Since the days Mario first ran through world 1-1, video games have walked hand in hand with music. Over time, game music itself has become popular enough to not only sell soundtrack CDs, but to support full professional orchestral concerts as well. And even as concerts like Video Games Live and Press Start sell thousands of tickets for each annual performance of gaming’s most popular scores, more specialized amateur concerts —focusing on a single game’s soundtrack— are beginning to appear. The Final Fantasy Tactics Orchestra Concert, performed on November 22, 2009 by the Symphony of the Stars at the Amyu-Tachikawa Concert Hall in Tokyo, is one such example.
The Symphony of the Stars, based in Tokyo, is a two-year-old amateur symphony orchestra specializing in video game orchestral scores. The recent Final Fantasy Tactics Orchestra Concert was only its second performance. Its first was the similarly themed Final Fantasy Tactics Ensemble Concert in 2007 in which its then 27 members performed 10 songs from the Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack. By last week’s concert, the amount of members had tripled (bringing the number on stage to 84) and the program had been lengthened to include 66 songs.
The concert itself was split into four roughly equal “chapters” with a ten-minute intermission between each. Following the three intermissions were small five-minute ensemble performances highlighting the first chairs in each section —strings, brass, and woodwind— respectively. Each chapter was composed of several medleys with either a thematic or chronological connection to each other in Final Fantasy Tactics. Chapter 3: The Valiant, for example, mirrored the party’s adventure in the game. It started with peaceful field location themes, moved to in-town themes, and finished with powerful music from the mid-game climax.
On the technical side, the score was well played, especially for an amateur symphony orchestra. The concert ran for nearly three-and-a-half hours and the overall quality of the performance only increased. That is not to say, however, that the Symphony of the Stars was perfect in a technical sense. The brass, trumpets and trombones specifically, were easily the weakest section. Whenever it came time for them to carry the melody, they seemed to be unable to match a common pitch. Even in their five-minute ensemble performance, this problem continued. Overall, they were truly the only weakness of the entire concert.
At the end of the night, the audience was treated to one final surprise. Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, the composers of Final Fantasy Tactics, were present and proceeded to give a lengthy onstage interview. Among other things, the two spoke on how they were quite surprised that even twelve years after the release of Final Fantasy Tactics, their music was still popular enough to fill all 1,452 seats in the hall.
Perhaps that observation is the most telling of the longevity and ever-growing popularity of game music in popular culture. Even though game music was essentially ignored in the early stages of gaming, there are few people now —gamers or not— who can’t can’t hum at least a few bars from one video game or another. And as long as games continue to produce scores as memorable and emotional as that of Final Fantasy Tactics, great amateur concerts like the Final Fantasy Tactics Orchestra Concert will continue to appear and let fans and new comers alike revel in gaming’s most beautiful melodies.
Even though game music was essentially ignored in the early stages of gaming, there are few people now, gamers or not, who can’t.