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What's this? An Enix soundtrack being reviewed by two notorious Square fanboys? Don't worry folks, whatever their objections are with the Dragon Quest games, none of them have anything to do with the music. Or Slimes. Everyone loves Slimes. They're just sooooo kawaii, I want to hug them and squeeze them and EAT THEM UP! ^^; ... er, on with the review. We give to you: Dragon Quest VII Symphonic Suite!
To view our previous reviews, check out the archives
Koichi Sugiyama, one of the greatest names in the Video Game Music Industry, started his career way before Game Music even existed, he has done some music for TV commercials, some movies(1 of them which I am aware of is Godzilla) and some anime(Magic Knight Rayearth is one of them) series. His first known project as a game music composer is the original Dragon Quest (known as Dragon Warrior in the US), since then Sugiyama has composed for every single Dragon Quest game, including Dragon Warrior Monsters and Torneko’s Adventures. Sugiyama also scored one game for Square, the obscure Hanjuku Hero (Half-Boiled Hero) on the SFC. The ways his songs are laid out gives off a distinct classical sound, which makes sense as he is a classical-trained musician. People such as Nobuo Uematsu and Yuzo Koshiro looked up to him, and in their turn, they both became widely known like the « Father of Game Music », perhaps even more. Now then, shall we begin looking into what is his latest work ?
The Dragon Quest 7 Symphonic Suite shares a particular trait that all it’s predecessors had taken, the first disc contains the very best tracks arranged by a live orchestra, but not just ANY orchestra, the highly popular London Philharmonic. The second disc is the OST itself. Unfortunately, due to the fact that DQ7 was originally destined for release on the SFC, the sound quality suffers a bit, heck, even Dragon Quest 6 sounds better. We will begin with disc 1.
We start off with « Overture VII », which the classic opening theme of all the Dragon Quest games is brilliantly executed, the trumpets do their part very well in giving off a medieval feel. « Morning in Eden » starts off quietly and is a marvelous introduction theme, this time the violins help to convey some emotion.
« Saraband » sounds somewhat sad, and has an excellent use of violins which makes it even more saddening. « Echo of Horns throughout the Castle » is the castle theme, as the title states it, the main instrument here is the french horn, just lovely, and the cellos used later on just gives off a wondrous effect, this is the symphonic style in which Sugiyama is known for. « Heavenly Village » must the hero’s village theme, it’s a beautiful and happy track, the flute used here just makes you go « awwwwww… ». « Days of Sadness » is another sad, but oh so lovely medley, The use of cellos and violins here are just stupendous, it really helps to convey the mood. « Strolling in the Town » is a medley of the following songs : « Relaxing Street Corner », « Paradise », « Garden Naptime » and « Party in the Open ». This track is mostly quiet and just a bit upbeat, and it’s the longest track , clocking at 8 :08 minutes. « Memories of a Lost World ~ Moving through the Present » is one of the more epic tracks, it first starts off with a quiet theme, then the world map theme makes it’s majestic entrance, the trumpets here gives of the « We’re off to save the world from an incredible evil ! » kinda feel. The violins complement the cellos wonderfully here, followed by the majestic trumpets. « Shadow of Death » starts off menacingly, but later on shows off its beautiful side, the violins here…… they’re just so beautiful. This is probably the theme for dungeons and such. (I haven’t gotten to play DW7 yet, so sue me :P)
Now comes one of the finest tracks in the first disc, « Fighting Spirit ~ World of the Strong » are the battle and boss battle themes respectively. Fighting Spirit starts off well… the use of violins and percussions here really make this track extra-enjoyable, after the first loop of Fighting Spirit, we are presented to a lovely interlude before we move on to World of The Strong, which is equally enjoyable, but Fighting Spirit has more « umph » to it overall. « Sphinx ~ Mysterious Sanctuary » must be more dungeon themes, which both sound plain good, there’s really nothing else that comes to mind here, sorry. « Aboard Ship ~ Pirates of the Sea » starts off with a lovely harp, quickly backed up by violins and has a small mischievous sound to it, later on the trumpets and horns make their way and the drums used here sounds like a military march, very good. « To my loved One » is simply…. beautiful, romantic, enchanting, yep, the violin use here just makes me speechless, it’s so beautiful. « Screams from the Tower of Monsters » starts off mysteriously, then it starts getting a bit eerie, but it fits the mood perfectly. « With Sadness in Heart ~ A Safe Haven » is another sad/beautiful track, once more the violins here help out a ton to convey many feelings. « Magic Carpet » is somewhat upbeat, the horns and violins complement the melody nicely, seems the violin is the instrument mostly used in the soundtrack so far. « Over the Horizon » is the last lovely track in disc 1, and at a certain point it gets epic and has the « Don’t worry, we’ll vanquish the evil soon » kinda feel, I like this a lot. Disc 1 ends with « Orgo Demila », which is the final boss theme, it uses a starting pattern in which Sugiyama has used since DQ1, the trumpets and percussions here shows off the immense power of the ultimate evil (whoever it is), then the violins brings up an element of danger as the fight wears on… oh, how dreadfully well executed. Well, this concludes the Symphonic Disc, I’ll let my partner, Kero Hazel, tell you about the OST tracks.
If you are interested in buying this marvelous set, then you can go to places like www.gamemusic.com and get it for about 40 $, if you’re a big fan of Sugiyama/Dragon Quest games, make sure you don’t miss out on it.
Why hello there! Glad to see you're interested enough in the music of Dragon Quest VII to actually read the review of the Original Sound Version side. Remember, this is the review for Disc 2 of the DQ7 Symphonic Suite, that's why all the tracks have a "2" in front of them. :P
Most of the track names are the same as those found on the arranged disc, so the English names were taken directly from the tracklist found in the liner notes. However, a few of the original tracks were left off the arranged disc, or had their names changed. In these cases, I have done my best to translate the Japanese track names into English. Now I know enough Japanese to get by with a dictionary, but I'm hardly fluent in the language, so you'll have to bear with me if there are any errors in the translations. Here we go!
2.1. Triumphal Return ~ Epilogue: This is actually an arranged track which didn't fit on the first disc, so it got stuck here instead. Please see my review for the last track of this disc, track 30, which is the original version of this song. The "Triumphal Return" section was a great piece of music to begin with, but I think that the orchestration really gives the "Epilogue" part a much-needed boost. By having more distinctive instrumentation, the individual sub-themes stand out more, something which was noticeably lacking in the original version.
2.2. Overture VII: Ah, the familiar introductory Dragon Quest Overture. Or maybe not so familiar, if you are new to DQ music. This track gives you a perfect idea of the general quality of the soundtrack. It's got quite a large number of instruments, and borrows heavily from Classical-era music. After the initial fanfare, the tempo begins with a happy march, heavily backed up by bass from the strings and horns, and then finishes with a climactic chord.
2.3. Intermezzo: Another DQ classic, although much shorter than the Overture. Again, it's got a definite Classical feel to it, but it's a lot catchier than most Classical music, and more "streamlined". In other words, not overly grandiose.
2.4. Morning in Eden: This is the song you are treated to in the opening cutscene. The first part has a soft woodwind melody backed up by strings, then the woodwinds and strings take turns playing short whimsical mini-themes. Finally a harp closes with a series of arpeggio-like chords. It's a beautiful piece, rich and fleshed out, yet still quite simple. And unfortunately, short.
2.5. Saraband: A narrative string piece, like the type you'd hear in a dramatic opera scene (minus the singing of course). It's a sad song, but not without its own small ray of sunshine hidden in the middle. If you listen closely to the rest of the soundtrack, you'll hear that some of the themes used later on are hinted at in this early piece. They're not obvious at all, and in most cases there are only minor structural similarities. But they're there. Ah, Sugiyama, the master of subtlety...
2.6. Echo of Horns Throughout the Castle: All right, back to the happy music. This piece overflows with compositional skill. The horns and strings go through an exchange of melodies, complementing and expanding upon each other. If I were a king, I'd pick this song for my royal fanfare any day of the week. ^_^
2.7. Heavenly Village: This song is peaceful, and very fitting to the mood at the beginning of the game. I love the harmonic progression here, and the simple instrumentation keeps the music soothing, but never boring.
2.8. Days of Sadness: What a surprise, another mood piece! Yes, this one is sad, but it seems to me like the sadness of a forgotten past, not the mournful sorrow of death or despair. Harps carry the bulk of this song, which consists of an emotional melody and a good harmony as well.
2.9. Relaxing Street Corner: Another town theme. The mood here is tough to define. It's not quite "relaxing", but it's not quite adventurous either. It starts out almost melancholy, but it picks up in the second half, and the harmony is guaranteed to put you in a good mood. Not quite as much composition as you'll find in the other tracks, however.
2.10. Paradise: Sugiyama takes a brief departure from the Classical style here, instead choosing a cool jazzy rhythm. It uses an arrangement of the previous track as a base to start from, but fleshes out the tune by expanding on the melody and composition. Some might find this piece too downbeat and sluggish, though.
2.11. Garden Naptime: This is a fantastic ambient piece, beginning with a harp, and slowly building up as other instruments join in and then take over. For the most part, the melody is actually cheerful -- but you don't hear this, because there is just the slightest touch of dissonance in the harmony that adds a very eerie touch to the piece. The whole thing has an odd dreamlike quality, striking a perfect balance between innocent and menacing.
2.12. Party in the Open: A very fun-sounding piece, which builds up progressively, maintaining an extremely happy and bouncy melody throughout. If it got any happier or bouncier, it would probably be too much. :D
2.13. Memories of a Lost World: Strings predominate in this moody piece, giving a rich harmony to the woodwind melody in the beginning, and providing some excellent counterpoint later on. And it's not just the instrumentation that's good -- the composition, while somewhat simple, is still a great example of the narrative style.
2.14. Moving Through the Present: If this overworld song doesn't have you packing up your sword and magic inventory bag, then perhaps you should make sure you're getting your recommended daily intake of Adventuring. Is it cheery and inspirational? Sure. Does it have good composition? Ohhhh yeah. I especially love how at one point the piece takes on that same eerie quality used in track 11.
2.15. Shadow of Death: This track deserves some special attention. Major and minor keys are intertwined in a very creative way, and there are two minor themes which keep popping up throughout. The first is a slow, bizarre, dissonant sequence of notes; the second is a mysterious melody backed up by flowing chords. You'll notice that the first theme appears in three separate sections of the piece, which might lead you to believe that there are loops in this piece. Not true -- while the song does repeat, you'll notice that there are subtle differences in each repetition, such as instrument changes and differing variations of the themes. Suffice to say that these changes keep the piece interesting.
2.16. Fighting Spirit: Not exactly turbulent, not exactly menacing, it is nevertheless a battle song. That is quite an accomplishment in itself, since Sugiyama is working purely within the Classical style. This track still packs quite a punch, however, even if it isn't head-bangin' hard rock. The drums and other percussion give this piece a good mark in the instrumentation department, and the composition is pretty good too.
2.17. World of the Strong: Sugiyama strays somewhat from the Classical style here, using what instead sounds like Romantic or perhaps even Contemporary-style music -- though these are all still conservative musical styles, and many people would probably call them "Classical" anyway. :P This piece is all about fast-paced brass and percussion action. I can't say too much for the melody though, and the composition isn't quite at the level of the other tracks.
2.18. Sphinx: Surprisingly, there is absolutely nothing in this piece that would remind you of a Sphinx (just in case you were expecting some stereotypical Egypt-themed music). There is great contrast in this song, both in the instrumentation and compositional structure. While the synthesized bass starts out with a heavy, ambient, almost droning sound, the brass kicks in with sharp staccato notes. And while the strings are dancing all over the place, the brass continues in almost machine-like repetition. Not one of my favorites, but interesting.
2.19. Mysterious Sanctuary: I don't consider this song mysterious at all. It's a slow, brass-heavy piece, filled with interesting harmonies. The instrumental skill present in other pieces is sorely lacking here, however. It's strange and somewhat boring to hear the same instruments carry the track all the way.
2.20. Aboard Ship ~ Pirates of the Sea: The "Aboard Ship" half of the track is a slow duet between flute and harp, with only minor backup from bass strings. And then with a crash, the "Pirates of the Sea" takes a completely different direction. It uses the theme from the duet, but expands on it until it becomes a wonderful symphonic march. It's got an interesting melody, and the contrast is a great asset to the instrumentation and composition.
2.21. To My Loved One: Another soft woodwind melody, accompanied by harp and strings, bearing a slight resemblance to the first part of track 20. This piece has a great harmony, and the strings provide an extra slice of compositional goodness, transforming the melody in all sorts of wonderful ways. Alas, it is too short...
2.22. Prayer of Resurrection: What's with these oddly-named song titles? This doesn't sound anything like a prayer at all. Oh well, when you're as good a composer as Sugiyama is, you can call the tracks whatever you want. ^_^ What this track does sound like is a Spanish dance (it could be Flamenco, I'm not too sure of the terminology). Anyway, it's a very fast, catchy guitar piece with some woodwinds thrown in for good measure. For some reason, this track (as well as track 23) were left out of the orchestrated disc.
2.23. Tula Dance: A slower counterpart to the previous track. Again, guitar is the dominant instrument, but this time it takes on a sadder, less rhythmic tone. I love the melody used here, but I wish Sugiyama would have expanded on the theme some more.
2.24. Screams from the Tower of Monsters: You thought 3 variations was a lot for Shadow of Death, did you? Well, this track has 5 -- count em, five -- variations, each one of which has its own instrumental style and sub-variations on the theme. The theme employs a mysterious flowing melody, which uses the same sort of eerie harmony used in track 11. In the first two variations, this melody is punctuated every so often by echoing horns. As the song progresses, these intrusions diminish, and the extra instruments start to drop out, until at the very end, all that remains are a melody and harmony on a single harp. Very creepy stuff indeed, this is the best of both musical worlds: the ambient and the narrative.
2.25. With Sadness in Heart: It would be crude of me to describe this as merely a "sad" song. Like most of the other songs in this soundtrack, there are a multitude of emotions and moods that can be felt in the music. This piece borrows part of the theme from track 21, but it flows so well in between the other parts of the track, you may not even realize that it has been borrowed from somewhere else. Composition and narrative "storytelling" are in great supply here... gee, that sure happens a lot in this soundtrack, doesn't it? ^_^
2.26. A Safe Haven: This song sounds like another town theme, very peaceful and relaxing. I love the instrumentation in this one, even more so than the other town themes. The melody is shared between some clarinet-sounding instruments and violins, while bass strings tackle the harmony. It's too short, but what's a soundtrack lover to do? Sigh...
2.27. Magic Carpet: From the sound of it, this song seems like it's trying to lead up to something. It has no distinctive melody, but rather a rapid series of repetitive beats in both the bass and treble instruments. If it weren't for the feeling of incompleteness, this track would be great.
2.28. Over the Horizon: Ah, finally a track name I can agree with. I imagine a ship sailing over the horizon, just as the sun is setting, when I hear this one. The opening melody floats in gently, then is repeated with some extra backup from the brass section and the strings. After an eerie interlude, a more light-hearted melody takes the fore and finishes the job. Not a bad piece, but not particularly memorable, either.
2.29. Orgo Demila: The final boss theme opens with an ominous thumping and a series of dissonant chords, and proceeds to crash its way through to the end, paying little heed to any definite rhythm or harmonic progression. Like track 27, it feels incomplete, as though it were building himself up to something grander, but just gave up at the end.
2.30. Triumphal Return ~ Epilogue: After listening to the last track, you might be afraid that this soundtrack would go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Have no fear. The first part of the track, "Triumphal Return", is a truly heroic march, and would almost be intense enough to be a final boss theme if it were faster. "Epilogue" is much more narrative, proceeding through a variety of moods, sometimes mysterious and brooding, sometimes light-hearted, even a little sad. In a way, it sums up the musical story of this soundtrack, just as the game's epilogue sums up the story of the game itself. Nothing terribly catchy, but the composition is at least above average. But I think that the "Triumphal Return" part makes up for the deficiencies in the later part, and then some.
If you couldn't tell by now, I really love this soundtrack. A lot. I mean, sometimes when no one's around, I take it out of the case and I start talking to it, telling it how much I love it, talking dirty... uh, you didn't read that. Hoo boy. There goes my reviewer's license. ^^;
Where to start? Well, I have to tell you that Classical symphonic music usually isn't my thing. I love Classical music if there's piano involved, or if it's Mozart, but that's generally it. DQ7:SS is, for the most part, Classical music composed in a modern setting. So what makes this Classical music different? I guess it's like Mozart... Koichi Sugiyama is just so good, I can't help but love his music. DQ7 music has so many complex compositional elements happening in it, yet at the same time, the core of it is very simple. And this is where Sugiyama's genius shines through. He doesn't need to use showy musical techniques or grandiose instrumentation to get his point across. The skill is just... there. Like the great Confucian masters, who taught students without them realizing that they were being taught, Sugiyama composes great music without the listener fully realizing why he likes it. One day, you'll be doing homework while listening to this soundtrack for the 57th time, and all of a sudden, you'll catch an odd harmonic twist or fragment of a borrowed melody in one of his songs, and realize that it was that subtle element that made you love that particular song so much.
I have one complaint about this soundtrack. The arranged tracks are not really "arranged", but rather orchestrated. That is, Sugiyama replaced synthesized sounds with real instruments, instead of actually improving the composition of the tracks. Now you may ask, "What's wrong with that?" Well, that means you've basically got two copies of the same soundtrack (minus a couple songs on the arranged side). I would rather have seen Sugiyama compose some new material instead of merely touching up his old work. There is one nice thing about the orchestrated disc, however -- the symphonic nature of the soundtrack is revealed best when performed by an actual symphony. DQ7:SS is definitely a musical work you should listen to in its entirety, and the live orchestra helps to hold it together that much better. Believe me, I have no complaints about the arranged disc being performed by an orchestra, I just think Sugiyama could have done better by making it a true "arrangement".
In defense of the original (synthesized) side of the soundtrack, I have to say that I have been most displeased by certain reviewers who seem to think that the original PSX music is crappy. I listen to original Game Boy music, and I still find a lot of merit in all those square waves and whatnot. Yet all this has not ruined my ear -- I can tell the difference between live music and the synthesized stuff. Dragon Quest VII's synth music is good quality. I'm not talking good "relative to another game" or good "for its time". This is good synth. Period. I have little patience for people who complain about game music with poor synth quality, but I have absolutely none for people who say those same things about soundtracks that actually have good quality synth. I actually like the Original Sound Version disc better than the arranged disc... I think the game-generated songs preserve more of the whimsical atmosphere that suits the Dragon Quest games.
But whether you like the orchestrated stuff, or the original music, I'm sure you'll find yourself loving at least one of these discs. And even that one disc is well worth the price of the entire soundtrack, believe me. You don't have to like Classical music to enjoy it, though if you do, more power to you. Whether you're a Dragon Quest veteran, or a newcomer to the series, you'll find that this is some of the best music made by Sugiyama, who is himself one of the best game music composers out there. Phew. Thanks for reading my very long review. ^_^