The Greatest Video Game Music 2
The Greatest Video Game Music 2
X5 Music Group
November 6, 2012
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In 2011, the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed a concert titled Video Game Heroes at the Royal Festival Hall. It was a very classy, genuine concert which was just about the music. The music consisted of themes from across the spectrum of video games, from Super Mario Bros to Halo 3 to Final Fantasy to Angry Birds and many more. The modern themes were arranged based on their original counterparts, and the older themes were done in entirely new symphonic arrangements. Shortly afterwards, an album was released titled The Greatest Video Game Music. Two years later, Andrew Skeet and the team have released a follow up album featuring some brand new arrangements, none of which were performed at the concert. Once again there’s a good mix of old and new tunes in the album, with something for everyone. Once again, don’t take the title too literally — it’s just a spin.
This album and its predecessor are at their best, in my opinion, with their orchestral arrangements of older music or independent game music. “Adventure” from Fez is the perfect example of this. It was a surprising decision for the orchestra to interpret this track, given the electronic/chiptune nature of the original score, but it works. It’s light-hearted, quirky and injects some broad orchestral magic into a great tune. The woodwinds really capture the bounciness of the original, the strings add a really nice texture underneath and the mellow trumpet over the top is great. Something this arrangement has that the original doesn’t is some thick orchestral textures, and these work really well, because they are not overdone. They don’t turn this piece into a romantic epic, they simply drive the piece towards the climax. “Orb of Dreamers (the Cosmic Imagisphere)” from LittleBigPlanet is another fantastic orchestral arrangement which conveys a childlike quality really well, and builds some thick orchestral textures without being over the top.
The Chrono Trigger main theme is a great orchestral arrangement of a classic, and the team have done an admirable job at turning the piece into a concert version, complete with a fantastic B section, featuring several counteracting solos, which leads into a great climax. The Luigi’s Mansion Main Theme, while not old enough to be considered old school yet, is another piece which works really well in it’s orchestrated form and is nice to hear played by a real orchestra after the synthetic version from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The piece constantly draws the line between comedy and creepy horror, one moment it’s epic with full orchestration and choir, and the next it focuses on solos and lighter instruments. I would’ve liked some pipe organ personally, but maybe that would’ve been overkill. “Dragon Roost Island” from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker also works well. After a romantic orchestral start, with the guitar obviously, the percussion and other plucked string instruments change the style to somewhat jazz. I really like the audacious arrangement choices here and the end is also highlight, with the two styles being combined. The creative liberties they take with tracks like these is really admirable, and I think people should have an open mind when they listen to them.
The team take the most liberties with a Sega classic and a Nintendo classic, taking their short tunes and turning them into one bigger complete work. Perhaps inspired by Symphonic Legends, they turn Super Metroid into a Symphonic Poem. With the game’s main theme the low and high instruments manage to capture the scary atmospheric chill of the music really well, and the brass really do justice to the fanfare like theme of Samus Aran. At no point does any of the material presented sound overdone, and the surprising emphasis in parts on woodwinds and other subtle instruments helps to keep it from becoming overly dark and heavy, making the piece’s intense moments more dramatic and effective. They also turn Sonic The Hedgehog into a Symphonic Suite. The intro is like the intro to a modern Sonic film with it’s fanfare take on the main theme. The rest of the suite is light hearted by comparison, I really like what they did with “Casino Night Zone” here, taking the tempo and volume down to give it that old Las Vegas feel. The music also gets a chance to slow down, not everything has to be fast paced in Sonic, and the violin solo never gets too dramatic for it’s own good. What I like about this piece is they do something a bit different from other productions in that they take mostly less well known tunes and turn them into something more creative than a straight orchestration, which they’ve done with other tunes in the album, creating some good variety.
Some of the more modern themes actually sound better than the originals in my opinion. The Batman: Arkham City Main Theme is an example of this. The orchestra capture the epic feel of the piece really well, and the dynamics and menacing feel really shine through. When you get it right as human players you will always trump even the highest quality computer samples, and in this case the LPO manage to do just that. On top of that, the electronic sounds are authentic, and even the choir sounds pretty good here, which has often been a week aspect of many live productions or arranged albums. They even added their own little ending, which feels much better than ending on a kind of anti-climax as in the original. “Icarus” from Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another example of this, though I think this one will be more down to personal preference. In this one, the electronic sounds feel edgier than the original, which I think is a good thing, and of course the orchestra is a lot more authentic, naturally. I like the balance too, but McCann undoubtedly did an amazing job with the mixing of the original, so it’s not necessarily better in the live performance. The electric guitar is a nice touch too, although I think that some parts could’ve had more flow, such as the percussion lines before the drum kit gets going.
This is good because one of the biggest criticisms of the first album (which I also enjoyed) was that the more modern themes sounded inferior to the originals. “Never Forget / Peril” from Halo is another successful modern track that, while it doesn’t surpass the originals, still works well. The lack of choir in “Never Forget” is disappointing, but it is still ad effective performance that’s very similar to the original. I think the orchestra capture the lightness of “Peril” very well, and the build up to the end is good too. They also prove that they understand more modern Japanese music too with their rendition of “Fate of the Unknown” from Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. The choir is atmospheric, the added electric guitar is effective, and while I think the strings could’ve been thicker texture wise, they prove that they understand what makes music like this tick. They also capture the epic feel of the Diablo III overture and the Assassin’s Creed: Revelations theme.
Even in “Far Horizons” from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the real humans outshine the original, capturing the beauty of the composition really well, even if the choir is slightly underused. Even bearing in mind that Jeremy Soule is probably the best in the industry at making orchestral samples on a computer sound real (albeit with a little too much reverb), this version trumps it. Three minutes into this arrangement there’s an absolutely beautiful section where the piano takes over the tune before the rest of the orchestra gradually reach the climax. I particularly like the new choir lines in this build up, and the shimmer down to the end of the piece is gorgeous too.
As you’d expect there’s also a few weaker, inferior arrangements/performances on the album. “Still Alive” from Portal is one of these tracks. It’s not terrible by any means, as some of the orchestral lines in the horns and strings are actually quite nice, but it feels like they’re trying too hard to turn the song into an orchestral arrangement. This is particularly a problem with singer Sarah Covey, who I feel is trying really hard to sing as well as she possibly can, which sacrifices some of the humour of the original song. “One-Winged Angel” is another weaker performance on the album. There are instances where I felt the mix could have been better, and overall it doesn’t have the epic power that we’ve come to expect from one of the most famous pieces of video game music, particularly in the choir. There are some great moments, but overall the original orchestral performances (featured on the Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks and Final Fantasy VII -Advent Children- Original Soundtrack versions) are still the best in my opinion. There are also far better concert versions of this track.
Overall I think this is a great album. I’ve heard a lot of criticism aimed at many of these tracks, which have been labelled as ‘not as good as the originals’. I would encourage people to listen to this album with an open mind, then you may hear that actually many of these recordings are actually an improvement over the originals as I did. In my mind, real human players who get it right will always be superior to computer samples, and in my opinion this album represents that. The performances of many of the more modern pieces of music are really good and as with the first album and the older games represented here have some great creative arrangements attached to them. In my mind this album is a success, and I hope there are some future releases from the orchestra. Not only that, let’s have Video Game Heroes 2.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on March 26, 2014 by Joe Hammond. Last modified on March 26, 2014.