Sitting inside Carnegie Hall on a chilly New York evening I can’t help but lean over the first-tier railing to take in the scene before me. Beyond the usually gorgeous view of the historic concert hall’s interior, I absorb all the stunning cosplays of Yae Miko, Childe, Arlecchino, and other Genshin Impact characters. The room hums with palpable excitement for tonight’s performance — the Genshin Concert 2023 “Melodies of an Endless Journey.”
Billed as a musical celebration of HoYoverse’s beloved open-world roleplaying game, the evening should have been a point of celebration for fans. Yet the concert’s questionable decisions in how it presents the gorgeous music of the varied nations and characters of Genshin Impact leave much to be desired.
Music has long been the emotional core of many games and experiencing orchestral performances of beloved soundtracks surrounded by an audience that shares your love for a given game is a transformative event. There is something about feeling the notes vibrate against your entire body as they are played right in front of you that can’t be recreated by a pair of headphones or a speaker system.
The music of Genshin Impact is an excellent candidate for a live concert. Having passed its third year of life, Genshin Impact’s story spans five fictional nations that each have their own unique identity. While the game itself shows the differences between them through its art design and story, the music of each nation is equally important in defining the unique identity of every part of Teyvat. But the Genshin Concert’s dividing of time between the currently available five nations is one of the most confusing aspects of the performance.
Broken into three sections with two intermissions, the concert’s tracklist follows the order of Genshin Impact’s story, progressing through Mondstadt, Liyue, and then, in short succession, Inazuma, Sumeru, and Fontaine. The first section, devoted to Mondstadt, an exploratory area that came with Genshin’s original 2020 release, feels like it is always missing something. The percussion and string arrangements lack harmony.
We then get a little further along in Genshin’s world, exploring Liyue for 35 minutes. Liyue’s introduction, which smartly starts with the Nation’s theme, is a shot of adrenaline into the concert. The gorgeous orchestration and the harmony of every instrument are fully on display, with the added flavor of a koto player to play the defining guzheng parts of Liyue’s soundtrack. Liyue also had the best balance of tracks as it spanned the nation’s theme, ambient environmental songs, climactic cutscenes, and beloved character themes like Rex Incognito (which reserved the biggest cheer of the night even before Zhongli’s face appeared). Liyue showed the best of Genshin Impact: its gorgeous world and its iconic characters.
In contrast to the tepid response by the first intermission, after the second intermission, I was excited to see how the orchestra would continue to stun. I was especially ready to hear music from Inazuma — my personal favorite arc of Genshin Impact — and I wasn’t disappointed. Inazuma’s theme immediately gave me goosebumps as the koto’s first notes struck the air. Raiden Shogun’s demo was a highlight of the evening, blending the electric guitar, koto, and other instruments into an adrenaline-pumping performance that felt like lightning was striking in the concert hall. But then, just as soon as it had started, Inazuma was left behind for Sumeru.
The evening ends with little fanfare. Sumeru was given an even more paltry slot in the evening, with no character themes. This continues with Fontaine, which received roughly ten minutes with none of the video accompaniment other nations received and acted as the finale of the evening Leaving me surprised — this was the note we were ending on?
Perhaps Fontaine’s lackluster offering could be explained away as a relative newcomer to the game, coming out last August. The first performance of the Genshin Concert 2023 was only a month later on September 29 in Shanghai. But the minimal amount of time devoted to Inazuma and Sumeru feels confounding.
While the evening’s performance was musically enjoyable, there were some very noticeable absences. The inclusion of the koto and shakuhachi helped build out the breadth of the soundtrack but in moments like Zhongli’s theme, the erhu was dearly missed as was the absence of any singers during the evening. It also didn’t help that there was a lack of cohesion that could be felt between the performers and the conductor, Eric Roth.
Overall, the resounding takeaway from the Genshin Concert 2023 is — disappointment. This cannot be blamed on the music itself, as the soundtrack of Genshin Impact is beautiful. It comes down to the seeming disorganization in how the music is presented to the fans. Fans who are ecstatic to be in the room with others who care about this game. The number of stunning cosplays alone showed just how much people were excited for the evening. Performances like this can not only bring something from a video game into reality, they can make the community even more real.
That community deserves a better performance, and it isn’t an impossible feat. There has been discussion amongst the community that the Asian stops on the tour have a much higher quality than other global stops. As the Shanghai performance shows, these concerts can be put on with stunning spectacle and love. Shanghai includes a choir to accompany the orchestra, the full spectrum of traditional folk instruments, and spectacularly designed lighting to accompany the music and on-screen videos.
Until the quality of performance on global stops can be improved, it’s better to watch the official recording of the Shanghai performance.