The first Black Mages album took some missteps but compensated with hard-hitting rock arrangements of some staple Final Fantasy battle themes. The second didn't have the same number of must-arrange battle themes to work with, but an array of well-crafted arrangements made for a more consistently enjoyable album. The Black Mages III ~Darkness and Starlight~ inherits some of the qualities of its predecessors, but a myriad of problems makes it sound as much like a hodgepodge of fan arrangements as a proper Black Mages album.
To begin literally at the start, the intros for a few arrangements nearly doom them before their main themes even kick in. To be fair, a couple of the intros in previous albums were questionable, but the intros in The Black Mages III can be downright annoying. The grating organ-like keyboard in Final Fantasy VIII's "Premonition" and the shockingly bad sampled chorus at the beginning of the same game's "The Extreme" re-appear later in those arrangements, so for better or worse they're not such a shock. More confounding are the synth-chorus intros to "Kurayaminokumo" and "Grand Cross". Though meant to be dark and atmospheric both intros sound contrived and silly, contrasting completely with the musical material that follows and serving no purpose other than to make the listener suffer (in the case of Grand Cross, for over a minute) for the privilege to enjoy two of the better tracks on the album.
Weak synth programming hinders several tracks well past their beginnings. It's not as much a matter of the instruments being poorly designed as being poorly implemented; The Black Mages III has some of the grittiest guitars of the series yet some of the most gamey-sounding synth. The almost juvenile main melody and synth in Final Fantasy III's "Kurayaminokumo" are catchy but form too harsh a contrast with the long, grinding guitar solo that follows. Most of the other solos feel similarly excessive; The Black Mages III is the only rock album I can think of where I'd just assume do without the solos altogether. The notable exception is the epic hard rock finale to "Assault of the Silver Dragons", which boasts perhaps the greatest solo in the entire Black Mages series. (Sadly one has to sit through four minutes of limp progressive rock synth to get to it.)
Final Fantasy V's "Neo Exdeath" is the only track that I would unreservedly characterize as a good Black Mages arrangement, pairing solid production values with an energetic, highly melodic melody (especially in the refrain). Other arrangements have their moments (the dark piano and frantic synth midway through "The Extreme", the hyper pre-chorus melody in "Grand Cross", the main theme in "Kurayaminokumo" and the finale in "Assault of the Silver Dragons"), but their shortcomings spoil the overall experience.
Since most of the themes selected for arrangement in The Black Mages III aren't the best the series has to offer, it's at least not too hard to feel indifferent toward their arrangements. However the mangling of a couple of bona fide Final Fantasy classics makes the album almost as much a blight on the series as a contribution. The album leads with yet another arranged molestation of the classic Final Fantasy VII "Bombing Mission" (to accompany the awful orchestral version on the More Friends concert album). The cheesy '80s Vangelis'esque synth and obnoxious, pointless guitar solos are bad enough taken individually but worse in tandem, with a completely out of place jazz organ adding to the disarray.
Bombing Mission is over soon enough but the painful rendition of Final Fantasy VI's classic opera lasts for a full quarter of the album. The first half of the 15-minute piece is mostly a simple search-and-replace job of plugging into the original composition the first rock instrument that comes to mind. Without a tweaked arrangement, some inspired instrument choices, or at least decent mastering, the piece loses a great deal of the original synth version's energy (to say nothing of the dreamy Orchestral Game Concert 4 version). Of course vocals are included, and though you could say they possess the over-the-top nature of Mr. Goo's performance for "The Skies Above" in The Black Mages II, they completely lack his talent, with the soprano in particular sounding like an intentional mockery of an opera performance. A rolling '50s rockabilly arrangement for the "Wedding Waltz" segment and an original two-minute thrash metal segment that follows are enjoyable, but they hardly compensate for the badness permeating the rest of the track. Adding insult to injury is a narrator whose guttural attempts at deep, awe-inspiring narration are too weak to even be enjoyed as camp.
Disregard the awful renditions of the opera and Bombing Mission (not to mention the nauseatingly cliched ballad "Distant Worlds"), then edit out the intros to a few other tracks, and The Black Mages III ~Darkness and Starlight~ is a respectable album, albeit short and not up to the standard of its predecessors. Those are serious concessions to make when there are much better rock arranged soundtracks available, and only serious Final Fantasy fans impressed by the arranged set list and willing to accept a few major disappointments need bother.