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Review: RePlay: Symphony of Heroes (Includes first-hand account)

A symphony for video game enthusiasts might seem like an odd idea, but some of the most memorable moments in beloved video games are accompanied by incredible orchestral scores. And often, the emotions elicited by background music are far more powerful and last much longer than the game itself. Sometimes it’s the moment of worry when a melancholy piano ballad emphasizes the cost of a particular choice; or it’s a powerful orchestral movement overflowing with bravado while you vanquish a game’s final boss. Gaming experiences are directly entwined with music, and simply hearing the first three notes to a song’s overture can bring up a swarm of emotion. This weekend, RePlay: Symphony of Heroes captured this idea at the Phoenix Symphony Hall, and delighted a nearly sold-out house of gamers and music lovers alike.

Saturday night, the Phoenix Symphony Hall filled with a menagerie of gaming buffs, whose average ages ranged from 14 to 30. The audience’s attire was a mix of cosplay, game-related shirts and business-like apparel. The Phoenix Symphony donned its customary black wardrobe, and the conductor, Miriam Burns, wore a sparkling black pantsuit. A wall-sized screen hung above the stage to show game footage that accompanies the music and establishes the narrative theme.

The evening was meant to showcase memorable gaming music by taking the audience through a hero’s story: from his humble origin, to vanquishing the great evil and returning home. A narrator spoke about one part of the journey, reminding us about the trials a hero goes through, and shows a stationary scene to emphasize the dialogue. Afterward, a song embodying that principle would be played. This mostly worked. It felt awkward at times, as the visuals didn’t always match that step in a hero’s journey, but the music fit well and was performed perfectly.

The evening started off with a brief overture from Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and quickly went into the slow, gorgeous and emotional opening music from Journey. Soon after the desert sands faded away, the orchestra launched into selected pieces from Mass Effect and Guild Wars.

Akin to the other video game symphonies producer Jason Michael Paul has produced, traditional symphony etiquette is lost, and the entire experience seemed more akin to a Comic-Con convention showcase than a traditional symphony. Gameplay footage and snippets from trailers evoked rousing cheers from the audience, which clapped at every piece’s completion.

As the boss battles from Guild Wars disappeared, the screen plunged the audience into the oceanic depths of Rapture and the brass-heavy tones of BioShock filled the hall. This set is quickly followed by the odd choice of Lair. While the music from Lair is gorgeous, the game isn’t well-known. The first act ended with the powerful thump of drums and harmonics played throughout much of God of War.

After the intermission, the romantic title song to Dragon Age left the crowd thunderously applauding. Afterward, the whimsical song and visuals of Portal popped up. The crowd laughed and clapped at the silly turrets, and even gasped when Peabody barely escapes a trap. The Portal set embodied why video game music can affect emotions. We all did get to enjoy the cake, too.

The pace picked up fast with high-tempo scores from Metal Gear Solid, and then slowed down a little bit for selections from the thematic Chrono series. The overly-dramatic tones of Final Fantasy were next, followed by the evening’s second off-putting choice, Lost Odyssey. But the show recovered fast with ominous sounds from Castlevania, and faded into the sorrowful tone from Shadows of Colossus. The show ended on a happy note though, with high-spirited songs from Kingdom Hearts and the instantly recognizable overture from Halo. After a roaring applause, the symphony played an encore from Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.

Overall, the symphony is an enticing adventure all that gamers and music fans can enjoy. The visuals helped the audience embark on a heartfelt journey, and the songs were performed masterfully and elegantly captured the melodies fans have come to love, all while expanding on themes when appropriate.

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