23 Jun 2007

PLAY! A Video Game Symphony

PLAY! was performed here in Singapore as part of the Singapore Arts Festival, by the Singapore Festival Orchestra, the Vocal Consort, and the NUS choir. As a bonus, Streets of Rage composer Yuzo Koshiro came down to DJ some of his works before the concert. If that wasn't enough, SEGA composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (Shenmue, Virtual Fighter 2) performed Daytona USA's 'Let's Go Away' on the piano during the concert. Anyway, here's my personal take on the event:

From http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/01945/esplanade.html
From 6.45pm to 7.15pm, lucky bystanders at the Esplanade's Concourse were treated to the techno beats of Streets of Rage mixed by DJ/Composer/Really-cool-guy Yuzo Koshiro. Didn't get a photo of him performing though as I arrived a minute or so before he finished (and was busy taking in the sounds, atmosphere and sight of little children and otakus enjoying the music). He wasn't exactly DJ-ing on the spot. The music and visuals were prepared way in advance and all he did was probably tweak the volume, bass and treble once in a while. The music and visualizations were good though.

I was half expecting a crowd of nerds in specs, polo tees and backpacks, but the crowd I saw was one of well-dressed 19 - 30 year old Singaporeans (slightly more guys though). That was before I went into the concert hall. Once in there, I saw families with kids and some ah-beng gamers. Where are the nerds? Well, they came late. Streaming in one by one, most of them sat by their lonesome selves while others traveled in packs. Ah well. Expected. Not that I have anything against them. I'm probably 80% nerd myself just by being a computing student and reading kotaku.com on a regular basis. Anyway, on to the show!

The concert hall

Maestro Arnie Roth (also the MC for tonight) introduces himself and the SFO. Concert begins with a short Fanfare composed by Nobou Uematsu specially for PLAY!. The SFO seemed to struggle with this piece (and the trumpets (I think) were quite bad).

Next up was a Super Mario Bros. suite. It was a fun piece, but the arrangement wasn't very good. The problem with most retro pieces for the night was that its just a string of many short tunes, many of which could not mix well together. The audience had a fun time looking at the visuals and even giggled when the cute underwater theme started, so it ended up pretty much OK.

Shenmue was next. Composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi was here to attend the concert so he stood up and waved ecstatically to the audience when the MC announced his presence. I haven't played Shenmue before or even heard any of its music. Wasn't very interested in the game in the first place. The music turned out to be quite good though and it seems that at this point the SFO has just started to warm up...

Yet-to-be-released Xbox 360 game by Mistwalker, Lost Odyssey, was up next. The first of many Nobou-san's video game music for tonight. And we get to hear the choir sing. The choir didn't have to sing much though, probably just a warm up for them. The visuals fit the piece nicely and overall it was good. SFO seems to be done with their warm up...

Ah. Sonic. Good stuff. Better than Mario, though it did suffer the same problems. A giggle from the nerds this time when Robotnik's theme started playing.

Metal Gear Solid. Easily one of my most anticipated pieces for that night. The arrangement wasn't very good though. Yes it felt "grand", but it was pretty flat all the way and didn't really have much of a climax. Should have been a lot better.

Second of Nobou-san's work for tonight. Xbox 360 RPG, Blue Dragon, made by the same team from Mistwalker (Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobou Uematsu) except with Dragonball's Akira Toriyama instead of Slam Dunk's Takehiko Inoue. Ew. Anyway, the music was quite good. Appropriately epic and playful at the same time.

The first SquareEnix piece in the list. One word. FANTASTIC. When they started playing 'Passion' at the 2nd half, I grinned and thought "This is what I'm here for. True video game music heaven." The orchestra managed to bring out the emotions of... well... passion. The SFO was at its peak. Or so I thought.

The SFO didn't hold back for this next piece. Nor did the choir. Final Fantasy VI's Dancing Mad. SFO showed off some seriously mad pipe organ skills. This dark, epic and simply mad piece sent audiences into a frenzy. Loudest applause so far.

Intermission: Quick stop at the toilet (longer queue at the male toilet than the female toilet) and off to see the merchandises for sale. Bought a More Friends CD (S$40) and a PLAY! t-shirt (S$30). Was tempted to get the S$30 official concert program for no reason. They also had PLAY! and More Friends posters. The More Friends poster was signed! But what's the point of getting a More Friends poster at a PLAY! concert? It was tempting though...

(When I went back to my seat in the hall after intermission, I heard a pipe organ playing the Final Fantasy score. =D I hope they play it as an encore!)

After the intermission, composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (from SEGA) came out with a Sonic soft toy to play a rendition of Daytona USA's 'Let's Go Away' on the piano. A really fun performance to watch. The audience laughed as scenes from Daytona played on the screens while Takenobu-san belted out off-key cries of "Daytona!!!" in the Engrish way.

The tone became serious again as the SFO started playing a suite from The Elder Scrolls. The composer, Jeremy Soule, is one of my favourite MMORPG/RPG music composers. His style lends a hand in making the scores sound very grand and epic, very appropriate for the grand and epic RPGs these scores were written for. Starting to sound like a normal orchestral concert now.

Then came along the Chrono series. Mad applause from the otaku crowd. Most of the audience, including me, didn't know what we were in for. I've heard that this piece is often a fan favourite at concerts and I've played around 4 hours worth of Chrono Trigger. Nice midi music. But it wasn't as memorable as the Final Fantasy tunes. However, my opinion changed when I heard the orchestra play. This piece was purrrrfect for an orchestra! The beautiful Oboe and Flute solo lend a nice touch to the piece. Kinda like the cherry on top of a very delicious cake.

"Next up is one of my favourite pieces" announces Maestro Arnie Roth. World of Warcraft was quite good, although not as good as some of Jeremy Soule's works. Composer Jason Hayes did do a good job of blending 'Epic' and 'Fantasy' into one though, and the arrangement was good too.

Next up was one of MY favourite pieces. HALO! Brought to this world by Composer/Heavy Smoker Martin O'Donnell (aka Marty) and arranged by Maestro Arnie Roth himself, Halo's main theme did not disappoint. It didn't surprise though. Maybe I already had high expectations?

The visuals for the next piece satisfied all those with a fetish for hot vampire guys (yes, you). Castlevania was pleasantly good considering that I thought my interest level would dip between Halo and One Winged Angel.

"It's Zelda time!" proclaimed Arnie. Crowd cheered. Wasn't as loud as Chrono though. Pretty nice tunes. Especially the main part. Everything else was a little bland though.

It had to come eventually. No video game concert is without the Nobou-classic One Winged Angel. Before that, a short video message from Nobou-san himself. You could hear all the fanboys chatter in excitement, shock, awe, whatever. SFO began playing. I think they had practiced this piece the most as they really showed confidence in the way they played. Maybe over-confidence. They were playing it too fast. That was the only flaw though. Everything else was perfect.

"Encore! Encore!" some crazy fangirls (or ladies wanting their money's worth) shouted. So Arnie came back on stage. According to him, local game website GameAxis conducted a poll to see what we would like to hear as the encore piece. Shinobi won the poll. WTH. Ok, so maybe it was a good game with a famous level of difficulty, but that doesn't mean it would make good music! The piece was the typical oriental score, uninspiring and uninteresting. Not going to comment more about it.

People shouted encore again. Apparently some of the audience shared my dissatisfaction for the previous encore piece. Was there room for more? Are they going to play Final Fantasy's main theme??? Arnie Roth came out and prepared to conduct the 2nd encore. It's One Winged Angel again. Crowded cheered. Ah well. Not a bad ending.

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