Interview—Discussing Heroes: A Video Game Symphony with Jason Michael Paul

Learning more about the latest project from the producer of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses!

By Angela Marrujo Fornaca. Posted 12/18/2023 08:54 Comment on this     ShareThis

Jason Michael Paul loves video games, but he has a deep-rooted passion for music. His production company, JMP Entertainment, makes it possible for him to bring his two loves together to create incredible orchestral concert experiences that pay homage to some of the most important video game franchises.

Back in 2004, he was approached by Square Enix to produce Dear Friends — Music from Final Fantasy, the first officially sanctioned Final Fantasy concert in the United States. Though it was originally conceived as a one-time experience, the sheer demand from fans made it clear that Jason and JMP Productions were filling a void long left empty by video game developers. The concert sold out in one day, and fans were clamoring for more opportunities to see the show — the masses wanted to experience beautiful renditions of their favorite video game music in-person, and Jason was just the man for the job.

After touring the U.S. in 2005, the Dear Friends concert series finally came to a close. But Jason wasn’t done. After the success of PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, he then went on to work with Nintendo to produce a concert in celebration of the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda series. And, much like with Dear Friends, the concert was so well received that Jason went on to produce the orchestral series, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. It toured nationally and globally for a whopping five years (which yours truly attended four times and had the pleasure of discussing with Jason).

Jason and JMP Entertainment are back at it again. He and his team are hard at work producing his latest concert series, Heroes: A Video Game Symphony. This time, however, rather than focusing on the music from one series, Jason is taking concertgoers on a trip across multiple franchises, to explore the hero’s journey as told through the music and adventures of some of gaming’s most beloved heroes. During the concert, each step in the hero’s journey is represented by a character; while the orchestra plays a rendition of classic music from that character’s franchise, footage from their game as well as official art will play on the screen behind the stage.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jason again to discuss Heroes, including which Nintendo franchise or franchises might find their way into the show.

Nintendojo: Jason, how did you come up with the concept for Heroes?

Jason: 2014 was a hiatus year for Symphony of the Goddesses, so I was thinking up a new show to fill in the gap during that time. My colleague and I wanted to come up with an original concept, and thought it would be brilliant to incorporate Joseph Campbell’s work on the monomyth into a narration we created. We thought it would be cool to apply a different game to each stage of the hero’s journey and create an arrangement for each stage based on that game’s music. At the time, I was playing Dear Esther from The Chinese Room and really enjoyed Nigel Carrington’s narration of the game. So we hired him to do the narration for Heroes.

Nintendojo: That’s a really cool, unique concept. How did you decide which games to include in the show and which stage of the hero’s journey each would represent?

Jason: Having played a lot of games and having intimate knowledge of those games helped give me a large number to choose from. But a significant factor in choosing the right game is its music. It has to be great music that’s easily relatable to the audience, and can be easily translated from the midi or music file to the orchestra. (It’s easier for modern games whose scores are already performed orchestrally.) It’s gotten less difficult with time, less translating from bips and beeps. We also need to have the support of the publisher, which is another significant deciding factor in which games we feature. I have to have a license for every hero we represent, visually and musically.

Nintendojo: That’s a very interesting creative process, and it’s amazing thinking about how video game music has evolved over time. How many games are included in the show?

Jason: Seventeen. We’re very proud of the fact that the games we feature are in the top 100 games of all time. Most of the ones we feature in this concert are in the top 50.


Nintendojo: Nintendo has developed many of the games that would fall into the categories of top 100 or top 50. Which Nintendo franchises will be featured in the show, and what music from those franchises will be played?

Jason: We’ll be featuring The Legend of Zelda and have a wonderful arrangement planned that will include music from Tears of the Kingdom. There are other franchises I’m hoping we can work with Nintendo to include in the future, including Kirby, Metroid, Super Mario Bros., and Pokémon. It’s hard to narrow down the options when there are so many amazing games to choose from!

Nintendojo: It’s a good problem to have! You’ve developed concerts for Final Fantasy and Zelda. But what was it like this time working across a ton of different franchises, collaborating with developers, producers, and composers, as opposed to a show focused on one franchise?

Jason: It does a lot of good for our industry. It makes the concert far more appealing to a wider audience compared to working with a single title or franchise. If conveyed to the audience properly, it’ll expose them to games they may have otherwise never known about and get them interested in playing them. With Heroes, we have a lot of different genres represented, from first-person narrative-driven titles to Metroidvanias to RPGs and more. We’re sharing worlds created by these geniuses in the industry, including lesser-known games that the audience may not have known were developed by their favorite studios. For example, Lost Odyssey was made by Mistwalker Studios, which was founded by Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created the Final Fantasy series.

Nintendojo: Which games’ music were you most excited to include in the show? And which of the games are personal favorites of yours?

Jason: I’ve always been a big fan of Castlevania on the NES, which we’ve done an arrangement for. Metal Gear Solid is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, so it’s great that we’ve been able to include that series in the show, too. I’ve really enjoyed working with Bethesda and the Fallout 4 arrangement that we’ve done, and appreciate their support of my concerts. I really enjoy the Starfield music we’re including, as well.


Nintendojo: You’ve been doing these video game concerts for 20 years now. What inspired you to start doing this, and what has kept you going all of this time?

Jason: What inspired me was my love for video games. I seized the moment at a time where video game concerts didn’t exist here in the U.S. — I was at the right place at the right time, and my relationship with Square Enix made it possible for me to do this. I felt like I was giving back to the community I love through music and visuals. That’s what’s propelled me forward ever since. Being able to be around the most creative minds, musically and visually, has always been a motivator. And after doing over 300 shows worldwide, the fans are a huge driving force for me. They’re a very enthusiastic audience filled with people who really appreciate what I’ve been doing.

Nintendojo: It’s a truly amazing thing, to be able to do what you do and bring people together through gaming and music. I fell in love with Symphony of the Goddesses because Zelda is my favorite franchise, and I saw the show four times. Each time, there was new music introduced into the symphony and even a couple of surprises at the end of the show. Can attendees of Heroes expect something similar? (No spoilers, of course!)

Jason: Yes, absolutely. Don’t leave the concert early — you have to stay until the very end!

Heroes is currently touring, with the next show slated for January 2024 in Portland, OR. Check out the schedule and see if a tour date is coming to a city near you! Many thanks to Jason for taking some time to sit down and talk with us. It’s always a pleasure.

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