.

Scores: Enjoyment - 10/10 / NHK - 5/10 /London Phil - 10/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

5) Adventure

The name of the track says it all... well, almost. Perhaps a short adjective like "militaristic" should precede "Adventure". Starting with a mournful melody by strings, the piece really takes off with a very militaristic sounding trumpet solo complemented by snare drums and brass. The theme is repeated for lush strings, and while I'm usually a fan of strings used in this way, this melody needs to be stern and heroic, not lush or romantic sounding. After that, however, the piece gets back on track with booming percussion and powerful brass. After the initial chord progression leading to the repeat is heard again, the piece throws the listener for a loop with some inspired string writing and chord progressions before reaching the final brass climax.

This is a tough one to choose between performances. On one hand, the London Philharmonic approaches the piece with the now expected precision and crystal clear sound quality. On the other hand, the Tokyo Metropolitan boasts a much stronger, more powerful statement of the main theme by the trumpets. It gives me chills. However, the Tokyo Met also has the issue, again, of too much reverb, masking Sugiyama's orchestrations in a wash of pure sound. Also, because the trumpet solo is so strong, none of the other elements of the piece can possibly live up. The trumpet solo on the NHK recording sounds as artificial as ever, which is a shame since this piece is based pretty much off of the trumpet melody. The percussion sounds a tad sloppy, but the strings are as sharp as ever.

Scores: Enjoyment - 9/10 / NHK - 6/10 / London Phil - 9/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

6) Dungeon ~ Tower ~ The Phantom Ship

Dungeon themes for Sugiyama are always a bit iffy. It seems that he either opts for more jazz inspired themes or positively bleak ones. Luckily, this piece sides with the former, showcasing a melody that will actually appear in subsequent tracks (alas, this is the first time in a Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite that Sugiyama has used thematic continuity!). It is sinister, yet beautiful, and, due to some more stellar orchestrations, it always stays musically interesting. It is first heard by winds with some interesting percussion choices, then by strings. The next section's melody isn't quite as distinct, although it does boast some zany harmonies and orchestrations, with softer sections being punctuated by blasts of brass and swirling strings. An almost Bart�k-esque section for eerie and sharp strings brings the piece to its next section. A wood block keeps a constant tempo while the somewhat gnarly melody is unveiled with some interesting string glissandi and an equally gnarly clarinet solo. A drum kit enters, followed by some more punchy strings. When the timpani comes in, banging away, the strings begin a very dissonant crescendo, followed by a skittish flute solo that ends the piece.

This piece boasts some inspired solos and should be thought of as a mini-Concerto for Orchestra with each section getting to prove its skill throughout the course of its five-minute duration. Therefore, the winning performance will be the one that makes the superb orchestrations stand out the most. I've pretty much just given away which performance is better. None other than the London Philharmonic, with its seamless transparency of sound. Every minute detail is heard, while in the Tokyo Metropolitan performance, all the grating edges are smoothed over. This piece cannot afford that! It must be edgy and terrifying, and the London Phil really hits the mark on this one. I mentioned that this piece could only ever really shine with a performance as crystal clear as the London Phil's. Well, the NHK Symphony is the antithesis of the London Philharmonic. All the instruments, except for the strings, which come across quite piercingly in this track, are severely dulled by the recording quality. The performance is at least competent, without errors, so I suppose I can give credit there, even if it is a rather understated performance.

Scores: Enjoyment - 9/10 / NHK - 6/10 / London Phil - 10/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

7) Distant Memories

At last, we have arrived at one of my favourite pieces on the album. After a slow, sad, descending beginning for tremolo strings, the main melody comes in with a soulful cello solo, with harp and strings providing the harmonies. The theme is repeated by an oboe solo, although the second part of the melody is heard by the flute and tremolo strings. When the next repeat comes, the cello returns, but with pizzicato strings providing the harmony, yet still staying silent enough to let this last cello solo really stand out.

Of all the praise I've given to the London Phil harmonicfor having such superb sound quality, it is the Tokyo Metropolitan this time that boasts a recording so clear that every timbre is heard, while still letting the cello take the lead. The cello solo on the London Phil recording is a bit muffled, but on the Tokyo Met it is crisp, if not also a bit distant. There is no recording for this piece by the NHK Symphony.

Scores: Enjoyment - 10/10 / London Phil - 8/10 / Tokyo Met - 9/10

8) Requiem ~ Small Shrine

I was very skeptical of this track when I saw the title. As you may recall, I sincerely disliked the "Requiem" track on the Dragon Quest II Symphonic Suite and that's even an understatement. But this piece proves that the subject matter can inspire a piece that is melancholy, perhaps even bleak, but NOT utterly boring. The melody is not overtly sad, although it is certainly very somber. The piece is performed solely by strings, so it would seem interesting that Sugiyama chose to let the cello section lead the melody while soft washes of the higher strings provide the mournful chord progressions. The piece seamlessly segues into "Small Shrine", then, which is somewhat of the antithesis of "Requiem". The melody is uplifting and some of the string work is surprisingly complex. Despite the hopeful nature of this second section of the piece, the track still ends in a minor key.

It's a wash, yet again, between performances. In the London Philharmonic recording, the cello melody of "Requiem" can barely be heard above the rest of the strings; however, the intricate string writing on "Small Shrine" is lost in the mix with the, again, unruly amount of reverb on the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony recording. The London Phil really brings out the lush and emotional tones of "Small Shrine", which I consider to be the better section of the two, so I guess it is the London Phil that takes the prize this time.

With neither of the other recordings receiving perfect scores for this piece, I could only hope that the NHK Symphony could be the one to receive said perfect score. Unfortunately, their mixing is horrible, with the strings being the only perfectly audible section of the orchestra at any time. But wait, this is a strings-only piece, so how do they fare with that in mind? The violins play with such raw emotion that this does end up being somewhat of a saviour-track for the NHK Symphony. Unfortunately, each violinist seems to playing to his own emotions, making the section as a whole slightly out of synch.

Scores: Enjoyment - 8/10 / NHK - 7/10 / London Phil - 8/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

9) Sailing

Do you remember Dragon Quest II's "Beyond the Waves"? Well, here Sugiyama follows nearly the same formula with a very Classical sounding waltz. The melody is very nostalgic, but you'd be damned if you could figure out where you've heard it before. It is certainly very sweeping and adventurous, perfectly capturing the prospect of the sea. The orchestrations are, again, very colourful, with the melody first being carried by a solo horn, with each phrase separated by some playful winds and chimes. The strings take over the theme, leading to a cadence. From there, the theme enters a new, lush stage, complete with twinkling percussion and enhanced by brass choirs. Once it has repeated, nearly verbatim, twice, it throws a surprise in by changing the orchestration, beginning the theme with strings and harp before building to its increasingly fast and very Classical finale.

This is, again, a rather tough call. Both performances are rather similar, although the Tokyo Metropolitan takes some artistic liberties with some well-placed formattas. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of piece that needs any dramatic enhancement, but rather, again, technicality and attention to detail, which is exactly what the London Philharmonic gives us.

Finally, a track that the NHK can use the muffled brass to their advantage. The brass in this piece usually is used to carry the melody to the strings, as a transition device, rarely being heard as the focal point. The string playing is, as always, very sharp here, and the soft sounds of the horns work quite well in context. Also, the piece has very little percussion, so when it does show up here, the crystal clarity of the twinkling percussion absolutely dazzles. It may not be better than the other performances, but it is certainly tied with the Tokyo Met.

Scores: Enjoyment - 10/10 / NHK - 8/10 / London Phil - 10/10 / Tokyo Met - 8/10

10) Heavenly Flight

I seem to remember this track being a fan-favourite of sorts. Allow me to do the honors then to go against the general consensus. I've really tried to like this track, I have, but all my efforts are to no avail. It's as if Sugiyama was trying to stretch a simply decent melody into some sort of symphonic masterpiece. He tries far too hard to make this piece sweeping and cinematic and Romantic, and I think it comes across as a bit unexpressive, as if he was extending himself beyond his own talents. It begins with harp arpeggios and a flute solo carrying the melody, followed by an oboe. This leads the piece into its first hugely overdramatic climax. Timpani and suspended cymbals usher in a statement of the theme by the strings, all in unison, with brass choirs providing the harmonies. When the piece gets off of its initial melodic content, I find it considerably more attractive. There is a playful clarinet solo amid pizzicato strings that help to break the banality, but then it's back to the beginning, but with thicker orchestrations. I know it seems I'm being very harsh on this track, but as a track that is trying to boast being uber-emotional and lush, it just falls flat on its face. I find this track particularly uninspiring and uninspired.

This is another difficult piece to judge based on performances. The Tokyo Metropolitan has a better sense of drama, with the crescendos being greater, the contrast between the melody and the lighthearted clarinet interlude is greater, but with this piece, that's not necessarily a good thing. It just brings out all the flaws I see with the piece. The London Philharmonic's playing isn't that much improved, though. I find their playing to be quite superficial, only adding to the banality of the piece. It appears I'll simply have to go with the one that is more technically precise, which is obviously the London Philharmonic. The Tokyo Met again has the problem of too much reverb and too powerful brass, drowning out most other elements in the piece, even the melody. The NHK plays this piece far too fast. I should probably be praising them for it, since it gets the track over with much quicker, but it also ensures that the orchestra does not give the piece time to unfold itself. It is constantly being rushed. And for the first time, even the strings sound a bit stifled.

Scores: Enjoyment - 5/10 / NHK - 5/10 / London Phil - 7/10 / Tokyo Met - 6/10

11) Grueling Fight

After "Heavenly Flight", this album needs a real saviour. Well, "Grueling Fight" is not that savior, although it is overall a better piece. Beginning with tense, tremolo strings and fragments of a melody by deep trombones, I find this piece has much the same issue that "Heavenly Flight" did. It tries to inspire the listener, failing on most fronts. Sure, the music gets loud, but that doesn't make it necessarily threatening. This piece also has an issue with orchestrations, with some sections being rather thin sounding, and others being quite the opposite. After the initial tremolo string beginning, it moves into some harsher, more dissonant territory with woodwind trills, overeager timpani, and skittish strings, separated by brass blasts. Then a theme emerges with brass and swirling string figures. A section for some rather nondescript brass solos leads to another dissonant buildup. After that, the best part of the entire piece emerges. It's not that the next section is better constructed than the rest of the piece, but the reason I seem to enjoy it so much is because it shows Sugiyama using thematic continuity, perhaps even something closer to leitmotivic structure. The theme from "Frightening Dungeons" is heard by edgy strings before leading into a loop.

This track is much easier to judge than the previous one based on performances. The track may not be particularly threatening, but it does contain some rather difficult passages, specifically for strings, making the better recording the one featuring flawless precision. Those two words seem to be the best in describing the London Philharmonic's performances. The strings have such a crisp, edgy sound and the brass is so clear that the piece is actually worth listening to simply to hear what an orchestra and some good sound engineers are capable of. Not only is the London Phil simply better, but the Tokyo Metropolitan is just bad here. The issue of too much reverb has come up before, but not quite so noticeably as this. The section featuring woodwind trills and nervous strings� well, all you can hear are the woodwinds. The Tokyo Met usually has an issue with overeager percussionists, but here, in a piece where they actually should be heard a bit better than others, even they take a backseat. Pretty much whatever element you should be hearing, you hear the opposite, with the winds being especially loud. There is no recording of this piece by the NHK Symphony.

Scores: Enjoyment - 6/10 / London Phil - 9/10 / Tokyo Met - 5/10

12) Zoma's Castle

In my review of Dragon Quest II Symphonic Suite, I stated that the piece "Requiem" was bleak and uninspired. Well, we have much of the same problem here. At least this piece is able to maintain a feeling of suspense and unease, whereas that other piece inspired no emotion at all. The violins play in their highest registers while the basses drone away at the other end of the spectrum. In between phrases of the main melody, the rest of the strings fill in that gap between registers with some thick dissonance. The piece is also fairly interesting, musically, in the way that, when the melody disappears, the strings are left to simply wander, stumbling across some beautiful, contrasting consonance. The melody is the same that was used in "Frightening Dungeons" and briefly in "Grueling Fight".

I figured, when hearing this piece, the better performance would be the one that evoked the most ambiance and atmosphere, making the Tokyo Met seem like the clear-cut winner. Well, they seem to be on a pretty bad losing streak about now, because here, their playing is far too edgy. Certainly, that heightens the suspense, but at the same time, it forces the piece to rely on the melody more than anything, and as fun as it is to hear Sugiyama's usage of thematic continuity, the theme is far from memorable. The London Philharmonic seems to understand that this piece is nearly useless for emotional content, and instead opts for, as I said would be more fitting, a soft, flowing ambient performance. There is no recording of this piece by the NHK Symphony.

Scores: Enjoyment - 6/10 / London Phil - 9/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

13) Fighting Spirit

About now, that saviour track is very much needed. Not only is "Fighting Spirit" that saviour track, breaking the streak of mediocre or even poor tracks, it also happens to be the best track on the entire album and one of Sugiyama's best battle tracks ever. Beginning with some swirling, descending string figures, the first theme kicks with powerful horns and tambourine keeping the rhythm, with each phrase being separated by some extremely skilled glockenspiel playing. When the theme reaches its final phrase, it throws out some wickedly fun rhythms out at the listener before the swirling strings bring the piece to a loop. The third time the strings come in, they usher in a softer, more reflective and heroic section. Harp arpeggios and an oboe solo carry the somber melody. After the bassoon takes the melody with some soft string accompaniment, the horns come in, adding an extra dosage of epic to this section.

All other instruments drop out except for the harp, which carries the melody, gradually slowing until... AH! The brass comes on so fast and furious and at such extreme volumes that if you're not prepared for it, you may just have a heart attack. Amid swirling strings, the brass and snare drums sound in unison as a percussive, rhythmic device. When the main melody comes in, it is bold, brassy, and utterly heroic, with each phrase being ushered in by a cymbal crash, with the climax of the theme receiving an especially loud cymbal crash. Some more swirling strings and winds provide uneasy, dissonant harmonies under the theme. Then we're onto a short interlude, yet no less threatening. The beauty of this interlude is in its thematic content. Who would think that here, in a battle track, we'd receive a statement of the famous "Dragon Quest Overture March"? Strange as it sounds, it works tremendously. The main melody is heard once more before the whole orchestra joins in for one final climax, reaching such incredible volumes that you should probably check your speakers afterwards to make sure you've not had a blowout.

At last, the choice between performances is very easy: The London Philharmonic Orchestra, hands down, no contest. This may be the most difficult piece to perform on the album, but they breeze right through it, as if this was just a simply, easy frolic. The brass is powerful, the strings are tense, the percussion is booming and crashing, and even the smaller details, such as the glockenspiel separating phrases in the first section of the piece, are heard with immediate transparency. The softer sections are played with emotional conviction, and in an already loud piece of music, they somehow manage to reach even higher volumes for the final crescendo. All this praise for the London Phil is now met with utter disappointment at the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. The beginning section is muddled, with the brass, again, having far too much presence. Sugiyama's masterful orchestrations are lost here. The brass and the percussion seem to be constantly fighting each other to be heard. The brass, at times, during the final section seems to be a bit off tempo, lagging behind. None of the climaxes are particularly loud, although the cymbals in this recording are far clearer, but at the expense of the rest of the orchestra.

This is surely the bane of the NHK Symphony, a piece dominated completely by brass. As is expected, the piece falls flat on its face with the utterly ridiculous, artificial sounds of the brass being made to play it serious. The reflective middle section is also very inconsistent, with the orchestra alternating between taking it too fast and too slow. The oboe solo in the middle sounds particularly whiny also, but the lush string textures are played nicely, emphasizing the emotion of the piece, however the violins seem to be out of synch with each other again. The synthetic sounds of the brass make this sound more like a parody of a battle track than anything truly threatening. The swirling string figures are butchered here simply because they overpower. This section becomes just a wall of very dissonant noise. The NHK Symphony fares even worse than the Tokyo Met.

Scores: Enjoyment - 10/10 / NHK - 4/10 / London Phil - 10/10 / Tokyo Met - 5/10

14) Into the Legend

Ending themes are where Sugiyama usually excels. While I do not find "Into the Legend" to be the best ending theme he's ever composed, it is still very enjoyable and rousing nonetheless. It features a majestic melody by trumpet, with strings and percussion sounding in unison, providing both rhythm and chord progressions. A softer section for winds featuring a new section of the melody builds into a sweeping climax for strings and fluttering winds. Then the piece literally explodes into a flurry of strings and brass, reprising the first bold theme. The theme takes a different turn towards the end, leading directly into the strong climax.

Though the durations aren't that different, it seems as though the Tokyo Metropolitan takes this piece far slower. Unfortunately for them, that's not their only flaw. Again, they lack the crisp sound quality needed for a piece like this. The brass should be strong and confident, but here the issue is quite different from previous tracks. The brass takes a backseat most of the time to the rest of the orchestra, which does NOT work, as this is a brass-dominated piece. I could now gush about the London Philharmonic's recording, saying the usual compliments and using combinations of words like "immediate transparency" and "flawless precision", but I don't even need to do that. We should all know what to expect by our dear ol' London Philharmonic.

Another brass-dominated piece, another failure by the NHK Symphony Orchestra. By this time, we know exactly what to expect. The heroic moments for the brass are almost comedic sounding because of the sound e ngineering, and the string sections are the best of the track, again because of the sound engineering. But when the strings should quiet down, they never do. They always dominate. For once, the percussion, which usually overpowers everything else, is very weak during the finale.

Scores: Enjoyment - 9/10 / NHK - 6/10 / London Phil - 10/10 / Tokyo Met - 8/10

Bonus Track - Rolling Dice

As is customary with the Tokyo Metropolitan recordings, a new track is offered. However, like the Dragon Quest II Symphonic Suite, the new track is not even that much of an incentive to buy the new recording. Beginning with pizzicato and either a marimba or a xylophone (I honestly cannot tell which it is, for it always stays in the lower registers), the piece stays rather low-key. It is bouncy, although not very invigorating. A tambourine keeps a constant tempo while the brass begins to mimic the pizzicato strings. A few winds make appearances here and there, but overall, this is a dull track with lower-than-average orchestrations and no particularly memorable melody.

The Tokyo Metropolitan seems like they are merely playing the notes and not feeling them, and their boredom with the piece is immediately apparent to the listener. It's hard to dive into this kind of music with any enthusiasm at all, so they don't. It's not a distinct performance at all, which is why I can't even think of anything to say about it.

Scores: Enjoyment - 3/10 / Tokyo Met - 3/10


I have found that, by now, the Dragon Quest Symphonic Suites get consistently better with each new release. The number of great tracks is very high with this album, but there are still a few tracks that are either uninspired or simply bad. Despite all the praise I've given this album in the overview and the track-by-track analysis, the fact remains that it is a fairly inconsistent listen with Sugiyama's creative experiments standing in stark contrast to a few uninspired pieces, with the former, thankfully, being in greater numbers. One track stands out as one of the best in Sugiyama's entire career. The man has never had much luck with the battle tracks, yet he pulled out all the stops and created the masterpiece "Fighting Spirits". I'd go so far as to say that the album is worth the entire purchase for just that one track.

But which purchase to get? If you've read the review, then you probably already know which I will recommend above the other, but there is still the issue about the NHK Symphony's version. In short, just stay clear of it. The performances are greatly improved with the subsequent recordings, and there are three tracks missing from this release that can be found on the London Philharmonic's recording (four on the Tokyo Met's). Unless you have money to waste and already have the two superior recordings (one quite a bit more superior than the other) and are only planning on purchasing the NHK version for sentimental reasons, whatever they may be, I'd suggest you stay clear of it (which is just as easy done as said, since its availability has dwindled considerably).

As for the bonuses that come with each orchestral recording, the NHK Symphony Orchestra includes a lengthy original sound story featuring music in conjunction with sound effects. There is sadly no remastered original version free from sound effects, though the recording can be heard in conjunction with low-quality Game Boy Color music in a 2001 reprint. The London Philharmonic soundtracks feature only the suites as the Super Nintendo music was released in a separate album. The aforementioned bonus with the Tokyo Metropolitan is a mediocre new arrangement of "Rolling Dice". Overall, the bonuses are less important for this suite so performance quality should be your main concern.

Overall: Enjoyment - 8/10 / NHK - 6/10 / London Phil - 9/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10