Dragon Quest Swords Original Soundtrack :: Review by Andrew
|Album Title:||Dragon Quest Swords Original Soundtrack|
|Release Date:||August 22, 2007|
|Purchase:||Buy at CDJapan|
When we heard that the Dragon Quest series was going to move back to the land of Nintendo, I'm sure somewhere out there a Nintendo fan was shedding a tear of joy. The franchise typically garners large sales and the numbered Dragon Quest titles typically sell in the same range as the first day sales for Halo in the United States. Of course with success like that, spin-off games are practically a guarantee, so here we have Dragon Quest Swords.
The game is set up like a rail shooter such as Panzer Dragoon and House of the dead, except instead of guns you get a sword. As the game is for the Wii, you get the immersive qualities of wielding the wiimote like you would a sword to attack your enemies. At least this is what the game promises.
On the music front, I expected series veteran composer Koichi Sugiyama to handle the reigns, but instead we got something completely different. Manami Matsumae, who is currently an independent composer and had crafted some of the tracks to the first two Mega Man titles, instead was handed the job of composing the music to this interesting idea. Is it a success? Well read on and find out.
To say that Koichi Sugiyama didn't have a hand in this game was a half-truth. In actuality, he had a small passive role. In particular, the "Overture", "Intermezzo", "Boogie-Woogie" and "The Healing Power of the Psalms" from Dragon Quest VIII were re-used for this game. One thing that is immediately noticeable is that the synthesizer programming is handled ever so slightly better than the source material. But since these tracks are essentially note for note extractions from the original soundtrack, I won't speak of them here. In some ways it seems lazy to reuse material rather than compose even a small token track, but I suspect that Sugiyama, who is semi-retired, wished to focus upon his duties for Dragon Quest IX.
Starting with "Alsword Castle" we start to get new material. It's an epic and brassy fanfare that consists of primarily regal trumpets. Although there is a slight alteration where the winds come in for a brief moment, it's mostly a replication of the main theme. While the tone is dead on, the composition is rather bland. Consisting of a repetition of the same melodic phrase, it actually starts to drag a bit.
Thankfully the melodic weakness seems to not have spread to "Sanctuary", which is a lovely track consisting of the wind section in interplay in the latter section of the track. With a bit more refinement, the theme would sound like something that Sugiyama could have composed. The choices of instrumentation and the homophonic sound is, in many ways, the classic sound of the series. At the very least, even if the soundtrack doesn't measure up at all times compositionally, the tone is correct.
"Come On, Let's Be Off!" is an adventurous sounding track. The tone is bright, the melody is pleasant to listen to. It's a perfect track to accompany any hero on his first steps out into the wider world. Continuing on this vein we get "Go For Broke!" which probably would be a battle track if this was an ordinary RPG. Unfortunately since this isn't a normal RPG in a sense, I assume that this is a theme for an end boss battle at the end of a level. It's got the right energy, as it kept me engaged even listening to it outside of the game.
In fact most of this soundtrack can be described as very high energy and light-hearted. While the series has always had lighter tracks under the direction of Sugiyama, nothing quite this spirited. Even the lightest themes in a Dragon Quest score typically still have a classical underpinning at the heart of it all. While that does work well in a slow and steady turn based RPG, in an rail shooter such as this things which are more bouncy tend to work better. Thus tracks such as "Go for Broke" and "Having Fun?" work well within this context.
Of course the soundtrack isn't all fun and games, and there are some more sinister sounding tracks. "Deep Within the Forest" is a classically sinister theme. It conveys the appropriate sense of menace that one would feel when you've entered a deep forest where all you can see is an endless sea of trees where danger might be lurking around every corner. Unfortunately, this track is a bit too atmospheric for its own good and the melodic elements suffer as a consequence. Other tracks such as "A Damp Cavern" also suffer from this same malady. And yes, they work well within context of a game, but don't work well outside of it.
The main adventuring theme makes a reappearance, except much more stately significance within the track "Mount Breige". With a simple tempo and tone change, a piece can transform into something completely different in feel. In fact this melodic theme makes a third appearance in "The Smell of Death", which once again remakes the same theme with a change in tempo and ornamentation, albeit a bit more expanded to over three minutes in length with a repeat. It feels a bit weak hearing the same theme several times throughout a score as short as this one is.
And a very strange track appears. "Time of Mirror" stands out like a sore thumb on the score, as while it is very interesting, the instrumentation sounds much more artificial and modern in feel. On a score where everything utilizes the traditional orchestra instruments in synthesized form, a track which doesn't conform gets noticed. It's always good to see a bit of branching away from the traditional elements.
In fact the end credits track, "Finale", brings the same themes back again for a fourth time. With a much more sullen version of the core theme of the game. Of course it also reprises some of the more energetic themes as well, as it is a retrospective track but it doesn't feel like a cohesive whole. It feels more like a haphazardly put together medley of themes.
And that is the biggest issue I have with this soundtrack. The fact that it doesn't diverge much from the same core elements. No matter how well composed the themes are, hearing the same track come up again and again, except given a fresh coat of paint, is a bit of weak. It is one thing to have a cohesive theme that recurs, it is another thing altogether to merely rehash.
The other issue I have with this soundtrack is that it isn't bold enough. With a different composer, the series could have received a veritable shot in the arm at least music wise. Unfortunately the series hasn't quite escaped the massive shadow that the main composer Koichi Sugiyama has cast over it. With the fact that the intension and purpose of this game is different, a slight variation on the music to celebrate this fact would have been nice.
Perhaps the only real difference in this score from Sugiyama's scores is the composition technique. These compositions focus much more intently on sound and tone rather than musicality and melodic elements. As such, while it sounds good to the ear, if you take a closer look under the hood, you see how weak the individual elements are.