The good, the bad, and the unnecessary

VGL AlbumFor those of you still aren’t aware of the widely popular Video Games Live, I’d like to question the size of the rock you’ve been living under this half-decade! Not too long ago, Tommy Tallarico and the VGL team unveiled Video Games Live: Level 3, obviously the third installment of their leading video game music franchise. Can I call this a franchise? It’s more of a concert series. Level 3 began as a Kickstarter campaign asking for donations from loyal fans in hopes of (self) producing the next album. The team met great critical reception and exceeded their campaign goal of $250,000 within a short time frame.

What really stood out to me in this compilation was the inclusion of Pokémon. Did it really take three albums until they were allowed to use one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises in their symphony? As a fanboy, I absolutely lost my (poké)balls. VGL did a great job of bringing back the nostalgic feel of the creature-capturing franchise. A quarter of the way through the track a familiar tune plays. I kid you not, my eyes widened when the next Pokemon piece came on. At that point in the song, I realized they weren’t re-orchestrating just the videogame, they also included tracks from the anime! The impact of including songs from multiple platforms really felt refreshing. It’s just a matter of time until the Pokérap shows up in the next VGL album.

Another song that stood out for me (though not for the right reasons) was “Tetris Opera”. I really enjoyed their arrangement and selection of tempo, and I understand that it’s an operatic piece, but are the vocals entirely necessary? The original game didn’t include any vocals (to my knowledge), so why become “cutting-edge” on your version? We’ve all grown to love the song for it’s insanely catchy melody, so why vocalize it with lyrics? What I will praise about the vocals, however, is that they are mighty impressive (them operatic pipes is serious business)! The high notes she reaches could easily make a siren jealous! Other songs that included vocals, like “Invincible” from World of Warcraft have a certain flow to it, where it feels like it belongs there.  Though the entire point of “Tetris Opera” was to be an opera, I felt VGL should have stuck to keeping the iconic theme strictly instrumental.

Having never fully delving into the series, I enjoyed VGL’s rendition of Chrono Cross song Scars of Time. The overall feel of this particular version had a zesty sunset island feel. Listening to it, you can feel the ocean waves hit you as you run down sunny shores leading into great adventure! Once the song picks up you can really feel the emotion the violinist put into the piece. The addition of pan flutes really tops the already-fantastic sundae; I just wish the track was longer than 2 minutes.

In some cases, the original song paid-off better than the VGL version. I felt this statement holds true with Silent Hill 2’s “Theme of Laura”. This track in particular really stood out from the rest of the compilation, as it was very electric guitar-heavy in contrast to the rest of the track’s acoustic instruments.  The tones of the guitar and the atmosphere set with this arrangement were finely executed, but Level 3 could have done without the track.

Speaking of tracks that didn’t need to be there: why is a live version of Still Alive included? Let me break this track down for you: Press play and you’ll hear a bunch of barbaric chanting which get’s calmed when Tallarico comes in and introduces the song. Still Alive begins and the entire audience sings along. Great! Do the dynamics of the song change? No. Is there any sort of special arrangement for this song? Nope. Is the VGL version notably different or significant than the original? Not at all. 14 tracks of solid-gold, carefully and beautifully composed pieces that give a creative spin on how we’ve originally grown with the songs- and they “gift” us with a stripped-down, live recording of Still Alive in Chile. I don’t understand, VGL. I’m about as confused with the addition of track 15 as I am with the very ending of track 15. Is there somebody in the crowd playing with a trumpet?!

Overall, Video Games Live: Level 3 is a great offering from Tommy Tallarico and his team. Kickstarter backers, video game music fans, and people experiencing Video Games Live for the first time will not be dissatisfied! I highly recommend that you pick up a copy!

My only request is that you remove track 15 and listen from 1-14 straight for the perfect Video Games Live experience.

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