This year, at San Diego Comic Con, I had the opportunity to sit down for an evening at the Copley Symphony Hall, for the traveling Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses: Master Quest tour. With Comic Con going on right around the corner, it’s a surefire way to guarantee some guests coming in for it. With experience in music and a love of the Zelda franchise, these projects are now on my priority list if they come to town.
The evening was a disappointment. With some of the most iconic video game music in the history of games, it felt like it should have been a guaranteed hit. People love Zelda; all of that proof can be seen in the reception for Breath of the Wild during its formal unveiling at E3 2016. What I got instead was what felt like a rehearsal or the equivalent of a long playlist being started. I loved prior music symphonies like Symphonic Evolutions for their narrative that had been weaved into the music: from the start of the adventure with Pallet Town’s theme to the culmination of twenty years’ music in Pokemon X and Y with Junichi Masuda making a surprise appearance conducting Kiseki, making me shed a few tears in the process. I realize that Masuda-san’s appearance was also due to the timing of E3 that week, and that’s a point of consideration. However, with Symphonic Evolutions, it’s very clear that effort went into the editing, which was right on target with the music being played. Each piece was on point.
At Symphony of the Goddesses, the footage felt randomized with the music, and didn’t really connect as cohesively. Why duplicate footage of King Dodongo? I felt disconnected from the music being played, and tuned out on a number of occasions. I wanted to be absorbed by the music, but felt like I was being pushed away. There was no guidance into the music, nobody to provide the audience with input on what tunes were played, or their significance in the games. It was just going from one song to another, broken periodically with applause. What made Symphonic Evolutions great was having somebody on stage injecting humor and relevance into the pieces; at Symphony of the Goddesses, only a few sentences were spoken and then the music starts. It was literally just an introduction to the conductor and the symphony itself, with a few words on-screen from Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma here and there.
At two hours and thirty minutes run time, with a small intermission, I expected more variation. The show felt like it used the main Zelda overture as a crutch to transition. The portion after the intermission also felt anticlimactic and more of the same. People had left during intermission and the theater was a bit emptier on the second half. It’s not promising, especially in light of the message Aonuma provided, imploring players to go on their own journey. I just couldn’t, this time. There was no journey to go on here, and little emotions that could be felt within the music. I couldn’t shed tears even if I wanted to.
From a sound standpoint, the music itself is good. I had little to no issues with the sound of the music itself, as they’re from the Zelda franchise and are considered to be incredibly iconic. There’s little doubt in that, but it’s in the lack of narrative cohesion that I found myself disappointed with the evening. The show felt roughly tacked together, and didn’t really flow smoothly. The San Diego Symphony and conductor Amy Andersson deserve their due credit for their efforts, but it’s on a production level that I expected a lot more from the symphony. The person next to me had to ask me on occasion what song was being played, and just wanted to know what was going on. That’s not a good thing to hear!
Music is all about the emotions that can be elicited, and the symphonies bring these themes out and turn them into works of art. From the symphonies I’ve watched both live and on-screen, I look for that capturing of my attention. There just was not any of that post-symphony euphoria here at the Zelda symphony, even though symphonies have variations with each person. It felt more akin to a large scale rehearsal rather than a production. For improvement points, I wanted to see the symphony go beyond using the overture as a transition, and use it as a means to help set off an adventure. In terms of telling a story, there needed to be thematic focus, and a better edit of the video footage played.
Symphony of the Goddesses: Master Quest is missing its potential here. From a solid symphony group and conductor leading the event to a beautiful venue, the show needs to take a look at the production level and develop a stronger narrative that engages its audience more. Develop that story that people can find for themselves, and add more variety into the pieces without using staple themes as crutches. I’d love to re-visit a Zelda symphony with a bit more heart.