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Koichi Sugiyama and The Future of Dragon Quest Soundtracks


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I posted this in a different thread, but it didn't garner any conversation. So, I thought I would repost those thoughts, here: 

 

 

My (possibly) unpopular opinion (I haven't done my research on the popularity of this topic) is that Sugiyama's days are gone. He's a great composer, and he's done the series a great boon in given us the ever-catchy Overture. But, as the years go by, Sugiyama has been losing his flavor. Now, I am Not Classically Trained, but, with the more recent games (I will go ahead and say since Dragon Quest VII), Sugiyama has not given his best. The tracks have all become somewhat samey, and I am never left in surprise anymore when hearing a Sugiyama piece for the first time. In addition, the games are getting longer, but the number of tracks have not increased.

 

Let's compare:

 

Dragon Quest VIII, released in 2005, has 22 tracks (1) and takes the average, leisure player 100 hours to get through (2).

 

EarthBound, released in 1994, has 24 tracks (3) and takes the average, leisure player 36 hours to get through (4).

 

Dragon Quest VIII's 100 hours / 22 songs = 4.54 hours / track compared to EarthBound's 36 hours / 24 tracks = 1.5 hours / track.

 

 

Obviously, straight mathematically comparision's between the two are inaccurate, as you, for example, will listen to DQ8's battle theme for *probably* more than 4.5 hours. On the other hand, Theme of Saturn Valley will *probably* only be heard by the average player for *maybe* twenty minutes.

 

There is also the case of variety and personal tastes when it comes to the soundtracks as wholes. EarthBound bounces around Light Sambas, Metal Discos, and Grainy Mexican Radio Stations. Dragon Quest VIII is straight (beautiful) classical music, the whole 100 hour experience.

 

Or, let's look at UNDERTALE. UNDERTALE took me just under 14 hours to see through the Neutral, Good, and Bad ends (source: I played the game). The UNDERTALE soundtrack comes with 101 songs. I don't need to do math to see that UNDERTALE provides a different musical piece for nearly every small situation you encounter. Although some of these songs are all of thirty seconds, the fact that they exist in this game gives it a ton of charm. Take a listen to these three tracks, in order:

 

  1. Hotel
  2. CORE Approach
  3. CORE

 

You don't even have to have played the game. Just by listening to these tracks, the player is able to tell what exactly is going on. There's a hotel theme. A leaving the hotel theme. A, "You're in a Tough Situation" theme. And they all flow into each other so well. Most games would do without that Leaving a Hotel Theme. The fact that Toby Fox took the time to make that track, just for those ten seconds of walking from a Safe Area to a Dangerous Area, makes all the difference.

 

 

So, for my unpopular opinion, I would like for Koichi Sugiyama to, with great pride, hand the torch over to his successor.

 

 

I would really, Really Love to have Kenji Ito work his magic all over the next soundtrack. Oh God. Or Yasunori Mitsuda (click for a playlist). Heck, it'd be crazy, but Yoko Kanno could hecka add some real needed flair to the next Dragon Quest! Why the heck not!!

 

 

R.I.P. Origa

 

 

 

 

sources:

  1. http://dragonquest.wikia.com/wiki/Dragon_Quest_VIII_Original_Soundtrack
  2. http://howlongtobeat.com/game.php?id=2824
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_the_Mother_series
  4. http://howlongtobeat.com/game.php?id=3034

 

 

So, I wanted to open up this conversation to hear everyone else's opinions about the Dragon Quest soundtracks and who would be an Awesome Successor to Koichi Sugiyama if there were ever to be one.

 

I personally just remembered Ryuichi Sakamoto. Now, Sakamoto doesn't primarily do video game work, but he has in the past.

 

I have nothing against Sugiyama at all, to be clear. I simply believe it's time he let some fresh talent work on the next Dragon Quest.

Edited by beets
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I guess Yoko Shimumora, Yasunori Mitsuda, or Yuzo Koshiro.

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I think he's been slipping since V & VI.  I've had debates with folks about this for awhile, though.  DQV had some memorable tracks (like Saint and the Castle Trumpeter), but it was the first soundtrack that I didn't feel was solid from start to finish.  It was the first soundtrack that I felt really didn't tie-in with the game.  I actually found it distracting at times, like how bizarre the cave theme sounded.  I thought it improved with DQVI, and it was thematic and movie-like.  DWVII had its moments, but overall I wasn't impressed--with tracks being either hit or miss.  The battle theme wasn't as strong as in previous incarnations and the Shrine of Dharma theme was cacophonous and godawful.  In contrast, the horn-driven sailing theme was excellent (Pirates of the Sea).

 

DQVIII had the Phoenix Ramia theme, but that was reused from DQIII, so I usually don't count it as part of VIII's "original" soundtrack.  DQVIII's overworld theme also sounded like it belonged on the soundtrack for Gone with Wind, more than in DQ.  The PS2 version was fully orchestrated, though, and that's a detail they don't even include in modern games like PS4's DQ: Heroes.  DQIX reused several themes, including DQIII's cave theme, and DQIV's sailing theme, rather than come up with more original tracks, so between that and the style of the compositions in this game, he's clearly in decline at this point.  Also, the Alltrades Abbey theme is just the Dragon Quest main theme played in double-time, which is really lazy composing, and comes off as uninspiring.  Then there's also the Battle Records and Quester's Rest themes, which sound so far away from the original classical-based medieval fantasy style that made these soundtracks memorable from the beginning.  I think the strongest new track in IX was Angelic Land.

 

Awhile back Square Enix published a bio page for Koichi Sugiyama (which I can no longer find).  It announced that due to his advanced age, Koichi Sugiyama was now composing with an assistant or writing partner.  It was assumed that this writing partner would be taking over for him after he retired from the series.  I think that also factors into the confusion of the DQIX soundtrack.

 

I'm not familiar with DQX, but I thought I saw a video recently where Koichi Sugiyama stated he was asked by Square Enix to produce more classic sounding Dragon Quest music for DQXI.

 

In terms of successors?  I'd have to go with an unknown.  I think I'd rather take my chances with uncertainty.  There are composers I like, but the music they've written for other games fits so well with those games (Shovel Knight, Megaman, Metroid, Secret of Mana, DuckTales, Suikoden I-III) that I don't know if I would want to hear the same style for DQ.

Edited by Liamland
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Weird that you feel that VII's sound "same-y".

 

VII's music makes me think of reading a fairy tale in an illustrated book. A different approach from more "martial" music, as the first three games.

 

Could it be you do not like that approach instead?

 

The music from the first games is epic, and I love it, but I could also argue that it sounds "same-y" among those first games.

 

As for VIII's music, I think he may have focused on calm music, especial to gaze at the beautiful world. It sounds very good, but it is very calm and may help you fall asleep if you are already tired, in contrast to the more war-like compositions of earlier games, which could keep you awake.

 

---

 

All of that is just to comment about the "music sounding the same" bit.

 

I have to recognize Sugiyama-dono has not been composing many pieces, and has relied on bringing music back from past games more and more.

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Wait, so you're going to judge the quality of a composer's work by looking at how many pieces there are in game's soundtrack? If so, then you're completely missing the point of Sugiyama's works (and perhaps the works of others). Just because a soundtrack has more pieces to it does not mean it's of higher quality.

 

The point of Sugiyama's works is to convey certain moods and feelings relative to any point of the game, as should any composer do when working for anything. The point is not to see how many tracks you can shove into one game. The fact that you call the tracks "samey" tells me you have not closely observed his works and how they're used. And it puzzles me that you've pointed out VII's soundtrack as the point where his works started to sound "samey", considering it's one of the games in the series wherein the soundtrack carries across a different, more somber tone in comparison to other games' soundtracks. III's adventurous soundtrack, for example, is hardly the same in tone compared to DQVI and VII's more somber soundtracks.

 

Your remark about Undertale's soundtrack and how it fits different parts of the game could very well be said for many DQ soundtracks.

 

There are few composers in the video game industry that are experienced enough to convey certain moods of the world/story the way Koichi Sugiyama does. Most composers in genre Sugiyama works for tend to fall for the same common tropes in their music and, as a result, their work falls flat and/or lacks any real meaning to it. Sugiyama uses his own style to provide a sense of familiarity while conveying different moods based on the game.

Edited by SlackerGuyS21
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You know, Slacker makes a good point. Several good points, actually.

 

So +1 for you, my Felyne friend.

Edited by YangustheLegendaryBandit
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I think he peaked with VII. Some of his best work ever was on that. He is still good, but definitely diminished.

 

His best work ever is Ideon Be Invoked, BTW. He went ham in on that.

Edited by Megalosaro
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What is "samey" are each game's soundtracks, not the individual tracks within the game.

 

 

I enjoyed Dragon Quest VII, but that game is one hundred hours long. When you have twenty different town's dilemma's to solve, yet each town has the same melodramatic track playing, you start to feel that each town is supposed to convey the same feelings. I bring up UNDERTALE just because it doesn't reuse the same song for any town, but many other examples could have been used.

 

Remember, Dragon Quest VII is 100 hours long. After the first disc, you've heard ninety percent of the tracks in the game already. The only surprises left come from the final disc.

 

I really enjoyed Dragon Quest IV's soundtrack. Each character had their own theme, and the fifth chapter is short enough to where it never feels like you are hearing the same song too many times over. That's what I would like to get from future Dragon Quests. I would love it if Dragon Quest VII had different themes for the town that got turned to stone, and the happy town that gets overrun with plants. The town with the clock tower! I would have love some high fantasy Renaissance tracks playing there.

 

Sugiyama's work in Dragon Quest VII is insufficient.

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Redacted.

Edited by YangustheLegendaryBandit
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