video games live

It’s hard to believe how far Video Games Live has come. From its inaugural Hollywood Bowl show with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra in 2005 to the sprawling multi-city world tour it is now, Video Games Live has been captivating audiences worldwide for close to a decade now. Given that I a) love music and b) spent much of my childhood with a console controller in my hands, it’s even harder to believe it’s taken me this long to finally make my way to one of these shows. Hey, better late than never.

The LA iteration coincided with this year’s E3, which meant that the minutes leading up to the show involved me running into more video game industry reps and cosplayers than usual backstage (also Paul Oakenfold — go figure). It wasn’t long afterward that I found myself seated in the overly air conditioned but beautiful Nokia Theater watching a cosplay contest. Soon after Dark Link, Megaman, Chell, and co. left the stage the orchestra began its opening bit accompanied by guitarist/composer/VGL head honcho Tommy Tallarico, who proceeded to introduce the performance to a room full of people who were unmistakably and vocally appreciative.

Video Games Live

And what a performance it was! Old and new classics like Final Fantasy VIII’s “Liberi Fatali” and songs from the Monkey Island franchise were brought to life by the Pasadena Community Orchestra and the Glendale College Choir. Scenes straight out of the games were cast in the background in time with the music, a tactic that worked particularly well during the performance of music from newer releases like BioShock Infinite, which feature more cinematic opening and cut scene sequences than their 16-bit ancestors.

Still, the 16-bit era was well represented with select tracks from my favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy VI, which featured a blonde-haired, white-dress-clad opera singer in the style of Celes Chere (sadly, no purple octopus was in attendance to crash the party).

The night was not without surprises, cameos, and world premieres (the latter phrase was used with such frequency that you could have easily killed someone had it been turned it into some kind of drinking game). Video game cover band Critical Hit played a nostalgia-laced Megaman medley, which was followed a couple of songs later by composer Christopher Tin — best known for his GRAMMY-winning work in Civilization IV — who came out to conduct a stunning rendition of “Baba Yetu.”

Video Games Live

Indie title Cave Story had its composer in attendance describing his experience before it’s compellingly lovely soundtrack was heard by all.  Unsurprisingly, it was the creator of Tetris who got the most love out of anyone in the show while remarking on the game’s 30th anniversary.

The evening even featured an interactive element in the form of a first look at the upcoming title Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, a game that could be best summarized as a Guitar Hero and Dance Central hybrid that has the player conducting an orchestra with hand movements (for those of you who had a Bemani phase, think Para Para Paradise).

Interspersed throughout the event were entertaining video game mashup clips and various countdowns (the #1 pick for worst video game dubbing? Resident Evil, of course). Video Games Live undoubtedly saved the best for last, though, in the form of an absofuckinglutely gorgeous Chrono Trigger / Chrono Cross medley that prominently featured my favorite track in video game music history, “Scars Of Time.” I’m biased. So sue me.

Video Games Live

The concept and scale of the whole shebang is undoubtedly quite impressive, and seeing your favorite soundtracks in this fashion certainly gives you a whole other level of respect for the amount of work that goes into composing a video game (or really any) score. Each element of the orchestra has to sound seamless and natural yet emotional and complete. This is something I’m familiar with having played classical instruments myself and having watched my fair share of LA Philharmonic performances, but it’s easy for there to be somewhat of a disconnect as the focus while playing a game is almost never solely on the music.

The only minor complaint I can think to issue is that the accompanying effects could use a little more pizzazz. The minimal 3-screens-and-lights setup may have sufficed in 2005, but with all the sensory doodads that have been thrown into the shows of today, Video Games Live could certainly stand to kick things up a notch. Given how visually immersive a medium like video games is, projection mapping would work beautifully for a show like this. Or hell, maybe even some lasers.

Video Games Live

Still, this is a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. What Tallarico has put together is uniquely beautiful, and anyone who has ever come to the realization that video game music is actually capable of being really, really, ridiculously awesome sounding will appreciate the everloving hell out of this show. If you find yourself in that boat, go the next chance you get. You won’t regret it.

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Video Games Live