Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The best game music you'll never hear

I’m one of that small percentage of gamers that actually enjoys listening to videogame soundtracks. While I listen to a fairly wide variety of music, there are few things I like as much as a well put together game soundtrack.

But you know what I like even more? LIVE videogame music. Once relegated to rare, out of print CDs from Japan’s Famicon glory days, videogame concerts have seen newfound popularity in the past few years, thanks to performances such as Play! and Video Games Live. Last year alone I managed to see VGL, Press Start, a Final Fantasy Tactics Symphony and Eminence.

Eminence? Being based out of Australia, Eminence Symphony Orchestra seems to get much less coverage in the international gaming press than its contemporaries do. And I often wonder why. More importantly, why aren’t you listening to Eminence? It’s some of the best live game music you’ll ever hear.

I was lucky enough to catch Eminence’s 'A Night in Fantasia 2009' while in Sydney on a business trip last year (fortuitous timing indeed!).
This was but one of a long series of game and anime related concerts they’ve held, the first of which was way back in 2003. Now, since I've been in Japan for the last decade, 2009 was the first chance I'd had to see Eminence - and the professionalism and quality of the performance utterly blew me away. While the concert was not perfect (what performance ever is?), in hindsight I think the quality of their work comes from how closely they often collaborate with the music’s original composers. This isn’t the fan-oriented tributes that Play! and VGL offer. Far from it, Eminence often seeks to rework the music into something new.

Take ‘Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment’ for example. Rather than just an orchestral take on the music from Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo (which would have been enough of a feat in itself), Eminence collaborated with Ko Otani (composer of Shadow of the Colossus) to create something very unique. With Blizzards tendency to make any game they touch turn to gold, its absolutely astounding to me that this album isn’t much better known than it is.

In fact, Eminence has become SO good that they are now actively involved in the videogame and anime industries, having contributed to the soundtracks of Soul Calibur 4, Valkyria Chronicles and the new Haruhi Suzumiya movie.

The CD of last years concert is finally out, so if you want to hear more Eminence, you can purchase it here.

While there were many standout pieces, the show stealer for me was the performance of ‘Tonari ni’ from The Idol Master by Kotaku favourite Chiaki Takahashi. (yes, even more impressive than seeing Yasunori Mitsuda in person!) What a voice! While licensing rights have, unfortunately, kept the track off the CD, it’s available on the DVD that comes bundled with the limited edition. Never having player The Idol Master, I was really impressed by the song – it has never been performed this way, before or since, much to the chagrin of the series fanbase here in Japan (the look on a colleagues face when I showed him her autograph was absolutely priceless!).

So in short…Eminence…they’re good!… check ‘em out!

Crumbs Under the Kotatsu

-Japan is actually getting Heavy Rain a whole 5 days before the rest of the world! I know what I’m going to be doing this weekend!

-I’ve been seeing Fist of the North Star demos at a lot of shops in Akihabara as of late. Koei-Tecmo is pushing the game pretty heavily here. It looks like a lot of fun from what I saw.

-I dropped by the Yamato Expo ’10 last Sunday. Lot’s of model spaceships and terrific CG! I’ll be talking about it on the new episode of the Out-Cast which is due up this Sunday!


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