Shockingly, in the past four years since it began, I had never experienced Symphony of the Goddesses before last week. For one reason or another, I’ve kept missing out on this huge orchestral tribute to the Zelda series, praised by its fans and officially approved by producer Eiji Aonuma and composer Koji Kondo. I’ve heard nothing but good things from people who’ve attended, and seen nothing but solid reviews online.This time though, enough was enough, and I was able to attend the performance at the SSE Arena in Wembley, London.
Still reeling from that musical spectacle, all I can say now is: all of you were right. I’m sorry I missed out.
“In the words of Prince: ‘let’s go crazy.'”
As the lights finally dimmed and the crowd began to roar, the orchestra readied their instruments for an upbeat overture. Kicking off with Zelda‘s main theme, the projector chronicled the franchise’s history with gameplay from all of the major games. After Link had his time to shine in his many incarnations, this progressed into Ganondorf’s theme from Wind Waker followed by “Zelda’s Lullaby”, providing a nice introduction to the respective villain and heroine. The flow from upbeat to ominous to tranquility was seamless and very impressive.
Conductor Kevin Zakresky then addressed the crowd with a hearty welcome and thank you, and very respectfully requested a moment of silence for the late musician Prince, who sadly passed away just days before the event. Zakresky borrowed some fitting words from the inspirational pop sensation before he and the orchestra threw themselves right into the next movement. “In the words of Prince: ‘let’s go crazy.'” And man, did they.
The team dove right into a fan favourite: Gerudo Valley. As you’d expect, this was a rousing and exciting way to open the show, and the perfect way to kindle the fans’ desire for the musical journey ahead. This energetic momentum continued as we moved onto the boss battle medley, with Molgera’s theme being a particular highlight. The tone changed to pleasantly sombre as we entered the Majora’s Mask medley, capturing the game’s haunting nature underneath all those peaceful notes.
Moving on from those glorious Nintendo 64 days, the performance took a turn for the modern as A Link Between Worlds was next. With Tri Force Heroes songs also littered throughout the show, it was nice to see the more recent instalments receiving recognition and not left to be buried under the big nostalgic classics. Following Zelda‘s recent 30-year anniversary, it was great to have that broad diversity in the show to represent the series’ grand history.
Representing Zelda Universe in London!
Everyone has their favourite Zelda game, and naturally anyone who attends Symphony of the Goddesses will have their favourite songs. I can ascertain that emotions ran high for many during the Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess medleys — and rightly so, they were fantastic. For me though, that game is The Wind Waker, and unsurprisingly the medley for this game was my top highlight. I rarely find myself so deeply moved by music, but I genuinely found myself lost in the beautiful sounds of the Outset Island theme and the vigourous pirate and Great themes. For those wonderful moments, I was reliving my cherished memories of playing the game for the first time, finding myself back in one of the greatest times of my youth back when none of my worries seemed to matter oustide the game. Similarly, for those ten minutes or so, nothing else seemed to exist but the combination of the game’s gorgeous visuals and the incredible arrangement of music being played out in front of me. It was surreal and truly amazing.
The huge projector screen played a significant part in the experience, and it was great to see that the footage used had been updated with Twilight Princess HD visuals. As well as the aforementioned gameplay, which synchronised perfectly with the music, it also offered a close-up look at the many musicians on stage. It was a nice touch as it allowed more recognition for the people who responsible for this arrangement coming together so well, and it allowed me personally to appreciate each and every component of the symphony — seeing a flute player during their solo, or getting a glimpse of the violinists during the most dramatic part of a song. The composer even posed as Link with the Wind Waker baton, eliciting a cheerful roar from the audience.
Interspersed between the movements were video messages from Zelda producer Shigeru Miyamoto, director Eiji Aonuma and composer Koji Kondo. Having these industry legends give their blessing to the orchestra and a message to the fans felt like an additional treat, and contributed to the sentiment that this wasn’t just a show, but a celebration of one of history’s most important video game series. It was clear that this was felt across the thousands the fans who cheered upon seeing their heroes greet them on-screen.
Speaking of audience enthusiasm, I’ve been to many gigs over the years but I don’t think I’ve witnessed a crowd quite as friendly and passionate as this one. Leading up to the event, my 3DS constantly flashing that satisfying green light, I went through endless StreetPass greeting messages all about the symphony, with gamers pouring as much excitement as they could within the limit of 16 characters. I got talking to people around me too, about everything from the upcoming Zelda Wii U and the NX to the more recent Star Fox Zero. Stunned silences would wash over the crowd with eyes lost in awe (and some succumbing to tears at some points) during each movement, followed by genuine applause and heartfelt cheering. Having travelled so far to attend this event, ironically it felt like I’d come home.
Having travelled so far to attend this event, ironically it felt like I’d come home.
Music always has and always will be an integral part of Zelda, with its games themed entirely on various instruments — using an ocarina to time travel, collecting instruments to wake a giant fish and using a conductor’s baton to use the power of gods. However, it’s of course the soundtracks of these games that really hammer this point home. I’ll never forget pushing my Game Boy’s volume slider all the way up to hear the beautiful bleeps of Link’s Awakening as a child, feeling alive upon hearing the music in Wind Waker as I sailed endlessly on the Great Sea, and hearing Zelda music orchestrated for the first time in Skyward Sword.
It’s incredible to think that there’s a group out there adept enough to encapsulate all of this amazing history in their performances. There are certainly few franchises out there as deserving as Zelda to have such a talented orchestra deliver all those nostalgic tracks in such a new and exciting way. It all felt over way too soon, and immediately I felt a strong urge to hit a “New Game +” button. My first experience was long overdue, but I can promise it won’t be my last. I’m all too eager to experience Symphony of the Goddesses again.