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Dragon Quest VI Symphonic Suite :: Review by Juan2Darien

Album Title Catalog No.
Dragon Quest VI Symphonic Suite (London Philharmonic Orchestra) SRCL-2737/8
Dragon Quest VI Symphonic Suite (London Philharmonic Orchestra Remastered) SVWC-7066
Dragon Quest VI Symphonic Suite (Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra) SVWC-7369


Koichi Sugiyama's "Overture" still remains untouched by any kinds of experimentation. However, after that, this album is full of surprises. This is the first Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite to boast great thematic continuity, with one particular melody being found in several different pieces. Here, Sugiyama shows incredibly maturity as an orchestrator. Apart from the unvaried "Overture" and the shamelessly cheerful "Flying Bed", there are no other weak tracks, and a few of those tracks should be remembered some of Sugiyama's greatest pieces. One piece in this Symphonic Suite, in particular, I consider to be Sugiyama's absolutely finest composition. It seems that after this (and perhaps even Dragon Quest VII, to a lesser degree), the quality of the Symphonic Suites began to fall a bit. However, before said fall, Sugiyama has delivered his best, most thoroughly classical, and accomplished Symphonic Suite with this album.

This suite has only had two different recordings by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, whereas the previous Symphonic Suites had at least three. For this review, I will continue my trend of reviewing the music by itself and comparing the two performances based on technique and how they bring the pieces to life.


1) Overture

Perhaps it is a result of the fact that I haven't played the game, but a deep resentment is growing inside of me towards this track. I never complained once at the famous "Star Wars Main Titles" music, because that is more nostalgic than anything. What does this have to do with Dragon Quest? Like I said, I've never played the games, so this piece has no nostalgic meaning for me, hence my resentment. It features the same beginning with trumpet fanfares and swirling strings and wind figures before the main melody comes in. This arrangement is the exact same as the one featured in the Dragon Quest V Symphonic Suite. The strings and trumpet take the melody while woodwind trills and snares present some militaristic backing for the theme. The finale is triumphant for sure, but it has little effect on me after its sixth identical incarnation.

The Tokyo Metropolitan steals the show here. All their other performances have led up to this Symphonic Suite and none of their skill is held back. The brass instruments comes in and lead the track when they need to. They drop out seamlessly, letting the strings have a chance with the melody. The woodwind trills are there, but almost subliminal, never taking the attention away from the melody, and the cymbal crashes are sharp and defined. The London Philharmonic, for all its endeavors, cannot match the Tokyo Met's greatness here. They've been playing the piece too many times, for too long, and it seems they are about as bored with it as I.

But that's one thing I wasn't counting on when I bought the Tokyo Metropolitan's performance of this suite. I'm a completist, so even though the Tokyo Met had let me down on pretty much all previous releases, I forked over the cash for this one expecting more or less of the same. This piece proved to me that they've really stepped up their game, turning an old, trite piece into something vibrant and enjoyable once more. Their enthusiasm with this piece is something to behold. The London Phil may have technicality down, hitting all the right notes without fervor, but the Tokyo Met, at last, has the technicality along with a greater sense of drama.

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

2) At the Palace

Another suite, another strings-only quasi-Baroque castle theme. Fortunately, though, Sugiyama hadn't lost his touch just yet and this castle theme, while still containing some rather predictable chord progressions and a simplistic melody, is quite enjoyable. I think the cause of this is the refrain of the melody. The ultra-seriousness of the rest of the piece is broken for a few moments of intricate string writing. Then its back to the steady pace of the original melody with a simple kind of call-and-answer counterpoint going on, with the violins presenting part of the melody and the cellos finishing the phrase. It's quite interesting, but the best part is definitely the flighty, bordering on cheery, middle section. The piece ends with a quite predictable cadence.

The London Philharmonic plays this piece steadily all throughout, even during the lovely, carefree midsection. That they are able to play at such a steady, rigid pace without flinching certainly does say something about their skills, but it doesn't translate into a very enjoyable performance. At first, I thought the Tokyo Metropolitan was taking this piece far too fast and, while I still stand by my opinion that perhaps a bit slower would have been better, the piece certainly does benefit from it. The monotony of the beginning and ending sections, featuring the stiff melody, is broken up a great deal by this quickening. The middle section is really allowed to soar, however, with the quicker pace. So in short, the least interesting parts of the track are made better, and the best section is truly perfected by the Tokyo Met.

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

3) In the Town ~ Happy Humming ~ Inviting Village ~ Folk Dance

I have found that Sugiyama's town themes are some of his best works, as well as some of his worst (see Dragon Quest II's "Town" for proof). This happens to be one of his best. I made mention in previous reviews that thematic continuity was one of the ways Sugiyama began to branch out and experiment a bit, with the end results being wholly rewarding. Well, this is the album where such ideas reached full fruition. While the melody in this track is not heard apart from this piece, it does go through different variations for each section. The beginning "In the Town" features the delightful melody, after a bouncy string beginning, by high wind solos. The strings take over after a bit with some added light percussion, providing a more sweeping section of the theme. Then the bouncy string beginning comes in again and changes instrumentation and rhythm. It is now much jazzier, performed by wind and xylophone duets. The drums come in slyly and suddenly the melody from "In the Town" is transformed into a Big Band showpiece for muted trumpets and lush string accompaniment. The best part is when the piece absolutely embraced its jazz roots, with the whole brass section taking on the melody, separated by trumpet hits and tons of drums, playing it with such swing before it segues into the next section.

"Inviting Village" is a strange section. For one, it does not feature the main melody that all the other sections do, and two, it does not come across as all that inviting at first. The melody seems rather cold, but still very enjoyable, performed by woodwinds. The phrasing here is spectacular, with each phrase moving to a different root and in doing so changing the tone, from cold at first to hopeful by the end. After some wind and harp flourishes, the strings take over the piece, providing a particularly soaring variation on the theme. Then a solo clarinet comes in to bring us to the next section. "Folk Dance" is a minimalist, waltz variation on the main melody. It features delightful rhythms and instrumental solos to carry the melody. Then its back to the beginning. The bouncy strings that began the piece carry it off, descending lower and lower until the cadence.

The London Philharmonic plays this piece with fervent precision and succeeds... most of the time. Their "Happy Humming" isn't all that jazzy, and the effect of the magical wind and harp flourishes in "Inviting Village" is diminished by the crystal clear recording quality. Though it seems like the recording is fails on most fronts, it is still good. The Tokyo Metropolitan, however, understands that this is a fun piece that shouldn't be taken seriously at all. Not to say that their playing isn't together, because it is, matching the London Phil's precision to the tee, however their enthusiasm is, once more, apparent here. The brass could be stronger in "Happy Humming", but it more than makes up for this because their performance is truly 'swinging'. The aforementioned wind and harp flourishes are simply magical here. Instead of being a showcase for the skill of the orchestra, they are obscured a bit by the resonance of the recording. This helps the piece tremendously by letting it be all about the mood.

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

4) Through the Fields ~ Wandering Through the Silence ~ Another World

After beginning with some pulsing chord by the brass, the melody emerges for trumpet solo. The orchestrations here are particularly notable, with the melody being carried from the trumpet solo, to strings, to woodwinds, and back to the trumpet again. The refrain of this theme is rather jaunty, but it fits in quite well with the rest of the piece. The piece almost takes itself too seriously, resulting in a rather comedic sound. This section repeats with some thicker orchestrations before moving onto "Wandering Through the Silence". The great thing about this piece is that, again, Sugiyama was thematic continuity, to even greater effect than in the previous track. "Wandering Through the Silence" features the same melody as "Through the Fields", but performed by flute solos and with much different orchestrations, including muted trumpets and pizzicato strings. The next section features the melody by soft, lazy horns with pulsing woodwind figures before the strings take over the melody. The phrases are separated by string and harp flourishes. When the refrain comes in, the melody does not play, only some lush string harmonies. The piece ends with a final statement of the melody by a muted trumpet and pizzicato strings followed by a short flute solo.

I have to give the award to the Tokyo Metropolitan once more. Right from the beginning, their sense of dynamics is apparent. The opening chords by the brass start off loud, quickly but fluidly fading away. If there is any real problem with their performance, it is that some of Sugiyama's orchestrations are lost in the mix, but this is made up for with the strong dynamics. All the crescendos are stronger than in the London Phil's recording, whose technically sound performance lacks emotion. However, the London Philharmonic is the one whose recording quality captures every minor detail of Sugiyama's orchestrations, earning some points from me there. Overall, though, it is the Tokyo Met that wins here.

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

5) Ocean Waves

After Dragon Quest IV's "Sea Breeze" was a hit and Dragon Quest V's "The Ocean" was a miss, "Ocean Waves" is a complete success. First of all, let me say that Sugiyama's usage of clever, enigmatic harmonies is astounding here. Even "Sea Breeze" comes across as superficial once you've been introduced to this piece, whose emotional content cannot be argued. After an extended harp solo, the strings come in with the first part of the main theme. It is sad yet strangely hopeful and very musically interesting. Just listen to the bass line. I love hearing it as it at first slowly descends, then with the second phrase of the theme, it descends much faster, providing interesting counterpoint and rich, beautifully dissonant harmonies. The refrain of the melody is nearly cripplingly beautiful. Harp and winds providing swirling figures as the strong, sweeping strings provide the excellently logical yet unpredictable melody.

Sugiyama subsequently taunts us with fragments of the melody provided by flighty strings and winds, separated by the strumming of the harp, constantly building until it reaches its climax. After this is a more playful section for flute and glockenspiel duets above a cello melody. The next section has a rather typical sounding buildup to the climax. It is perhaps the most sentimental, bordering on sappy, segment of the entire piece, but thankfully it never makes that final descent into full-on cheesiness. There is a transition section presented next. It is bouncy and playful featuring some interesting counterpoint for woodwinds amid pizzicato strings. Then the piece repeats, but with different orchestrations. There are fluttering woodwinds as the cellos play the melody. Once the piece begins to slow down, the somber finale comes, with the first phrase of the theme being heard in consecutively higher octaves until we get our first taste of the brass section in its entirety. The final notes they play are low, strong, and mournful.

This was always one of my favourite pieces from this suite, and I doubted the abilities of the Tokyo Metropolitan to pull it off. I was, thankfully, very, very wrong. The Tokyo Met astounds once more here, with a recording that has just the right touch of clarity as well as resonance. The main issue I always had with the London Philharmonic recording was that their sound quality being so clear was actually being a nuisance. During the reprise of the melody by cellos, the fluttering woodwinds could be heard far too clearly in the London Phil's recording, threatening to dominate over the cellos. The Tokyo Met's performance has all these issues smoothed over, letting the melody reign in all its beautiful glory.

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

6) Flying Bed

Sugiyama breaks from his streak of high quality emotional pieces to give us "Flying Bed", a xylophone-dominated frolic. Some quirky string trills bring in the melody for xylophone, with some excellent colour provided by woodwinds and punchy brass. The piece gets considerably smoother when the strings take over the melody, but some threatening brass carries the piece back to its xylophone roots. The piece ends after one final flourish. This has been my shortest analysis on any piece in the album. Soak it up, I doubt you'll get one this short again...

The Tokyo Metropolitan takes this one much faster, but they also take one other crucial element too far: reverb. The reverb helped to smooth over some of the orchestrations to great effect in the previous track, but in this one, what results is a track where nothing, not even particularly the xylophone solo. The biggest disappointment is with the inaudibility of the woodwind flourishes, which really made the piece. The London Philharmonic, for once, takes the prize here. They place it with typical precision, celebrating Sugiyama's orchestrations.

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

7) Pegasus ~ Saint's Wreath

This may be the most downright sad and dreary piece on the album. After a somber beginning for strings introducing the initial chord progressions, an oboe emerges with the melody. It leaps around quite a bit, but never becomes bouncy or anything less than somber. The oboe interacts a bit with the flute before being carried to the next part of the melody. Here, the strings take over for a bit amid a repeating phrase for harp and flute. The strings modulate before the brass comes in, playing the same somber introduction that the strings used to introduce the piece. The violins then come in with the melody with rhythmic wind figures and bold brass. There is a flourish for strings before the piece seamlessly transitions into "Saint's Wreath". There are solos for flute, clarinet, and bassoon on top of pizzicato strings during the transition. The oboe takes on the melody, which is certainly more uplifting than "Pegasus" but still has its moments of gloom. The melody is a bit more simplistic than the previous section's, but Sugiyama makes up for this with some interesting orchestrations, with the strings seamlessly transitioning from carrying the harmonies, to the melody. The whole orchestra joins in for the major-key finale, ending with harp arpeggios.

The Tokyo Metropolitan takes another piece faster than the London Philharmonic, but this is not so much of an issue this time. The, at times, choppy orchestrations are smoothed over, resulting in a better performance than the London Phil's, although the brass does seem a bit too bouncy at times. Because of the London Phil's immediate sound quality, some of the string figures in "Saint's Wreath" come off as a bit too sprightly, and the brass in "Pegasus" is too loud, when the strings should be the focal point. With the Tokyo Met, the mixing is superb, as is the performance. All the details of orchestration can still be heard, but the piece ends up sounding a lot more cohesive than the London Phil's performance.

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

8) Evil World ~ Satan's Castle ~ Frightening Dungeon

After a loud, sinister beginning for discordant brass that only lasts eight seconds, the piece moves into the "Satan's Castle" piece. Here is where Koichi Sugiyama's use of a unifying theme becomes abundantly apparent. The short motif heard by brass in "Evil World" is expanded upon, in quasi-Baroque style, in "Satan's Castle". The cellos are always chugging away, keeping the rhythm, and the violins take this short motif and turn it inside and out, with modulations, rhythmic changes, and changes in tone along the way. "Frightening Dungeon" is a very spacey piece of music, letting silence reign for the most part. There are a few discordant woodwind interludes separating the silences between the light tremolo strings and a soft French horn carrying a fragmented variation on the main motif of this piece. The brass is harsh when it comes in, and the strings are choppy. This is a great piece for maintaining mood. Once it reaches the "Frightening Dungeon" section, there really is no melodic content, but the mysterious, unsettling tone of the piece is maintained spectacularly through deliberately sparse orchestrations and much dissonance. After "Satan's Castle" repeats, the piece ends after an echoing flute arpeggio.

The brass opening in the London Philharmonic is much stronger than the Tokyo Metropolitan's, although it is played a bit too steadily, diminishing the ominous quality of it. Also, the Tokyo Met seems to finally have a less than stellar track here. The deep resonance that accompanies so many pieces does not translate well to "Satan's Castle", with its intricate string work. The Tokyo Met tries to maintain the ambience of "Frightening Dungeon", but the orchestral stabs are not loud or crisp enough. The London Philharmonic Orchestra corrects this problem with a recording quality that alternates between resonance and crisp blasts of sound from the brass. Overall, the London Phil's performance is more "frightening" and aggressive, and on the other sections, while "Evil World" still falls short of expectations, "Satan's Castle" ends up sounding superb with the clarity of the recording.

Scores: Enjoyment - 8/10 / London Phil - 9/10 / Tokyo Met - 7/10

9) Brave Fight

After some descending, swirling figures for strings and brass, the low strings provide a constant pulsing for blasts of brass playing fragments of the same motif from "Evil World" (which is how I will refer to it from now on). A different melody emerges by the strings, punctuated by orchestral hits. The rhythms in this piece are absolutely relentless. Amid some choppy strings, the brass plays the motif once more with some interesting chord changes as it repeats. A loud, dissonant crescendo marks the return to the beginning material. As is customary with Sugiyama's battle medleys, a softer, slyly heroic interlude helps to separate the two intense sections. The strings provide the accompaniment for harp, flute, oboe, and horn solos before the takes off once more.

The fragments of a melody heard in the interlude are now presented in a cohesive theme that acts as somewhat of a counterpoint to the simple four-note "Evil World" motif. The melody is heard by a trumpet solo, with constantly chugging, rhythmic strings in the background. There is a sort of motif presented here, a sort of call-and-answer motif presented with winds providing a lower neighbor-tone followed by a response by the strings with an upper neighbor-tone. It is presented very briefly, but will be heard again in a few later tracks. This section features some of the most 'swashbuckling' music Sugiyama has penned. The piece begins to quiet down before some bold, slow-moving and heroic brass ascends to the climax of the piece with a major-key final chord.

The brass in the Tokyo Metropolitan doesn't have quite the punch as in the London Philharmonic, although their sense of drama is greater. The crescendos are louder and more powerful than in the London Phil recording, which is characteristically clear. Fortunately, this is the kind of piece that benefits from being able to hear all the elements. On the second part, however, there is a slight mistake by the trumpeter of the London Philharmonic! It's the first mistake I've ever heard from them on a piece, but luckily it's not too noticeable. They sort of miss a note in the first statement of the melody. Even still, they are the clear-cut winners of this track.

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

10) Melancholy

After a descending section for winds, the low strings come in playing some open chords amid which a violin solo emerges. The melody is very interesting, however, having some interesting dissonances and modulations along the way. A more hopeful-sounding section for strings brings the piece to its main melodic content with woodwinds. The rest of the piece betrays the title "Melancholy". It is uplifting and hopeful, almost to a fault, before leading to the repeat. The orchestrations are slightly different, with some florid woodwinds flourishes enhancing the ironically uplifting nature of this piece.

I'll just start by saying that the violin solo in the London Philharmonic's recording is superficial and has far too much vibrato, while the Tokyo Metropolitan plays the melody with a kind of sternness that actually fits quite well. The Tokyo Metropolitan has a slight edge over the London Phil simply for that reason. Other than that, neither recording is all that different from the other, although the Tokyo Met does, again, what it does best, smoothing over some of Sugiyama's choppy orchestrations.

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

11) Ocarina ~ The Saint

This track continues the trend that track eight started of expanding on a simple melodic idea. A jaunty eleven second melody is provided by a flute solo before a moment of silence. Then the clarinets come in with the melody, and soon bassoons, flutes, and oboes are added to the mix in a bit of deliciously intricate counterpoint. The development of the motif is astounding, going from being a simple, short fragment to being an accomplished piece of music. The complexity of the counterpoint is reproduced with the strings only before the opening flute solo comes in to close the piece.

The London Philharmonic has been doing quite well recently with the inclusion of pieces that require their extreme clarity of recording. There is no greater example of this than "Ocarina ~ The Saint". All the complexities of Sugiyama's composition are heard in full, while in the Tokyo Metropolitan's recording the details are blurred in favour of a more atmospheric approach that does not work here.

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

12) Devil's Tower

This is a rather simple track that is made decent by more thematic continuity by Koichi Sugiyama. The piece contains a constant knocking to keep tempo while a bassoon plays a slightly jazzy motif. Some more woodwinds come in to play a jaunty variation on the "Evil World" theme. There is a technique used here, which is pretty much just the woodwinds providing texture through dissonant scales, that will be used greatly in a few tracks. Would you look at that? It seems I did have one analysis in me that was shorter than the one for "Flying Bed"!

The simplicity and shallowness of the orchestrations are made abundantly apparent with the London Philharmonic's recording. The resonance in the Tokyo Metropolitan's recording suits the piece much better, adding a sense of atmosphere to it and detracting from the thinness of the orchestrations.

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

13) Dungeons ~ Last Dungeon

I've heard from a few people that this piece is Sugiyama in Stravinsky-mode. I've only heard some of Stravinsky's more well-known ballets, but from that alone, I see no resemblance. After a beginning with the brass playing the "Evil World" theme with some interesting counterpoint, some ominous strings come in, leading to an oboe with pizzicato strings. This provides one of the only moments of peace in the entire track before its back to tension-filled musical anxiety. The next section features come swirling textures by the winds in descending motion. The orchestrations in this piece are constantly alternating between sparseness and complexity. The strings in this next section are very thin, with the violins sliding up and down octaves while the rest of the strings playing some uneasy harmonies. The next section is the most sparsely orchestrated washes of strings separated by rhythmic, grumbling trombones and the occasional muted trumpet solo. Tense strings play a variation on the "Evil World" theme for a bit until the piece repeats with the theme being presented by brass. This time around, the orchestrations are much more full, with some tiny alterations here and there such as the replacement with the oboe solos with a clarinet. The swirling textures are now enhanced by strings brass. The piece ends on a very discordant chord by the harp.

The Tokyo Metropolitan is back in action with a performance that blows the London Philharmonic's out of the water. The London Phil may have transparency down, but in some parts of this track, especially the wind and brass textures toward the beginning, it is almost painful to hear every single note, for there are many. Sometimes a crystal clear sound isn't the best thing for a performance, especially when the London Philharmonic Orchestra� makes their second obvious mistake on this album (or any Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite, for that matter). During those same swirling brass and wind figures, there is a slight misstep by one of the piccolos. However, this isn't too much of an issue; it just shows that the performers are indeed human and not the veritable musical gods I had presupposed. Despite my previous arguments that the London Phil's sound quality brings out the thinness of the orchestration at times, here the Tokyo Met does the same thing. But instead of sounding thin, it comes across more as the Tokyo Met embracing the unnerving silence within this piece. The piece flows quite well under the Tokyo Met's performance, with some of the sharper edges being smoothed down, but never undermining the unease that this track is meant to inspire. The sound quality is especially rich for the Tokyo Met recording, and the performance is passionate, especially in the section comprised of string glissandi.

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

14) Monsters

It is true that Sugiyama's battle tracks often fall short of expectations, and there will inevitably be people who can't appreciate this track. In my opinion, however, it is one of Sugiyama's best battle tracks simply because of its relentless intensity and extreme dissonance. After a harsh beginning for brass and percussion stabs amid shrieking, trilling strings, the strings begin sawing away, rhythmically. Sugiyama's orchestrations here are superb, with this 'sawing' motion being taken up by the winds, and eventually the brass in a sort of call-and-answer technique that I made mention of in "Brave Fight". This shifts to the call being provided by low strings, with winds answering, underneath a very dissonant, nearly atonal melody. Then all instruments drop out except for the strings providing a constant rhythm over which a horn solo, playing the "Evil World" theme, emerges, followed by a thunderous bass trombone. This leads to a section of pure textural sound by the brass, followed by a jaunty, but still threatening, section with more superb and surprising orchestrations. The "Evil World" theme is presented once more before the track comes to almost a complete halt. Then a flute solo presents the atonal theme from the beginning in almost a disturbed waltz format. Once the flute comes to a stop, the brass blasts back in for the repeat.

This one is a tough, tough call. This is a piece dominated by booming brass, and in that respect, only the London Philharmonic does the piece justice. The brass is so crisp and aggressive that when it is present, it is an unstoppable force. However, this track has the same issue as previous ones in that sometimes a crystal clear recording is not what was needed. For all the chugging harmonies, the Tokyo Metropolitan provides just the right amount of clarity and resonance to let the melodies speak to the listener while the harmonies function as they should, enhancing the melody. Because this piece is full of interesting textures, the Tokyo Metropolitan excels at those by smoothing them over a smidgeon, letting the ambience reign. However, as much praise as I can lavish on the Tokyo Met, the London Philharmonic is the one who nails the brass parts. With their recording, you may actually feel the earth shaking during the trombone parts. It is a tie!

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

15) Demon Combat

The "Evil World" theme reaches full fruition with this piece. Beginning with thunderous brass and percussion, this piece may be more intense than the previous one because of its rhythmic relentlessness. The low strings provide a dissonant pulsing while fragments of this melody emerge by brass, separated by the sharp, ascending string scales that I mentioned in "Devil's Tower". After three extremely dissonant blasts of brass, the melody emerges in its entirety by bass trombone followed by grating strings and an off kilter clarinet solo. More shrieking, rhythmic strings mark the next section as the theme is repeated once more by the trombones.

The next section is one of the most interesting aspects of the piece. High strings provide some strange syncopations with a three-note repeating phrase. A bassoon emerges, providing some very clever developments on the theme, while the rest of the strings provide lush and beautifully dissonant harmonies. The piece begins to pick up the tempo, and suddenly, after some skittish woodwinds lead the way, we are back at the beginning. When the "Evil World" theme repeats as it opened the piece, the bass trombones play that three-note phrase used in the developmental section amid sawing strings. The piece ends after a typical blast of brass. Musically this track is incredibly interesting, with Sugiyama providing the ultimate statements of a theme he introduced us to early in the score. Not only that, though, but he still finds unexpected ways of manipulating it, such as through the bassoon solo. Creative subtleties, such as the usage of the three-note motif as both the harmony and the melody at different times, mark this as one of the greatest experimental Sugiyama pieces.

This is also a tough call. During the brutal, bookend sections of the piece, the London Philharmonic rules, having the technical precision as well as the crisp, earth shaking brass section. The Tokyo Metropolitan just cannot compare with that first section, except for the fact that they do what they do best: smoothing over some of the harsher edges in the orchestrations, making the melodies standout and the piece seem very textural. In the developmental section, the Tokyo Met stands out far above the London Phil. The orchestra seems to have a sense of all the subtleties of Sugiyama's orchestrations, and they play it with craft and hushed intensity. Another tie, wouldn't you know it?

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

16) Eternal Lullaby

Let me be clear before I start off reviewing this track. This is my single most favourite composition by Koichi Sugiyama. It is, therefore, also my favourite ending theme. Most all of his ending themes have begun with a bang, but this one begins with a whisper. The hushed sounds of brass and low strings usher in an interesting chord progressions played by winds. This piece contains two themes. One is much more cinematic than the other, but the one we hear first is probably more interesting because, however short it is, it uses some interesting chord progressions and changes in metre. It is first heard by a solo trumpet, followed by the horns. After some string trills come into the mix, the motif is presented with great amounts of dissonance before finally resolving to a lovely consonance; swirling strings and harp carry the piece to its first statement of the main theme. It is presented by the cellos and uses some of the same chord progressions as the previous theme. The string accompaniment comes in with some lush textures (a word I've used far too many times in this review, but there's no better way to describe them). The phrases of the theme are separated by woodwind flourishes. The refrain of the melody is lovely and hopeful, contrasting with the somber nature of the rest of the piece. This section ends after some noble brass play fragments of the first motif (from hereon out, the first theme will be referred to as the motif and the second as the theme, so that I don't have to keep explaining which is which).

A section for high strings, sustaining a single note before modulating down a step, provides a suspension for the twinkling of a harp and glockenspiel to emerge. A trumpet, followed by a bassoon solo, play a somber interlude. After some lush washes of strings, the theme returns in fragments once more before the piece slows down to a halt with low strings. An oboe reemerges from the silence, carrying the theme amid fluttering strings, with the refrain being underscored by pizzicato strings. Once this statement of the theme ends, the piece begins to quickly build to the climax. Swirling, low strings provide a base for trumpets to perform the main motif. Then, in one of Sugiyama's most inspired choices of orchestration in the album, a timpani carries the motif before the piece literally explodes into the definitive statement of the main theme. The strings are powerful, supported by proud brass and twinkling percussion. The refrain is presented with some rhythmic variation, with phrases being separated by orchestral hits. Then a section featuring some intricate string work takes the piece to its grandest statement of the motif for brass and woodwind trills. Just when you think the piece has ended, the strings reemerge while the theme is presented once more with each phrase, starting with the flute, being handed off to a different wind instrument. Soft, somber pizzicato strings end this piece.

Tokyo Metropolitan wins, the end... I wish I could leave it at that because the performance by the Tokyo Metropolitan leaves me absolutely speechless. The brass is as strong as it's ever been with this orchestra, the textures (there's that word again) are sublime and atmospheric, the wind instruments are presented with clarity, and the strings tackle even the hardest sections, which they have plenty of in this piece, with exactness and emotion. The London Philharmonic comes across as a bit rigid with this piece, and their sense of dynamics are weaker than ever. Technically, the London Philharmonic is every bit as good as the Tokyo Met, but their performance yields little emotion from me, which is important for this kind of piece, whereas I almost feel weary after the brilliance of the Tokyo Metropolitan's performance. If there was a way for me to give this piece, as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra's performance, a score of 11 (or higher) out of 10, I certainly would.

Scores: Enjoyment - 10/10 / London Philharmonic - 8/10 / Tokyo Met - 10/10


I consider Dragon Quest VI Symphonic Suite to be the peak of all Dragon Quest music. While the orchestrations may not be as shamelessly flamboyant as, say, Dragon Quest IV's, they show absolute skill and control over the orchestra. Koichi Sugiyama's usage of thematic continuity reaches its peak here as well, with a simple motif being turned inside and out and considerably developed throughout several of the pieces. Also, some of the medleys show this thematic continuity, such as "In the Town..." and "Through the Fields..." where a single theme is heard in many different guises.

The performance by the London Philharmonic is very sharp, coming across as almost a bit too calculated, although nothing bad can be said about their technique. Fortunately, the Tokyo Metropolitan features no bad performances, and most are well above decent with a few great tracks and one legendary performance. Their performances showcase the same kind of flawless technicality as the London Philharmonic, but with a greater sense of structure and drama. This may be the only Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite where the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra's recording of the suite is not only the winner, but by a long shot too. As for the additional features in each album releae, the original London Philharmonic release featured a Super Nintendo original sound version. The second London Philharmonic print and Tokyo Metropolitan print both contain the suite and no bonus additions.

Overall: Enjoyment - 10/10 / London Philharmonic - 8/10 - Tokyo Metropolitan - 10/10