Game Music

Strap Yourselves In For Press Start 2009: Symphony of Games

August 13, 2009 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Strap Yourselves In For Press Start 2009: Symphony of Gameson Twitter

So, I just happened to be in Tokyo to check out the Press Start 2009 concert that took place earlier this month. I got there about an hour before the show, but the venue, the Tokyo Geijutsu Gekijo (Tokyo Art Hall), was already was surrounded by pretty-obvious-looking video game music fans. Going into the building, some fans were digging into the merchandise section already, and others were playing their DS eagerly waiting for the show to start. I knew I was in for a treat.

For those who don’t know about Press Start, it’s an annual orchestral video game music concert organized by some of the big names in the Japanese video game industry including Nobuo Uematsu, Shogo Sakai, Masahiro Sakurai, Kazunari Nojima, and maestro Taizo Takemoto. It started back in 2006, so this year marks it’s 4th year in business.

With introductions aside, our review of the show is waiting after the jump.

As I searched for my seat on the 2nd floor after walking into the hall, I saw so many shiny DS screens down below. The latest so-called “National Game of Japan” (Dragon Quest) was just released in Japan, and apparently everyone was playing (including me!). Somebody next to me was referring to all the people glued to their DS screens as “DS-ists.”

Anyway… the set list for the night was as follows:

1. Persona 4
The Poem for Everyone’s Souls ~ Reach Out to the Truth ~ A Corner of Memories
2. Super Mario Brothers (Orchestral Game Concert ver.)
3. Kamaitachi no Yoru/Otogirisou
Requiem ~ Nightmare ~ On the Way to the Mansion ~ Memories of Natsumi
4. Suikoden – Into a World of Illusions (Title Track)
5. Famicom Kokomade Deterunoni Medley
Super Mario Brothers ~ Castlevania ~ Dr.Mario ~ Mappy ~ Fire Emblem ~ Challenger ~
Yie Ar Kung-Fu ~ Balloon Fight ~ Nazo no Murasame Jo ~ Zalda ~

Disk System (Title Screen) ~ Owari screen
6. Portal – Still Alive


7. Okami
The Beginning ~ Ryoshima Plains II ~ Reset (Arigatou Version)
8. Ace Combat Zero The Vulcan War – Zero
9. Rhythm Tengoku – Ninja
10. Fantasy Zone
Start ~ Opa-Opa!~ Shop ~ Keep on the Beat ~ Saari ~ Hot Snow ~ Boss ~ Ya-Da-Yo ~ Miss
~ Victory Way
11. Ore no Shikabane wo Koeteyuke – Hana
12. Tales of Legendia – Melfes – Shining Blue (Concert Version)


13. Final Fantasy X – To Zanarkand (Dear Friend’s Version)
14. Kirby Medley

They kicked off the show with the music from Persona 4. It sounded really nice with a soprano singer, Oriko Takahashi, and the orchestra overall sounded quite good right from the beginning. Just like any other video game music concerts, there was a big screen, yet they only showed the title logo of the game which faded after the music started. After that they just had a light show for the rest of each performance.
This was followed by the Orchestral Game Concert version of Super Mario Brothers. I think this piece was the best piece of the night. The orchestra was having so much fun playing this and the conductor, Taizo Takemoto, was really in the zone. I loved his interpretation of it. Who doesn’t like playing the music from Mario anyway? Next the MCs (the organizers) came on stage to introduce the Persona series composer, Shoji Meguro (For the day time show, they also had Koji Kondo!). It was kind of interesting because they were basically just casually talking on the stage, not so much of a formal talk which is what you typically see at Japanese concerts. I guess they are going for more like an intimate setting.

Kamaitachi no Yoru unfortunately couldn’t live up to the previous piece. It was really hard not to notice the drummer rushing the tempo, and the song was basically repeating the same phrases over and over again. The following piece from the original Suikoden, however, was another great one. There were some sections where the concertmaster would have a tasty, beautiful solo, and then the orchestra would respond to it. The piano had some jazzy passages along with the oboe. The ending was so epic… and the orchestra sounded wonderful.

The MCs came back to introduce the Famicom Kokomade Deterunoni Medley, meaning kind of like “almost coming out” in Japanese, and it featured a number of old Nintendo/Famicom tracks. The MCs said, “When you know what the songs are, please clap your hands,” and so they did! I did not remember some of the games like Mappy, but I did pretty good remembering them overall.

“Still Alive” from Portal was the only Western selection on the set list. They basically performed the exact original except with translated lyrics. They had a singer on stage, but she couldn’t really pull it off, and the overall performance was a bit dull compared to other pieces throughout the evening.

After a 15 minute intermission, the orchestra came back on stage to perform Okami. They had HIDE-HIDE, a Japanese shakuhachi & shamisen duo, playing with the orchestra, and the shakuhachi player did such a fantastic job. The shamisen guy was not so great, but the shakuhachi guy totally made up for it. I will buy this guy’s CDs if I can find them. The next piece, Ace Combat, wasn’t as good as it should have been. Keiki Kobayashi, the composer, said it features flamenco guitars, but I could hardly hear the guitar player (micing problem, perhaps) throughout the duration of the piece. Oh well!

The MCs came back on the stage again. They picked two people from the audience to duel them at Rhythm Tengoku. Basically the game was to play back whatever the MCs did with the given percussion instrument whenever there were pauses in the Ninja theme. This was quite fun to watch. Uematsu kept hitting like his crotch and behind with his tambourine, which gave the audience a good laugh.

Fantasy Zone was next, and it was nicely done with a samba-ish feel. This was the only piece that they actually showed screenshots from the game on the screen while they were performing. Next, Oreno Shikabane wo Koeteyuke featured a distorted guitar as well as a singer, Ryoko Kihara. Her performance was great, and the distorted guitar gave the music a nice driving force. Tales of Legendia was another highlight of the concert. The whole thing was really epic, and it was one of the only traditional JRPGs featured during the performance. “Shining Blue” is very catchy, and has a great fanfare-like ending that actually reminds me of “Firebird” by Stravinsky. I really love epic music, so I really enjoyed this one.

As always, there was an encore. The first encore piece was “To Zanarkand” (from FFX), and it was the Dear Friends version. I have always loved this arrangement. Shiro Hamaguchi, a notable arranger/orchestrator for the FF series, did such an amazing job. After this, the organizers sang a nice surprise “Happy birthday song” to Masahiro Sakurai, and the concert ended with a medley from the Kirby series.

Overall the concert was really good. I really liked the set list because a lot of these pieces are usually not the ones you would expect from a video game music concert. I would say Press Start is more for the pure “video game music” fans than just video game fans. Regardless, the concert was quite enjoyable, and I would love to come back next year to listen to more rare pieces.

Would you like to see a Press Start concert outside of Japan? Are there other songs that you think Press Start should perform next year?

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