Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Review

I swear to you that this is not a review of an orchestra concert, OK? So hear me out before you close out this window and get back to your Facebook stalking.

Some people love classical music and think it's perfectly reasonable to pay $50 a ticket to see a bunch of greybeards play the instruments the rest of us got bored with at age 10, and that's great. I am not one of them. For me, classical music fits in somewhere between high school trig class and staring at walls in my spectrum of preferred entertainment.

I'd gone 33 years without ever feeling the urge to see an orchestra concert, and was sure I could have gone a few hundred more. But then came The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses to change my mind. Like many people, I love all things Zelda. It's been that way since I was 8 and my grandma gave me a shiny golden cartridge to go along with my new Nintendo Entertainment System.

The concert converted me into a connoisseur of classical music. Now I can appreciate the oboes' flat notes, the harmony between the bass and the harps and the excellently refined dinging of the xylophone.

Just kidding. I hardly noticed the music, which as far as I was concerned was just elevator musak with vaguely recognizable melodies accompanying the freakin' awesomest Zelda movie anyone has put together.

Imagine if someone had been sitting behind you your whole life, recording your most triumphant moments and making them into a movie on a giant HD screen set to Joe Esposito's "You're the Best Around," Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and things like that. That's pretty much this concert. Only it's the life of Link and the music isn't quite so great.

My 5-year-old son, Luke, whose Zelda worship rivals my own, sat agog as Link shanked Ganon in the chest what seemed like hundreds of thousands of times through all the mainline Zelda games. We giggled as cuckoos swarmed the green-hooded hero, chasing him around and inflicting red flashes of pain. We stifled tears as Link waved goodbye to his little sister at the end of Wind Waker.

Almost every Zelda game has been a remake of the previous entry, with the hero, heroine and villains names unchanged. Despite that, fans try to make sense of the overarching "story," and Nintendo has lately sort of retroactively agreed that "oh yeah, this is totally a cohesive legend with an actual timeline." The show follows along that supposed timeline, subtly, unintentionally mocking the concept by showing how similar so many moments in every game have been.

Even though it's awe-inspiring to revisit some of the greatest moments of your gaming life, it's also halfway depressing, making you step back and think, "Did I really need to waste those 500 hours doing the same damn things over and over again?

Such thoughts were chased away by the next daring rescue, bellowing boss intro or horseback leap across a chasm.

The series, which has spanned 26 years, has a ton of high moments, and the visuals manage to capture just about all of the great ones. The only time the show falters is when it cuts to live footage of the musicians for a few seconds. I saw the moments as obligatory homages, sort of like when you tip your mail man, but Luke was not so forgiving. He protested by refusing to clap at the end of pieces that dared cut away from videogame footage.

To be fair, the musicians looked sort of bored having to play for a crowd of ingrates like us. No doubt they don't find 8-bit chiptunes as challenging as Beethoven's 92nd Sonata in the Fifth Octave, or whatever. We felt a little bad for them, especially for having to just sit there as the conductor, who did nothing but wave her hands around, pretending to be in control as no musicians watched, took all the credit.

By the way, although Luke and I are huge Zelda fans, were nowhere near as devoted as many of the other people who showed up. The crowd bustled with people wearing green Link tunics, black-and-gold Ganondorf armor and white, frilly Zelda dresses. Most of those who didn't go in full cosplay mode wore at least one piece of clothing emblazoned with the Triforce symbol. Perusing the crowd was self-affirming, giving even the biggest Zelda dweebs a chance to say, "Thank the goddesses I'm not as much of a dork as that guy."

Not that there was any judgment at play. Like a a comic con, there was a silent understanding that we had all seen the same things, suffered in the same ways and developed a shared understanding of a transcendent cultural movement that we not only have followed, but felt a part of.

Or maybe it was more like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. We were drawn together because we all have a serious problem, and it was time to admit it. Either or.

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