For a videogame series whose first score consisted of a few chiptunes, The Legend of Zelda has a score that finds itself arranged for orchestral performances almost effortlessly. The longevity of the original game’s score was the basis of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, which played last year in Toronto at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.
The Zelda Symphony returned to the Sony Centre this weekend, with a revised program called Second Quest. The four-movement Symphony of the Goddesses remains, with each movement based on a single game in the series: Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and A Link to the Past.
But the rest of the program featured new arrangements and some pleasant surprises for the packed house full of voracious Zelda fans.
The performance, in short, was moving. The Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra, backed bythe Elmer Iseler Singers choir, breathed a life into the scores of the Zelda games that players normally only hear in chiptunes or midi sound. There’s something about hearing the music from games you played as a child, and over the years through to your adulthood, that feels bizarre and uplifting. The arrangements, produced by Jason Michael Paul Productions (check out Dork Shelf’s interview with Jason) and approved by Eiji Aonuma and Koji Kondo of Nintendo, had moments of solemnity, rousing adventure and even the occasional laugh.
The giant screen behind the choir formed a major part of the performance, showing footage and artwork based on the games represented in the score. The images and music were coordinated in a way most gaming-based symphonies are not – the score darkens and thumbing chords play when Ganondorf blasts a young Zelda from Ocarina of Time, for example.
The games represented in the Symphony of the Goddesses enjoyed background motifs unique to the show – waterfalls for Wind Waker, stormy skies for Link to the Past – adding a painterly touch to the presentation that was largely based on in-game footage.
If there was any flaw in the Symphony of the Goddesses, it was the repetition of the storylines revisited in each movement. Now, this is entirely thanks to the source material: for all its variations and twists, The Legend of Zelda is essentially the same story in broad strokes (eternally retold, as it were).
In each movement’s video accompaniment we meet Link; he then traipses through dungeons from in-game clips; Shiek/Tetra/mysterious hooded person is revealed as Zelda; Link fights Ganon and the day is saved. When you’re playing a Zelda game every year or two, it feels familiar and comfortable. Repeating it four or more times in two hours and it feels more like déjà vu.
Some variations were welcomed – The Dark World theme and Wind Waker’s sailing theme were beautifully rendered – but thankfully Second Quest’s new selections added some much-needed fresh air to the symphony.
The Ballad of the Wind Fish from Link’s Awakening felt reborn from its Game Boy incarnation. The Ballad of the Goddesses from Skyward Sword was expanded from its arrangement on the Orchestral CD that accompanied the game, this time with a piano solo that tugged at the heartstrings.
The crowd, full of costumed fans and a sea of green shirts, made much more noise than your average symphony crowd as each piece finished, but for the most part stayed respectful, forgoing interrupting with hoots and hollers every time a fondly remembered scene played out on the video wall (the notable exception being Link’s pilfering of the shop from Link’s Awakening).
They gave a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the Symphony of the Goddesses, as the orchestra and choir gave a much-deserved bow. They erupted in sheer fan-driven joy when the most-requested songs for Second Quest – the theme from Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker’s Dragon Roost Island – played during the encores.
The Legend of Zelda really is the perfect video game series to adapt into a symphony. Not only is the music fitting of an epic in the classical sense – a hero rises from obscurity and faces a great evil alongside the realm’s princess – but its motifs and storylines are largely based on powerful moments and scenes rather than complicated world-building scripts with dozens of characters.
The Symphony of the Goddesses’ Second Quest pulled this off brilliantly, and fans left the Sony Centre happy to have relived their favourite moments in a way that might have felt impossible the first time they blew into a gold-plated cartridge in 1987.