Falcom Special Box ’93
Falcom Special Box ’93
December 24, 1992
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Falcom Sound Box ’93 was possibly the most worthwhile entry in Falcom’s legendary special box series. That is since it focuses on original game music rather than arrangements like earlier entries in the series or drama performances like certain later entries. The set offers the soundtracks to Lord Monarch, Advanced Lord Monarch, Brandish, and Popful Mail, which are all musically important entries in the Falcom line. These soundtracks had not been separately released when the box set was made available in 1993, though Popful Mail Sound Box ’94 and 2009’s Brandish FM Towns & Renewal Original Soundtrack eventually followed. Other exclusive material was provided in the fourth disc, which features arranged music from the then-upcoming games Ys IV, The Legend of Xanadu, and Brandish 2. Let’s take a look into whether this soundtrack was worthwhile in 1992 and whether it has stood the time since.
The first disc offers a rare insight into the seventh set of games from the Dragon Slayer line, the Lord Monarch series of strategy war games. This is the only time the soundtracks for the series have been released on an album, though later games in the series offered redbook audio. The “Opening” theme immediately depicts that the game is still a relatively youthful one with its surprisingly innocent melody and soothing synth pads. The orchestral march featured in “Lord Monarch – Normal” nevertheless fits the gameplay while keeping things relatively frivolous. There is quite a bit of stylistic variety in subsequent stage themes to portray the different scenery or just keep things novel. For example, “Fuse Panic” revolves around edgy funk grooves, “Battle Formation” is introduced with some rasping crisis orchestration, and “Fantasy Pastel” keeps things colourful and bubbly for a novel stage. Each stage theme is also followed by a ‘victory at hand’ theme. These tracks tend to be pleasant orchestral marches with a few frills, though sound rather similar each time and therefore feel redundant en masse. The short selection of music from Advanced Lord Monarch is basically continuous with its predecessor, though there are some technological innovations. “Monster Dominion”, for instance, takes particular advantage of the pitch-bending technology to add eeriness and expressiveness to the battle field. Similarly, the warped synth lead in “Sea Park Adventure” seems fitting for the aquatic theme. This pleasant if unremarkable duo of soundtracks is rounded off with a five minute light rock ending theme.
The second disc is dedicated to the original sound version of Brandish featured in the 1991 PC-9801 release. This release was superseded by the Brandish FM Towns & Renewal Original Soundtrack in 2009 — which offered better sound quality, slight arrangements, and longer track times — but sufficed as the only Brandish soundtrack release available for over 16 years. Mieko Ishikawa and Atsushi Shirakawa’s score to Brandish is one of Falcom’s most expressive and memorable earlier efforts. This is evident right from the start with “Opening” and “Ruins”, two intricate and explorative pieces that portray the desperate situation of the world and the determination of the female protagonist. Other area themes such as “Ancient Statue”, “Tower”, and “Cave” capture so much melancholy and beauty, even with their detractive muddy synth. The soundtrack still hearkens back to more light-hearted Falcom soundtracks with the chaotic rock-infused “Dora Doron” or the pop-inspired grooves of “Fortress”. In general, the battle themes tend to disappoint with their focus on repetitive chord progressions, though tracks like “Black Widow” and “Crab Devil” have some decent hooks and “Hardress” is bound to inspire memories of Ys II‘s “To Make the End of Battle”. By the time listeners arrive at the three ending themes, it’s clearer that Music from Brandish offers a lot of fine music, though it is far from the definitive version of the soundtrack both musically or technically.
The third disc is dedicated to the PC-9801 music from the relatively stand-alone title Popful Mail. The core of the soundtrack is very sentimental and light-hearted, as might be expected from the youthful female protagonist, and this makes it quite inviting and enjoyable. The hyperactive “Opening Demo 1”, jazz-infused “Opening Demo 2”, and synth rock jingle “Menu” set the mood before listeners dive into a set of area and battle themes. The exploration themes maintain the light rock and jazz feel of the soundtrack while fitting the areas in an appropriate but unstereotypical way, whether the dash of tropical rhythms in “Jungle” or the oppressive guitar riffs of “Volcanic Zone”. There are also a couple of synth orchestral themes, including “Cave” with its impressive woodwind decoration or “Castle” with its typical regal features. Given Popful Mail, there are plenty of battle themes to get listeners pumped up too, whether the relatively laid-back one for the jungle area or the more boundless iceberg theme to the imposing guitar-driven boss theme for the volcanic zone. The game ends on a high note with the peaceful tear jerking “Somebody Loves You” and the ecstatic credits roll theme. The Popful Mail is evidently a very effective accompaniment to the game and an enjoyable stand-alone listen. However, it should be noted that the Popful Mail Sound Box ’94 offers the soundtrack in three much-improved console sound versions even with a few bonuses. That set is the recommended release for the hardcore Popful Mail fan.
The box set ends with a preview of the soundtracks of three games, Ys IV, The Legend of Xanadu, and Brandish 2. These nine pre-release arrangements offered a very exciting insight into what to expect from these titles for hardcore Falcom music fanatics. Ryo Yonemitsu’s remix of “Celceta, The Great Forest” was bound to set expectations high given it blends the popular rock feel of earlier Ys tracks with elaborate electric guitar solos. “Battle #58” does much the same, except against a techno beat, while the exciting overworld theme “Mountain Peak ~ Ruins” also declares itself as a potential fan favourite. Arranged by Falcom’s in-house team, The Legend of Xanadu tracks don’t offer quite as many thrills, but are still commendable. “In Search of Hope” does exactly what its title suggests with an uplifting light rock anthem focused on the personality of the main character. “Dawn of Makria” is a nice change from the heavy drumming with its feathery synth pads and slow soothing progressions while “Ship” is surprisingly emotional given its relative triviality within the game. The J.D.K. Band’s Tomohiko Kishimoto leads listeners out with a trio of exclusive remixes from Brandish 2. After an anthemic hard rock mix of “Soldier’s Sorrow” and an experimental techno rendition of “Laboratory”, he brings things round full circle with a blazing guitar-based interpretation of “Karl Kyares”. Evidently, these pre-release tracks have stood the test of time since they are actually high quality remixes on par with Perfect Collection material.
The Falcom Sound Box ’93 is a collection of classic Falcom music that is worth treasuring. Falcom Sound Team J.D.K. consistently proves their strengths creating memorable melodies, emotional soundscapes, and fitting themes on these soundtracks; they succeed whether creating the modest military soundtracks to Lord Monarch, the moody action-packed music from Brandish, or the jubilant youthful music to Popful Mail. The pre-release disc is worthwhile bonus that demonstrates the potential of the soundtracks previewed while proving once again that Falcom knows how to push the boat out with their arrangements. On the downside, the material from Brandish and Popful Mail has been superseded by exemplary releases featuring improved synth and more elaborate arrangements. When taken together with the price of the set, it’s very clear that, despite its initial usefulness, Falcom Special Box ’93 is now very much a purchase for hardcore fans. Still, those who own it ought to treasure it as it is a fantastically assembled box set with plenty of treats and bonuses.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.