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The fact that I’m reviewing the third Video Games Live album is pretty crazy to me. I haven’t even made it to my thirties and yet I can remember a time when video game music was a niche among niches. Only the most dedicated fans would listen to videogame soundtracks, because listening to them usually involved importing them from Japan. And now we’ve got Video Games Live, a collection of musicians who perform songs from videogame soundtracks, and not even just well-known selections, but a few obscure one too.

Videogame music is still a bit niche, as evidenced by the fact that Video Games Live had to turn to Kickstarter to raise the money for their third album, but raise the money they did and now Video Games Live: Level 3 offers more epic orchestrated tunes from hit games both new and old.

Of the fifteen tracks, I was familiar with about half and I think that made for a pretty fun listening experience. It allowed for a nice mixture of discover and nostalgia, which I liken to seeing your favorite band in concert and hearing them mix some classic hits in with new material.

Not A Rotten One in the Bunch

There isn’t a single bad track in the whole album, and while that’s a pretty huge endorsement, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We all know that we love videogame music and Video Games Live has already proven that taking fantastic tracks and upping the production value can really only lead to good things. A few of the tracks are completely transformed by well-placed vocals.

When talking about my favorite tracks, it’s hard to discern nostalgia from other affection, so just know that nostalgic charm is always there and plays a big part in the enjoyment of the album, though that’s in no way a bad thing.

Catch’em All

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The Pokemon theme has moments of brilliance, but for the most part it can’t shake the shackles of its archaic origins. The rendition is fine, but it’s just not as timeless of a theme as something from Zelda or maybe even Mario. It’s also somewhat erratic and if you flip through the theme it will sound like four or five different songs.

Speaking of Zelda, the Zelda 25th Anniversary Overture is present on the album and I honestly wasn’t looking forward to it simply because the core Zelda melodies have been played to death time and time again. I was pleasantly surprised to hear one of – if not the – most beautiful rendition of these tracks I’ve ever heard. Like the Pokemon theme, it suffers from being all over the place, but it’s more forgivable here given that that’s the idea.

As a fiction writer, I’m always looking for good instrumental music to listen to as I write and a common method is to find music that suits the material you’re writing. I’ve never been the biggest fantasy fan, but the Dragonborn Theme – with its building chants, thunderous drums, and inspiring horns – makes me want to write a novel that would knock Tolkien off his feet. As a matter of fact, I have the track playing as I write this and I’m having trouble staying in my seat.

There are plenty of other tracks worth mentioning. The Street Fighter II theme is every bit as glorious as I remembered and then some. It’s impossible to listen to the theme to The Secret of Monkey Island and not have a huge stupid grin stretch across your face. The live recording of Still Alive is a fantastic way to end the album and could even be seen as a symbolic nod towards a fourth album.

Pièce de Résistance

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Then there’s the Tetris Opera, the most brilliant piece on the entire album. The vocals are based on the poem that inspired the folk song that the original Tetris theme is based on and, despite not understanding a single word of it, it stands out as a nostalgic, haunting masterpiece that any opera lover would be proud to have in their collection.

The album isn’t without its faults, though they’re minor and don’t do much to hurt the album as a whole. As a huge fan of the Silent Hill series, I found the rendition of Theme of Laura to be underwhelming. This is a song that benefited from the more subtle, almost grungy sound of the original. VGL’s take is good, and I appreciate the new spin on it, but it’s just not as effective as Yamaoka’s.

Then there’s just the overall lack of variety in tone. With the exception of a few tracks like the World of Warcraft piece, everything is fairly fast-paced or starts out slow and grows in tempo. It would have been nice to have a few more slower, moodier tracks.

Keep on Rockin’

It’s Video Games Live! If you’ve liked their stuff up until now, you’ll like Level 3. They’re still doing their thing and doing it well and as time goes on they’ll likely start covering more obscure themes, which could lead to people discovering some gems that escaped them. I’ve got a new go-to when I need writing music.

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