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Adam Corn Oct 18, 2017

On August 27 and 28 the Japan Game Music Orchestra - aka JAGMO - held three orchestral game concerts at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater. Titled "旅人達の追想組曲 - Dear. once Journeyer", the concerts featured arranged music from the Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, Suikoden, Castlevania, Tales Of, Earthbound, and Undertale series. JAGMO are one of the very few professional game music orchestras in Japan (or the world for that matter) and have been performing since 2014. Somehow they had flown under my radar all that time, but after hearing their fantastic August 27 afternoon concert they're very much on my radar now.

Following is an overview of the concert program along with some impressions. The Chrono Trigger and Tales of Destiny suites were exclusive to the August 27 afternoon show - the August 27 evening show instead included Final Fantasy X and Tales of Destiny 2, while the August 28 show included Final Fantasy VII and Tales of the Abyss. The remainder of the program was the same for all three concerts.

1st Half Program

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
"Title" / "Overworld" / "Hyrule Castle" / "Kakariko Village" / "Sanctuary Dungeon" / "Dark World" / "Dark World Dungeon" / "Boss ~BGM~" / "Battle with Ganon" / "Ending"

The opening suite from A Link to the Past was superb. Covering quite a few of the title's most memorable themes in a relatively short time, the arrangements stayed true to the originals without being too simplistic, and the performance was spot-on. Hearing the "Dark World" orchestral live was as epic as you'd expect, and the string rendition of the Zelda main theme in "Ending" gave me chills.

2. EarthBound
"Theme of Onett" / "Home Sweet Home (Pollyanna)" / "Theme of Twoson" /  "Theme of Winters" / "Saturn Valley" / "Surrounded by Skyscrapers" / "Please Disappear / VS. Giygas & Pokey" / "Because I Love You" / "Smiles and Tears"

Unsurprisingly this was the most lighthearted suite of the concert, which made a nice change of pace from your typically dramatic (if tremendously enjoyable) orchestral game concert fare. There were pleasant melodies throughout, and the use of solo xylophone to transition between the different themes was a nice touch.

3. Undertale
"Once Upon a Time" / "Heartache" / "Snowdin Town" / "Spear of Justice" / "Spider Dance" / "Death by Glamour" / "ASGORE" / "SAVE the World" / "Battle Against a True Hero" / "Megalovania"

I found this the least interesting suite of the show, though admittedly my experience with Undertale music is limited to the occasional fan arrangement, not the complete OST. Still it wasn't a bad arrangement or performance at all, and at the very least was a smart effort at including a more modern title in the largely classic-VGM concert program.

4. Chrono Cross
"Chrono Cross ~The Scars of Time~" / "Gale" / "The Brink of Death" / "Victory ~Gift of Spring~" / "The Girl Who Stole the Stars" / "On the Shores of a Dream: Another World" / "Those Imprisoned by Fate" / "Dragon God"

Having a much greater nostalgic connection to Chrono Trigger I was more looking forward to that suite, but I must say JAGMO did an excellent job with the theme selection and performance for their Chrono Cross suite, particularly with the solo woodwinds.

2nd Half Program

5. Tales Of Destiny
"Bare its fangs" / "Nightmare" / "Clock Tower" /  "Lion ~Irony of fate~" / "Rebel against destiny" / "Like a Dream"

I found this suite to be the least refined of the show, with lots of brash, uptempo brass and contemporary percussion (all of which I'm inclined to attribute to the source material). It was fine for a single suite, but I'm glad the rest of the concert took a different direction.

6. Chrono Trigger
"Chrono Trigger" / "Secret of the Forest" / "Corridor of Time" / "Frog's Theme" / "Battle with Magus" / "World Revolution"

After hearing a full concert's worth of orchestral Chrono Trigger at the 2017 Little Jack Orchestra concert, here I was less than a week later hearing a second (if smaller) helping from JAGMO. Life in Japan is good. A surprisingly lengthy and patiently developed arrangement of "Secret of the Forest" and a perfect rendition of "Corridor of Time" were my favorites in this suite. The rest didn't quite match the arrangements in the Little Jack concert but were still very good in their own right.

7. Castlevania series
"Vampire Killer" (Castlevania) / "Bloody Tears" (Castlevania II: Simon's Quest) / "Beginning" (Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse) / "Theme of Simon" (Super Castlevania IV) / "Wood Carving Partita", "Lost Painting" (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) / "Lament of Innocence ~Leon's Theme~" (Castlevania: Lament of Innocence) / "An Empty Tome", "Symphony of Battle", "Dissonant Courage" (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)

The first part of this suite was a classic Castlevania nostalgia-fest, beginning with an energetic, brassy performance of the action-adventure anthem "Simon's Theme", then moving on to simple but very fun arrangements of each NES title's best-known theme. The two Symphony of the Night selections, though hardly my favorites from that soundtrack, worked perfectly in the context of the suite as a whole. The remainder of the suite I found relatively pop-like and generic, though I'll confess I had no existing familiarity with those themes.

8. Suikoden I & II
"予感" / "Into a World of Illusions" / "Forgotten Days" / "Theme of the Advancing Army" / "Avertuneiro Antes Lance Mao ~The Fight Is Over~" (Suikoden) / "Opening BGM" / "Reminiscence" / "The Evil One" / "Gothic Neclord" / "La passione commuove la storia ~Passion Sets History in Motion~"
(Suikoden II)

Joining the Link to the Past suite as my favorite of the concert was the closing suite for Suikoden and Suikoden II. Suikoden was never one of the titles I've really longed for orchestral arrangements for, mainly because its ethnic music focus didn't seem to call for it as much. However, one Suikoden theme I HAVE always wanted to hear orchestral is "Theme of the Advancing Army", and JAGMO performed it, and it was every bit as epic as I've always imagined. Other orchestra-centered themes like "Into a World of Illusions" came out similarly well, the arrangements for the vocal themes did a very nice job using instruments in their stead, and the theme with the most Suikoden-like ethnic quality, "Forgotten Days", was sublime. What a delightful way to end the show.

Overall Impressions

The concert program in design fell right between the long suites of the Symphonic series and the much shorter pieces in concert series like Press Start and Distant Worlds. JAGMO's approach hits a sweet spot, offering a large number of series and titles to appeal to different fans, with suites long enough to satisfy each of them. I do think that a few suites would have benefited largely from just a minute or two of extra length, as certain favorite themes felt like they came and went too quickly. But given the time they had to work with, the arrangements came out very well.

There was no encore unfortunately, despite some quite enthusiastic applause from the audience. I understand that the orchestra had three different concerts to play in two days - and with slightly different programs at that - but a short encore at least is always a worthy gesture.

Factoring in both performance and acoustic quality, this was easily one of the best-sounding orchestral game concerts I've heard live, right up there with Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo and Final Symphony in Germany. You might not necessarily expect it from the cartoony looking (though admittedly cute) pixel-art home page, but JAGMO very much live up to their billing as a professional orchestra.

In fact along with the aforementioned Symphonic series concerts, and the nostalgia-filled Final Fantasy VI Little Jack Orchestra concert, I'd rank JAGMO's show among my favorite VGM orchestra concerts to date. Between the best-of-both-worlds program design, classic title selection, faithful but sufficiently developed arrangements, and excellent performance, there was little not to like. For any game music fan who finds the program at least a bit to their liking, it's very much worth the price of admission to see the JAGMO game music orchestra in concert.

jb Oct 22, 2017

This seems like an awful lot of music packed into one concert... were they just short snippets of the main motifs compiled into one track? Wish more of this kind of thing would happen over here, we really only get Distant Worlds and other heavily licensed SQEX stuff (FF Piano Opera, KH Orchestra, I think Black Mages or Nobuo Uematsu's band once at MAGFest?)

Namorbia Oct 31, 2017

JAGMO had been on my radar ever since they first revealed their existence. I finally got to attend their concert in 2015 and wrote a report about it here.

That concert was slightly disappointing, but I'm glad they are doing a better job now. I actually completely lost interest in JAGMO after my experience, even though looking at my report, I seemed to have rated the concert quite ok. Anyway, after reading your impressions, Adam, I now want to hear them live again!

How was the sound in the concert? Did they amplify it a lot? Did it sound natural? The amplified unnatural sound was my biggest gripe when I went to their concert.

Adam Corn Nov 5, 2017

It was quite a lot of music. As I mentioned there were some parts where I wished favorite themes had more time devoted to them, but in general I was very satisfied with the orchestral renditions. Keep in mind that a lot of these classic VGM themes aren't actually that long to begin with, so for orchestral arrangements it's largely a matter of how much they decide to extend or embellish them. In this case there wasn't a whole lot of that, but the fact that they nailed the essential orchestrations and had so much great material to work with to begin with meant it turned out very well.

As for amplification, there was none, thankfully. It was entirely acoustic, which with the quality performance and good acoustics of the concert hall is why I say this was one of the best sounding orchestral VGM concerts I've heard live. I agree that electronic amplification is generally a no-go for live orchestra, which is part of the reason I've not been as impressed with the Game Symphony Japan and Square Enix concerts I've seen.

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