Game Music, Reviews

PLAY! A Video Game Symphony Live! Is Alive! (Review)

February 13, 2009 | | 13 Comments Share thison Facebook PLAY! A Video Game Symphony Live! Is Alive! (Review)on Twitter

At long last, it’s finally here. I won’t shy away from saying that it’s been a rough ride for those who pre-ordered this album so many months ago, but now that it’s here, hopefully it washes away the memory of those sleepless nights spent in wait. Actually, it’s a mixed bag: there are many much-appreciated exclusive arrangements here, but also many let downs in terms of overall production values.

You’ve likely been wondering about the final track list as well. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Nintendo was on board, as the Super Mario Galaxy track that was recorded during this performance is not included. Also, some will be disappointed with the lack of Final Fantasy, but hey, I’m personally tired of the same old arrangements out there, so I’m not bothered by this in the least. The exclusive arrangements of “Crono Cross,” Oblivion, and Guild Wars more than make up for any shortcomings in song selection in my mind.

There’s a lot to talk about here, so hit the jump for our full review.

So, twelve tracks, 74 minutes of music. These suites are pretty long, and I really dig the arrangements. It is undeniably impressive that JMP Productions was able to travel half way around the world to record an album at such a prestigious venue, and even more so that this was funded by Jason Michael Paul himself. Unfortunately the recordings themselves aren’t the best you’ll find out there. I guess a reason for this may be that it’s a live recording as opposed to a studio recording, but even then, some of the levels on certain elements (I’m looking at you, percussion), are a little off, and some of the tracks sound muddy (especially Halo). It’s a double-edged sword in that way… you appreciate being able to hear these arrangements performed live, but the rich and beautiful sound of the orchestra is definitely diminished here. Here’s the track listing for those who want to know, as I’m not going to discuss every piece:

01 PLAY! Opening Fanfare
02 Commodore 64 Medley
03 Castlevania
04 Sonic the Hedgehog
05 Crono Cross
06 Silent Hill 2
07 Halo
08 Kingdom Hearts
09 Battlefield Featuring Rony Barrak
10 World of Warcraft
11 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
12 Guild Wars

Although Uematsu’s game work is absent from the PLAY! album (he debuted both Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey at previous PLAY! performances), his original composition, “PLAY! Opening Fanfare” starts the album off on an upbeat note. It’s the shortest track on the album, but I enjoyed it a whole lot, and I’m sure Uematsu fans will appreciate having an official version of the piece.

The next piece, “Commodoro 64-Medley” comes in with a beautiful and catchy melody that reminds me of some of Joe Hisaishi’s work. I was impressed with the music featured in this suite, as I never had the pleasure of hearing it performed live. “Castlevania” is next, featuring some early Castlevania classics before launching into music from Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. It may seem like an odd choice given that this game didn’t fare well, but it was the latest and greatest at the time this arrangement was created, and it’s actually a great arrangement with some powerful choral and string work. I definitely enjoyed hearing music from the game, as I’m not familiar with the original soundtrack.

While you may already know, Yuzo Koshiro contributed to the “Sonic the Hedgehog” arrangement featured here alongside Adam Klemens. The arrangement itself is as whimsical as the source material. My favorite song from the game, “Starlight Zone,” is featured prominently towards the end of the piece alongside an energetic percussion section. Next, “Crono Cross,” (yes, it’s misspelled), comes in sans the Chrono Trigger segment that is a part of PLAY!’s tour stops. While this is a bit of a disappointment, as this is my favorite portion of the piece, it’s still awesome to have a live orchestral version of Chrono Cross music on CD. Solo guitar and flute voice the intro to “Scars of Time” before the entire orchestral joins in along with Rony Barrack’s impressive drum work.

Another fan pleaser is the “Silent Hill” segment, featuring electric guitars. It’s short but sweet. The solos sound great supported by the orcchestra and brass stabs in the background. I was also pleasantly surprised by the “Battlefield Featuring Rony Barrack” track, which starts with a catchy pirate-like jig with a regal brass melody. Rony Barrack gets his moment in the spotlight during an extended solo, which is a rare treat given his amazing musicianship.

The best thing about the album, however, is the close to 16 minutes of Jeremy and Julian Soule music. Starting with “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” which Is a whopping 9:15 long, you’ll first hear the epic main theme followed by some battle music, finally giving way to my favorite moment on the album, “Watchman’s Ease.” The sweeping string sections are both majestic and soothing before an amazing woodwind and violin solo lend the piece a distinctly Asian ambiance. The choir joins in to leave a lasting impression on the listener’s ears. The “Guild Wars” suite that follows features music from across the entire series of expansions, including the stunning Eye of the North soundtrack. This was one of my favorite scores of 2007, so it was a huge surprise to hear the music presented live on this album.

I should also comment on the DVD that is included with the package. It’s approximately 20 minutes long and features highlights from the show. It’s too bad that none of the tracks are presented in their entirety, but it looks like many of the albums’ high points were hit, including some of Rony Barrack’s performances. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Super Mario Galaxy segment here, but you’re only going to find video from songs that are featured on the CD.

So there you have it. A mixed bag indeed.  Some amazing exclusives along with glaring omissions, and some questionable production values. The packaging also suffers from this last complaint, as the discs themselves are not professionally pressed, but rather appear to be recordable CDs and DVDs that went through an amateur CD printer.  While the booklet does a great job presenting information on all the titles featured, and even includes information and in some cases comments from the composers, it similarly lacks a sleek, professional look.

I guess my famous last words have always been, “It’s the music that counts, right?” You can be the judge in this case.  The album is currently being sold online for $35.00 USD, which would be steep even without many of the issues I’ve mentioned above. I personally find the live performances of Oblivion and Guild Wars to be invaluable, but the truth is you’ll find better recordings of a number of these pieces elsewhere for much less.

Have you been looking forward to the PLAY! A Video Game Symphony Live! album for some time? What are your thoughts on the debate between production values and composition/arrangement quality?

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