The original motion picture soundtrack to Mononoke Hime (aka Princess Mononoke) was a masterpiece, easily one of the best adventure scores in recent memory. With original composer and Ghibli mainstay Joe Hisaishi at the helm arranging, there's little question that Mononoke Hime Symphonic Suite will be an excellent album as well. The only question is whether the differences in arrangement and performance warrant its purchase as a replacement or supplement to the original soundtrack. The answer is a resolute yes.
Compared to the 32 tracks in the OST, Mononoke Hime Symphonic Suite consists of only eight much lengthier arrangements. Rather than merging several OST tracks together in medley form as you might expect, Symphonic Suite instead provides extended arrangements of each individual theme. These arrangements are faithful to the originals, mostly building upon them through repetition and slight variation, as well as with modest changes in the orchestration and performance. As a fan of the OST, hearing extended versions of its most memorable moments with slight but noticeable differences is a relishable experience. I won't say that the instrumental changes are necessarily better or worse than the original, just that they are different - and certainly not in a bad way.
Make no mistake though, Symphonic Suite does have its moments to shine in a different light from the original. Scattered about are some arrangements and segues that are noticeably different from the OST. Among them are a booming, triumphant finale to a "Mononoke Hime" theme arrangement even more beautiful than the OST version. Also worth mention are subdued but playful additions to "The Forest of Shishi God" and march-like percussion and brass segments that really ramp up the power in "The Underword ~The Adagio of Life and Death~". I always felt that the OST was the anime equivalent to Star Wars in impact and scope, and these last two tracks sound very much like they could fit in a Star Wars movie - the first as a quirky Jawa/Ewok creature theme and the second as a stirring new Imperial March.
The question of which is the better album - Mononoke Hime Symphonic Suite or the original soundtrack - is a difficult one. For North American customers, the U.S. release of the OST is certainly a better deal with its very long running time and low price, and except for those who vastly prefer longer symphonic suite-style arrangements is the obvious place to start. Then for those that own the OST and wish there were even more Princess Mononoke music to enjoy, Mononoke Hime Symphonic Suite makes a very satisfying addition.