After the success of Ys I and II, it was expected that another Ys adventure would arrive soon after. And so, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys was born from that, and it was a tumultuous delivery. The game itself completely threw out the top down Legend of Zelda style perspective of the game, and decided to pull the same stunt that Zelda II pulled on the fans, with the game now being a side scrolling adventure. Despite the game being terrible, the music was the one redeeming feature of the whole mess, featuring a soundtrack composed by Meiko Ishikawa of Ys I and II fame.
While the game features a lot of the classic Falcom rock that made the series famous, the soundtrack also displays a lot of refinement to the now formulaic structure for an Ys soundtrack. In many ways Wanderers from Ys became the gold standard for what an Ys soundtrack should sound like and what it should aspire to and what many have composers since have tried to aspire towards.
The first track is probably the most off-beat lead tracks. "Dancing on the Road" is a just that — a folk dance and it's not really spectacular at all. Thankfully the following track "A Premonition = Styx =" is a much stronger entry into the mix. It's a bit slow burning, but as an introduction to the story, it's a serviceable track. What follows is the only town track in the game, mostly because there is only the one town in this story. "Trading Village of Redmont" is an upbeat track with a solid hummable melody line. Of note is the B section, which comes in at the 0:55 mark, where the track changes direction dramatically, but it's a short lived change.
This is also the first game which returns to Adol's theme, "The Boy Who Had Wings", which first appeared in Music from Ys as an unused track. This time the theme is fleshed out and given a much stronger buildup with a AAB structure that runs without a repeat. It's a catchy and properly fleshed out theme that makes a re-appearance in Ys V.
Of course the big draw for Ys fans is the dungeon tracks which are traditionally energetic pieces of music. And this game is no exception to that rule. Starting off with "Be Careful", a heavy rock piece that starts off with a simple bass-led melodic fragment that runs for the first 0:15. It then bursts to life with a much more energetic section that runs until 1:12, where it folds around back to the A section again. "Ilberns Ruins" is a favorite of mine, with a catchy melodic line. Although the opening attacks ended up sounding much sharper on the SNES version of the soundtrack, this one is much stronger overall. The second half of the ruins is a lava filled underground level, which is portrayed in "A Searing Struggle". It's a short theme that just barely gets off the ground before reaching the repeat.
Unfortunately "Snare of Darkness" is a poorly crafted theme. It's chaotic, yes, but almost mind-numbingly so. The thudding drums for the first 19 seconds of the track almost cut off any other sound within the track. And though the theme is short, it repeats, so you get to hear the droning lower drums all over again at the 0:50 mark. It's an instantly forgettable track. Thankfully "Stealing the Will to Fight" is not a bad theme at all. It's not quite as energetic as previous dungeon themes, but it does convey the image of a long and treacherous journey, which fits well with the stage itself as it takes place while climbing a mountain. Unfortunately it doesn't quite soar all the way through, as the 0:50-1:13 passage where the track begins its approach to the loop isn't an ideal ending to the theme.
While "Varestine Castle" is an excellent power rock theme, it's "Sealed Time", the second half of that stage, that steals the show. Varestine tends to get a bit too plodding with its sound, but "Sealed Time" displays the right level of lightness to it. It's a catchy theme that I'm fairly certain will be stuck in your head for weeks after hearing it. "Pulsing Toward Ruin" and "Tower of Destiny" are both part of the last stage that Adol traverses within. "Pulsing Toward Ruin" is much the same as Varestine Castle, except the drums are far too loud and almost completely drown out the melody line. It's not a bad theme, but the heavy way that it is handled is shameful here. "Tower of Destiny", on the other hand, is not an overly long theme, but displays the appropriate level of dread as you are about to enter the domain of the villain of the game. The theme is handled well, with a good mixture of sound and not nearly as heavy handed.
And of course there are four tracks associated with the bosses of the game. Starting off, we have "Beasts as Black as Night", which starts off sounding a bit muddy due to the limitations of the soundboard, but quickly recovers at the 0:15 mark with a simple melodic theme that is repeated endlessly until the track repeats at the 0:48 mark and back to the muddy opening. "Shock of the Death God" suffers from an equally muddy sound, due to the limitations of the board. Later arranged versions of the track bring forward the core melody line which is almost completely buried underneath the heavy sound.
The other two themes are both associated with the final boss of the game. The boss even gets his own introductory theme, "Behold!!", and it's a bold rock theme which gets the heart pumping. And then "The Strongest Foe" is the counterstroke to the introduction. The only unfortunate part of this track is that it sounds rather hpllow and lacking of any sort of resonant bass line or any depth whatsoever. It sort of languishes in the same way as a lot of other Ys boss tracks in the pre-1990 days.
The twin ending theme structure has been the common thread with previous Ys iterations, and this game is no different. The first theme is usually the more reflective and more dramatic track, and "Departure at Sunrise" is no different. It's a lovely theme that is undone by some misplaced harmonies that don't quite mesh with the whole at the 1:20 mark onward. And then to the more upbeat staff roll theme, "Wanderers from Ys". This time it's an epic and regal sounding theme rather than a purely upbeat theme. It also conjures up the same feeling of going on a journey that "Stealing the Will to Fight" brought to the table. It's also a longer track than previous editions with a run time of 7:56. Although there are a lot of repetitions of the main themes, it's a mostly original track.
Included in the mixture is also a few tracks from a re-arrangement on the X68000 system. Though these tracks are Ishikawa's, there were six added tracks that another composer created for the game on that system. Unfortunately they aren't present here, and don't make an appearance until the Perfect Collection.
Music from Ys III Wanderers from Ys has what many consider to be the finest of the Ys saga's soundtracks. And I happen to be one of them. With this soundtrack, we get all of the themes from the original version of the game and a few tracks from a different soundboard. It's an excellent soundtrack that highlights what could be done with the old basic sound chips. It's well worth adding to your collection if you have any love for chip tunes or Ys music.