Video Games Live: Level 2


Review by · December 25, 2010

VGL has been touring for years and years now. They’ve gone from being a “new thing” to a well-established part of the gaming community. Not only that, they’ve begun to market themselves on music alone. The Bluray/DVD video release of the concert associated with this CD was filmed in New Orleans and was broadcast in the US via PBS throughout the month of August 2010. Furthermore, this new recording of “Baba Yetu” has been nominated for a Grammy award. Not all fans care about seeing their hobby receive “legitimacy” from the world at large, but for those who do, you can thank Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall for helping us make the case that this is a legitimate category in the world of arts and entertainment.

As for the concert recordings, the arrangements, and the selected source material, I have to say that the Level 2 CD is the definition of mixed bag. And while that’s certainly a subjective statement, I suspect it will be almost universally true for different fans. For someone like myself, it’s great to hear the Chrono series, the piano solo performances, and a Megaman Montage (one of the few games that has been lacking in VGM concerts). For other fans, they’ll be psyched to hear God of War and Halo, but don’t gave two craps about Civilization or Chrono. To appeal to as wide an audience as possible, the setlist touches a bit of everything. And very few gamers, or game music fans, can claim to love all of this music equally. I won’t even pretend to.

Outside the source material, it’s also fair to say that some arrangements are less exciting than others. For example, track 7, the Super Mario Bros Medley — this is the same medley that was used in the first Orchestral Game Concert. The orchestral arrangement, note-for-note, has been around for nearly two decades. I’ve heard it many, many places. I don’t need to hear it again. But then, for many people, this may be their first time hearing the arrangement, so it doesn’t matter to them. Nonetheless, it matters a great deal to me. Even Baba Yetu, a near over-used piece of inspirational music by Christopher Tin, got a new arrangement with this “Level 2” release (and what’s up with that? They went from “Volume One” to “Level 2”).

And seriously, I’m not downplaying the power and popularity of the piece, but I think all concert organizers should consider retiring One-Winged Angel for a few years. It’s been done incredibly well in so many places, no one’s going to be topping it. The Symphonic Fantasies “joke reference” to the piece was both timely and funny. Again, I like what VGL is doing, but maybe it’s time to move on? I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who disagree with me and can’t get enough of the piece. And maybe this recording is made for those people.

All in all, I’m satisfied with this recording. Some new things are added to the roster, and the performance quality is high (as always with VGL). Exploring even more new territory would be appreciated, but I know how that can quickly lead to a loss of mass appeal. Acknowledging the difficult balance, I still hope the organizers of VGL hear my plea. Try some new stuff. Add new franchises, new composers, new arrangers to the mix. See what happens. You took a big risk starting this series, but maybe you’re getting too comfortable with what you have?

One final point: less medleys. Medleys are cool, but it’s great when you just do one specific piece. The World of Warcraft track “Lament of the Highbone” as a standalone piece, for example, was a great idea. More of this would be appreciated.

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.