When I finally landed a copy of Ys III Perfect Collection, my expectations were very high. I had been fortunate enough to play the PC Engine Duo version of Ys III when I was younger, and had fallen in love with the redbook tracks. The frantic music of Tigre Mine, the smooth power rock of Alcaino Ruins, and the overcharged frenzy of Valestine Castle were indelibly marked on my brain, and the music from the final conflict with Demanicus was the coup de grace, an intense thrash session that left me speechless. Coupled with the ample evidence I had collected that Falcom's arrangers could improve upon seemingly immaculate tracks, I expected no less than perfection from this album. But perfection was not what I got.
Much like previous Perfect Collections from Falcom's library, Ys III Perfect Collection consists of two discs - a disc of Special Arranged music and another disc with vocal, New Age, and Super Arrange versions, with instrumentation ranging from acoustic harp and piano to high-powered synthesizers. Chronologically, the album came out after the PC version of the game, but before the PC Engine Duo version premiered.
The first disc contains the main soundtrack from the game and consists of 32 tracks spread out over an enervated 55 minutes. Translation - short track lengths. By itself, that might not be so bad, but the way this time is distributed amongst the selections is almost criminal. Most of the tracks top out at 90 seconds, and none of the main themes in the game crack the two-minute barrier. The song lengths are especially distressing when one considers that all of the main themes on the Duo game's redbook audio are around three minutes long. But what's even more inexplicable is that some themes that were very minor players in the game (showing up as faint background music during a character's speech, for example) seem to have been awarded extra time at the expense of the main melodies. The rather bland "The Theme of Chester" shows up once in the game, and is almost inaudible when it does appear, but it receives a full three minute arrangement, while my beloved "Valestine Castle", which accompanies Adol's hour-long foray into the fortress of evil, has to make do with a mere 92 seconds.
The styles employed on the first disc also bear mention. While the other Ys Perfect Collections relied solely upon Ryo Yonemitsu's arrangement magic for their Special Arrange discs, three arrangers worked on Ys III Perfect Collection. Each of the arrangers furnished roughly the same number of tracks, but their styles and instrumentation choices are quite distinct, and even the sound quality varies a fair amount between tracks. The net result is that there is a general lack of cohesiveness among the selections. While the redbook audio from the game wove some of the best power rock together into a seamless tapestry where every song seemed to fit into the grand picture, the result here is more like a patchwork quilt where each entry seems out of place when adjoined to its neighbors. On an individual basis, many of the songs pale in comparison to their redbook brethren. The satiny electricity of the redbook "Ilberns Ruins", the heavy bass-driven rhythm of "Beat of Destruction", and the brutal intensity of "The Strongest Foe" all tower over their inhibited counterparts on disc one. The lone bright spots on this disc come from the amazing rendition of "Valestine Castle", the well-crafted "The Boy's Got Wings", and the two ending themes, "Departure at Sunrise" and "Wanderers from Ys". Aside from these four selections, the first disc does not offer much of an advantage over the Duo redbook tracks I cherished.
The second disc of Ys III Perfect Collection isn't much better. I really enjoy the calm demeanor of the first vocal track, "A Thousand Years of Loving", but the other two vocals don't grab my attention. It feels like the vocalists are merely reading words from the lyric sheet, and not getting into the songs they're singing. The New Age arrangements are probably the mellowest of any of Fujisawa's New Age versions - they feel very similar to his Preprimer works - and while they're certainly peaceful, they're also less substantial than his offerings from the earlier Ys Perfect Collections. "Chop!!" is a blistering number that's refreshingly bold, and the Sound Team J.D.K. version of "Trading Town of Redmont" is a bright and cheerful arrangement that sounds just right (this is exactly the sort of arrangement I had been hoping to find throughout the album). The other entries on the second disc are better than their disc one incarnations, but they still feel like they're missing something.
If Falcom had never released Ys III for the Duo, Ys III Perfect Collection would be a fair album - not great, but somewhat respectable. When its contents are put into context, however, it ends up being a colossal disappointment. The differences between the arrangements on this album and those on the Duo CD are like night and day. This disparity is made all the more glaring by the fact that the album came out just one week before the Duo game premiered. Obviously, the folks as Falcom had been working hard to produce killer arrangements for the game soundtrack, but decided against using any of these on the Ys III Perfect Collection. That is the thing that ultimately bothered me about the album; it had so much unrealized potential.
Ys III is something of a VGM enigma. While Ys Book I & II is generally hailed as one of the monumental achievements in the early history of video game music, the verdict on Ys III is split rather decisively. Some, notably those who played it on the Duo, claim that it contains the best music contained in the entire Ys series (and some of the best music ANYWHERE), while others, particularly SNES gamers, contend that it offers only substandard fare. For this particular soundtrack, the arrangements make or break the songs, and on Ys III Perfect Collection, they break them. The true Ys fanatic may get some enjoyment from the new arrangements, but few others will regard them so charitably. If you want an Ys III album, I'd strongly recommend spending your money on the Duo game instead and enjoying the world-class redbook audio located therein.