Legend of Zelda: Sound & Drama is a two-disc soundtrack based on the legendary Nintendo adventure series. Disc one contains original instrumental and synth-orchestral arrangements of compositions from "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past", followed by a 17-minute Japanese spoken drama track with background music and sound effects. Disc two consists of OST tracks directly from the games, the first eleven tracks from the original NES Legend of Zelda and the remainder from the SNES A Link to the Past.
The prospect of hearing arranged Zelda music was what really excited me about this CD, but I'm a bit let down by the arrangements. The sampled orchestral instrumentation very much shows its age, particularly the brass, which sounds electronic and artificial. It's a far cry from the sampled instrumentation in standout efforts like Beyond the Beyond and Symphony Ys '95, both of which were released only a year or two later.
Furthermore the arrangements are - ironically - somewhat lacking in drama. Certainly there are some great themes present - "Hyrule Castle" and especially "Dark Overworld" both at their core have adventuresome, dramatic qualities. However the arrangements add little extra, leaving them only with substandard orchestral synth to lean on. Even the main series "Overworld" theme fails to impress - classic VGM theme though it may be it really needs extra substance to shine beyond its original game-synth states, and that's lacking here.
Fortunately the four lighter, smaller-scale arrangements fare much better, particularly the eccentric "Theme of the Guessing-Game House" and the peaceful "Forest Theme". Both were completely unfamiliar to me originally yet are my favorite arrangements of the album, featuring more organic instrumentation and more understated yet far more interesting arrangements. The lively violin finale in the former track and the tranquil piano and flute segues in the latter are much closer to what I would hope for in a great Zelda arranged album.
All in all the arranged disc reminds me very much of the albums Final Fantasy III Eternal Legend of Wind and FFV Dear Friends - modest production values, fairly simple arrangements and quite gamey overall in sound, but with a handful of pretty pieces that make them worth considering.
Concerning the rest of disc one, the dialog track and the eleven minutes of 8-bit music hold no appeal to me personally; I assume anyone interested in the 8-bit OST will know what to expect. SNES OSTs aren't my thing either, and the sound quality is certainly a large step below later SNES efforts, with a slightly mushy sound to the samples overall. Still, for people who grew up playing the game and who enjoy 16-bit OSTs, the 43 minutes of it here no doubt adds to the value of the album.
By no means is Legend of Zelda: Sound & Drama a bad album. Big fans of the series (especially the SNES game) can probably take my complaints and throw them out the window, as they'll undoubtedly relish the OSTs and added goodies. However, listeners not already enchanted with A Link to the Past's music should note that the arrangements generally don't live up to the Zelda legacy.