Date Night
Symphony of Heroes

By Seán O'Sullivan - September 11th, 2014

Photo Credit: Jane Dempster (Sydney Opera House)

As videogames have evolved over the past few decades, soundtracks have morphed from a handful of looping chiptune medleys into recorded orchestrated music that matches the best of what film has to offer in terms of quality, and surpasses it in its dynamism as it adapts to the player’s individual actions within the game world. Considering how much of a game’s texture and emotion is delivered or amplified by its musical accompaniment, it should come as no surprise that there are a number of touring productions built around showcasing these compositions.

Recently, rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes played in Toronto’s Sony Centre (September 6th). After opening with a few stirring bars from The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, the conductor introduced the show, explaining that the setlist was curated to reflect the various stages of the hero’s journey; the start of the adventure, the trials and tribulations, and eventually triumph and freedom. Each song was preceded by narration from Nigel Carrington, most notable to gamers as the narrator in Dear Esther, and while the writing was somewhat overwrought, it’s easy to put nitpicks aside and be swept along by the emotions being cued by the orchestra.

As a gamer who steers clear of intimidatingly large life-consuming RPGs, most of the music on offer was new to me, but none of it required previous experience to appreciate – I was skeptical that the universally panned Lair would have anything to offer musically, but such notions were quickly erased. The full impact of the live orchestra was felt as soon as Journey‘s quiet, contemplative music set in. Listening as one lone cello is joined by a growing number of distinct instruments before swelling into full blown adventure makes for an inspiring opener, and the drama only continues to heighten from there with arrangements from Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Bioshock.

Photo Credit: Jane Dempster (Sydney Opera House)

As the orchestra was doing their thing, the video screen alternated between gameplay footage, pre-release trailers, and concept art from the games featured, in addition to close-up shots of the live performers. The video package for Mass Effect 2‘s Suicide Mission, coupled with the powerful music, was enough to cause my wife to tear up despite her having no prior attachment to the funny-looking space-critters documented on-screen. My personal standouts were anything that involved the chorus – particularly during the The Song of the Dragonborn from Skyrim encore; the Dovahkiin chants were particularly stirring.

Unsurprisingly for an arena packed with a few thousand gamers, the crowd were quite raucous, responding to the opening chords from Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, and God of War with whoops and cheers.

As a date night activity for a gamer and his generally non-gaming wife, rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes was a resounding success. My wife has since issued me a shopping list of games to show her (Dear Esther, Journey, Shadow of the Colossus, and Portal 2); as well, she has been probing me with questions about the fate of my Mass Effect 2 crew, and how our suicide mission went (I shed a silent tear and poured out a little liquor for my boy Mordin).

Shows like rePLAY are important because they celebrate yet another intersection between art and videogames; my parents’ generation didn’t think that videogames could possibly merit two hours with an orchestra in a world-class venue, and yet the show was almost packed to capacity. For a hobby that’s typically only scrutinized by popular media for the wrong reasons, it’s no harm to spend an evening now and again draped in old-world culture.

Photo Credit: Jane Dempster (Sydney Opera House)


Opening Theme:

  • Oblivion

Act 1

  1. Journey
  2. Suicide Mission Mass Effect
  3. Guild Wars 2
  4. Bioshock
  5. Lair
  6. God of War
  7. Dragon Age
  8. Portal 2

Act 2

  1. Metal Gear Solid
  2. Chrono Series (Chrono Cross & Chrono Trigger)
  3. Final Fantasy
  4. Castlevania
  5. Shadow of the Colossus
  6. Kingdom Hearts
  7. Halo
  8. Skyrim

If you are wondering if rePLAY is coming to a venue near you, just check their handy-dandy schedule.

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