NieR Concert Orchestra Was Simply Magical

by Bryan Clutter
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Before we begin this editorial piece, we have to give proper thanks and acknowledgment to AWR Music for allowing us to experience the wonder and spectacle that was the NieR Concert Orchestra in Chicago, Illinois on January 25.  It reaffirmed to me why music in video games are so important, and why we set out to create Level Down Games in the first place. LDG is all about gaming coverage in every sense of the word, be it in the form of news, editorial pieces, podcasts, previews, reviews, whatever. But the one aspect of the industry that is often overlooked and underappreciated is the composition behind each magnificent game and the composers who pour their heart and soul into making sure that gamers have something to keep the music playing, and keep it loud as we say at the end of every one of our BGMania podcast episodes. And if you’re unaware, BGMania is a video game music podcast we do every Wednesday morning that can be found on your favorite podcast app of choice. Check it out! Thanks again to AWR Music!

Jessica and I made the trip from Northeast Ohio, the land we call home, over to the Windy City early Saturday morning. We were going to make the trip with our three fur babies riding with us, but luckily her parents ended up being able to watch all three dogs, so we were able to go on a nice weekend getaway for just the two of us, something we haven’t done in years. We changed our hotel reservations from a pet-friendly place to something way nicer right along the Riverwalk in Downtown Chicago. Shoutout to the ACME Hotel for being so accommodating and wonderful to work with for the entire trip, and for putting us in a room that had an excellent view of the city at night. The six-hour drive we just went through was nothing compared to what we were about to experience in Chicago, however.

I’m from Ohio, but at one point I lived in Las Vegas for eight years of my life, and would often make the three hour trip over to California and visit cities such as San Diego and Los Angeles almost every couple of months. Going to Chicago, I was expecting traffic similar in style to that of Cleveland. No. Not even close. First of all, the city and skyline dwarf Cleveland by being about three or four times the size of it, but the traffic is also very reminiscent of driving down the I-15 in the middle of Las Vegas during rush hour, or several outlying parts around Los Angeles. It isn’t nearly as bad as downtown LA, but damnit it’s close!

The actual NieR Concert Orchestra itself was at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, Illinois, which was about a 40-minute drive from our downtown Chicago hotel room with traffic. We arrived with just enough time to find the lady inside the main theatre that had our tickets in hand (thanks again!) and find our seats right as the performance was beginning. The first thing we noticed is that our view of the stage was impeccable. We couldn’t have asked for better seats and a better view of the orchestra and three accompanying screens that were displaying scenes from the games and translated text. Do you know how they always say in an orchestra concert setting that there are always those two sections you want to aim for in order to get the best acoustics? Either off-center orchestra seating or off-center balcony seating and if you opt for the orchestra seating, about 2/3 of the way back. Well, that’s exactly where we ended up. Jessica and I have seen Distant Worlds and A New World,  both concerts featuring music from Final Fantasy. For Distant Worlds, we were literally in the second row. And for A New World, we were in the back of the balcony. The sound and acoustics we heard for the NieR Concert Orchestra were unlike anything I had ever experienced in an orchestra hall. It was phenomenal.

A full 100-piece orchestra and a full choir were playing music from both the original NieR and NieR: Automata. The first half of the concert, which ended up being ten different pieces of music, were all from the first game. The setlist in its entirety was based off of the original concert over in Japan back in 2018, with a few changes done by the director of the game, Yoko Taro, which included additional scenes on the screens and translated text because he was under the impression that a lot of people in the audience wouldn’t be familiar that there was even a first game before NieR: Automata. Turns out that was a smart decision, as a good portion of those in attendance were confused about which music was being played, even if you could tell they were still enjoying the music itself. And rightfully so! Series composer Keiichi Okabe did a wonderful job on these two soundtracks, and getting to see the man in person and how humble and thankful he was that so many people appreciated his work was a beautiful and touching moment.

Once intermission was over and the second half of the concert began, you could definitely see the pep in the room begin to lift. This is what most people were here for… the music from the 10/10 game right here at https://leveldowngames.com, NieR: Automata. They played an additional ten pieces of music (eleven if you count the encore performance) and people were cheering, gasping whenever their favorite piece would begin, and standing up and clapping at the end of each performance. It was a magical time and one that I will never forget. If you have the chance to catch the NieR Concert Orchestra in a city near you, I highly encourage you to attend. It’s an amazingly fun time, and they did tease that a full tour may be in the works at some point since they said we might see them in Chicago again in the future!

A big reason why the night was indeed so magical is thanks to the vocal performance by none other than Emi Evans, one of the original singers on the soundtrack. A lot of folks don’t know, but the language she sings in during the performance and on the official soundtracks is a chaos language… meaning, it’s not real. It borrows elements and stylings from languages such as Japanese, French, and Latin, but it has been created for this world and it is so beautiful and wonderful to listen to, especially live.

Special shoutout to the production crew and every performer in that orchestra and choir. It was handled with the utmost care and respect that a game of this caliber deserves, and I truly hope that Square Enix realizes what they have on their hands. This is the birth of a new franchise and IP that can rival the best of the best. Final Fantasy? Yes. Kingdom Hearts? Without question. NieR is a special and everyone that has played it to full completion understands why and the desire for this series to keep going is unprecedented.

If the NieR Concert Orchestra ever returns to a city I’m close to or within a certain amount of hours of driving from, you can bet we’ll be there again. I wouldn’t miss it again for the world.

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