Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY - Review


Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY is a worldwide symphony concert that debuted in 2007 featuring musical scores by longtime video game composer Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu is well known in the video game industry for his memorable work in the Final Fantasy video game series, as well as numerous other video game titles such as The Last Story, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. He was named as one of the Innovators in Time Magazine's "Time 100: The Next Wave Music" feature. His song "Eyes on Me"--a love theme written for Final Fantasy VIII--was the first song in video game history to win "Song of the Year" at the 14th annual Japan Gold Disc Awards in 2000.

The concert is conducted by GRAMMY Award-winning artist Arnie Roth. He's conducted for many of the world's top orchestras, including the London Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and more. He's also worked big names such as Jewel, Il Divo, Josh Groban, The Irish Tenors, Diana Ross and Patrick Stewart.

Nobuo Uematsu on the left. Arnie Roth on the right.

~The Music~

The concert kicked off with the popular Prelude(also known as "Crystal Theme") that's heard during the opening of Final Fantasy titles I - XII. It involves several arpeggios and unlike traditional versions, this Distant Worlds rendition incorporates a harmonious choir and orchestra from the middle to the end of the song. I'm speaking of a fan of the series at this point but having grown up with this music, hearing the Harp play those familiar opening notes live gave me a nostalgia rush.

After the Prelude, Arnie Roth introduced himself and composer Nobuo Uematsu, who was sitting just a few rows behind me. "Before we continue," Arnie said, "we have something important to do first." And the Victory Theme(which is only a few seconds long) was played to cheers and applause, considering how universal the fanfare is among Final Fantasy fans, it was a fun way to kick-off the concert.

Here's a list of the songs that played during the concert

  • Liberi Fatali - Final Fantasy VIII: This score is one of my absolute favorites. It's played during the opening sequence of FFVIII. And back In 2004, it was played during the Summer Olympics in Athens during the women's synchronized swimming event.

  • Opening~Bombing Mission - Final Fantasy VII: I was so glad to hear this piece live because Final Fantasy VII was my first entry into the series and went on to become my favorite installment. I was 14 at the time and FFVII contributed a lot to my interest in video game music. To put it in perspective, this piece would fit perfectly to the opening to a hit blockbuster film. My only criticism was I thought the brass section sounded a little flat but I still enjoyed the performance.

  • Memoro de la Stono - Final Fantasy XI: Is a vocal part of Final Fantasy XI's opening theme. This was the first song of the night featuring American vocalist Susan Calloway and it was also my first time seeing her live, she has terrific vocal range and carries herself wonderfully on stage. An interesting note regarding this song is that the choir sings the lyrics of the song in an artificial language invented in the late 1800's known as Esperanto.

  • Balance Is Restored - Final Fantasy VI: Is the ending theme to FFVI. I was not exactly familiar with this piece because I've never finished FFVI(it's on my to do list) but I really enjoyed the song. At Distant Worlds concerts, part of the fun is discovering songs that you may have never heard before.

  • Answers: Final Fantasy XIV - Is the opening theme for the MMO(Massively Multiplayer Online) game. It again features vocalist Susan Calloway--who is the original singer of the piece. You could feel the passion she put into her performance and when the choir joined her during the second half of the song it added a whole other element to the moving piece. Final Fantasy XIV is another game I've not yet played so I was not aware of this song during the concert but I really enjoyed what I heard.

  • Chocobo Medley 2014 - This was an extra arrangement that wasn't listed in the highlights to be played but it was hands down the most fun piece of the night. After every so many measures, the instruments would rest and the choir would let out a shout synchronized to a video of a baby Chocobo bird. The audience responded with applause and laughter. Along with that, the choir later would spell out C-h-o-c-o-b-o during the song; Arnie turned and told the audience "You're welcome to sing along." It was change of pace and a fun way to get the audience involved.

- Then there was an intermission, about a half hour long. When the concert resumed, the following songs were played

  • Hymn of the Fates/The Sending: Final Fantasy X - This piece is a blend of two songs that, in the game, revolve around religious practices and the afterlife. It begins with an solo operatic bass male, then transitions to a solo operatic female soprano, and then the choir and orchestra later add to the religous overtone. Without a break, Arnie took the orchestra immediately into the next song..

  • One-Winged Angel: Final Fantasy VII - This, in my mind, is one of the greatest villain themes of all-time. Uematsu said in an interview that he might not exactly call it inspiration but he had a thought of mixing the musical styles of Jimi Hendrix and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, he believed they shared a common element, and the result--One-Winged Angel. It was also the first song that used lyrics(which are sung in Latin) in a Final Fantasy game. After the song was finished, Arnie turned to the audience and said "Thought we'd jump right into that one" knowing full-well the anticipation of this piece.

  • Balamb Garden: Final Fantasy VIII - Is a calming piece. This was Balamb Garden's Distant World U.S. debut, it played in Japan for the first time the prior week. Before the song started, Arnie made the comment that he was personally excited to play this song for us.

  • Suteki Da Ne: Final Fantasy X - Was sung by featured vocalist for Final Fantasy X and Japanese folk singer "Rikki". She was flown out from Japan for this show, which was her North American debut and it was simply breathtaking seeing her perform Suteki Da Ne(translated to "Isn't it Wonderful"). The audience stood up cheering once she made her entrance and she bowed to the audience. She has gentle voice and showed such grace on stage, it was really a privilege to attend her first show in the U.S.

  • Opera~Mario and Draco: Final Fantasy VI - I've always enjoyed this piece, it's featured on the first Distant Worlds album but this time around, Nobuo Uematsu and Arnie Roth made yet another addition to The Opera; they incorporated the Final Fantasy VI battle theme and a Narrator. When they announced this, I was somewhat skeptical how it would work out. Well, It turned out utterly fantastic. The way it worked was the vocals would alternate between the opera singers(two men, one woman) and the narrator, then the battle theme was phased in during the second half of the song. I spoke to some fans that had mixed opinions on whether or not the battle theme made the Opera too "poppy" but nevertheless, they agreed the transitions were impressive. It was very theatrical and moving to see this live and no kidding when I say, I was completely mesmerized during the entire piece. I picked up some food at the vendor and I noticed that I didn't take one bite the entire time.. I was just holding it there in front of me for 12 minutes - It was really that good. The only sad thing is that the new Distant Worlds III album doesn't include this version of the Opera so, here's to hoping the Distant Worlds team uploads at least a digital release sometime soon.

  • Medley 2002: Final Fantasy I-III - This piece consist of the various themes from Final Fantasy titles I-III. The songs in the medley I recognized off hand were: Elia - Maiden of Water, Chocobo theme and The Rebel Army Theme. FFIII's Maiden of Water(also known as Aria's Theme) is a gorgeous piece and one of my absolute favorites.

  • Battle and Victory Theme Medley - Final Fantasy Series: This piece contains three battle themes; Battle at the Big Bridge - Final Fantasy V, Seymour Battle - Final Fantasy X, and--my personal favorite--Let the Battles Begin! - Final Fantasy VII. Going into it, nobody was really sure which battle themes were going to be picked but I'm glad I was lucky enough that night to hear FFVII's Battle Theme live. It's an aggressive piece and hearing it live after all of the years I've been listening to it, was to top off an unforgettable night.

The show concluded with Arnie Roth, Nobuo Uematsu, Susan Calloway and Rikki, joining each other on stage. They received enthusiastic cheers and applause while they bowed hand-in-hand. It's hard to believe but they played two Distant Worlds concerts in one night. I attended the 3:00pm show which ended around 5:30, then the next show was at 8:00pm. Considering how energetic Arnie Roth was conducting and the rest of the crew was during their performances, I can only imagine how tiring that must have been. There was a completely different set of songs that were played at both shows and while I'm familiar with almost all of the pieces played later at the 8:00 show, most of the songs I really wanted to see live played at 3:00. Even though there was two songs I wished I could have seen were "Zanarkand - Final Fantasy X" and "The Man With The Machine Gun - Final Fantasy VIII", even though seeing "Dark World - Final Fantasy VI" performed by Nobuo Uematsu as keyboard soloist and Arnie Roth as violin soloist would have been an awesome experience but overall, they divided the songs up well.

~Merchandise~

After the show, I strolled around outside of the concert hall where all of the merchandise and food were set up, spoke with some fellow Final Fantasy fans--some of which were dressed in pretty amazing cosplay--and I was lucky enough to pick up the Distant Worlds III album, which debuted at the show and won't be available online until later this year. They also had other merch there, such as: Posters of Arnie Roth and Nobuo Uematsu, Post Cards, T-shirts(Men and Woman sizes), and CD's like Final Fantasy V: Remastered and A New World: Intimate music from Final Fantasy. There may have been even more merch than I mentioned but the line was so long that by the time it was my turn, that's all I saw was available.

~Ticket Prices/VIP~

As for the ticket prices, they were actually lower in price when compared to similar concerts. My seat was three rows from the stage and from the handful of symphonies I've researched, the price of my seat at Distant Worlds was generally $30-40 less than the other shows, making it a great deal. Distant Worlds typically offers a VIP pass as well during their shows. The pass cost about $60 and for that I had the opportunity to shake hands and share a few words with Arnie, Nobuo, Susan and Rikki, as well as have them autograph memorabilia I brought to the show and take a picture with them(Note: I couldn't use my own camera but they had a photographer snap the photo and then upload it to flickr). After waiting in line for a little while, I finally had to chance to meet them all. They were very hospitable and never gave me the feeling that I had to rush to get my items signed and hurry along (in case you're curious.. I had my 3DS XL signed by them :).

~Conclusion~

That's about all I can think of for now. I wanted to share my insight of the show and let people know what it was like. I had a fun time, it was a memorable experience and I hope they continue touring for years to come. Considering how vast and ever growing the Final Fantasy musical library is, the Distant Worlds team did a great job compiling the multiple scores for the concert. Also, the video editing was fantastic, it moved along perfectly with the music, so hats off to the editing team. Events such as Distant Worlds are a great way to show our friends and family that may not particularly be into video games, what they're about and what makes them special to us. Whether your favorite game is Final Fantasy VI or Final Fantasy XIV there was something for all of the fans to enjoy and given the applause and shouts for an encore as Uematsu and crew left the stage, I think it's safe to say everyone there had a great time.

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