The Zelda Symphony: A Godlike Experience

Monday, June 25th, 2012

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This one’s fit for a Goddess.

While it has taken a Smithsonian exhibit to convince the general public that video games are art, video game music has had an easier road to travel. Hugely successful concert series like Video Games Live!, Play! A Video Game Symphony and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy have shown older generations that video game music is not just a collection of bleeping Pac-Man-era chiptunes. For many gamers, however, Koji Kondo’s compositions for the Legend of Zelda series are among the most concert-worthy. And Nintendo gave one of its major franchises this treatment with a brief concert series on its 25th anniversary last year; it was only a matter of time before the Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert tour was announced.

Needless to say, I imitated M. Bison a lot that day.

When Nintendo and Jason Michael Paul Productions, the series organizers, added a date for my hometown of Austin, Texas, I was pleasantly surprised. Then again, maybe not, since not only are we the “Live Music Capital of the World”. We’re also the home of Retro Studios, BioWare, Rooster Teeth, countless indie developers and delicious Mexican food. Regardless, I was more than willing to acquire a ticket and count the days until my city would be exposed to the sweet, sweet sound of Zelda.

The Long Center for the Performing Arts could not be a more perfect venue for the symphony. First opened in 2008, it’s a relatively new venue, and it shows. Here, just about every seat is a good seat, with quality acoustics and an unobstructed view. Almost all of the Long Center’s 2300 seats were filled – and certainly not just by classy, tuxedo-and-dress-wearing orchestra purists who had no idea what a Triforce was. Yes, there were a few, but for the most part, Zelda fans of every age, race and creed were in attendance.

Blood, sweat, tears and $89 got me this ticket…

Also, I’ll get this out of the way: This is not your ordinary symphony. Only at a symphony like this one would there be a massive projection screen with video of the series’ best moments. Only at a symphony like this one would you have the opportunity to get over fifty StreetPass tags before the show even begins. Only at a symphony like this one would Jeron Moore, creative director of the amazing Zelda Reorchestrated musical project, not only do the same job with the symphony, but also take hosting duties. Only at a symphony like this one would you be allowed to applaud in between movements. Although regular orchestra etiquette and standards were both thrown out the window, no one spoke a word when renowned conductor Eimear Noone lifted her baton.

And so this lively night began. Quite a few of the compositions come from the 25th Anniversary CD packed in with first-print copies of Skyward Sword, which was somewhat expected, considering that Noone also conducted that CD, composed by concert arranger Chad Seiter. Despite this, there’s a major difference between hearing a recording and hearing a full, live orchestra play said recording. Alas, not every game is represented: handheld Zelda fans had to make do with a few Link’s Awakening arrangements, and Skyward Sword‘s “Ballad of the Goddess” was the only song from that game to receive the orchestral treatment. Most fans (including yours truly), however, were excited about the musical selections.

The overture and closing were both brief summaries of the series’ music, but the four movements in the symphony itself were based on Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and A Link to the Past, fitting nicely with the official Zelda timeline. Jeron stated that the Symphony of the Goddesses concert name came from Din, Nayru and Farore, the three goddesses of the Triforce – as seen in Ocarina of Time – and with that, the symphony started with a bang.

As the symphony went through each of the different arrangements, and videos from each game appeared on the aforementioned projection screen, any skepticism I had about this event disappeared from view. Such thoughts were replaced with fond memories of fighting Ganondorf/Ganon in his various incarnations, meeting mascot characters both good (The King of Red Lions) and bad (Navi, who was heard several times at the start…), and getting kicked by Cuckoos. Indeed, the video of the games in action combined wonderfully with the orchestral compositions, and made me realize just how beautiful the series’ music is when performed by a hundred-plus-piece orchestra. After the four movements of the symphony, there were three encores. One was a beautiful rendition of “Ballad of the Wind Fish” from Link’s Awakening. Then, Jeron said the next piece would be “for the ladies” in the audience – none other than “Gerudo Valley” from Ocarina of Time. The symphony closed with a suite based on Majora’s Mask.

I’d be hard-pressed to find any major criticisms of the symphony, but there were a few minor annoyances. Fans who haven’t beaten any of the games represented should note that there are spoilers abound. I still have not played Twilight Princess in full, so the reveal of that game’s ending, while expected, still took me by surprise. During the fifteen-minute intermission in between the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess suites, the merchandise booth was extremely crowded, and the posters ($15) and T-shirts ($25) sold out quite fast. Finally, while the crowd was quite raucous at times, we were all still able to keep our cool – even the youngest Zelda fans stayed calm.

In short, these complaints don’t even feel warranted, because not even videos of previous symphonies posted on YouTube could prepare me for this wonderful, wonderful experience. Although it cost me quite a few rupees, I still feel extremely lucky for attending an orchestral concert of this caliber. Any Zelda fan worth their salt should definitely go if they have the chance and money.

About Will Whitehurst

Will joined the Operation Rainfall Campaign soon after news broke of that infamous French interview about Xenoblade. Subsequently, he got actively involved and became a staff member in July/August 2011. He is currently the head of the Japanese translation team, and loves to play, discuss, debate and learn more about games. Will gravitates towards unconventional action games and RPGs, but plays pretty much anything except Madden. He is also currently attending college, honing his Japanese skills and preparing for medical school. (Coincidentally, Trauma Center is one of his favorite game series of all time.)