Final Fantasy is a cherished series in the gaming world. From the fantastical creatures that inhabit the world to the perilous and heroic adventures that the game has its characters undertake, Final Fantasy is known for its unforgettable moments. The series is also best known for its awe inspiring, emotional music scores composed by Nobuo Uematsu. From the light hearted and fun tempo of Swing de Chocobo to the serious and intense mood of One-Winged Angel, Uematsu-san works are some of the best in the industry. His compositions are so popular that there have been numerous of concerts all over the US and in Japan dedicated to the music. The most recent of these concerts is Distant Worlds II: Music from Final Fantasy. Being a fan of not only the series but of the music as well, I was excited to be able to attend the concert up in Houston, Texas this past weekend.
Distant Worlds II is a series of concerts conducted by Grammy award winner Arrnie Roth and played by the city’s local symphony orchestra, which for this concert was the Houston Symphony. Nowat first I wasn’t sure how this would work out, a classical based orchestra who are used to performing classical musical pieces such from Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky performing Final Fantasy music. But as the saying goes, seeing (or in this case, hearing) is believing and that was what I along with Ed did. Before even the doors to the hall where the concert was to take place, you could feel the excitement in the air as fans and non-fans walked into Jones Hall to take their seats.
The evening’s set list showed off not only the amazing talent of Uematsu-san but the talent of Arrnie Roth and the Houston Symphony. The night started off with the iconic “Prelude” melody to the cheers of all in attendance. As soon as the last note of the “Prelude” was played, things got serious as “LiberiFatali”, the intro to Final Fantasy VIII, played. The voices of the choir were booming across the venue as the tempo of the orchestra was picking up, getting stronger as the song went on. You could almost feel the intensity in the air as the song was nearing its end. After pumping up the audience, Roth brought the paces down with “Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X. This is a very emotional piece, from the lonely keys of the piano to the clarinet sounding as if it was softly crying. Both fans and non-fans were touched by this piece as it conveyed the message of the willingness to do what it takes to complete the pilgrimage yet knowing that at the end the one you have come to love might have to die for the greater good. After letting the audience have a brief cry, things picked up again as “Don’t Be Afraid”, the battle theme from FF VIII played. Right after Don’t Be afraid were five more songs, “Ronfaure” (FF XI), “Distant Worlds” (FF XI), “Dear Friends” and “Vamo’ allaFlamenco” (FF IX), and“The Man with the Machine Gun” ( FFVIII). Each of them were very well orchestrated and really brought new life to these songs.
If the first half wasn’t already amazing enough, the second half brought it to new heights as the orchestra kicked off with the “Opening/Bombing Mission” from FF VII. You can feel the urgency to complete the mission to save the world from this song. Next was “Fisherman’s Horizon” from FF VIII. “Fisherman’s Horizon” to me seems like a light hearted and romantic song that I think most female fans of the series would enjoy and would love to be asked to dance to (hint to all guys, play this song on Valentines’ Day and ask your girlfriend to dance with you). Final Fantasy isn’t Final Fantasy without that loveable fluffy giant yellow bird, Chocobo. “Swing de Chocobo”( Chocobo’s Theme, various FF games) was played and like its name, it was a swinging good time, tapping my feet to the beat, wanting to get up from my seat and dance swing. Following Chocobo’s Theme could be considered one of the top 5 fan favorite Final Fantasy themes; “Aerith’s Theme”. This song was played when Cloud fell through the ceiling of a church and meet Aerith for the first time. When the orchestra performed this song, I thought I could hear some sniffing happing around me. This is one the few songs I think that invokes this type of emotion not because of the character, but what happens to her in the game. It has a sweet and loving melody to it. The next two songs played were a sneak peak of what Uematsu and Roth were working on for the next city they would play in, “The Promise” and “Fang’s Theme” from FF XIII. The one song that might have been the highlight of the concert was the Opera “Maria and Draco” from FF VI. Considered to be one of the greatest songs before the series went polygonal, the Opera was not only a technical feat in terms of sound design and composition but is also is considered to be one of the greatest scenes of any FF game. I mean, an entire opera done with 16-bit sound bites? This truly is one of the crowning moments in Uematsu-san career. And to have it orchestrated and sung live? I sat at the edge of my seat as the song was performed; to be able to hear this song live was a nothing short of amazing. The final song of concert’s set was “J-E-N-O-V-A”, a fan favorite and the battle theme of JENOVA Birth and JENOVA Death from FF VII. The fast pace of the drums and the urgency in the choirs voice made this feel like it was a race against time as JENOVA tries to destroy the world, This was a really good rendition of the original and solid end to the concert set list
Before the concert was officially over, Roth came back out to perform two encore songs: the ever popular and Uematsu personal favorite “Terra’s Theme” from FF VI and the one song that can cause fan girls to squeal loud enough to break the sound barrier “One-Winged Angel” from FF VII. Both of these songs were performed with such passion yet show how different they are from each other. “Terra’s Theme” was more of a triumphant return from a hard fought quest. While “One-Winged Angel” with its thundering drums, crashing cymbals and the eeriness of the choir chanting Sephiroth brought out the intense yet evil nature of Sephiroth.
With that last encore, the concert was over and it was time to head back to San Antonio. Being able to attend this concert was a great experience. Although there were a few songs I would have like to have heard (Hymn of the Faye, Final Fantasy Classic) it blew me away how classically trained musicians can take music from a legendary series and give it new life. I can’t wait for next year’s event and I highly recommend that if NouboUematsu and Arrnie Roth are performing in your city go see them. Thanks to Uematsu-san, Mr. Roth and the Houston Symphony for putting on a great show and I hope to be able to attend next year.
- Mike V.
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