Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy

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Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy
Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy at the Orpheum

The worlds of Final Fantasy are sprawling, detailed and mysterious. In order to convey this magic, each game employs a vast library of melodies, leitmotifs, and epic pieces to round out the storytelling. This was my first Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concert; I had missed my opportunity two years ago when composer Nobuo Uematsu was in attendance. As I would learn later, this would be the tour’s third time in Vancouver at the elegant Orpheum Theatre. Conductor Arnie Roth led the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and University of British Columbia Opera Ensemble choir through 25 years of Final Fantasy.

I arrived early, about 30 minutes or so, which gave me the opportunity to purchase some memorabilia. A small selection was made available: two types of t-shirts, CDs of previous concerts, Chocobo plushes and a concert program booklet. After deciding upon a shirt and the first concert CD, waited in the ornate lobby with the other fans; some in suits and gowns, others in cosplay — Black and White Mages, a Cloud Strife, Aerith and Vaan.
Seated in the balcony, I had a clear view of the stage and the large screen hung above the choir with the Distant Worlds logo in a swirling blue light. This setup seemed reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Godesses concert of last year.

You can’t start the evening without the radiant Prelude, the simple and identifiable notes played on the harp lets us know that we were in for an adventure. Then it was straight on into Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII when the screen came to life with clips directly from the game and the choir began chanting the lyrics. It was climactic and perfect. Roth took a break after to welcome us and mentioned that no Final Fantasy concert would be complete with out the universally recognized Victory Theme. The short fanfare had the audience applauding before the conductor guided the orchestra into Final Fantasy X‘s Zanarkand. With the video playing, the sound flowed as swiftly as Yuna’s sending dance.

Final Fantasy IX was represented only by You’re Not Alone, a piece from where a distraught Zidane Tribal… I’ll stop there and save the spoilers for later. The song, as emotional as it is, was paired with selections of the opening video to the game along with the battle for Alexandria; I really enjoyed how it turned out. Any sadness I had changed to laughter with the rest of the crowd when the battle theme (Don’t Be Afraid) from Final Fantasy VIII started up and watching actual in-game footage play out. Ah, the good old jagged PlayStation graphics.

Our orchestral journey took us through the Phantom Forest of Final Fantasy VI, then to the Battle With The Four Fiends in Final Fantasy IV. Following the lovely Aerith’s Theme from Final Fantasy VII, was a rendition of the Dalmasca Estersand that appeared in Final Fantasy XII.
Prior to the intermission, Roth stated how hard it was to select a handful of the Chocobo themes for use in the next selection (these are examples I could remember, but weren’t used during the performance: Ukelele de Chocobo, Cinco de Chocobo, Brass de Chocobo, etc.). With the golden birds fluttering around, the choir chanted out C-H-O-C-O-B-O as the letters were displayed above them. Kweh!

With everyone in their seats, we were transported back to Midgar in Final Fantasy VII for the Opening – Bombing Mission and an attack on Shinra’s mako reactors. I know it’s not the intent for the orchestra to play in harmony with the video, but it seemed sort of distracting for this song, especially when the piece is already on the bombing mission and the game’s logo is just appearing. I still enjoyed it nonetheless. Finally, it came time for the much anticipated song of the concert: Dancing Mad (from Final Fantasy VI). In order to play Dancing Mad properly, you need an organ and it just so happens that the Orpheum has a mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. After introducing the organist, we got to experience the thundering theme of Kefka’s final form to scenes from both Final Fantasy VI and Dissidia Final Fantasy mixed in with some of Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork. Magnificent!

A handful of songs were selected out of the more recent games: from Final Fantasy XI (Vana’diel March) and Final Fantasy XIII (The Promise and Blinded By Light). Rounding off the evening were the Main Theme of Final Fantasy V, a medley of three battle songs: Clash on the Big Bridge (Final Fantasy V), Fight With Seymour (Final Fantasy X) and Still More Fighting (Final Fantasy VII). Terra’s Theme (Final Fantasy VI) seemingly signalled the end of the concert, but there was an encore performance; One more number that had the audience cheering. We all knew what it had to be: One-Winged Angel. The vocally powerful aria completed the night with clips from both Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children¬†that lit up the stage. Well done!

I was impressed with the music selected for the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. There is just so much from each game that it’s difficult to cram it into one evening, but judging from Roth’s comments in between songs, this won’t be their last time in Vancouver. This brought back a lot of emotions after playing countless hours with many of these games and just to hear them performed live was amazing. I look forward to them returning and hearing new choices from such a remarkable role-playing series.

 

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