Ever since Skyward Sword was revealed to have orchestrated music, fans have been bustling about the advantages and disadvantages of having an orchestrated score. There are valid points on both sides, to be sure, but to be honest, the argument has little to no purpose. Personally, I have been an avid listener of orchestral music since I was a child, and I have also fallen in love with the music of Zelda games. Naturally, the discussion weighs heavily on me, as it does on many people. In this post, I don’t explore all of my thoughts on the subject, but I’ll look into a few things that I have heard on various gaming forums. Join me after to jump as I explore some of the points for and against orchestrated music, and explain why the argument is a pointless is as broken pencil.

Orchestrated music is higher quality.

Absolutely! Even the highest quality synthesized sounds aren’t going to be the same as having an orchestra recording (though there are some that are closer than you’d think). However, that’s only if you define quality by richness in sound and an authentic representation of real instruments. In the end, we have to ask ourselves “what is quality?” If quality is always having that authentic rich orchestral sound, then of course the orchestrated recordings are higher quality. However, what if the sound that you’re looking for can’t be replicated by an orchestra? What if a composer for a video game wants to use elements of Electro-Acoustic music or purely synthesized sound? In that case, the quality of an orchestral recording trying to produce those sounds would be poor. Eventually, it comes down to what type of sound the composer wants to use. If the intention is a rich orchestral sound, then an orchestral recording will give you the better quality. But if the intention is something else, then it’s best to seek out whatever sound medium gives the best quality for the intention.

Also, orchestrated music comes with a heap of other potential issues. Microphone placement, sound engineering, and intonation become extremely important all of the sudden. There were definitely times in Skyward Sword where I thought the orchestral balance was off, and while I still thought the music was amazing, it did bother me a little. These types of issues usually don’t happen with MIDI or synthesized tracks because the textures and sounds are usually simpler and harder to scrutinize over. In a way, you could say that because orchestrated music has a richer sound, it is easier to critique and fuss over.

Non-orchestrated music is just video companies being lazy and cheap.

This is the point I have the biggest qualm with. It honestly makes no sense. Yes, it is true that producing an orchestral recording requires an immense amount of work to coordinate, rehearse, and record. (not to mention the time it takes for the composer to produce a full orchestral score). However, just because you don’t take the most expensive route, doesn’t mean you’re doing it simply to be cheap. For example, say you wanted a refrigerator in your bedroom. Sure, who doesn’t? Are you going to go out and buy the biggest and most expensive refrigerator you can find? Of course not! You’re going to go out and find one that fits your needs the best. If you have a small bedroom, where on earth are you going to fit a behemoth of a refrigerator? The same idea applies to composition. If the element of the game that you are trying to compose for is small and passive, you’re not going to want a large sweeping orchestral score to accompany it. That would be absolutely preposterous and unnecessary. What if they replaced Gondo’s Scrap shop music (or rather his section of the Bazaar theme) in Skyward Sword with a full orchestral rendition, it wouldn’t really fit. They very idea of a scrap shop is metallic in nature, so it makes sense to used a bit of a tin sounding MIDI saxophone. Using an orchestral recording for that would be like putting a 72 inch plasma screen television in your bathroom just so you could watch something while you’re sitting on the toilet (okay, admittedly, that would be awesome, but completely unnecessary).

Non-orchestrated music is bad.

No really, I’ve heard this one before. MIDI music has a place in every true video gamer’s heart (and certainly every Zelda fan’s heart). Nothing beats pulling out those old NES games and listening to some three part synth harmonies. Also, this “bad” music that you refer to can come surprisingly close to the quality of orchestrated music. If you don’t believe me, just check this out. That’s not a live orchestra, it’s a recording of a high quality virtual sound library.
So there you have it. It really is a silly argument. Both orchestrated and MIDI recordings have a place in games, and certainly in Zelda games. Arguing about the validity of one or another just seems pointless to me. So what are your thoughts on orchestrated music in Zelda games (or any video games for that matter)? Do you feel that they can both coexist together? Be sure to let me know!

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