The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess London Review

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It’s the night before the May MCM Comic Con and there’s a huge crowd of gaming fans in London. It’s not a crowd of over eager convention goers however, it’s a night on the calendars of many a gaming music loving geek. After more than a year away from the UK, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess has finally returned to London. The big question, was the wait worth it?

We all made our way into the packed venue, wading our way through a sea of green hats and plastic swords. Every one got settled while a background of almost too quiet to really hear music from Ocarina of Time filled the wait. It wasn’t long before the orchestra took their seats and the lights dimmed ready for the show to begin.

Silence. There was a moment of complete silence. I could feel the anticipation in the air. Suddenly the room erupted with noise and came to life. The screen behind the orchestra changed from the Hyrulin Crest that had been there to a series of short clips chronicling the major characters and themes from the games, all set to a grand overture of popular themes from The Legend of Zelda franchise. There were clips of some of the pivotal moments from Link, Zelda and Ganondorf’s stories, across their various incarnations, all set to a stunningly paced piece of music that captured the essence of the series better than perhaps any other piece of music during the evening. The chorography between the music and the visual elements was superb, matching crashes of the drum to sword slashes and changes in musical intensity to changes in visual tone with remarkable timing; the performance as a whole had me captivated.

Bam! The evening was off to a brilliant start. From there we swiftly moved on to a series of shorter medleys based on more focused themes within the games. The first of these was a medley of medleys from the top down 2D entries in the series. Working through some of the more action packed themes from A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening and the first two entries, the piece did a great job of capturing the sense of loneliness those early games embodied so well, the feeling that it was just you alone in a big wide world, fighting off the endless evil that roamed all around.

This was followed with a brief journey into the many incarnations of Kakariko Village, a dependable feature throughout the series. This was the first track of the evening to balance the visual portion of the experience between showing moments from the game, with showing footage of the musicians from the London Philharmonic Orchestra who were playing. The track did a great job of recreating the laid back serenity of the village, often a safe haven from danger, by the light and delicate way the instruments waltzed across the song, smoothly floating by without ever making too large a footprint. Whoever was cutting to the camera feeds to show the orchestra performing also did a wonderful job, knowing just when to highlight the musician whose instrument would be most easily picked out by ear. It didn’t feel like I was watching randomly selected orchestra shots, but rather getting closer to the musician most important to what I was hearing. It also featured a segment focusing on the various swarms of chickens that have tried to peck Link to death across the years, catching the more numerous side of the village.

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The last of the smaller medleys was one centred around the various Ocarina songs performed in Ocarina of Time, although this was likely the one that stuck least closely to its self prescribed theme. While it was pitched as a medley of Ocarina tracks, it was more focused on the theme songs for areas where Link learns new Ocarina songs rather than the songs he learns themselves. It did include a spectacularly haunting rendition of the Song of Healing (from Majora’s Mask not Ocarina of Time) that didn’t really fit what it was explained to be which, caught me off guard and lessened my enjoyment of the overall piece.

From there the show moved to its main draw, the large, grand symphonic movements. The first movement, based around Ocarina of Time, showed us through the Deku Tree’s tale of the creation of Hyrule and the role that the Goddess’s played in the land’s formation. It was a gentle piece, with an ambient tone that worked well to add to the story being told on screen and increase its narrative impact. It did however end with a weirdly long pause, as if it had been an additional segment added onto the beginning of the movement. We then jumped into a very dramatic and tense piece of music, foreboding and powerful in its attack, depicting Zelda’s escape from Hyrule on horseback. This transitioned into a wonderfully sweet rendition of Zelda’s lullaby, punctuated with increasingly loud sour notes every time Ganondorf was introduced. We then saw a return to the gentle music side with the Great Deku Tree’s theme, Link leaving the forest and being given Saria’s Ocarina, slowly building until it became the main Hyrule Field Theme. We start seeing an action packed cut of memorable moments from the later part of the game, exciting boss battles and other moments that keep up with the track’s pumping rhythm.

From there the track continues by taking a slightly more light hearted pace, transitioning to the Lost Woods theme. The track slows in pace as we make our way through the forest, eventually reaching Saria and exploring her time as a sage. This slowing of pace and softening in tone continues, leading us gently into Sheik’s theme, which is given a much more continuous feel by the orchestra than its in-game harp rendition. This peaceful mood is quickly disturbed by a transition to the confrontation with Ganondorf atop his tower. This fight scene was another moment where whoever edited the footage to go along with the music did a great job of synchronising the action so that it fit perfectly with the orchestral score. We get a brief respite as an audience with the escape from Ganondorf’s tower, only to quickly find the final fight with Ganon upon us. Unlike the dangerous roars I hear in my head when I picture this battle, we instead got a wonderfully fast, ominous and tensely punctuated rendition of the fight’s backing theme. It’s nothing that insinuated danger as obviously as a pounding drum might, but it’s terrifying in the way very few other tracks ever will be.

In terms of visuals I had a few complaints about the way the Ocarina of Time movement was handled. Firstly, the footage used was all from Ocarina of Time 3D on the 3DS. While this version of the game features new models with a higher poly count, the trade off is that due to the system’s smaller size, this version of the game has a lower resolution, which shows up easily on a huge screen. While these models may have had better details that the Majora’s Mask footage seen later in the night, the lower resolution did cause a lot of additional fuzzy edges on characters. Also, the footage ended with a couple of seconds of the titular mask from Majora’s Mask spinning on its axis, giving away that the game would be coming up later in the evening. This didn’t feel like a tease of what was to come, more a poor job on the part of the editing team to cut the footage correctly at the end of the Ocarina Movement.

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The last thing we experienced before the evening’s interval was a special rendition of the Wind Waker Symphonic Movement, made all the more spectacular by the brief gap between Movements. When the conductor stopped and said she had a special reason to effect the evening’s flow and pause between Movements, I was dubious, before she got out a small wooden box with a Gold Hylian Crest which contained the Wind Waker Conductor’s Baton from Wind Waker. She then proceeded to use this, making occasionally exaggerated flourishes that seemed to be there just to work with the theme of the song.

We start off with the game’s gentle opening moments, the light-hearted outset island theme and a generally pleasant and positive experience presented to us. This slowly builds in urgency as we come up to the point in the visual story being told where Link’s sister is kidnapped. We are then sped through to Link’s departure from his home, his time spent exploring Tetra’s ship and building to his unsuccessful catapulting into the wall of the fort where his sister is being held captive. Upon finding her we’re treated to a very brief flute and string serenade of celebration, which is abruptly interrupted by the bird that kidnapped Link’s sister breaking in to fight Link, bringing him to Ganondorf, who commands he be thrown out to sea. We jump straight from there to a large chunk of music devoted to exploring the ocean, which seems fitting given how much of Link’s adventure is spent sailing the seas, before we get to the story’s most pressing moments under the sea.

The pace picks up considerably, racing us from Tetra’s emotional reveal as Zelda to the final confrontation in the slowly flooding Hyrule. The tension during this battle was incredible, thanks largely to the strong use of cymbals, drums and sharp piercing notes from the string section. The song builds and builds, getting more and more ferocious, until suddenly it drops to near silence, timed perfectly with Ganondorf’s defeat. From here we get to enjoy a wonderful version of the game’s main theme, performed by many of the mini-game characters who play an important musical role, culminating in a huge crescendo, a moment of silence, and a huge round of applause from the audience.

The second half of the show featured two further Movements, one from Twilight Princess and the other from A Link to the Past. The Twilight Princess Movement focused on a smaller number of important moments from the game, taking more time to focus on each point, but skipping out on important themes, like the fact Link spends much of the game as a wolf. From the opening rendition of the game’s opening theme,which took us soaring across the vast open fields of the game and emphasised the sense of scale, to a grand sweeping section focusing on the Light Spirits and their importance in his journey. From there the piece slows down, introducing heavier use of the larger string instruments to produce a wonderfully melancholy tone for a look at Midna’s story of loss and the desperation of the situation she was in throughout much of the game.

After this the piece picked up, moving onto one of the more unexpected tunes relating to the game, the theme from the game’s first trailer. The action packed theme, which in that initial trailer promised scenes of all out war against opposing armies, was here used to whisk us through the action cuts of all the game’s most exciting boss battles and set pieces, the chase on horseback, the jousting battle on the Bridge of Eldon, right up to the game’s climactic three stage battle with Ganondorf. The piece built louder and louder, blasting heavy rhythmic percussion from all directions with every clash between Link and his foes, rising in intensity until it quickly reaches its tumultuous conclusion and draws to a close with an enormous round of applause.

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The final Symphonic Movement of the evening was centred around A Link To The Past and brought several of the series’ iconic 16-bit tunes to life in glorious musical splendour. From the initial rescuing of Zelda from the dungeons, to the fight with Agahnim and his pulling you into the Dark World, it was probably the best piece from the evening in terms of telling the complete chronological story of one of the game’s in its complete form. It kept up the evening’s theme of successfully choreographing the music to the visuals intact, and featured some more very well chosen orchestra shots throughout its duration.

After a standing ovation from he entire crowd, the conductor returned to the stage and announced there would be an additional piece played as an encore, the Ballad of the Wind Fish from Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy. The piece didn’t feature in-game visuals, but it did do a terrific job of showcasing what a talented and varied orchestra there was on show, due to the song’s nature as a piece built upon multiple layers of instruments, even on the original Gameboy. It served as a fitting end to the show that left me feeling like the evening had been perfect. I stood up for the second standing ovation, watched them leave the stage, and went to collect my bags and leave. However, it was at this time that the conductor came back onto the stage again. The encore had been done, we assumed the show was over, but it was apparently time for a second encore.

The second encore performance was the Gerudo Valley theme from Ocarina of Time. One of my personal favourite Zelda tracks, but it definitely doesn’t have the same emotional impact or note of finality to it that Ballad of the Wind Fish did. It could have done with being before Ballad of the Wind Fish, but I wasn’t going to complain about hearing one of my favourite tracks brought to life by a stunning orchestra. At this point, the audience’s applause was certainly less enthusiastic than it had been the previous two times we had been expected to applaud, but most of us begrudgingly clapped even if we didn’t stand this time. The conductor left the stage and I prepared to leave.

But she came back. Again. Another encore performance after that lacklustre round of applause. By this point the high note I had left Wind Fish on was pretty far behind me. We finally got the rendition of the Majora’s Mask Symphonic Movement I’d suspected was coming, but honestly by this point I was just ready to leave. I’m an enormous fan of both the series and it’s music, but I felt cheated by how many times they were expecting me to applaud them for their work. Two standing ovations I could have been behind, but this would have to be the fourth and I was just feeling a bit fed up with the number of fake endings to the evening. While the piece was undeniably good, there was a definite sense that the audience had had enough of the on stage shenanigans.

The evening got off to a fantastic start, keeping a terrific pace that was maintained through the majority of the show, but the ending of the show drained much of that goodwill and excitement, leaving me feeling much less positive than I had a few songs previous. It was a fantastic evening of terrific music, it just overstayed its welcome slightly which effected my overall feeling.

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1 Comment

  1. sam w says:

    So let me get this straight. You’re complaining because they played more music for everyone and you’re complaining because of the video quality? I thought people were there for the music, not something they could watch on YouTube any old time. You complained that they didn’t play Majora’s Mask and went to leave then complained that they played it anyway? You also mention that you expected them to play MM and that it was obvious they would but you were going to leave anyway? This should have been posted on Facebook as a big butthurt whinge instead of here.

    WORST REVIEW EVER.

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