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.

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