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Worth Inserting Your Coin To Continue: Video Games Live Level 5 (Review)

Worth Inserting Your Coin To Continue: Video Games Live Level 5 (Review)

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Video Games Live - LEVEL 5 album cover

On August 4, 2016, Video Games Live released their fifth album Video Games Live: Level 5 to its Kickstarter backers. The album is the result of another successful Kickstarter campaign where stretch goals resulted in a 10 track album becoming 12, adding backer voted tracks from Okami, and Xenoblade Chronicles.

Tommy Tallarico was kind enough to provide me with a digital copy to review which came in two formats MP3, and a 24bit 96KHz .wav version and I took the time for repeated listens in both versions.  I attended Video Games Live during their 2015 Canadian Tour, and reviewed their previous album release Video Games Live: Level 4. Read on to hear my thoughts on the new album.

The album opens with “World of Warcraft: Malach, Angel Messenger” composed by Eimear Noone and features vocalist Malukah (Judith de los Santos). The vocal work on the track by Malukah and the various choirs is the highlight of the track and has a very unique other worldly grandiose sound. I haven’t played any of the World of Warcraft games but I have listened to many of the soundtracks, including World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor which is incredible. Reading about this song’s creation on the Kickstarter campaign page is essential. The original version of the track which was created using music performed from Youtube musicians from around the globe can be listened to here. The Level 5 album version gives the song the professional recording it deserves. I can happily say that it’s worth the price of the album alone.

Video Games Live - LEVEL 5 album back

“Super Mario World” took me right back to memories of playing the game on my Super Nintendo. The arrangement with full orchestra really keeps the track fun with some swanky movements, quick piano notes,  bongo percussion and a penny whistle finish just like when you complete a level in the game.

The Ico song “You Were There” gets serious operatic upgrade with the backing of a grand piano, wonderful strings, chimes,  choir, and lead vocal duet with Laura Intravia and Omar Najmi instead of a solo vocalist in the original. The song sounds like it is part of a major broadway production and that is very much a show I’d like to see.

If you’ve played Xenoblade Chronicles “Guar Plains” is a theme you’re familiar with. Fans of the game have created extended loops of the original version of YouTube and listening to it I can understand why. The Level 5 version is great and the sound is very true to the original with a brighter sound delivered by the orchestra, and could easily stay on repeat for extended listening periods.

Metal rock guitar coupled with shouting of a foreign language military commander and steady percussion make “Hell March” from Command and Conquer: Red Alert a stand out track on the album. Like “Guar Plains” it is also a track that stays true to the sound of the original but is a jump in production values. The music that gave me the listener the feeling that if I was in control of the army marching to this song that I could take over the world.

“Metroid” is an arrangement that opens with Hip Tanaka’s iconic Metroid opening music and then moves into a wonderful symphonic arrangement of Samus Aran’s theme from Super Metroid. The orchestration is excellent but  the Super Metroid portion is very similar to the version on an old long out of print album Game Music Concert 4 excluding the Big Boss portion. This version is more concise and flows much better in my opinion. I was hoping for a little bit of “Brinstar” sound in this one, but there’s plenty of room for more Metroid tracks in the future.

“Grim Fandango” adds to the variety of sound presented in Level 5. The arrangement has a sweet 1920s jazz club feeling to it and comparing it to the Original Soundtrack I can say that it captures its essence.

Laura Intravia then provides the vocals on “Radical Dreamers” which for me compliments a small gap left by last year’s To Far Away Times: Chrono Trigger & Chrono Cross Arrangement Album, where the track was sung in English. I know some fans were put off by that, this more than makes up for it.

“Phoenix Wright” brings a fuller sound to the music of the series and really has fun with it. I have the Phoenix Wright Orchestra Album and I prefer this arrangement of the main themes. One of my favorite things about the track is that you hear the original game audio version of Phoenix Wright shouting Objection! There’s also some superb use of electric guitar which is common in some of my favorite Noriyuki Iwadare scores like Grandia II. If I was going to pursue a case in court, this is the version I’d be listening to before hand to get pumped up.

“Okami” blends chorus and orchestra expertly with traditional Japanese vocalizations and high toned flute, and “Top Gear” although I’m not familiar with the game I listened to the opening tracks of the Super Nintendo and the arrangement is nice arrangement of “Circuit Theme A”.

The final track “The Legend of Zelda: A Celtic Link” brings a new re-imagining of the music of Zelda courtesy of composer and Video Games Live conductor Eimear Noone. The track is simply stunning. The opening ocarina notes and choir lead into a full orchestral bombastic layered Zelda melody which quickly turns darker, evoking for me images of Ganon and a struggle between good an evil. Gorgeous serene vocals then shrine away the darkness in a majestic fashion polished off by a full orchestral sound of the original Legend of Zelda theme. The remainder of the track takes Zelda music to new heights adding new sonic flavor and Celtic sound with fitting bagpipes, percussion and high toned woodwinds. As a listener the new sound evoked natural feelings in me, and I find that I enjoy it more with each listen. You might be thinking, Zelda and bagpipes really? It totally works, and I think composer Bear McCreary would be proud.  I can say that bar none it is the best on the album and a perfectly suited finale. You can check out this track exclusively at Zelda Universe.

First off, if you want the best listening experience for Video Games Live Level 5, the 24bit 96KHz .WAV version. The difference is a much fuller and vibrant sound but the MP3 version is just fine when you’re on the move or at work. Overall, I was very impressed with the album and glad that Video Games Live is still recording with one of the best orchestras in the world,  the City of Prague Philharmonic. I for one can’t wait for the inevitable Video Games Live: Level 6!

Video Games Live is still offering digital rewards here for about another week before the albums hit Amazon and iTunes. The Bronze Level priced at $15 gets you Video Games Level 5, and an additional Album Bonus Round 3 featuring artists like The Megas, Viking Jesus, The Triforce Quartet, Mega Driver, Psycho Crusher, and Random Encounter.

Did you back Video Games Live:Level 5? What do you think of the latest album?

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