By Jeriaska . September 14, 2008 . 7:36pm
In attendance at last night’s Press Start Symphony of Games taking place at Shibuya’s Bunkamura Orchard Hall were a number of Japan’s videogame music luminaries. Koji Kondo took the stage to introduce Super Mario Galaxy, Nobuo Uematsu offered a pre-Final Fantasy Square medley, Motoi Sakuraba was there to represent Baten Kaitos, and for a surprise encore, Yasunori Mitsuda delivered a brief talk following a Chrono Trigger/ Chrono Cross arrangement.
Every year Famitsu magazine helps organize the Press Start Symphony of Games. Formal in its orchestral approach, the concert series caters to the old school, often including selections from off the beaten track. Conducted by Taizo Takemoto, it marked the third in the Tokyo-based series, which last year visited Osaka and this year will make a stop in Shanghai. The event was emceed by announcer Keiko Washino and performed by the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra.
The concert included a number of songs from obscure and unlocalized titles, dating back to the 8-bit era. We were fortunate enough to be joined by the staff of gaming culture website Dekunology — helping us catch up on the backstory of Japan’s nostalgic game tunes, from the annals of Tobidase Daisakusen to the oeuvre of Shinsekai Gakkyoku Zatsugidan.
The performance by guitarist Haruo Kubota was a focal point of a Wild Arms medley introduced by composer Michiko Naruke. Beginning with the title theme from 2nd Ignition, the rising sounds of the strings helped to reinforce the lonesome prairie-style vibe of the guitar accompaniment. It was the only song of the night to feature such unusual effects as the orchestra’s shouting in unison to punctuate peaks in the melody, while live whip cracks reinforced the series’ Western feel. Transitioning to “Into the Wilderness” from the original Wild Arms, a vocalist approached the microphone to whistle the melody.
The music of Super Mario Galaxy may have been partly created with the intention of taking the orchestral arrangements on the concert circuit. Tailored to suit symphonic performances by arranger Mahito Yokota, the musician took the stage along with Nintendo series composer Koji Kondo to introduce the set. The medley included the Good Egg and Gusty Garden galaxy themes, which sounded not much different from what is heard in-game.
Digging deep into their game music repertoire, the Kanagawa orchestra produced an performance of music from Spelunker, the 8-bit Atari game was later ported to the Commodore 64 and NES. The upbeat atmosphere of the cave exploration background music lent itself to orchestral treatment, while laughter resounded among the audience when intermittently the death theme was woven into the arrangement.
Noriyuki Iwadare introduced the Phoenix Wright medley, featuring songs he arranged from the Gyakuten Meets Orchestra concert series. The selections began with “Reiji Mitsurugi ~Great Revival” and picked up steam with the exciting, tension-filled “Ryuuichi Naruhodo ~Objection!“. Following this, a highlight of the night came with the performance of Samurai Showdown themes composed by the Shinsekai Gakkyoku Zatsugidan SNK Sound Team. Takemi Hirohara took to the stage in traditional silk robes and provided not one, but two stellar shamisen solos.
Nobuo Uematsu’s music from the late ’80s and early ’90s has received its fair share of exposure in the current console era, from the DS incarnation of Final Fantasy III to the PSP remakes of Final Fantasy I and II. However, the songs featured at Press Start are unlikely to be treated to 3D remakes anytime soon. They included tracks from Alpha (1986), King’s Knight (1986), and Hanjuku Hero (1988). Two games from the collection were however the recipients of English-language translations back in the day. Makaitoushi SaGa, the precursor to the SaGa Frontier series, came out here as Final Fantasy Legend for the Game Boy. Tobidase Daisakusen was released for the NES together with a pair of paper 3D glasses under the name 3-D WorldRunner.
Continuing a theme of the night of highlighting series that could stand to receive greater exposure outside Japan, an arrangement from the orchestral introduction to Monster Hunter by composer Masato Koda was performed. This was followed by “To the End of the Journey of Shining Stars” from the Gamecube title Baten Kaitos, considered in Japan among composer Motoi Sakuraba’s best works. Live music by Sakuraba has been performed in abundance, from the original piano album Forest of Glass, to the Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria and Star Ocean Til the End of Time concerts, and the Tales of Series Battle Arrange Tracks. After the conclusion of the live rendition, the musician entered stage right, expressing to the audience his desire to continue creating videogame music into the future.
A potpourri of light and airy songs from Nintendo’s casual game series followed Sakuraba’s ponderous melody for the Gamecube. A few moments each were allotted to Brain Age, Wii Play, the understandably Japan-only etiquette training title Otonano Joushikiryoku DS, Namco’s letter puzzle game Mojipittan Wii, Big Brain Academy, the English-learning game Eigo Duke (literally “Soaked in English”), the cooking game subtitled “Can’t Decide What to Eat?,” Wii Fit and Wii Sports.
Balancing out these casual titles was the introduction of the emotionally tumultuous themes of Falcom’s Ys series, which has been receiving symphonic arrangements since the ’80s. The medley included Yuzo Koshiro’s memorable Feena theme and First Step Towards Wars. The composer has commented that these tracks were the style of compositions he set out to build upon when embarking on the Etrian Odyssey series. When Final Fantasy series scenarist Kazushige Nojima took the stage, he said he appreciated the juxtaposition of Nintendo’s causal gaming with Falcom’s hardcore series, though his personal preference, being a writer for games, was naturally for the latter category.
The orchestral version of the music from Professor Layton and the Curious Village managed to capture the mysterious, engaging quality of the Nintendo DS title, including the puzzles music and Theme of Professor Layton. The soundtrack by Tomohito Nishiura, the composer of Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle, was also developed for the Fukuoka-based game company Level-5. As has been the case with quite a few of Nintendo’s titles, the game never received an official soundtrack, in Japan or elsewhere. On the bright side, the musical strategies of the soundtrack were recently explicated by music scholar Kenley in his research into the soundtrack for the podcast Into the Score.
Rounding out the planned events, a medley from Mega Man 2 included the themes of Wood Man, Air Man and Crash Man, followed by Emiko Shiratori’s flawless bilingual performance of Final Fantasy IX’s Melodies of Life. Two encore performances concluded the evening. Songs from Sonic the Hedgehog included the Green Hill and Marble Zone themes, and a Chrono medley introduced by Yasunori Mitsuda brought together Frog’s Theme, Battle with Magus, Radical Dreamers, and Time’s Scar. Perhaps meant as a token of appreciation to the audience for having listened to so many songs from off the beaten track, these familiar closing pieces from Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Sonic and Chrono served to conclude the 2008 Press Start Symphony of Games on a familiar note.
Photo credit: Jeriaska/ Siliconera.