Video Games Live: Level 2 – Game Music for the Masses

‘Video Games Live’ is your chance to experience your favorite game soundtracks in a way never before possible. It’s a flawed but essential part of any game music collection.

Ever since I was a kid, I was in love with the music in videogames. I can hum the music from every ‘Mario’ game and play several of the ‘Final Fantasy’ tunes on piano. I also still know the lyrics to “Passionately,” a song made for the Atari by Gary Gilbertson.

Until recently, game music has been incredibly underappreciated in the U.S. The majority of my collection is the result of importing, ripping from discs, or other less legitimate means. It’s been a tough couple of years, but the game music movement is finally happening in the States thanks to a pair of men named Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall.

Tallarico and Wall are the founders of the ‘Video Games Live’ concert series, which has been incredibly successful in getting music out of the games and on to the stage where it belongs. I’m a fan of just about anything related to game music by default, even if it does use “video game” instead of the preferred one-word spelling. Wall and Tallarico released a disc last year with a range of songs on it, and this year’s installment beefs the content up substantially.

I had a chance to check out ‘Video Games Live: Level 2‘ on Blu-ray, and I’m incredibly pleased. The music is performed beautifully, and it’s generally a standout tribute to the soundtracks of the games we love. However, as much as I enjoy it, there’s plenty that needs to be improved.

The song selection for ‘Level 2’ is much better than the first. Adding ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ ‘Mega Man’ and ‘Chrono Cross’ into the mix really helps keep things fresh. There’s enough variety that I never got sick of listening. Where the problem comes is with one particular segment that probably worked a lot better live.

Before the concert, the organizers held a ‘Guitar Hero’ contest, the winner of which got to perform Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” on stage with the orchestra. I know Tallarico is Steven Tyler’s cousin, and I know ‘Guitar Hero’ is really popular, but popping a rock song into the middle of an orchestral suite really doesn’t work.

There’s also a rather dull segment with Ralph Baer, who did amazing things for the industry – like inventing videogames for example – but does absolutely nothing to benefit the concert. He seems a bit out of place, since the concert is about the music.

Everything outside of the music is a bit distracting. I found myself listening to the audio but not watching the video. There are cringe-worthy moments like a man in Spartan armor running across the stage, or Tommy Tallarico’s “Hey, look how cool I am with this electric guitar!” face.

It feels like the concert series is aimed at a much younger demographic – one that normally wouldn’t be interested in seeing orchestral music performed live. The orchestra seems like a secondary piece of the experience with everything going on around it as the sugar to help the classical music go down. Compare that to something like the Final Fantasy Concert in Japan, and you’ll notice a huge difference. The ‘Video Games Live’ approach is fine for popularizing game music, but it does take away from the experience for those who already have an interest.

There’s also a really strange choice from the disc makers. Rather than just watching the concert all the way through, you get interviews between each piece. They’re generally interesting, but would have been better suited as bonus features.

As far as the video quality goes, it’s difficult for me to render a verdict there. I’m not the pickiest when it comes to my HD, especially when the video is the less necessary piece of the puzzle.

The audio for ‘Video Games Live: Level 2’ is excellent. I could hear all the instruments clearly. It’s encoded in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, but I got the stereo experience instead through the studio monitors I use for listening to music. I feel like the interviews are a bit too loud, but they’re jarring either way.

Most of the tracks are pretty standard renditions, but I was absolutely thrilled with the way “Baba Yetu” came out. If you’re not familiar with the track, it was written by Christopher Tin for ‘Civilization IV,’ and it’s one of the finest pieces of game music I’ve heard in years. The live version is performed by a pair of incredible vocalists who really bring the piece to life by adding a few vocal flourishes that take things in a great new direction.

The other piece that really struck me was “Scars of Time” from the intro video to ‘Chrono Cross.’ It starts a bit slow and whimsical, and then picks up the pace and turns into a fantastic Celtic sounding melody led by a solo violin.

I’ve heard that particular song performed countless times, but I don’t think I’ve heard it done better than in ‘Video Games Live.’ If the disc was just that and “Baba Yetu,” I’d still recommend it, but there’s plenty more content to be enjoyed.

All in all, ‘Video Games Live’ is a good but not great experience that could have been presented far better. You’ll just need to skip a few segments – unless you’re eager to hear an Aerosmith song, the praises of Ralph Baer, or Jamie Lee Curtis’s thoughts on ‘World of Warcraft’ in with your music.

Buy it on Amazon.

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