Falcom Sound Box '89 is the first in an annual series of box sets released to commemorate Falcom's titles. This particular box set features six singles, entitled 'Fusion', 'Symphony', 'Vocal', 'Plus Mix', 'Disco', and 'Surround Theater', respectively. Each offers interesting arrangements of classics from Falcom's Dragon Slayer, Sorcerian, and Ys franchises. However, each disc also tends to be short — ranging from eight minutes to 21 minutes — so don't be misled by the apparent size of the box set. Unfortunately, most discs are also disappointing or limiting in some way too. Note that each disc was also released separately as a single and, ten years later, Falcom reprinted the contents in two triple disc compilations. Let's take a closer look at this collector's box...
The first disc of the box set features five fusion arrangements of Falcom classics by David Matthews (NB: Not the famous musician Dave Matthews). Jazz fusion was all the rage in Japan during the 80s, though many such game music arrangements tend to be dull and derivative. Those of this disc sometimes fall into this trap with their cheesy saxophone leads or formulaic solos, yet there is still something about it. The opening arrangement "Demonic Island", for example, is truly funky with its slapped bass and extravagant solos; it has numerous flaws, yet there is something undeniably addictive and groovy about it. Later in the album, the semi-acoustic guitar gets a whirl in "Bloody River" and Armstrong-esque trumpet solos take the lead in "La Valse Pour Xanadu". The softer arrangements of "Stay With Me Forever" and "Templo del Sol" also tend to be quite hackneyed, but will appeal to those Overall, this disc isn't on par with Hiroyuki Namba's works, but it still has its moments.
The second disc is dedicated to symphonic arrangements of three classic Falcom titles. Symphony Ys and Symphony Sorcerian mastermind Kentaro Haneda returns here to orchestrate the pieces for interpretation by the King Symphony Orchestra. His most substantial contribution, the "Sorcerian Symphonic Suite", is presumably a left-over arrangement from Symphony Sorcerian. It evolves from a wistful opening, based on "Ending II", into a haunting yet organic interpretation of "Living Cavern" before achieving a rousing climax based on "Pounding Heart". Though rather good, the orchestration is a lacking the individuality or finesse as some of Kentaro Haneda's best. The arrangements of Xanadu Scenario II's "Ending Theme" and Ys's "First Step Towards Wars" are tragically short. Nevertheless, the latter really has its moments with its adventurous Morricone-influenced orchestration. Overall, Haneda offers 15 minutes of solid orchestration here, but it's a little lack in quantity and originality.
The third disc will be one of the most divisive for listeners. After all, it is dedicated to vocal arrangements of a few Sorcerian favourites. Falcom has the reputation for producing cheesy pop arrangements sung by youthful singers and, love them or hate them, this disc is no exception. "Josephine" opens the album with an arrangement of a track from Sorcerian Additional Scenarios Vol. 1. The lyrical melody really shines in this one, but the poor pronunciation and intonation really limits the value of the arrangement overall. "No Fortune Teller" features a similar problem, though benefits from an increased focus on the funky piano-laced accompaniment. The final arrangement, based on "The Seal", is definitely the most catchy and anthemic of all the tracks. Although the vocalist is arguably mischosen, the arrangement really brings out all the feelings lying behind the original. But that's all listeners get on this disc: three short arrangements amounting to a total track time of 8:17. This will be a blessing for some, though those that actually enjoy Falcom's vocals will be sorely disappointed.
The fourth disc is dedicated to 'Plus Mix' arrangements from a mixture of Falcom favourites and obscurities. These arrangements retain the chiptune feel of their originals, but add new beats, frills, and other twists along the way. They're hardly complex masterpieces, but are ideal for those looking for enhanced, yet relatively faithful, interpretations of the original music. "Bloody River" is especially enjoyable in its brisk, punchy interpretation here; it's just as charming as the original, but also considerably richer and more developed. "In The Memory" and "So Much For Today" had the potential to be some of the most soft and touching arrangements on the whole box set, yet are tragically crippled by their short track times. The interpretation of "Feena" is also quite interesting, though some of the organic sound effects and poppy drum beats sound misplaced. This disc features a few good moments, but is overall a mixed and fairly lazy effort.
The fifth disc is entirely dedicated to nonstop disco medley. This is one of the few discs on the box set that offers an acceptable playtime — totalling nearly 20 minutes — and thankfully plenty of melodies are packed in. Numerous favourites from Ys, Ys II, and Sorcerian are incorporated, as well as pieces from the lesser-known Romancia, Dragon Slayer IV: Drasile Family, and Asteka: Templo del Sol. However, the arrangement itself leaves much to be desired and isn't really true electronica. Anticipate to hear bad synth, repetitive drum beats, and random voice samples throughout. In this regard, it's quite similar to the controversial "Provincialism Ys". While it's interesting to hear how the different melodies emerge, most interpretations lose the essence of the originals. Somehow Koji Sakuyama even manages to strip the life out of Ys II's "To Make the End of Battle". Though a decent concept, most will be better off skipping this disc altogether.
Unfortunately, the final disc won't redeem the box set for most Westerners. Entitled Surround Theater Ys, it is essentially a drama album based on the story of the original Ys. The underlying instrumental arrangements by orchestrator Kentaro Haneda and rocker Hiroyuki Namba are actually very good. However, most who don't speak Japanese wiill be frustrated by the dialogue and drama performances on top. While those who speak Japanese might enjoy the drama more, it does come across quite a brief and superficial experience. Some tracks, like "Termination", are entirely dedicated to fighting sound effects and really distract from Namba's amazing arrangement. This really isn't an example of top-class drama production. At least Haneda's concluding orchestration of "First Step Towards Wars" is relatively unblemished and makes the disc almost worth listening to.
In the end, the Falcom Special Box '89 is more for hardcore collectors. The first three discs of the album are decent, yet Falcom has offered more enjoyable and comprehensive collections of fusion, symphonic, and vocal arrangements before. The other three discs will be worthless to most out there, though might still appeal for those who enjoy cheesy medleys or drama productions. Keep in mind that this box set is less than two hours long in total, despite featuring six discs, so it will not offer value-for-money despite its high pricetag when purchased second-hand. The two triple disc compilations made out of this box set will allow a more targeted purchase, but even these feature potentially omissable discs.