Note: Due to the nature of this review, all samples in the tracklist will lead to their video counterpart on our YouTube channel.
It pleases me that, after the success of NieR: Automata, the fanbase for the franchise and its eccentric creative lead Yoko Taro is experiencing a time of growth. As a result, fans all across the world have come to appreciate the especially impressive soundtracks to NieR and NieR: Automata, written by Keiichi Okabe and others from the MONACA sound team. Acknowledging the music’s high quality, thanks in no small part to vocalists like Emi Evans and Nami Nakagawa, Square Enix decided to host a series of concerts for the franchise. They even published a Blu-ray disc for the first concert in the tour, held in Tokyo’s EX THEATER ROPPONGI.
On a personal level, this is the first time I’ve purchased video concert media for game music. I’m perfectly aware of its existence and that it has become more prominent in the past decade as game music concerts have become more frequent. But I knew that this would be the show for me and that it would take nothing short of multiple bumbling catastrophes for me to be disappointed. My reviewing bar is set high, but because I already love these songs, I wear rose-colored glasses that I find hard to remove. To that end, the best I can do is tell you, dear reader, that said glasses are on even as I write this review. I’ll note the problems as I find them, but generally, I love this concert.
First, though, the plight of the international fan: unless you speak Japanese, you’re going to miss out on a lot. This Blu-ray includes a 30 minute interview portion, and there is also narration throughout the concert. As the Blu-ray was not marketed outside Japan, there are no subtitles in other languages to help the international viewer comprehend what is being discussed. There is also the matter of regional encoding. Not all devices will block Blu-ray regions, but on PC drives the software used may block the Blu-ray because of its region. There are ways around this, but it is frustrating.
Fortunately, music is the universal language. And when you invent your own fictional language, as Emi Evans did for NieR, this statement is true all the more. In fact, among the vocal performances in this concert, the only songs sung in a non-game language are in English: one is the NieR ending theme “Ashes of Dreams,” the other is the NieR: Automata ending theme “Weight of the World,” which was first debuted at this concert. Note that this is specifically the English version of Weight of the World, performed by J’Nique Nicole.
And this, in my winding way, is to point out the fun fact that the NieR Concert includes three excerpts from NieR: Automata. The first part is a “Talk” portion (track 7), used as a kind of teaser trailer during the concert. Afterwards, we’re treated to the intense “Possessed by Disease,” followed by J’Nique’s powerful ending theme. If this pleases you as much as it does me, you’ll be happy to know that Square Enix is releasing a second Blu-ray concert that is focused on the Automata repertoire, due September 20th, 2017.
Among the vocal pieces, the most stunning performances (in my opinion) are the duet pieces between Emi Evans and Nami Nakagawa. Specifically, the two encore tracks “Grandma” and “Song of the Ancients / Fate” are truly a wonder to behold. Being able to witness them singing adds a whole new energy to the experience. For further examples of this duo in action, be sure to check out “The Wretched Automatons.”
However, for me, the greatest surprise was in the quality of the instrumental performances. MONACA team member and NieR co-composer Keigo Hoashi knocks it out of the park every time he plays piano. This is seen best in his solo section in “Repose,” where the only other instrument is guitar. The two performers, Hoashi and Takanori Goto, take turns with lengthy solos before returning to the song’s original form. Watching Hoashi and Goto put everything they have into this song left me feeling an array of feelings associated with NieR, with Japanese RPGs, with music, and with piano performance. It was a very rich experience.
If instrumental tracks aren’t for you, rest assured that the majority of the pieces here are vocal tracks. If you have a strong appreciation for instrumental work, please know that alongside Hoashi and Goto, there is a fantastic string quartet accompanying the singers in this concert. The one and only time I found the quartet out of sync with a vocalist is during “Emil,” in a two-measure section where either the vocalist speeds up, or the quartet slows down. Having listened to the section dozens of times, I’m still not sure who is “at fault,” but it is the one glaring performance error in the entire concert.
Now, Blu-ray discs are artificially inflated in price in Japan. You will be fortunate to find this disc for less than $50. If you’re wondering if there is an audio-only CD format for this concert, the answer is yes but not via retail. In both Japanese and US territories, a viciously expensive Limited Edition of NieR: Automata (about $200) included a CD version of this concert that cut extraneous applause, as well as the 30 minute interview and the NieR: Automata track 7 “talk” preview, to fit the concert to CD length. Want to buy that CD? You will have to search secondhand, and in my own searches, the only person I ever witnessed selling the CD separate from the full LE package was selling it for, you guessed it, $50.
This concert is, for me, the consummate experience for the original NieR, and it marks a beautiful transition to its far more popular sequel, Automata. Whether you pursue the Blu-ray concert or the audio CD, I implore all VGM fans to add the NieR Music Concert to their collection.