The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Concert at Madison Square Garden

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses

The day after I came back to NYC from Utah, I made my way to Madison Square Garden for the first time to go to The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert. It was pretty much insane at MSG because Justin Bieber was performing in the arena. The Zelda concert was in a smaller venue within MSG called “The Theater at Madison Square Garden.” Where it is in relation to the big arena, I don’t know. Anyway, I spent my night enjoying nearly two whole hours of music from games across the Zelda series. It was great to hear all these classic songs in their full symphonic glory. I’m not a huge music buff, so I may not be the right person to talk about this stuff, but I’ll give it my best shot by breaking down the symphony into it’s constituent parts.

First off was a prelude medley of classic tunes from across the series history, and focusing mainly on the older games from the NES/SNES/GameBoy eras. Considering that most of the music during those generations of consoles sounded mostly like bleeps and bloops (and was still awesome despite that fact), it was great to hear them played using instruments especially considering the fact that a lot of these songs have never been treated to an upgrade since their specific game was originally released. There have been a few that made it into the Smash Bros. games, and that’s awesome, but there is a ton of great music produced by the series that hasn’t seen the symphony treatment, and still more that probably never will. It was really fun to hear some of the classic tunes like this, but one thing that plagued this section was the brevity of those songs. The highlight was easily the “Temple Theme” from Adventure of Link. This one has been redone before, but it is a classic song in the series even if the game it comes from is the black sheep in the family. However, one of the shortcomings of most video game music, and especially older games, is that the songs were often only around a minute long and looped continuously. So the songs in this section, while awesome, were over very quickly. It is no fault of the symphony, its creators/producers, it’s just how video games conserved cartridge and disc space for a long time. This continued to affect the rest of the concert, but became less pronounced as things moved forward.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The first movement featured music from arguably the most loved entry in the series, Ocarina of Time (OoT). Now this is actually a great game to kick off the main symphony itself because music was a key gameplay element in OoT. To even be able to progress the game, the player as Link had to frequently play music on their ocarina. The premise was best described by Zelda’s handmaid, Impa, who tells Link that there is power within music, and that music will open many doors (literally!) that would otherwise be closed to him. Great place to start the symphony? Yes, I think so. Throughout all the movements, the symphony progressed from the music found at the beginning of each game, and moved through the game similarly to how the player would. So the OoT movement began in Kokiri Forest, then moved to the foreboding theme of the Great Deku Tree, the classic “Hyrule Field Theme,” and so on right up to the final battles with Ganondorf. All of the songs were played with a bit of flourish, but never so much that it overstepped the original melodies. Each was a real treat to me especially because OoT is my favorite Zelda game, and second favorite video game. I recognized each song instantly and knew where it could be found in the game. Yes, I am a nerd. This movement also did finish with a homage to the ocarina songs learned by the player with a medley highlighting some of the most popular songs players learn. Still, they did not play all of them, and they could have because the ocarina songs are ridiculously short and I felt cheated that they didn’t play “Bolero of Fire” or “Nocturne of Shadow,” but you can’t always have everything you wish for, right?

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The second movement featured another entry in the series that featured music as a key gameplay component, The Wind Waker (WW). Using a magical conductor’s baton called the Wind Waker (and yes, the conductor actually used a real-life Wind Waker replica to conduct), players navigated the vast ocean that consumed the land of Hyrule sometime after the events of OoT (and no, I’m not going to discuss the Zelda timeline, official or otherwise, here). This movement was particularly excellent because, well, the WW soundtrack is fantastic with its Celtic inspired songs. Everything from the “Legendary Hero” prelude, to the “Outset Island Theme,” to the sweeping majesty of “The Great Sea,” and the ending credits theme wears its Celtic influence on its sleeve while planting these songs firmly into players’ hearts and minds. Especially poignant in this movement was the final battle theme. It isn’t anything particularly special, but of all the Zelda titles WW succeeds in making players feel that there is something emotionally at stake in the game world depending on whether or not they win or lose. Ganondorf is more than an evil hobgoblin in this game, and Link and Zelda are just kids trying to prevent Ganondorf from using a power that is beyond their comprehension. After the final battle ends, Link and Zelda are battered, bruised and tired; they’re not the tireless heroes of games that came before and after WW. Is this fully reflected in the music? Okay, probably not, but there is footage of these climactic scenes showing during the concert so even if you’re not familiar with WW you’ll understand what is happening.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

After intermission, the symphony returned with the third movement featuring one of the darker games in the series, Twilight Princess (TP, and no, not toilet paper). I actually found this to be the weak link in the symphony. TP definitely has some great songs. The theme from the title screen is especially haunting and beautiful, and the song used for the trailer that doesn’t feature in the game itself is also great as it moves from a creepy, slow tune to heroic grandeur all in about two minutes. As a sidenote, this is still one of my favorite video game trailers ever and is a lot of fun to watch. It gets especially cool, and sufficiently shows the game’s darker side at 1:22. Check it out for a quick dose of awesome! But outside of those two, the only original song that I really liked from TP is the “Hyrule Field Theme” that has a particularly cool movement mid-song. The rest of TP‘s best tracks are actually remixed versions of older songs from the series such as the theme music for the fight with King Dodongo from OoT being remixed and remade as the theme music for the fight with Stallord in TP (also awesome). Really, when it comes down to it, TP is probably the best game in the series when it comes to combat, boss battles, and dungeons. Unfortunately the story, and more importantly in this case, the music are not up to snuff with the rest of the series making this movement of the symphony fun, but not as good as the rest.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

The final movement featured music from the other arguably best game in the series, A Link to the Past (LttP). As the host guy (I guess) said during the concert, LttP really established a lot of the plot structures, gameplay mechanics, and even musical themes that have been a staple of the series since LttP‘s original release in 1991. “Zelda’s Lullaby,”  and the “Kakariko Village Theme” are probably the most recognizable among fans. But LttP has a lot of music that really hasn’t shown up in the series since, at least to my knowledge. The most iconic song from the game is the overworld theme for the Dark World, and the theme of Death Mountain. Both of these songs received some pretty good treatment in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and they were the perfect songs to play during the final movement of the concert. They weren’t the last, as the music moved into the final battle themes for the fights with Agahnim and Ganon, but after the dust settles Link gets the Triforce and restores peace to the land of Hyrule.

That concluded the concert proper, but that wasn’t the end. There were three encores. Yes, three! The first was actually a mini-movement featuring music from one of the other darker-toned games in the series, Majora’s Mask. I won’t dwell on it because this post is already getting ridiculously long; it was a good movement though. The other two were single songs, “The Ballad of the Wind Fish” from Link’s Awakening, and the “Gerudo Valley Theme” from OoT. I don’t remember which one was last for some reason, but both are great songs.

And that finished it for real! Mostly absent was music from the latest entry in the Zelda series, Skyward Sword. But that was fine, because the concert is about the series’ history more than its present. It was a fun night, even if I was surrounded by thousands of teen and pre-teen girls going to see Justin Bieber before the show started.

With the Symphony of the Goddesses under my belt, I’ve now been to three video game symphonies, and I want to talk about each of them. I’ll try to keep it brief. First, I went to Video Games Live in 2008. That concert was a lot of fun. Tons of costumes, lots of cheering, and great music from a lot of different games. Play! was the second I went to, and I don’t remember when I went to see it, oh well. Play! was a more formal. Not really any costumes and most people clapped politely rather than cheered, but the music was excellent. Symphony of the Goddesses was, obviously, very specific, but the Zelda series has a lot of music to explore and Symphony of the Goddesses was only able to scratch the surface. All three of them are great, and it’s hard to really compare them. I had the most fun at Video Games Live, but I think Play! had the better arrangements and chose games with better music more consistently than Video Games Live. Symphony of the Goddesses could be enjoyed by anyone, but the bigger the Zelda fan, the more they’ll enjoy it. But any of them are a lot of fun and worth the price of admission.

I’ve seen The Hobbit. I’ll talk about it next.

Bad Guys, Bond, and Lincoln

So I had a movie double header a few weeks ago. First I went to see Disney’s Wreck-It-Ralph, and then a few hours later (after a burrito and a crepe), I went back into the theatre to see the new James Bond movie, Skyfall. Then last week I went to Lincoln while I was in Utah for Thanksgiving. But that’s enough preamble. Let’s get into it in order.

Poster for Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph.

Wreck-It Ralph starts off with a cool idea. What if the bad guy no longer wants to be the bad guy? Ralph is the bad guy of the video game, Fix-It Felix Jr. After the tree stump Ralph lives…on?…or maybe in?…is moved to a junk yard to make way for a housing development, the nine foot tall bad guy decides to get his revenge on the citizens of Niceland. Ralph climbs the apartment building of the Nicelanders and wrecks it on his way to the top. Sadly, the Nicelanders have a hero, the eponymous Fix-It Felix Jr., who wields his magic hammer to fix the building, climb to the top, and with the help of the Nicelanders, throws Ralph off the building and into a puddle of mud. Such is the life of Ralph in the video game for thirty years at the arcade, and he’s tired of it. He doesn’t want to be the bad guy anymore, but it isn’t easy to go against your programming. To get the medal he needs to get the Nicelanders to like him, Ralph “game-jumps” into other games at the arcade. It’s a dangerous endeavor. If a character from one game dies outside of their own game they will not regenerate; they’ll be gone for good. But even more frightening is the possibility of a game being unplugged, because if Ralph breaks his game, or any of the others he visits in the arcade, it’s lights out for all of the characters in those games.

As one might expect from a Disney movie, Wreck-It Ralph has a good story, plenty of humor, cute characters, and a strong moral message. And the execution of the story is nearly flawless. It’s a pity that Disney’s in-house animated movies aren’t getting the attention they once received and are usually overshadowed by Pixar’s films. While they may not be as endearing as classics like Beauty and the Beast, or Lady and the Tramp, Disney has done a wonderful job with their own recent animated movies and Wreck-It Ralph is no exception. Ralph’s journey to acceptance is poignant and emotionally appealing, and the end of the journey comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Poster for the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall.

Poster for the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall.

There have been a lot of James Bond movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the longest running film series in history, but I’m not going to bother looking that up to see if that is actually the case. Regardless, the most recent installments starring Daniel Craig have been excellent, and Skyfall is no exception. The movie opens with an excellent chase scene that culminates in the death of James Bond. Well, okay, he doesn’t really die, but everyone thinks he’s dead and he doesn’t correct them while he takes a vacation and recovers from his injuries. He may have stayed “dead” permanently if it weren’t for a new villain threatening the security of Bond’s beloved England. He returns to put a stop to the madness, but the bad guys strike a little more close to home than usual this time when they bomb the headquarters of MI6 and Bond suspects that the person/people may have a connection the British intelligence agency. Where Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace explored Bond’s early years as 007, Skyfall explores his life as an aging operative who isn’t as spry, or even as relevant as he used to be with the continued advances of intelligence technology.

I have to mention this, there is (I think) a wonderful scene exploring this “aging” theme in London’s National Gallery where Bond and Q admire the painting titled The Fighting Temeraire by J.M.W. Turner. As it turns out, that is my favorite painting from the National Gallery. I even bought a print of it when I was studying abroad in London. Okay, enough nerding out.

As one might expect, Skyfall is a fun, action-filled movie. I do have a few nitpicks though. First, it is essentially The Dark Knight James Bond style. While it is thematically different (unless you also consider Skyfall alongside The Dark Knight Rises), the films’ plots are very similar. Second, Bond’s return to the Skyfall ranch where his childhood is explored seems a little tacked on, and honestly they don’t explore much about Bond’s childhood beyond a few mildly humorous stories. There was a little too much going on in the movie by that point to really delve into Bond’s past. However, these nitpicks don’t really matter. There was WAY more awesome than there are nitpicks, including a few fun nods to older films in the series. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another four years for the next Bond movie.

Poster for Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Poster for Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Lincoln is a great bio-flick that explores the life of Abraham Lincoln during the tail end of the Civil War when he championed the movement to end slavery. The movie chronicles Lincoln’s struggles with his fellow politicians in Washington, his desire to reunite the Union, and even marital/familial strife with his wife and son. But though this movie follows Lincoln, it is about far more than the life and works of the country’s sixteenth president. Also demanding your onscreen attention are Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens, and Sally Fields as Lincoln’s wife, Mary. The already tremendously powerful story is rendered even more amazing by the fantastic casting and the ability of the actor’s to play these roles. The fact that Lincoln was able to push through the Thirteenth Amendment in such a vocal, and even opposed Congress is unbelievable. And this film doesn’t even explore all the other things weighing on Lincoln’s mind, like, you know, that little conflict called the Civil War (that is me using understatement).

As one might expect from a modern bio-pic, Lincoln explores the humanity of its namesake, and it’s in these moments that the movie shines even brighter than it already does. From an argument with his wife, to joining his young son, Tad, for a nap on the floor after a long day of president stuff, Lincoln portrays ol’ Abe as a human being though he is also quite frequently larger than life. Lincoln is played brilliantly by Daniel Day-Lewis. With stooped shoulders, and sauntering gait, Day-Lewis as Lincoln leads the nation to peace after the most devastating war in American history, and frees the slaves in the process. I expect some Oscar nominations.

Well, I guess that’s all I have for now. Not sure what I’ll write about next, but there is Life of Pi and the first installment of The Hobbit trilogy (oi…) to consider.

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