James Johnston ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
There were no tuxedos or binoculars to be found at the Boston Symphony Hall; rather there were Buster Swords & vengeful Greek gods. The Video Game Orchestra treated fans to a short-but-sweet set of famous Japanese video game tunes given a proper “rockestral” treatment.
Founded in 2008 by Berklee graduate Shota Nakama, the Video Game Orchestra has performed shows at the video game show “Penny Arcade Expo”, as well as at Berklee Performance Center and the “Anime Boston” convention.
The full-fledged orchestra, along with choir and full rock band, treated video game fans to ten pieces of expertly composed music, ranging from 8-bit classic Castlevania to newer 3D hits like Metal Gear Solid and Kingdom Hearts.
The orchestra first started with “Bombing Mission” from Final Fantasy VII, a piece that starts calm and then erupts into emotion. It was a fine warm up for those who did not know what to expect from a “Rockestral Video Game Orchestra”. From there, pieces from Street Fighter, God of War (the only American piece), Castlevania, Kingdom Hearts, and Metal Gear Solid were performed, to thunderous applause (and a few tears).
After intermission, the orchestra played the theme to Chrono Trigger, a suite from cult RPG Grandia, a medley of songs from Final Fantasy Tactics & XII, and finally the Final Fantasy VII suite, bookending the show with music from one of the greatest soundtracks in video game history. The rock band returned to play an encore of Still Alive from Portal, which felt out of place and seemed to cater to the “American” side of the audience.
Interludes to each piece consisted of banter from founder and lead guitarist Shota Nakama, who would take time to explain why each piece was chosen and that yes, you can cheer. According to him, this was more of a rock concert than a symphony show.
Halfway through the first set, Nakama introduced the surprise special guests: Not one but four legendary Japanese composers, including Yoko Shimomura (Mario RPG, Kingdom Hearts), Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII), Noriyuki Iwadare (Lunar, Grandia), and Kinuyo Yamashita (Castlevania, Mega Man X3). Knowing that the composers of the majority of the show were sitting among them, the crowd came alive and began cheering during and after every song.
The show was not without its share of problems: The rock band was placed at the front of the stage, meaning the drums completely drowned out the more subtle tones of the orchestra at points. The choir was tucked in the back corner where the audience could barely hear them. These shortcomings caused mild ear strain, but we were able to suffer through and enjoy the rock-centered show.
Overall, this concert was not to be missed. The choir was haunting, the rock band was well, rockin’, and the orchestra tugged at our heartstrings. Fans of video game music in general should be kicking themselves for missing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hopefully they’ll show up to the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tour next week.