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A Night In Fantasia - Symphonic Games Edition Review - Saturday Night, Sydney Town Hall

by Mutsuki,
Eminence has made quite a splash as an orchestral group since their inception in 2004 with a Night in Fantasia. In the last year alone they managed 5 separate concerts in Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore and they have recently released an album of their previous performance in December: "Passion" which debuted at the concert. But most importantly, Eminence is the first orchestra of it's kind in Australia.

The question which everyone is asking is how good are they after two years? We were invited to attend the Saturday Concert of a Night in Fantasia – Symphonic Games Edition at Town Hall to find out…

We were ushered in at 7:25pm at the Sydney Town Hall and promptly seated as the orchestra made its preparations for the night's performance. Surprisingly the concert actually started at 7:45pm, a full fifteen minutes after the advertised start time. A glance out at the audience just before the start revealed a fairly packed Town Hall, with single empty seats pocketing the seating here and there. I counted approximately fifteen hundred people and everyone was ready to listen, because for many this was theit first experience listening to such a experience.

The seven guests of honour which attended the event were seated right in the centre, which allowed them to watch the performance from a prime position. If you were lucky enough, you could watch them as they listened to their own pieces being performed. Seating was very good as the stage and screen was visible even from the rear seats, although the screen was a touch small. The lighting arrangement which fully illuminated the stage also interfered with the visibility of the screen.

Surprisingly there were a few pieces which weren't listed in the program guide which were played on the night. The clues should be obvious for anyone who paid any attention – a survey which asked you about what songs you liked revealed the deliberate omissions in the program guide. Well, for two of them. One wasn't listed anywhere, and it was literally snuck in.

It started off with a simple theme, the Opening Theme to Final Fantasy XII. The performance itself was quite good and it provided a good starting point for the concert. However a minor problem cropped its head, in the form of the inconsistency with the video display. In this particular case, there was no video accompanying the FFXII theme.

We then moved towards the second piece, which was surprisingly from a game that hasn't been released in Japan yet. It was quite interesting, and unlike the starting it came with full video to accompany the performance. The orchestra emphasised the full effect of the score, performing quite well and this set the standard for the entirety of the concert. The video issues cropped up again, although much more forgivable as the orchestra simply ran a little longer than the video.

For those who were expecting nothing but gaming music for the entirety of this concert, I'm sorry, I have to say they sort of pulled a fast one on us. This isn't a bad thing, but don't be surprised when you hear Eminence's latest collaboration with Hitoshi Sakimoto three pieces in which was very nicely done, complete with footage. Surprisingly, the Anime intrusion happened only in the first half of the program.

We then moved through the Title Theme for Legend of Mana, which had a very nicely done piano lead by Kumiko Ito and that was quite good. We then heard one of the major themes from Xenosaga I, the Gnosis Attack. The video display for this particular piece was complete, as they collected it from the game itself. This one was stirring to watch as well as listen to, proving to gain quite a reaction on its completion.

And if that wasn't enough, we then moved towards the first major use of the choir for the Metal Gear Solid Main Theme, and the choir definitely added to the atmosphere of the piece. The footage accompanying it was very good and it was probably one of the major highlights of the concert. It was an experience which one would need to hear for themselves, and for most part one of the best pieces performed at the concert, hands down.

We then wandered into quite familiar territory with a Super Mario Bros. Medley. It would have been a perfect performance if the video wasn't off by about seven or so seconds. Given how well synched the track was to the video it was a shame a minor technical issue interfered with a near flawless execution by the orchestra. It certainly had the crowd going in applause though.

We then moved through a Tekken : Dark Resurrection piece as well as a second piece which arguably went to the wrong concert, and then the first half finished with a piece from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Unfortunately there was no video to accompany it.

During intermission we were encouraged to fill out a survey. The survey was quite straight forward, although I have to question the wisdom of asking the attendees to rate what songs they liked most at the concert, when half the concert was left to go, and consequently, opinions on several tracks couldn't have been formed yet. The incentive was a sizable prize pack including a copy of World of Warcraft and its expansion, a 360 title, a mousepad and mouse and several anime titles from Madman The surveys were collected before commencement of the second half of the concert.

It proved to be a bit of a shame that when the MC invited everyone to get a drink, as it was almost impossible to get a drink within the fifteen minutes provided for the intermission. They also offered merchandise to be purchased – their latest CD, Passions, was on sale at the event for the first time as well as other various CDs, including A Night in Fantasia 2004, as well as various soundtracks from some of the attending composers.

The second half of the concert proved to have less in terms of sheer recognition, with tracks from Shadow of the Colossus, Tales of Legendia and Soul Calibur. The video accompaniment was surprisingly on track for all of these providing a immersive experience, although slightly lacking compared to the first half.. The choir carried the Legendia tracks, which was one of the highlights of the second half of the concert.

We then walked into another highlight of the second half and perhaps the concert itself - a performance which Hiroaki Yura took the leading role of the orchestra. A piece from the second unreleased game which was played at the concert tonight. It was quite something else to watch him conduct.

We then moved on with some music from Xenosaga 1, including a track which was never used in the game, before a piece from Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the formal end of the program being the Kingdom Hearts 2 Staff Roll, which was quite a fitting end to the formal program.

The show wasn't quite done yet though, Eminence had a couple of musical scores up their sleeves and then proceeded to play two more pieces. The last of which proved to be the best performance for the night, at least in regards to the reaction it gained from the audience at its completion.

Of course, throughout the course of the night, the guests of honour were all invited to come up on stage and have a few words with the audience, with Hiroaki Yura as their translator. One thing you'll find out on the night is that all these guys have a sense of humour, if a little bit warped.

This certainly added colour to the concert, ranging from bad jokes, mini-skits, and questions if they turned up to the right concert given a samurai and a rockstar turned up to an orchestral performance, to shots at the translator for how well or poorly they translate which elicited a few laughs from the audience. They also gave a little background in regards to how some of the tracks were performed and their personal thoughts on the performances, some of it proving to be quite interesting.

From where I watched however probably revealed a lot about how the composers actually saw the concert itself – I had the honour to be in clear sight of a few of the composers. Watching Gō Shiina smile slightly as his pieces were played by Eminence, as well as slight nodding as he kept up with the track and observing Junichi Nakatsuru focus intently on his Soul Caliber piece, listening to the score being played just how he intended it prove that if nothing else, Eminence certainly lived up to the standards of the composers who wrote the music.

We were also encouraged to meet the guests of honour after the event, and you can bet that a lot of people did just that. After the event had completed, a good half of the audience stayed back for autographs. Just before 11pm, the guests were still there, with a good three hundred or so still waiting for their signatures. The guests of honour were gracious and accommodating, even though the Town Hall Staff were working on closing the hall for the night.

In the end, A Night in Fantasia – Symphonic Games Edition proved to be quite well performed and it was well received by the audience, but not perfect. Although very well performed, the highlights of the first half of the program outweighed the second half, ignoring the encores, and perhaps the balance could be addressed. There were also a few teething issues in regards to the video display at Town Hall, and a few minor things that could be improved, but all in all, it was a good showing by the orchestra.

All in all, the performance is something you would have to see at least once. The price may prove to be a bit of a barrier, but it is certainly worth it if just to hear once. Eminence certainly did a very good performance, and with a little work, they could make it an experience which could be considered near flawless.

Thanks to Eminence Orchestra, Kerryn Nelson and Shanthi Pathmanathan for helping Ann.au attend this great event

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