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Monday, Nov. 25, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses: The Second Quest @ The Riverside Theater

Nov. 23, 2013

legend of zelda symphony of the goddesses the second act link 2013 riverside theater milwaukee
Photo credit: Melissa Miller
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There are a myriad of ways in which Nintendo’s 1986 title The Legend of Zelda broke new ground for the still-young video game industry, or art form if you prefer—combining the strategy and puzzles of computer-based role-playing games with arcade-style action, being the first home-console game to allow you to save your progress and introducing the idea of an open world—but for all its technological and conceptual advancements, one of the most memorable leaps forward was its score, which was about as cinematic as you could possibly get in those days (brilliant game design is great, but you can’t exactly whistle it in the shower). Composed by Koji Kondo, who had helmed the music for Super Mario Bros. a year earlier and would go on to score key Zelda sequels, that first game set a high bar which successive entries in the sprawling series, like the brand new A Link Between Worlds, have tried hard to live up to, collectively building up a vast repertoire.

Drawing from that massive legacy, last year’s The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses juiced those familiar tunes with full orchestral arrangements and elaborate visualizations, retelling classic tales from the still-unfolding saga of the scrappy hero Link, the beautiful Princess Zelda and the villainous Ganon. Now, a follow-up show entitled Symphony of the Goddesses: The Second Quest, a clever allusion to the game mode unlocked once you beat the first play through, is making the rounds, playing Saturday night to a packed house of joyful fans, a good number of them wearing fastidiously detailed costumes of their favorite characters. After an overture that recapitulated Link’s eternal yet ever-changing quest, pulling musical themes and graphics from decades of releases, a few short interludes and the four movements of the symphony proper followed, each using a specific game to explore different aspects of the franchise, like the endless struggle between darkness and light, the high-flying sense of sword-and-sorcery adventure or the peaceful simplicity of life in Kakariko Village.

The pieces, which included a three-part encore, were inspired mostly by newer releases like Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword, but also dipped back into the cartridge era for nods to A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. There weren’t many possible improvements to be made, but the arrangements were lively and dynamic, though curiously made little direct use the series’ iconic enchanted instruments, and the orchestra treated them with the same respect they’d give anything in the accepted classical canon. The visualizations, meanwhile, were at their best when they stuck to actual game footage, weaving miniature machinima epics, but were less thrilling when they resorted to screen saver-esque backgrounds and live footage of the musicians. Real life continued to intrude on fantasy whenever co-producer Jeron Moore emerged between movements to obnoxiously elicit easy applause with ham-fisted references and plug Nintendo products, but when the lights were low it was easy to lose yourself in the majestic land of Hyrule, just like people first did 27 years ago.