After captivating gamers with The Legend of Zelda – 25th Anniversary Concerts and The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses the past few years, creative producers Jeron Moore and Chad Seiter have turned to Pokémon as the latest video game franchise to get the full orchestral upgrade. Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions kicks off on a 30-city North American tour May 1 and will continue into 2016 with dates across Europe.
This show is the latest in a new wave of hybrid concerts that blend video game visuals with live orchestras like Video Games Live, Dear Friends – Music from Final Fantasy, and rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes. This is the first time Pokémon, which has sold over 300 million games and countless collectible card packs since 1996, is being given the live concert treatment.
The show features 86 minutes of music scored by Seiter in collaboration with game developer and composer Junichi Masuda. Since the show begins with Game Boy, the creators have added electronic elements with the orchestra, which Moore said beefs up the sound and makes it a more epic orchestral experience.
Rather than traveling with a 70-piece orchestra, this show employs local orchestras that do a single rehearsal before performing in front of sold out crowds of up to 5,000. It’s the same premise they employed from their Zelda concerts, and it ensure that thousands of local musicians are employed and exposed to a new, much younger, gaming demographic.
“The Pokémon audience is massive and even broader than Zelda,” Moore said. “We’re seeing a lot of kids that grew up with the game early on that are in their late ‘20s and early ‘30s now. We have grandparents bringing kids who are into Pokémon. They play the card game or the video games or watch the TV show. We’re getting a younger demo, as well as a more mature demo, into the concert hall to see music. I’ve seen 5 and 6 year olds running around with their Nintendo 3DSs.”
Bringing along video games is actually encouraged, which is a rarity at traditional theaters and concert halls. Before the show and during intermission, fans use Nintendo StreetPass to connect and share game content wirelessly. Some fans also trade physical cards. But during the show, thanks to the inclusion of classic gameplay and exclusive new high-definition visuals, kids are focused on the giant screen at center stage.
“The stories in Pokémon games are similar from game to game, but the circumstances do vary with the characters you run into and the subplots are all different,” Moore said. “We divide the show up into six generations and within that format we focus on two to four pieces of music per generation by focusing on a vignette from a memorable moment or plot point from that game that made it special. We’ve culled it down to the essentials and we worked closely with Masuda-san to make sure we’re relaying the things they think are important to the Pokémon franchise.”
The orchestra and visuals are married to create a cinematic experience complete with special effects not usually associated with concert halls. The idea is to provide nostalgia for older gamers, while introducing a younger audience to the magic of live orchestral scores. Video games, in general, have been indoctrinating gamers to dynamic orchestral music over the past decade or so, which has opened the door for these types of concert experiences. Moore said today’s shows are the next generation of traditional gaming music concerts that originated in Japan in the early ‘90s, but back then there were no visuals to accompany the orchestral maneuvers in the dark.
“In Japan they treated it as a classical concert, the music was fantastic and there were awesome arrangements of video game tunes, but it was a traditional concert hall experience where you sit down and listen to the music,” said Moore. “We have a show that leaves you energized when you leave. It puts a smile on my face when I see a new audience experience it because they get so excited and they enjoy the stories and the presentation.”
This year’s show will evolve in 2016, according to Moore, who’d like to incorporate elements from the Pokémon movies into the mix. The show already features a sequence from the animated TV series, but the video games are the clear focus here. And more specifically, the music behind the games, which has taken on a life of its own in venues whose owners previously could only dream of attracting a young audience. Now gamers are paying $40 to over $100 per ticket to experience the music behind the games.