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Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy

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I really enjoy music.

I’m no musician by any means. I played the flute for about a decade, so I can read sheet music and I performed in school concert band. Admittedly, my knowledge is limited, but I can still appreciate instrumental music. I also spend a lot of time listening to music. My commute to work is about 45 minutes three days a week, and an hour and a half two days a week. That’s a lot of idle time to fill with nothing but driving and sound. I have a 16 gig iPod, and while it isn’t full yet, it does harbor an impressive array of sound files. I’m sure I don’t rival many out there, but my music library has reached over 8,000 files and it is daunting when I don’t know what sort of music I’m in the mood to listen to.

Out of those 8,000 plus songs, a great portion of them are instrumental; mostly soundtracks to my favorite video games, television shows, and movies. I have plenty of Japanese composers whose names reappear on my playlists: Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoko Kanno, and Yoko Shimomura to name a few, yet none come close to trumping Nobuo Uematsu. The Final Fantasy games, and his accompanying compositions, fill me with happy nostalgia. As the games have been around for 25 years, and I discovered them while in junior high, I associate them with my tumultuous adolescence. Video games are still a great method of escapism for me, but you know how it is, everything is multiplied by twenty-fold when you’re an awkward teenager in a demanding world. Nowadays, when I listen to Nobuo’s music highlighting JRPGs at their finest I am brought back to lovable characters, immersive fantasy worlds, turn-based boss battles, and ending credit scores. When I saw online that the Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy orchestra was playing only an hour and a half away from my house, and that the man himself would be in attendance, I knew I absolutely had to go.
By the time I was ready to purchase the tickets, the VIP ones were sold out. They include meet-and-greets with Uematsu. At $150 a pop, they weren’t really in my budget, anyway. It’ll give me something to look forward to for next time. I had mezzanine seats in a sold-out theater. Sitting away from the stage did not detract at all from the experience. We had a perfect view of the stage, and the quality of the sound was just as crisp. Plus, the enormous interactive screen couldn’t be missed a mile away.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Distant Worlds tour, it is considered an interactive Final Fantasy experience. While the orchestra plays memorable songs from a variety of Final Fantasy soundtracks, slideshows and videos representing said games play on a gigantic screen behind them. All in all, I felt like I was in gamer heaven.

Given that my show was on December 8th, my ‘spend money on me’ bank was running low thanks to the holidays. I had to be more frugal at the merchandise counter than I wanted. I opted for a T-shirt because I don’t have any Final Fantasy related shirts right now and I always need clothes. I didn’t buy a program, so I am going by memory with the set list here. This is the list of songs, not in order, that I had the pleasure of witnessing live:

Final Fantasy I, II & III: Medley including the Final Fantasy Prelude and Overture
Final Fantasy IV: Theme of Love
Final Fantasy V: Dear Friends
Final Fantasy VI: Opera & Terra’s Theme
Final Fantasy VII: Opening-Bombing Mission, Aeris’ Theme, and One-Winged Angel
Final Fantasy VIII: The Man With a Machine Gun
Final Fantasy IX: Vamo Alla Flamenco, A Place I’ll Return To Someday & Melodies of Life medley
Final Fantasy X: To Zanarkand (orchestrated), Suteki Da Ne
Final Fantasy XI: Ronfaure
Final Fantasy XII: Kiss Me Goodbye
Final Fantasy XIII: Blinded By Light
Final Fantasy Series: Chocobo Medley

With a few glaring exceptions, I enjoy listening to most of Uematsu’s work. And while I don’t particularly dislike any of the songs they chose to play, I think a few of their selections are songs that definitely could have been replaced by more memorable tracks. I’m sure all Final Fantasy fans in attendance had their own ideal set list in mind while making the trek to the theater and waiting in line. I tried to keep my mind open, because there is a huge music library to select from, and they can only play so many songs during one show and their selections also depend on what is available to them. For example; they performed Dear Friends (the most underwhelming part of the show, in my opinion) and Vamo Alla Flamenco because there was a guitarist in attendance. Their guest vocalist for the ballads was Susan Calloway. I really liked her voice. In fact, I definitely liked her singing better than the artist who originally performed Suteki Da Ne (I think Riki’s voice is too high-pitched). The English translation wasn’t too awkward and I thought it was done well. My main gripe is song selection: I’m still dumbfounded they did not perform Eyes On Me with her, but did the boring ballad from Final Fantasy XII. Okay, I’ll admit my bias on this one because XII definitely ranks on the bottom of the favorite Final Fantasy meter for me, but still.

The operatic vocalists performed well, too. The Opera section of the concert was lengthy and fun. The audience burst into fits of laughter as multiple videos played on the screen, all in HD SNES graphics of sprites dancing. I’m sure we were all thinking the same thing: Man, those old-school graphics sure look ridiculous now, but they were the bee’s knees and new games just… don’t match up. Watching the evolution of gaming design and graphics on the enormous screen paired with timeless music tickled my nostalgic-gamer-self.

All in all, the guest performers were great and performed the music well. The lack of a choir was the biggest letdown. This cut out a lot of my potential favorites from being performed, like Liberi Fatali, Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec, Esper Battle (FFXII), to name a few. One-Winged Angel was an audience participation number. They fooled us by running the credits while performing the closing piece, Terra. Arnie Roth said it was their closing number, the orchestra and vocalists took their bows, and we were all ready to go. Then in his closing speech, he was like, “Well, in this sold-out venue I bet we could pull this off, so let’s practice. We’re going to put the lyrics up on the screen, but you only really need to know one word, right?” and the orchestra began playing. It was fun, but I still want to hear it performed by a choir. After browsing the program highlights beforehand I anticipated not getting to hear Liberi Fatali or One-Winged Angel performed properly. Something else to look forward to for next time. They must’ve known they needed to play One-Winged Angel if they didn’t want to face an angry mob after the show.

I would have liked to hear more upbeat songs thrown into the mix. Including One-Winged Angel, there were only three battle themes. I found that to be a bit of a pity, because boss and battle theme songs tend to be the most memorable. Blinded By Light was wonderful. Man With a Machine Gun, not so much, especially considering that there are so many other wonderful songs from Final Fantasy VIII they could have played. It was my first Final Fantasy experience and I am partial to it. But for every slight disappointment, I was doubly impressed. The orchestrated Final Fantasy X songs brought tears to my eyes, and the Final Fantasy VII opening playing with the game’s FMV was incredible.

I don’t want to give too much away in case you’re reading this and considering going. The solidarity and enjoyment saturating a room full of like-minded gamers, hopefully sprinkled with some outgoing cosplayers (we saw some Galbadian soldiers, Reno, Terra, Prishe and a moogle) adds to the experience. I had a really great time, and can’t wait to go to another. If you’re a Final Fantasy fanboy or fangirl, it’s more than worth the ticket price to be in the same room as Nobuo Uematsu and reliving your life one Final Fantasy game at a time.

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