EDITOR’S NOTE: For the sake of full disclosure … Videri String Quartet’s debut album Portals was promoted by Scarlet Moon Productions, founded by Jayson Napolitano. Below, OSV blogger Richard McDonald gives his own opinion of the album.
As gamers from the ’80s and early ’90s come into their late 20s /early 30s, some of the more musically minded of them have started looking back to the games of yesteryear for musical inspiration. It seems that now is the time for instrumental albums of old game music. Professional string orchestra Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà brought out a Game Music album lately, that was truly amazing, and I’ve been enjoying The Greatest Video Game Music 2 album as well of late. However, what with the affordability of recording equipment and amazing music distribution sites like Bandcamp and Loudr, smaller groups are getting in on the act. Bands like The OneUps have been covering game music for years and now classical ensembles are putting their 2 cents in.
So; in comes the Videri String Quartet, a group of professionally trained classical musicians whose debut album comprises of a compilation of popular game music tracks and medleys. Glancing though the track list, I immediately see the classics. Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy VII and Halo. Like many others, this is an album aimed squarely at the 20-30 something gaming audience with a yen for nostalgia and a disposable income. But I also see more modern tracks, like Final Fantasy X, Journey and Kingdom Hearts, and it is here that I think this albums falls a little.
But first, to the music! Track 1 is a good old staple: The Super Mario Bros world theme! And it works surprisingly well for string quartet. They play it at a good pace, with rhythmical sounds struck on the violin. They also play the underground theme briefly, but miss out the underwater theme, which I was rather hoping for. Track 2 is “To Zanarkand,” from Final Fantasy X, and it is here that I started to see problems. Not that the track is bad per se, although it struggles to climax at 2:25, but that in the back of my mind I’m aware the orchestral version from the original soundtrack, and performed countless times by orchestras all over the world. Other than that, it’s a great interpretation of a great piece of music.
Track 3 is a medley of music from the indie game Journey. As the original soundtrack featured solo strings, it works very well with a string quartet. The cello really stands out here with soft melodies and fast paced ostinatos. Track 4 is my favourite (I have soft spot of the “Green Hill Zone” music from Sonic the Hedgehog) and is orchestrated and performed very well here. The climax at 1:04, as all the instruments come in together, sent shivers down my spine!
Forgoing the more obvious over-world theme from Zelda, the track here starts off with “Ballad of the Goddess” from Skyward Sword. Again, they play it at a very fast pace, which is needed, and it’s performed well. The original orchestral version kept coming into my head, but it’s such a lovely melody I got over that. I also love how it morphed into the Zelda Lullaby at 1:51. Fun fact, did you know that Ballad of the Goddess is the Zelda Lullaby played backwards? Try reversing it, you’ll see!
I’ve not played Kingdom Hearts 2 but “Working Together” is another fast paced, rousing tune that I very much enjoyed, and it works particularly well for string quartet. Track 7, “Final Fantasy VII Suite” gets a full 14 minute medley with added piano to broaden the soundscape a bit. Personally, I did not like this track as much, but I think it’s because I’ve listened to too many different orchestrations of Final Fantasy VII music over the years, and I’ve become overly picky. All the main themes get a good airing, with several I’ve not heard orchestrated before, and they are all performed to the highest standard. There were, however, a couple of awkward transitions between melodies and some cheesy climactic moments that made me cringe slightly. On a personal note, I prefer to have whole tracks orchestrated, rather than shifting medley’s, but I understand that that can be hard to achieve.
“The Mightiest of Pirates,” the main theme from the Monkey Island Series, is a nice take on the original Caribbean style soundtrack with some nice drumming and percussion. It’s a bit short, but surprisingly works well. And finally, the “Halo Medley” – Starting out soft and lilting, the track builds up to more recognisable, at least to me, melodies at 1:52. The main battle theme comes in at 3:53 where I found myself tapping my foot and nodding my head. The main theme at 5:33 sounds like it was made for solo string instruments and, again, is performed flawlessly.
Now, I know that this is me being extremely picky here, but, though the recording and performances are excellent, they are perhaps just a notch below more professional classical recordings. However, I very much suspect this is just me, and considering this is a debut album of game music, I really couldn’t recommend it more. I personally prefer the older classics, but the entire album is performed with a true love for game music, and it really does show. It’s a really joyous and upbeat affair that will make you smile. You can get it on Loudr for a meager $12 and if you like instrumental music, or even if you don’t, I can’t imagine any gamer not thoroughly enjoying it.Tags: Arrangements, Loudr, Portals, Reviews, String Quartet, Videri, Violin