8 BIT ROAD TRIP
Video games may have gotten their start in the 1970’s, but it took many years before technology gave them the power to become a storytelling medium. And as much fun as it was to toss quarters into an arcade machine for a few minutes of action, the advent of inexpensive home computers and dedicated gaming consoles offered a complexity that allowed for an entirely new way for games to be enjoyed. In these formats, games were not relegated to short bursts of entertainment with 30 second learning curves; instead, they could span hours, offer increasingly complex mechanics, and create characters, settings, and stories that engaged the player beyond simple twitch gameplay.
In the mid-1980’s, more powerful hardware allowed games to move beyond repetition and abstraction, and allowed developers to create entire worlds that unfolded before the intrepid adventurers of the day. On the forefront of this new surge of possibilities was Nintendo’s Famicom, released in the West as the Nintendo Entertainment System. The console was built around delivering a high-quality visual and aural presentation on some very modest and – perhaps more importantly – inexpensive hardware.
Its impact is still being felt today.
More than 25 years later, we find ourselves revisiting and celebrating the formative titles that changed what it meant to be a gamer. Gaming fans – many of whom cut their teeth on Nintendo’s original console – have been more than happy to join in on these milestone celebrations, jumping at the chance to purchase a 25th anniversary Super Mario Bros. collection, and to purchase special editions of Nintendo’s latest release in The Legend of Zelda series, Skyward Sword, which included a golden Wii remote and a CD containing several orchestral music tracks… but that wasn’t all that Nintendo had planned.
The Legend of Zelda series has long focused on adventure, exploration, and beautiful worlds full of interesting creatures and locales. The series is also known for its strong musical themes that set the tone for the adventure. As simple as the hardware was, the NES could output some quality audio, which is all the more impressive given that audio had not been a strong focus in preceding console generations.
This new hardware allowed Koji Kondo to create a strong and beautiful score for the original Legend of Zelda, featuring an overworld theme that is one of the most memorable tracks in all of gaming, rivaled by the original Super Mario Bros. theme, which was also composed by Kondo-san. Koji Kondo went on to compose music for much of the Super Mario Bros. series (including the fully-orchestrated soundtrack for Super Mario Galaxy), as well as the major releases in the Legend of Zelda series including The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword... an impressive legacy to say the least.
If anything, the music in The Legend of Zelda series has become more important over the years, as hardware restrictions have become less of an obstacle to musical composition, which finally resulted in a fully orchestrated soundtrack – a first for The Legend of Zelda series – with the release of Skyward Sword. But that’s not to say that any of the previous games were less deserving of the orchestral treatment. And so, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo chose to focus on one of the series’ greatest strengths – its music – and treat audiences to a live orchestra and chorus delivering some of the greatest musical selections in the series.
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses began traveling the world with fans eagerly awaiting the announcement of nearby venues. And when it finally landed within the range of 8 Bit Horse, we could not resist. A pesky thing called geography (curse you, Carmen Sandiego!) prevented us from joining our internet friend 8-Bit Girl when she attended the concert in London last year. However, we were able to team up with our pals at Famicom Flashbacks to make an evening of it in Florida. Our closest venue was the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in Orlando. It’s not the greatest venue for such an event (a new performing arts center is currently under construction nearby), but the organizers made good use of the place.
We arrived early to take in the spectacle of gamers on their way to the symphony. We have attended the ballet and other shows at this venue, which typically offers a hearty mix of dark suits, long gowns, and more than a few heads of blue hair. Not so here.
A quick scan of the crowd might lend the impression that the theatergoers were awaiting the opening of 2 different shows, with conservatively-dressed individuals easily outnumbered by 3DS-toting T-shirted folks hoping to max out their StreetPass hits.
There were even a number of cosplayers, with more than one ocarina-playing Link and the occasional Princess Zelda.
As the show got underway, we were treated to an overture featuring a medley of tunes from the major releases in the series, accompanied by gameplay and cinematic footage on the screen above the stage, intermixed with up-close images of the performers. It’s worth noting that the only footage shown from the handheld games was from Link’s Awakening.
There were 4 movements, broken up by an intermission, each focusing on a different game in the series. The featured titles were, in this order: Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and A Link to the Past, with gameplay footage from each. In a nice touch, Noone introduced the Wind Waker movement by discussing how happy she was to see the main character using a baton as his method for creating music in the game. Much to the delight of the crowd, she then withdrew a Wind Waker-style baton from a sleeve, which she used to conduct the entire movement.
Fortunately, we’ve already beaten all of the games on display, because there were spoilers galore, including the final boss fights for all 4 featured games. Given the audience, however, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem. The format of the entire production assumes a fairly intimate knowledge of the subject matter. While the music is beautiful on its own and can be readily appreciated separately from the associated games, the accompanying footage offered fans a nostalgic look back at the characters and locales that we have all explored, as well as many of the pivotal boss encounters.
The composition of the songs lends itself to an interesting mix of instruments, focusing heavily on percussives, woodwinds, and flutes, as well as the harp, of which there were 2 onstage. Of course, some of the numbers involved the rigorous use of horns and stringed instruments as well as the chorus, joining in with largely wordless chants.
For those who may have been disappointed at the lack of handheld representations form the series, that was resolved somewhat by the first encore, which featured “Ballad of the Wind Fish” from Link’s Awakening. In total, there were 3 encores, the second featuring music from Gerudo Valley, and the last from Majora’s Mask.
All-in-all, it was an excellent experience. It’s wonderful that Nintendo saw fit to create such a thing, and even better that it has been successful. The Zelda series doesn’t lend itself to the rock show stylings of Tommy “I Love Tommy Tallarico” Tallarico’s Video Games Live, but it still had a great deal of energy due in large part to the excitement of the fans in attendance. Given the success of events such as this and the Final Fantasy concerts, one can only hope that this sort of thing catches on. Can anyone say Symphony of Samus?
* Photo wizardry performed by Tabitha!