AuthorAngela Zurlo

The Evil and the Tragic: Fire Emblem Villains

You’re on a battlefield. Maybe you’re besties with the guy leading this army. Maybe you just needed the cash, or maybe you’re not quite sure how you ended up here with sword in hand. But the fact is, you’re among this ragtag team of fighters, and the leader of the enemy army is swiftly approaching.

There’s a lot of evil in this world, but with that is some of the best themes. They’re fast-paced, they’re exciting, and sometimes… they’re a little tragic.

But before we go into battle, we have to stop by the armory (Preparations, FE11). (Just because I like this suiting-up theme the best. Sometimes I’d spent a little longer than necessary shifting around my inventory just to listen.) Pack up your best weapons, friends, because we’re in this ’til the end.

Most of Fire Emblem’s games begin with a charming pirate duo (Wonderful Pirates, FE9), who are maybe a little dumb but a good experience booster. But you’re not here to merely fight off pirates. You have a grander mission, whether it’s to save your family, get revenge, or—save us all—face a corrupted goddess.

And now, battle! Epic music change.

Maybe your enemy is a band of assassins (Black Fang, FE7), where some of its members have an eerie, not-quite-human physical beauty. Maybe it’s the king’s elite knights (Stratagem in Black Armor, FE9), the strongest of the strong across the land. Whatever the case may be, you gird up and venture into battle (Trouble!, FE11).

But not all enemies are clad in black armor. They can have the highest seats in politics (Beauty is a Mad Mistress, FE10), reflected in this harpsichord-like tune to reflect wealth and prosperity. Or you could be facing one of those eerily beautiful quasi-humans directly (Softly with Grace, FE7), in a more trilling, graceful version than its Black Fang counterpart.

But what if your foe is not of this world? The demon-possessed (Return of the Demon King, FE8), or the goddess of creation (A Grasping Truth, FE10)? There’s an urgency in these pieces, with the fate of humanity itself in your hands. The music drives you forward in its runs and speed; it slows to a dirge-like quality; it slowly builds back up to build your confidence that you can, in fact, save the world.

But when it’s over? Maybe you have a country to rebuild. Maybe you’re mourning some allies. But with the defeat of the final enemy, there is hope. You have fought bravely, and you have saved the world.

What’s in an Arrangement

The whole concept of a gaming orchestra is still a fairly new one. It still requires explanation to confused family members (“You mean games, like Pac-Man?”), so it’s not that weird to consider there isn’t exactly a vast pool of orchestral repertoire (yet). Occasionally the various orchestras will borrow from one another, but more often than not, we’re arranging this stuff ourselves.

What does that mean, anyway?

Much of the time, we don’t have actual sheet music to work with. So we plunk out the notes ourselves. We listen to the song, and if we’re lucky there’s piano music or some other kind of existing notation. Then we boot up that notation software and decide who gets to play what.

MGSO is lucky to have Alyssa (our founder/director/conductor), who’s pro trained and does this music stuff for a living. She worked up this handy PowerPoint for the rest of us, most of whom have never considered writing music before. There’s lots of handy tips and tricks in there, and a special shout-out to converting game music into something that that works for real instruments. (Welcome to the endless loop that is video game music!)

Wait, wait. You mentioned notation software.

Indeed! There are a few options for writing out music, from barebones freebies to “I’m not spending that much if I’m not pro” software. There are certainly more out there than these, but I’m personally in the “not pro” category, and you probably are, too. Nor can I tell you which is “best,” because it depends on your needs. Each program has a demo, so try them all. You get what you pay for, more or less, but rest assured that our MGSO arrangers have used some combination of all of them.

Musecore
FREE

Noteworthy Composer
$49
(free demo, but unable to save)

Sibelius
$119, or various monthly subscriptions
(offers a 30-day free trial)

Finale
Up to $600, depending on version & student/teacher discounts
(offers a 30-day free trial)

More and more of our members are delving into the world of arranging, even those who don’t do music professionally. If you’ve ever considered it, remember you’re not doing it alone, either—ask anyone in the group and they’ll give you tips and tricks, dos and don’ts, on their particular instrument. Because as cool as an arrangement may sound, you also want to make sure it’s physically possible for its players, too.

“You guys need to play music from This Best Game Ever!” our fans shout, and we wholeheartedly agree. But even better is having the music for it. This non-pro musician has dabbled in the art of arrangement. Why not try it out yourself? Arranging music is fun, and doubly so when your piece is out there in the group for a performance. (If not a little nerve-racking. But mostly fun.)

An Afternoon at the [Gamer] Orchestra

The air is cold and dry, with the threat of oncoming snow. It’s still early in the season—not winter quite yet, if we’re being technical—so the prospect of snow is still fun, in the ignorance of not knowing what’s to approach in mere months. But on this December afternoon, you brave the potential storm to drive to a church you’d never been to before, for a concert by a group you didn’t know existed until recently. Because who knew there was a gamer orchestra in Jersey? Who even knew gamer orchestras were a thing?

You arrive early (because that’s what concert-goers do), greeted by a smiling face behind a bake sale table. Or maybe you’re too early, because black-clad musicians are scurrying past with all variants of instruments and equipment. But the sanctuary doors are open, and there’s gentle piano music wafting from within, so you accept a program and find a seat inside.


(Some “backstage” shenanigans, which you can very obviously see across the room)

What’s the deal with this “gamer orchestra” thing, anyway? And how will this be any different from a “normal” concert? (Excuse you. I resent this line of questioning.)

Truthfully, its not that different from other orchestra concerts. You flip through the program, and pull up the program notes online. It’s cool, because you know this stuff. You’ve played these games, or they’re on your endless “to play” list. But when the conductor comes forth, and the group sweeps into the first piece, you begin to understand that this isn’t like any other concert. These talented musicians aren’t just there to entertain. You’re all part of an experience, a love of both music and gaming, one that you share together.

(This is a little intimidating. These guys are like celebrities, right? But you’ll still talk to them after the concert, because they’re cool and they’re nerds just like you.)

As the music plays, you remember so clearly that one part in that one game. There’s a wave of mixed emotions, from joy to panic to nostalgia. You remember questioning shady witnesses in anime lawyer court, and clashing weapons with Gilgamesh on the big bridge. You enthusiastically applause between songs, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by the group before you—they all look around, grinning, overjoyed to be sharing this experience.


(Look how happy they are)

Maybe that’s part of the difference, too: These are not super-serious musicians. Most of them aren’t even professional. They smile between pieces, whisper to each other, or offer a little high-five they think the audience can’t see. Even the conductor is dancing, cracking jokes when introducing the next song, and there’s a companionship in that room. You wonder if they’re accepting new musicians. You played in high school, too. (The answer is “yes.”)

Spring seems an awfully long time to wait for the next performance, but the months pass quickly. May 12th rapidly approaches, bringing another glorious Saturday afternoon of music. And this time, there will be no snow to battle on the drive home. Although maybe with the nicer weather, you’ll get there even earlier to battle for prime seating instead.

Why we Do What we Do

We spent a lot of time at local conventions this summer. Our big event is AVGC, but we tabled at a good number of mini library cons, too. There are so many preparations for these events: From remembering the date (does it start at 11:00 or noon?), to packing the promo materials, to remembering what instrument I’m even playing in a set list I can’t remember. When your weekends are packed with volunteering and performances, you’re inclined to forget the bigger picture—that is, why we do this at all.

At one of the library conventions, there was a child—probably four years old—who would not stop hovering. We befriended his father, who humored the kid’s fascination with our instruments. We showed him the synthesizer; he received a personal demonstration of guitar chords. He stole my kazoo and shoved it into his mouth, which I didn’t ask to be returned. It was that kid, and moments like those, that remind us of the big picture. We adored it. We play this music because we enjoy it, but it’s not enough to feel it on our own. We share it with our fellow musicians, and we share it even more with those who listen. Including, maybe especially, hyperactive toddlers.

Most of us are not professional musicians. We moan that we’re imperfect. We botched a note on our solo, or missed our entrance after 34 measures of rests. While we work on these things and strive to improve our musicianship, what matters in the end is not that I accidentally played an F# after the key change, again. It’s looking to our audience and seeing them smiling, or dancing, or nodding in acknowledgement that this piece rocks. “Play Undertale!” they plead, for the seventh time. “What’s that?” the kid asks, pointing at the piccolo. And we play it, again. And we show them. And we love it.

Sometimes, social media is like shouting into the ether. Sometimes, no one approaches our table at a convention because they feel intimidated. But we keep on posting dumb things to Instagram, and we keep on jamming at our table. Because if we reach just one person, if one person laughs at our dumb photos or stops to listen to the seventh round of the Undertale theme, it’s worth it to see—or envision—the joy it brings them.

Why do we do this? Because we like it. But more importantly, because you like it. We may gripe about setting up chairs for a concert, and whine backstage because we just can’t play today. But when we get out there and see you, we’re glad the chair arrangement on stage is just right. And maybe we don’t sound so bad after all. You come to the library to seek out our table in a back corner, and you attend our concert in the ice and snow. You jam out with us, and you holler and applaud between songs. And when we’re breaking down a set or swabbing out our instruments afterward, we look at one another and say, “When’s the next one?”