Symphonic Boom presents rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes

What is one of the myriad of things that come to your mind when you think of video games? Is it the awesome visuals that delight your eyes? What about the engrossing stories that draws you in? Or is it the fun gameplay that keeps you at it for periods of time ranging from minutes to marathon long hour sessions? How about the music? Spend enough quality time with a video game and the music will crawl into your ears and embed itself into your mind. Since video games have been around for 40 plus years, it is safe to say that numerous tunes and compositions have made their way into our hearts and minds over time. These beloved songs have inspired various covers that run that gamut of very distinct genres of music. Rock, metal, polka and piano are only a select few of the hundreds of covers out there for your audio enjoyment.

Video game music has infiltrated its way into the classical music scene as well. Why not? Video game music has evolved over the years just like the graphics, story and gameplay. Video game music is no longer confined to what a developer created on their keyboard or computer decades ago. Complex multi-instrumental music often fills the background of most games out there today. It is not uncommon for world tours of video game concerts to happen.

The members of the Grand Rapids Symphony are no strangers to performing compositions of video game music. Over the years video game themed concerts featuring music from Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda and other games have occurred at DeVos Hall. This year on February 7th, 2015, Grand Rapids was once again home to another video game concert titled rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes.

Grand Rapids own video game cover rock band Playing with Power performed in the lobby before the show. Normally, they cover songs while a projector screen is displaying the accompanying game that fit the cover. This time they performed the background music to Super Mario Bros while a man played the stages of the game. Whenever the stage changed on the game, Playing with Power would switch into the next theme of said stage. If Mario died on screen, they would start the music of that stage over. Listening to Playing with Power reminded me of how much of a variety of music was present in Super Mario Bros even back then. The player did not go through the game from start to finish stage by stage. The various secret warps were utilized since he knew the ins and outs of that game. At times, he would have to repeat the stage over and over again. It’s not like I could fair better. That game would be as difficult to me now as it was when I was a kid. Although he died numerous times, we cheered when he finally rescued Princess Toadstool/Peach from the clutches of the great Koopa King Bowser. The player finished the game inside of 15 minutes.

Afterward, the bassist Mark informed the crowd of who they were and when their next big gig would be. That very next gig will be the annual GR8bit Live!. For those who do not know, Gr8bit Live! is a video game concert that serves as a fundraiser to buy video game equipment for the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. All proceed go to this cause. At least 7 VGM bands will perform at this FREE event this year. Please check it out and support this cause if you can. Gr8bit Live! 3 will be a concert and convention to look forward to. Now, back to the review if I may.

Numerous folks came out to support the symphony. To say the house was packed, would be an understatement. Parents brought their kids to expose them to symphonic covers of classic to modern day video games. Couples experienced a unique date that doesn’t happen often. Single people such as myself showed up to enjoy the show. The powerful influence of video games have on generations is immense. To plunk down 30 plus dollars and higher ($46.75 for myself) to see a symphony chorus perform covers of tunes demonstrates how video games and video game music have made an impact on people. Anyone could hop online and listen to the original versions for free. Yet, everyone paid for tickets that were not cheap to support the music they love. Video games can bring people together under one huge roof.

The main concert consisted of the symphony chorus performing under a giant projector screen. The videos that accompanied each game comprised of mainly cinematic footage, concept artwork and some demo footage depending on the game presented. There was very little actual gameplay footage for each game. Brief shots of the symphony performers were spliced into the video cinematics. A brief narration chronicling the story of person on a journey to become a hero loosely tied all of the songs together in a nondescript way.

I must admit this though. When it comes down to it, video games are a visual medium. Try as I might, it would be impossible to describe what I heard throughout the concert. If you are not familiar with the songs, you will not come to the same conclusion when I describe them. With that said, I will list the songs along with my thoughts on the game or the audio and/or visual performance. On a side note, I am glad they did not perform a Super Mario medley this time around. As iconic as the game and songs are, just about everyone and their mother know those songs by now. Omitting that medley made room for other video game compositions to shine.

Act I

  • Journey began the concert. This unique indie game of isolation leaves an impression that you might not forget. For a game with no text or voice acting, it crafts quite the emotional experience.
  • Mass Effect was a popular series that I never got into. The symphony’s performance of the songs complimented the footage on screen.
  • I enjoyed the harpsichord usage in the Guild Wars 2 medley. While watching the video, I have come to the conclusion that giant creatures or beasts must scream/roar at the protagonist upon arrival. It’s their thing.
  • BioShock featured footage mainly from BioShock 2. Would you kindly check out this performance the next time around?
  • Lair had warriors on flying dragons fighting in the sky. This was the first time I had ever seen or heard of this game. Can someone please explain to me why fantasy games always have warring factions?
  • God of War brought out the powerful brass instruments in full force along with the first appearance of vocals from the choir. The footage was from God of War Ascension. Will Kratos ever be happy again?
  • Dragon Age marked another fantasy entry in the concert setlist. I can’t comment much on this since I have not played it. I’m not a fan of games with giant spiders in them.
  • Portal 2  spliced in bits of cinematic comedy. The Turret Song mixed with subtle hints of Still Alive made up the medley.The cake is not a lie.

Act II

  • Metal Gear Solid IV  was a perfect fit for this concert. The original main composer Harry Gregson-Williams created part of the soundtrack with an orchestra in mind for this tactical espionage action game.
  • The Chrono Suite consisted of music from Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. There was no video game footage for the Chrono series which left me perplexed. Sure, they are old games but their footage is rife with nostalgia. How could a newcomer become familiar with the game if they don’t know what it looks like? The omission of video game footage gave the elephant in the room feeling.
  • Final Fantasy VIII was introduced by the game’s opening theme Liberi Fatali by the great composer Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy suffered the same visual treatment. There is no way a game series with as many cutscenes as Final Fantasy would not have suitable footage for a video montage. Sure, Playstation footage has not aged well but it is better than nothing. Maybe the rights were not secured to use the footage for either game. That would not make sense either since the video would serve as an advertisement for the game when you think about it.
  • Nobuo Uematsu made another musical appearance via Lost Odyssey. Prior to this concert, I have never heard of this rpg.
  • Castlevania had a montage that briefly featured the 8 bit footage of the original Castlevania and 16 bit footage from Castlevania: Dracula X. The main footage consisted of the Lords of Shadow series jumping back and forth between the two main games. I appreciated the nods to Bloody Tears and my all-time favorite Vampire Killer.
  • Shadow of the Colossus featured a medley that evoked emotions of sadness since that is not a happy game at all. Considering I have never played the critically acclaimed game, I cannot tell you what songs were featured in the medley. Actual gameplay footage was shown. How far would you go to rescue a loved one?
  • Kingdom Hearts received a loud vocal crowd reaction of approval and rightfully so because that game series is awesome. It is convoluted at times plot wise but awesome nonetheless. Who knew that a mix of Final Fantasy and Disney would end up working well?
  • The Halo Suite was a medley of songs that I did not recognize since I have never been into first person shooters. Thus, I avoided games like Halo and the like. The music for the game was not without merit though.
  • There was an encore performance of the Skyrim theme Dragonborn to close out the show. Even though I have never played any of the Elder Scroll games, I will admit that Dragonborn is a cool song.

The video production by the Grand Rapids Symphony had a few hiccups. The camera work was shaky at times and there were awkward camera angles. At one point, the camera rested on a cellist that was doing nothing while a solo occurred elsewhere. Another time a solo was happening and the camera was scrambling to find the musician. This was distracting. Granted, there were some video flubs. It did not prevent this concert from being enjoyable. While a visual component is nice for the music, the sound of the performance is far more important overall.

Overall, the concert was good. The performance by the Grand Rapids Symphony chorus was flawless. Nary was a mistake heard. The musicians and vocalist are truly talented. If you ever have a chance to see the Grand Rapids Symphony perform a video game concert, please make it a point to do so. You should not be disappointed.

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