String quartet arrangements of game music simply doesn’t happen often enough and when it does often they are safe. They are stuffy, classical and not usually pushing the boundaries. Enter Videri stage left. Nine beautifully crafted melodies of game music that seamlessly give you almost an entire soundtrack in a track. All the sound coming from four players too – it’s a treat from start to end.
Opening with the jolly “Super Mario Bros” you get the main theme bouncing across your speakers with a few other themes quickly thrown in for good measure. I love the fact that one of the instruments is used in a percussive beat to elevate things up a notch. The iconic melody is like an old slipper. Comfy and familiar but still like home. “At Zanarkand” follows as one of the few non-medleys. Beautifully developed from the timid beginnings and imbues a sorrowful and heavy arrangement. After its first turn of melody it starts to veer off into a more unique free-flowing interpretation and its this that elevates it to such a high quality. You can hear the theme but it has new life. The pauses for breath add to the atmosphere too. Delightfully “Journey Melody” appears next, a real surprise choice. It works fantastically though as the main music was heavily orchestrated and the epic feeling of enlightenment shines throughout. It also is able to cram what was a constantly changing two-hour soundtrack into five minutes of nods, pace and style changes and make it feel like its own unique track. “Green Hill Zone” then ups the fun aspect from Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s chirpy, full on and doesn’t skimp on pace or breadth on the speakers. It’s also one of the most literal translations to strings too.
“Ballad of the Goddess” follows from Zelda as a rousing theme that builds its part. It feels like I should be striding into battle on my horse as it has a gallop to it that sets it apart. “Working Together” from Kingdom Hearts II is an interesting and inspired choice too because it’s so jolly, regal and upbeat, it lets the character of Videri spew out so even during the slower sections there’s a real smile on the strings.
Then comes the epic fourteen minute “Final Fantasy VII Suite”. For the first time piano is introduced into the mix too. Going straight from Opening ~ Bombing Mission the piano and strings interact at a whole new level as the drama unfolds in something you’d see in a more daring piano collections. It then transitions into the Main Theme, and then afterwards starts pounding out lots of themes seamlessly. The great thing is that sometimes it’s just for a line or two before it starts pouring into another theme. I don’t want to spoil what is played but it’s a magnificent feat and a real tour de force.
Going for something different entirely is a fantastic rendition of “The Mightiest of Pirates” which is the theme from Monkey Island. For this some percussion is added to give the beat and tropic feel but this adds to shape of the song and it’s a great theme to be noble and clumsy with at the same time. An inspired choice. Closing out the album is “Halo Medley” and despite being the only music collection I’m not greatly familiar with, I loved the expression that was given to the ever evolving track. It has a beautiful ebb and flow to each movement and feels like the most sincere piece on the album.
Portals, put simply, is a magical piece of work. It easily holds its own in the top flight of arrangement albums and if anyone is ever curious about how game music can sound with a quartet this is possibly the best place to start. Phenomenal.