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DISTANT WORLDS: MUSIC FROM FINAL FANTASY 30TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT REVIEW

Sam Hughes and Andrew Overfield give us their highlights from the Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary concert of Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy evening performance at the Royal Albert Hall last night (4th November).

The pieces were performed by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and Maida Vale Singers, conducted by Grammy Award Winner, Arnie Roth.

FOREWORD

Sam Hughes: Just, wow. This was my first ever Distant Worlds concert and the only other video game concert I have ever been to is Video Games Live. This was also my first time in the Royal Albert Hall so it was an amazing experience.

Nobuo Uematsu and his music inspired me from a very young age both on a personal level, as well as to work towards a career in game music and game audio. All those hours invested into Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, and X (I returned to play the earlier ones later), really stuck with me. More than half the reason I love these games is thanks to Nobuo Uematsu’s score. Even now you’ll find me randomly humming a tune from one of them, usually something from VIII! To finally hear his music arranged for and performed live by such incredible performers, emotionally resonated with me more than any other performance I have been to.  To also have him sat so close behind us as well was really a special experience. Yoko Shimamura (FFXV) is also one of my favourite composers so it was great to hear her work from XV. Hitoshi Sakimoto (FFXII) and Masashi Hamauzu (FFXIII) also had great pieces played throughout.

Andrew Overfield: 30 years is a very long time to be doing anything, let alone video game development.  Studios come and go, ideas are lost in cash-cow sequels and the foundations of a video game series can sometimes be lost in trying to please a more widespread market. For 30 years Final Fantasy has been touching the hearts of millions across the world. Square, in it’s different incarnations of the years has engaged, shocked, evolved and attempted to capture the attention of an audience ranging from young children, grown adults who have loved the series since their first encounter or brand new players to the franchise. They have had their hiccups but one common theme that runs throughout the entirety of their catalogue, which remains consistent and true to it’s origins, is the music.

In 1997 I picked up my first ever copy of Final Fantasy VII simply because I thought a game with three disks would keep me more entertained than others I was playing and completing swiftly. I was completely right, the history I have with the franchise has been a beautiful romance which I intend to never let die, and this is hugely because of Nobuo Uematsu’s amazing contribution.

To have one of my musical idols, one of my biggest muses and ultimate heroes sat no more than 15 feet away from me and let me nod with adoration whilst the entire Royal Albert Hall appreciates his and his colleague’s work, is something I will personally cherish forever.

SETLIST

 Set 1

Prelude (Final Fantasy Series)

Battle on the Big Bridge (Final Fantasy V)

Victory Theme (Final Fantasy Series)

The Oath (Final Fantasy VIII)

Flash of Steel (Final Fantasy XII)

Searching For Friends (Final Fantasy VI)

Fang’s Theme (Final Fantasy XIII)

Theme of Love (Final Fantasy IV)

Cosmo Canyon (Final Fantasy VII)

Not Alone (Final Fantasy IX)

Apocalypsis Noctis (Final Fantasy XV)

 

Set 2

Opening: Bombing Mission (Final Fantasy VII)

Somnus (Instrumental) (Final Fantasy XV)

Torn from the Heavens (Final Fantasy XIV)

Cinco de Chocobo (Final Fantasy VII)

 Hymn of the Fayth (Final Fantasy X)

Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)

Opera “Maria and Draco” (Final Fantasy VI)

Final Fantasy (Final Fantasy Series)

 

Encore

Aerith’s Theme (Final Fantasy VII)

One Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII)

 

HIGHLIGHTS

SH: It’s hard to choose any favourites from such an epic set list, but I think I’ll pick a top 3 based on what resonated with me the most. I was pretty much enraptured from start to finish, the moment the wonderful harpist played the Prelude from the series.

 

The Oath

The Oath is very close to my heart and a special one for me, as Final Fantasy VIII is my all-time favourite of the series. As soon the opening played I was already tearing up. Played alongside the Rinoa & Squall footage from the game, this one really melted my heart and I was in awe throughout the whole performance. After the introduction, as soon as the whole orchestra swells together, it just made my heart stir.

 

Apocalyptis Noctis

This is my favourite track from Final Fantasy XV and it is one of the most epic pieces I’ve heard in a Final Fantasy game. It did not disappoint, though from where I was sitting, the piano was a little quiet and was slightly overpowered by the rest of the orchestra. I will say, as we were sitting off to the left of the stage (Stage-Right) this would have obviously affected what was dominant in terms of performance.

 

Liberi Fatali

I will never forget the first time I got the demo disc of Final Fantasy VIII with my Platinum Edition of Final Fantasy VII.

The amazing Maida Vale Singers melted my heart and got the adrenaline going once again as they began the piece with their powerful and elegant voices (along with that awesome reverb tail in the RAH). I couldn’t help but sing along and subconsciously conduct along with Arnie Roth as I tapped along to the music. The amount of counterpoint melodies and interesting motifs in this piece have always fascinated. Nobuo Uematsu, seems to get so much into such a short piece.

The intro movie playing on the screen added the nostalgic reliving of the moment I first saw that cutscene and proceeded to sit open mouthed as I replayed it multiple times. Just incredible.

 

AO: Wow, to have to choose 3 favourites from the entire night is difficult. Each piece has it’s own unique way of capturing my heart and my ears for various reasons. Here goes:

 

Cosmo Canyon

I paid no attention to any spoiler for the setlist at all. I wanted to be taken on a musical adventure and I certainly was when that first taiko hit came followed by sleigh bells. I was taken back to my naïve childhood, sitting alongside my best friend, enjoying the story arc of Red XIII and his father Nanaki. This piece is one of my most favourite from the entire game. Hearing Arnie announce the title alone melted my heart. I never thought I would hear this in a live setting, and ultimately this piece made my entire night. /sob.

 

To Zanarkand

Have you ever been in love? Like genuinely every time you think of this person your eyes have a happy well-up? Ok, now imagine that like a long lost love that you don’t see very often surprises you all over again. Now imagine that love is a piece of music. Not only is the arrangement for Distant Worlds so large and full of character, it’s powerful crescendos leading onto more and more emotion but it’s core composition is enough to warm the heart of even Shiva herself. Although it may be a cliché to regard To Zanarkand as a highlight considering this is such a fan-favourite but maybe that’s just exactly it. The piece resonates so much among the millions of fans around the world, and each for their own reasons, that why not? When the applause dies down and the audience settle again, the slight sniffs and murmur of throats being cleared indicates that like me, 5000 other people got completely lost for four and a half minutes of compositional genius.

 

Torn from the Heavens

So happy to see more Final Fantasy XIV recognition amongst the Distant Worlds audience.

Taken from the in-game FATE-boss music this is such a powerful piece that brings back a lot of recent memories. Incorporating elements from the original Prelude theme with it’s ascending arpeggios this music seems perfectly fitting to narrate a large battle between potentially hundreds of players and a fierce being.

Lots of good friends were made playing FFXIV from all over the world and not having much time to play and then hearing this definitely tugged on the heartstrings. Happy nostalgia.

Special Mentions

SH: It was a beautiful moment to see Arnie Roth himself play solo violin for the introduction to Somnus from Final Fantasy XV, another beautiful piece from Yoko Shimamura.

Maida Vale’s rendition of the Hymn of Fayth was also just sublime.

Aerith’s theme will also pull at my heart strings but I have heard it multiple times across the albums.

I must say, 5000 people (Including myself) singing “Sephiroth” as part of One-Winged Angel was phenomenal as well.

 

AO: I’ll echo Sam’s words on the One-Winged Angel piece. Having such an engaged audience alongside you all chanting Sephiroth’s name, as far as 20 years after you first experienced it as a young boy was immense.

Kazoos, that’s all I’m going to say (See Below)!

Finally meeting with BOTH of @WeLoveGameMusic’s owners, Prescilla Garland and Richard Stokes, it’s been far too long!

Check out the full rendition of One Winged Angel (Including Kazoo Fanfare) in the video below:

 

Overall

SH: If you ever get a chance to go to a Distant Worlds concert, go! Even if you’re not the biggest fan of the series, it will be such a special event that you won’t regret it. As a huge long-time fan of the series I was blown away, and was extremely happy that the 30th Anniversary performance was my first.

I wish I could put into words how amazing an experience it is, but you’ll have to attend the next one to understand fully.

I really want to reiterate how awesome the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and the Maida Vale Singers were in performing these emotional and timeless pieces. Hats off to Arnie Roth for conducting and incredible thanks to him and all the team that put together this amazing concert. It takes a lot of people and a lot of hard work to get something like this together, and it did not go unappreciated.

Of course, I want to say thanks again to Nobuo Uematsu, for his music, his inspiration and for writing musical pieces that will forever be a part of my soul.

 

AO: This has been the third Distant Worlds concert I have attended. And I can safely say that each experience has been greater than the last. There are the usuals that turn up on the set list, but Arnie and Nobuo truly listen to their fans and create a new experience every time for their audience. We at The Sound Architect are blessed and honoured to have had the opportunity to experience this.

I would encourage anyone even on the cusp of fandom for the franchise to experience Distant Worlds at least once. It’s events like this that take you from your isolated environment at home to a large community gathering where everyone has the exact same mindset, to enjoy the music they love. Distant Worlds among other travelling concerts such as this helps bring the video game music community together in a bond you don’t see very often.

I went from just a simple fan of the games, to being awe-inspired by Nobuo Uematsu and ultimately carving my own career based on his influence and gift. Nobuo Uematsu, I simply cannot thank you enough!

And yes, you’ll see me there again next time!

LINKS

Distant Worlds

Royal Albert Hall

Maida Vale Singers

Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra

We hope you enjoyed Sam and Andrew’s review, check out others in our Reviews section. Don’t forget to sign up to our Monthly Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out on our reviews and interviews.

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Sam Hughes
An experienced sound designer and voice actor who has worked on various media titles over the years. Always believing in audio, I try to share the wealth of knowledge from my colleagues and veterans of the industry to help audiophiles grow and evolve as a community.
http://www.thesoundarchitect.co.uk

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