Game Music, Reviews

GAME Generation 5 (Review)

February 12, 2015 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook GAME Generation 5 (Review)on Twitter

If you’re familiar with the world of game music arrangement, you’ve probably seen and heard your fair share of orchestral arrangement albums. Groups like Video Games Live, Distant Worlds, and the Video Game Orchestra have been providing great interpretations of our favorite game tunes for years. Another group has recently emerged to give their own take on acoustic videogame arrangements.

Performed by the Legacy Sessions group and headed by Casey Ormond and Demetri Potiris, Game Generation 5 is a project with a slightly different take on videogame music arrangement. As you may guess from the title, the focus of this album is on soundtracks from the fifth generation of game consoles. Every piece being arranged comes from the Nintendo 64, the Playstation, Game Boy, or PC titles from that era. The group playing is also a relatively small ensemble, rather than a full orchestra or rock orchestra combo. So what pieces get covered and how do these new interpretations compare to those of other groups? Read on to find out.

The first thing you will notice about this album is the effect that having a smaller ensemble of instruments has on the overall sound. It’s actually refreshing to hear familiar pieces played by a handful of soloists, rather than a full orchestra. The opening track “Final Fantasy VII,” which contains the pieces “Opening Bombing Mission” and “Cosmo Canyon,” features only piano, a solo guitarist, string quartet, a trumpet player, and a percussionist. While it doesn’t have the bombastic power you may be accustomed to experiencing, you end up hearing each individual part and instrument more clearly as a result. The smaller ensemble allows for a narrower focus on each element of the music, creating a tightly constructed and enjoyable arrangement. The smooth transitions and occasional blending between the two Final Fantasy pieces are also very well done.

One of the more interesting things that occurs on this album is the occasional combining of themes from different games. For example, there’s a track, “Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda,” which combines arrangements of the music from the Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda file selection screens. To a certain extent this makes sense. Both game soundtracks were written by Koji Kondo, and by choosing the file selection music from two of the games it sticks with a consistant theme. Like the previously mentioned Final Fantasy VII track, the transitions and blending of the two pieces make the listening experience interesting and occasionally surprising.

Another track that does this type of mashup really well is “The Curse of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango.” The upbeat themes from both these games, “Monkey Island Maine Theme” and “Ninth Heaven,” end up working really well together, and it’s easily my favorite track on the Game Generation 5 album. The “Maine Theme” from Monkey Island is incredibly catchy and it flows effortlessly into the music from Grim Fandango. The real stand out in this track is the excellent percussion, guitar, and flute performances, which really add a lot to the original Caribbean inspired themes.

A majority of the pieces on Generation 5 stick to music from one game at a time. These include medleys from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy IX, and Super Mario 64. As with the the other arrangements, the ensemble is a small enough size that you can hear each part clearly. Each instrument plays a valuable roll in the track and it provides a more intimate and personal set of performances from the musicians. This is the real strength of the arrangements on this album. There’s a clarity and simplicity to the performances and what results is a unique and memorable listening experience.

Much like the Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda mashups, the pieces selected for these medleys are not always the obvious go-to pieces that normally get arranged. For example the “Super Mario 64” track features, among other tunes, the “Piranha Plant’s Lullaby” and the “Pokemon” track opens with a set of variations of the two bar long “Evolution” theme. It’s nice to see some of the lesser covered tracks from popular games get the spotlight.

Some of the pieces also go even smaller scale in terms of the number of instruments. The tracks “Chrono Cross” and “Final Fantasy Tactics” both receive solo piano arrangements. If your familiar with arranger Casey Ormond’s previous work on Piano Collections: Final Fantasy XII, you’ll have some of idea of what to expect with the arrangements here. They’re a nice change of pace, with the arrangement of “Another Guldove” from Chrono Cross placed right in the middle of the album and “Battle On The Bridge” from Final Fantasy Tactics coming in a little later. It adds a nice bit of variety and gives the listeners a break from the larger ensemble pieces.

One of the smaller scale arrangements that surprised me was the “Grandia” track, which is performed by guitar duo With Ether. I was honestly expecting to hear the entire group on this arrangement, considering it’s covering the “Maine Theme” and “Battle Theme” from Noriyuki Iwadare’s original soundtrack to Grandia. The guitar arrangement of these themes actually works very well, keeping the energy and excitement of the original music. Again, another unexpected treat from this album.

The Game Generation 5 album is a refreshing and welcome addition to the videogame arrangement scene. The smaller ensemble has a unique sound which provides great contrast to the other groups that have come before. The arrangers have come up with some clever combinations of game theme’s and incorporate a healthy dose of lesser known game tunes into their selections. Even with some of the more popular source material, Legacy Sessions finds different approaches to the performance and arrangement of these original game tunes, which will surprise and delight the listener. If you’re looking for an album with a new and interesting approach to game music arrangement, this is the perfect arrangement album to grab. Game Generation 5 can be purchased on iTunes, Loudr, Google Play, and Amazon.

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