I had the pleasure of viewing rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes two nights ago (Sept 6, 2014) at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (Toronto, CA) and it was definitely an audible eargasm even if you aren’t a gaming fanatic. Video game music, like many movie/television or trailer scores, has found some of the most compelling, emotional, and beautifully written audio drama scores today. Don’t be led astray by video game soundtracks even if it might have a connotation of being geek chic (maybe?). It seems as though gaming isn’t always taken seriously but there’s a wealth of game scores that truly lift the whole audiovisual experience of what gaming involves. I mean, you might be able to watch a movie or play a game without sound and find limited enjoyment in it but it’s not quite the same, right? Can you imagine how Super Mario would feel if the main theme never existed? It becomes more than just a achieve success in beating the game mentality (even though that’s important too), it comes back to what music is and the purpose it serves—and I’ll let you decide what that means to you.
But unlike my usual Music Monday’s where I pair a book with a song, this post is more of my thoughts on the concert.
rePLAY is different than its predecessor, Play! A Video Game Symphony, which made its debut in 2006; and was the first video game-oriented concert I attended. Unlike Play!, which solely focused on the music, this revamped concert series incorporates a greater sense of a narrative element to the viewer. As an audience, we were told (by a narrator) that we are a hero of a story but will soon discover ourselves and experience our limits and the perils of the journey through the eyes of other heroes before us (i.e. protagonists of popular franchises). This was a neat integration to tie the concert together but it does make me wonder if there’s any flexibility in the arrangement choices to fit each chapter. I’ve compiled a rough title and franchise arrangement for each chapter. The venue [regrettably] did not hand out programmes, so I’m basically doing this all from memory, Google, and those who I attended the concert with. That being said, the list provided may not be fully accurate and is subject to change.
rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes [Toronto Programme]
Opening Credits: The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (Excerpt)
Chapter 01: “Call to Adventure” – Journey
Chapter 02: “Refusal to the Call” – Mass Effect
(Similiar Arrangement via. London Philharmonic Orchestra)
Chapter 03: “Supernatural Aid” – Guild Wars 2
Chapter 04: “The Crossing of the First Threshold” – BioShock
Chapter 05: “The Belly of the Whale” – Lair
Chapter 06: “The Road of Trials” – God of War
Chapter 07: “The Meeting with the Goddess” – Dragon Age
Chapter 08: “The Temptress” – Portal 2
Chapter 09: “Atonement with the Father” – Metal Gear Solid
(Similar live arrangement via. Symphony of Legends)
Chapter 10: “Apotheosis” – Chrono Cross/Trigger
Chapter 11: “The Ultimate Boon” – Final Fantasy VII
Chapter 12: “Refusal of the Return” – Shadow of the Colossus
Chapter 13: “The Magic Flight” – Castlevania
Chapter 14: “Rescue from Without” – Kingdom Hearts
Chapter 15: “The Crossing of the Return Threshold” – Lost Odyssey
Chapter 16: “Master of Two Worlds” – Halo
Epilogue: “Freedom To Live” – The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
So if you’re a crazy fella, you might have realised that it is indeed following the Monomyth model of a hero’s journey (through its 17-stages); of which I just discovered thanks to good ol’ reliable Wikipedia. So while some originality points are lost, it is still a different take on the traditional orchestrated video game symphonies compared to the variety of concerts touring worldwide.
I’ll be honest; I haven’t played through all of these games, so the progression of the songs (at times) felt kind of off to me. For example: I get why Halo ended the concert, I really do, but that doesn’t mean that I was totally sold with the orchestral arrangement and the cinematography to end the night (discounting the epilogue of course). I’d throw contenders for scores that I think would have an oomph factor of an ending but that would all be he-say-she-say.
The programme consisted of songs old-and-new from Play/rePLAY’s repository of scores; and this was a good mix for me as a viewer of both creative phases of video game scoring by Jason Michael Paul’s production. New additions like Journey, Mass Effect, BioShock, Lair, and God of War, were met with intrigue with the classic arrangements from Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Halo, Chrono Cross/Trigger, and The Elder Scrolls. The most notable medley changes as a previous viewer were from Castlevania and Metal Gear Solid. Castlevania seemed like a different selection of songs altogether; while Metal Gear Solid took it a few steps back and gave a slower (and more lyrical) rendition. But perhaps these arrangements evolved and grew since I last saw this show live and I can’t really fault the feels it still gave me—it was still solid. And not that it matters too much but it was interesting how there was lacking footage for the Chrono and Final Fantasy series; possibly due to rights but I guess I’ll never know as an audience member. Similar to many video game concerts, the orchestrated performance was paired with a giant overhead screen giving viewers animated context of how the vame was visualized; whether it was through artwork, vector images, or cut-scenes from the game.
With the standing ovation and gratuitous cheering during the Epilogue, crowd favourites which seemed to get all the nerds in the audience roaring were Kingdom Hearts, BioShock, Portal 2, Halo, Metal Gear Solid, and the Sephiroth lyric-inducing One-Winged Angel (FFVII). But I expect that, like me, some fans may have been hoping more from the iconic Final Fantasy franchise. It should be noted that there are Final Fantasy programme-driven concerts available (i.e. Distant Worlds) and rePLAY is more focused on the music of the gaming industry than one behemoth of a single franchise. One can certainly argue that rePLAY ought to have had 2-3 songs from the Final Fantasy but then I’d guess you have to consider “different” hero perspectives from different worlds across all of the gaming platforms.
This concert is different in that it works to engage its audience who may not be familiar with the games or simply video game music in general by immersing them through the life-cycle of a hero’s journey. While it can be argued that each franchise could be slotted elsewhere, thus defeating the progression of song-to-chapter identity, that isn’t really an immediate thought to the average viewer (at least I don’t think); and especially not to those who haven’t played the game. All geekiness aside, there was nothing timid or quaintly posh about attending rePLAY as the audience was encouraged to burst into cheer for the song selections—creating an atmosphere for fandoms to thrive as a greater community. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many cosplayers as I thought would show up but that’s okay.
So as a returnee to witness the revamped rePLAY concert, did I enjoy my time? You bet. Was the performance technically sound? There were some flubs here and there but they weren’t shockingly abnormal. The major problem I had for the sake of casting doubt was the shoddy camerawork focusing and transitioning. The integration between the in-game cinematography and the orchestra was okay for the most part but panning from one performer to another wasn’t as seamless as it could be. I guess I can’t complain that much considering I have thanks to give to Groupon for arranging 1,000+ discounted seats (of an otherwise 3k+ in the performance hall) ranging from the 50% off mark—which promptly caused me to impulse buy my tickets…because discounts, bro. I’d also like to give props to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts for continually bringing back these kinds of concerts. People might be enticed by Brahms or Tchaikovsky, and that’s cool if you are, but video game music…let alone live orchestrated video game symphonies are my jam.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post for Groupon, The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, or rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes. The provided Youtube links are not accurate representations of what was performed for rePLAY.