I’ve played a lot of Pokémon over the years. Every generation, in fact, including the remakes. Even after all of that, I’m still looking forward to Pokémon X/Y when they hit the 3DS later this year. But Red/Blue/Green will always hold a special place in my heart. I played Red for long enough that I maxed out the clock at 255 hours, and it’s the only time I’ve ever completed a Pokédex (I even got Mew). I tell you that so you’ll know where I come from when I say that Pokémon Reorchestrated: Kanto Symphony is a work of art.
And yet, to see it that way, it’s important to understand what this album is: a symphony orchestra-style rearrangement of the tracks from the first generation of Pokémon games. It is not a symphony based on Pokémon music with movements and themes. That’s why I don’t think that you have to be a fan of symphonies to enjoy this album — it’s likely that any fan of the Pokémon games and their music will like these rearrangements.
The album’s arranger, Skotein, performs the songs using extremely high-quality samples of a wide variety of real instruments from across the orchestral spectrum: strings, horns, woodwinds, and a variety of percussion all make appearances on the album. The samples are actually of high enough quality that if I hadn’t read his website’s FAQ where he talks about them, I would have thought I was listening to an orchestra. He was able to get these samples thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, which is nice to see.
Skotein’s “reorchestrated” tracks are melodically and rhythmically faithful to the original versions, and if you ever played the first generation Pokémon games, when you listen to this album, the nostalgia will hit you like a brick. OK, not a brick… something nice to be hit with. “Red and Blue (Opening Theme)” is a particularly strong track for inducing that feeling. That’s not to say that the tracks slavishly ape the originals, though. “Battle! VS Wild Pokémon” is extremely evocative of the game’s battle theme, but it makes excellent use of a number of instruments and features an original opening section that beautifully captures the feeling of “oh, man — there’s something in the grass there! Here it comes! What is it?”
Players don’t hear every track in the game equally often as the opening and battle themes, so not every song on the album brings back the same strong feelings that those two tracks do. But the album is consistently fun to listen to regardless. And every so often, even though it’s been almost 15 years since I first played Pokémon Red, I’d get another happy moment of “hey, I remember that!”
No album is flawless, but if pressed to find fault with this one, I could really only mention one thing. “Celadon City” starts out tame and ramps up to being nicely complex, but then gets a little too complex for its own good when some of the instruments seem to fall a bit off the beat for a second or two. Really, this is the only actual flaw that I can name. I’m not claiming the album is perfect, just that it takes great source material, rearranges it in a way that was never really intended by its composers, and does such an admirable job of it that from start to finish, I’m only able to point out a couple of seconds where things go wrong. That’s pretty impressive in my book.
This is a great album, and it’s easy to recommend it to anyone who played the first generation of Pokémon games. Given the fact that a number of the musical themes have stayed similar throughout the series, I’d expect that even more recent Pokéfans will find plenty to like here. Skotein’s FAQ says he’s using this as an opportunity to practice and enhance his skills at composing and arranging music, and given the results, I’d judge this practice a success.