Dragon Quest IV Symphonic Suite

"Bursting with character, majesty and spectacle - the best of the series." Highly Recommended

Rankings

Artist Credits

Tracks

66 minutes total
  1. Overture [1:58]
  2. Menuet [3:09]
  3. Comrades [10:31]
  4. In a Town [8:19]
  5. Homeland ~ Wagon Wheel's March [6:00]
  6. Frightening Dungeons ~ Cursed Towers [5:21]
  7. Elegy ~ Mysterious Shrine [5:06]
  8. Balloon's Flight [4:35]
  9. Sea Breeze [4:39]
  10. Unknown Castle [3:21]
  11. Battle for the Glory [7:54]
  12. Ending [5:14]
  • Released Aug 23, 2000 by SPE Visual Works (catalog no. SVWC-7064, retail 2345 yen).
  • Reprinted Oct. 7, 2009 (catalog no. KICC-6317).
  • This is a separate performance by the London Philharmonic than the Feb. 6, 1991 release (catalog no. PCCG-00118 ). Tracks 3, 5, 7 and 9 were recorded in 1996, the rest in 2000.

Reviews

Bursting with character, majesty and spectacle - the best of the series.

Highly Recommended

Editor's review by Adam Corn (2010-01-17)

Dragon Quest soundtracks sometimes pose a dilemma, whether to obtain their full symphonic suites or just experience the best parts of each via the excellent compilations available. For the series' fourth installment, however, no such dilemma exists. Boasting one astounding orchestral feat after another, Dragon Quest IV Symphonic Suite absolutely deserves to be enjoyed in its entirety.

Dragon Quest has always had its share of rousing battle themes, tranquil overworld pieces and grandiose ending themes, but Dragon Quest IV's signature work "Comrades" adds something that had previously been in short supply - character. A perfectly paced medley of character themes ranging from eccentric to solitary to exotic (the gypsy segments at the end are enchanting), it has the charisma you'd expect of classic Final Fantasy, but with composer Koichi Sugiyama's elegant orchestral touch.

Amazingly, following Comrades are two more medleys of equally high caliber. "In a Town" begins true to its name, with a carefree "roaming the town" melody that later transitions to a New Orleans jazz bit much saucier than you would expect of a Dragon Quest score. This alone would make for a complete piece and one of the series' better town themes, but an arrangement of regal trumpets with magnificent, sweeping strings at its climax elevates it to an even higher level, as much resembling Joe Hisaishi's magical Studio Ghibli works as it does traditional Dragon Quest. Sugiyama's skill with an orchestra is in full effect here - the themes themselves are certainly nice, but it's the expressive orchestrations and classical flourishes that make the piece truly special. The same can be said for "Homeland ~ Wagon Wheel's March" - though its themes are memorable even in their original game synth state, Sugiyama's delightfully drastic shifts between calm orchestral ebbs and crashing crescendos are what give the symphonic suite arrangement its magic.

Dragon Quest scores are known for their classical influences, which for some who don't follow the series seems to be a source of reluctance. For earlier Dragon Quest scores I can understand the sentiment, but not in Dragon Quest IV. "Elegy ~ Mysterious Shrine" is both sublimely classical and deeply emotional, qualities that are mutually exclusive in some Dragon Quest scores but come together perfectly here. Dragon Quest string pieces can sometimes be a bit boring, but "Unknown Castle" is so exquisite it's hard not to be impressed, and even the melodically understated "Balloon's Flight" is worth a listen every time, if only to hear Sugiyama expertly manipulate the various parts of the orchestra.

The remaining themes fit quite nicely into roles established by previous entries in the series, even if they sound a bit normal in comparison to the rest of the score. "Frightening Dungeons ~ Cursed Towers" holds more interest than earlier dungeon themes thanks to a more charismatic melody, and though "Ending" is more calm and reflective than Dragon Quest III's rousing "Into the Legend", it provides almost as satisfying a conclusion. Really the only potential weak links are the melodramatic "Sea Breeze" and the lone battle theme "Battle for Glory", which though bold and threatening in its first half is too plodding in its second.

As with most Dragon Quest scores, multiple symphonic suite recordings of Dragon Quest IV exist, and as with many of them, the version by the London Philharmonic Orchestra comes most highly recommended (though I've yet to hear the double-disc live album by the Kanagawa Philharmonic.) Similarly to Dragon Quest III, the brass of the London Philharmonic is impeccable - "Battle for Glory" leads far more energetically than the NHK Symphony's version and finishes with more strength and menace, while at the peak of "Wagon Wheel's March" the orchestra truly bellows. At times the strings can sound a bit distant compared to the NHK's, but for the majority of the album it's hard to find fault in the London Philharmonic's performance (or in the recording, which is more pristine than both the older NHK recording and the compressed-sounding Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra one).

Every Dragon Quest soundtrack has at least a few great themes to offer, but Dragon Quest IV is the most consistently excellent of them all. The slow spells that plague other Dragon Quest scores are virtually nonexistent, and the town, exploration and character medleys are at the very pinnacle of the series. Every fan of orchestral soundtracks needs some Dragon Quest, and Dragon Quest IV Symphonic Suite is the best of them all.

Words like lush, epic, and grandeur come to mind.

Reader review by Necrosaro

I'll tell ya right now, I'm definitely biased. Not only was the NES Dragon Warrior IV the second RPG I'd ever played (and still my favorite RPG of all time), but this symphonic suite was also my first video game music soundtrack. Having said that, I can still honestly say that if you (a) like the Dragon Quest games, and/or (b) like your video game music done in the full-orchestra, Western-classical style, then DQIV is a must-have. It's the strongest work in the series.

To give you an idea of how good it is, rent "Godzilla vs. Biollante", the only Godzilla movie scored by Koichi Sugiyama. The music that accompanies Godzilla on his rampages is partly recycled from Sugiyama's own work for DQIV, namely Necrosaro's final stage theme. (The GvB score itself is nowhere near as good as DQIV's, though - guess Toho should have stuck with Akira Ifukube.) Also, if you're lucky enough to get a choice between owning this one or Dragon Quest IV in Brass, you should know that In Brass uses almost exactly the same arrangements as this one does. Which makes it a ripoff, because one would expect new arrangements better suited to an all-wind instrument ensemble. The devices and harmonies that were written for a full orchestra, including heavy use of percussion and strings, come off sounding stunted and strained in DQIV in Brass.

Unlike Nobuo Uematsu's more experimental and eclectic work for the Final Fantasy series, DQ soundtracks are very easy to compare against each other because they all follow the same formula. First up is the trademark DQ trumpet "Overture". About the same for all six games in the series. It's nice the first hundred times, but if you collect DQ CD's like I do, then chances are you have a habit of skipping this track by now. The DQ 1 and 2 fanfares have a catchier introduction than the this one, but that's about the only major difference.

The castle music is typically a somber Baroque piece for strings. DQIV's "Menuet" is my favorite of the lot - heavy, rich, and complex. It's got more of the power one would expect from a Durante composition, as opposed to the lighter Vivaldi-esque sound of DQ2. Village music is also a staple in the series. In addition to the typical walking-and-talking music, "In a Town" has a rousing Tournament theme and a charming Casino piece that is pure Americana, evoking an old frontier saloon.

One of the things that makes DQIV stand apart from the others in the series is its multitude of characters and preliminary subplots. Thus the DQIV score has seven overworld exploring themes and two overworld battle themes, as opposed to the standard two and one of the others. In "Comrades" a vivid contrast in tempo, instrumentation and style (from English pastoral to Spanish flamenco) brings five of these themes together in a delightful arrangement. The other overworld theme is from the main chapter of the story. This piece carries both the lonely, plaintive young hero's theme of "Homeland" and the militaristic "Wagon Wheel's March", which is a scary little masterpiece in itself. I say "scary" because it'll get you so worked up you'll want to run off and enlist in the army!

"Frightening Dungeons - Cursed Towers" brings off the sinister, almost modernist tones of the original game's dungeon music. "Elegy" is is by far the best death music of the DQ series - long, complex and filled with pathos. "Shrine" is a rich and cathartic piece from the House of Healing typical to the series. Dragon Quest IV's sailing/flying theme, "Balloon's Flight", is a radical departure from the perfect simplicity of Ramia's theme from DQIII. It's the one truly modernistic, sometimes even atonal piece on the CD. When you play the game, it's hard to even know at which point the line loops back to the beginning, because of the sometimes disturbing jumps and clangs and pauses along the way. This curious piece then segues nicely into the evocative harmonies of "Sea Breeze", which is given an arrangement here that is, while lush, a little too slow for my taste.

"The Unknown Castle" doesn't have an equivalent in the other DQ scores, and that's probably a good thing. It's a stately, royal-sounding piece that really needs fuller orchestration to avoid sounding flimsy and vain, as it does here. The CD then returns to following the conventions of the series with it battle theme. "Battle for the Glory" begins with the frenetic, involving complexity of the overworld battle music and then comes face-to-face with the looming, pounding themes of Esturk and Necrosaro. Esturk's music especially recaptures the frightful, monumental power of Malroth's theme in DQII. Finally comes "The End", a romantic finale like something out of John Williams. Weaker than its equivalent in DQVI, which emulates and almost tries to rival Stravinsky, but grander than the ending pieces of DQI, II, or III.

In short, while some of these arrangements lose sight of what made the original game music so effective, the others more than compensate with their imaginative use of the full orchestra. Overall, this is the best of the Dragon Quest soundtrack CDs because of its variety and its sweeping, epic scope.

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