With so many Dragon Quest orchestral albums available, the best albums alone amount to half a dozen and can be a confusing lot to sort out. Though Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite Live Best isn't the most complete collection of that group, it offers perhaps the best introduction to the series for newcomers, and even comes recommended to Dragon Quest fans adding to an existing library.
Whereas most Dragon Quest best collections are compilations from previous symphonic suite albums performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Live Best is one of the only ones (along with Dragon Quest Legend) to feature an exclusive original orchestral performance. Not only is this performance by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra unique to the album, it offers arguably the best versions available of classic Dragon Quest themes. The brass is generally clearer and punchier than in other recordings (comparing favorably to even the London Philharmonic ones), while the strings and woodwinds are elegant and emotive. I'd venture that Live Best also offers one of the crispest, clearest recordings of the whole bunch.
What it amounts to is that themes that are excellent in other symphonic suite albums are especially excellent here, particularly the classic selections from Dragon Quest III and IV. The brass is strikingly bold in the furious battle theme "Fighting Spirits" and blazingly triumphant in the ending theme "Into the Legend". The character medley "Comrades" is gold through and through, from the peaceful opening to the eccentric Torneko theme to the enrapturing gypsy segments that close the piece. In fact when I later listened to "Comrades" on other symphonic suites, I at first wondered if I had lost some of my admiration for the piece over the years, only to realize that those other performances just didn't quite live up to the Live Best version I was accustomed to.
The drawback with the live performance is there are a few small slip-ups that aren't present in the studio recordings, most noticeably a few notes where the brass falter in "Into the Legend" and in the Dragon Quest II ending theme "My Road My Journey". However these small hitches do little to detract from the overall impact of each piece.
Because it was recorded in 1994, Live Best lacks selections from Dragon Quest VI and VII that can be found in a couple of the other best collections. The inspired classical works of Dragon Quest VI would have been intriguing to hear performed by the Tokyo Symphony, but their absence isn't a particular detriment to the album, which at 74 minutes is chock full of music as it is.
Lastly there is the very subjective debate that comes with all best collections of whether the themes chosen are the "best" of the series. My only qualm in this regard is the emphasis on themes from Dragon Quest V. Some are certainly impressive - the frantic fighting theme "Violent Enemies" and the oppressively sad then faintly redemptive "Noble Requiem ~ Saint" for instance. But it's a bit of a shame that other Dragon Quest V selections made the cut over standout themes from elsewhere in the series, particularly the many magical pieces from Dragon Quest IV.
Even with the slight overemphasis on Dragon Quest V, Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite Live Best makes for an ideal overview of the series and a spectacular orchestral adventure. Not only are many of the very best themes from the series included on a single album, they've been presented in a way that they flow from highs to lows, action to exploration themes, requiems to celebratory pieces much as if they form a soundtrack of their own.