On a cold and windy November night in London, I had the pleasure of witnessing one of gaming and music’s finest shows: Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. It is now my pleasure to be able to present my review of their Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary show.
Many of you will have seen a Distant Worlds show before and as well as celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Final Fantasy video games series, this year they are also celebrating their own 10th anniversary.
Utilising a choir, an orchestra and many talented soloists, they recreate the music from the series, and are constantly growing their repertoire and adding new arrangements. Much, although not all of the music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu who was in attendance (anyone else wish they could go to a Black Mages show!?), and the whole thing is presented and conducted by Grammy-award winning composer and conductor, Arnie Roth.
The instrumentalists & vocalists used varies from location to location, and this show was performed by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra & The Maida Vale Singers. Not only did they perform the show twice in one day, but, rather incredibly (at least according to Facebook), the Maida Vale Singers performed it from just one rehearsal, which frankly blows my mind!
Before I get to the show, I have to note what an incredible venue the Royal Albert Hall is. I’d never been to it before, but the scale and the drama of its design took my breath away before the orchestra even came on! I’d been warned to allow plenty of time to find my seat, but as it turned out, that was straight forward (AND I was near a bar!). Due to my amazing planning skills (or more likely luck), we also had decent seats, which meant that even little ol’ me had a largely unobstructed view. This was aided by the fact they have swivel chairs (!) in the venue.
Right! The show! Erm, well first just a quick *SPOILER* warning – don’t continue if you don’t want to know what is being played on this tour, I would hate to spoil the surprise!
So we begin. After a little running around the stage by Nobuo Uematsu, Arnie Roth has us underway and they open with the Prelude music from Final Fantasy VII. The harp floats in and I well-up straight away. The audience falls completely silent, which is a bit eerie in a room that big. This is a really emotive way to open. This show isn’t just about making you cry though, and soon they are having a bit of fun with the Victory Theme music, and later they will have a good mess around with Chocobos, in Cinco de Chocobo.
Something I found strange about this whole experience, was that at times, you forget you are watching a live orchestra. Particularly when you become engrossed in the video screen. A good example of this was during the aforementioned Cinco de Chocobo which had the whole crowd in hysterics with a delightful video montage of Cloud trying to follow chocobo tracks. This is something which I, and possibly quite a few others in the audience, hadn’t thought about in years. Losing yourself in the screens isn’t a problem though, the orchestra always bring you back with a bang and I think it makes it an even more immersive experience. Speaking of video screens, seeing all the games up there again on a huge screen was amazing, but I really hadn’t been expecting (whisper it) new footage from the Final Fantasy VII remake. Now that really stirred the crowd up!
I’m not going to go through the whole set-list here, but there were a couple of pieces that I didn’t know (having not played all the entries in the series), which really impressed me. These were Torn from the Heavens from XIV, and Zanarkand from X. I get the impression lots of people were waiting for Zanarkand, it got a huge cheer when it was announced, and I was immediately drawn to the sad, lilting piano, which made way for swelling violins and woodwind. I found certain notes really hit me emotionally, even though I don’t know the story. It had a real air of tragedy about it. The piece from XIV was different, it was a more military style, the choir were soaring here, and it had a real driving rhythm that created tension and intrigue. Both these pieces made me wonder what I’ve been missing out on in the games themselves!
Those pieces impressed me particularly because I hadn’t heard them before, but for me, and my relationship with the series, there were two real stand-out pieces. The first, which they introduced as being a premier on this tour, was Cosmo Canyon. This is by far my favourite piece of Final Fantasy music, and combined with the images of Cosmo Canyon itself and lots of Red XIII, I was pretty much in tears for the whole thing. One thing that made this stand out for me, apart from just how much I like it, was that I never expected them to play it. Unlike some of the other pieces, it doesn’t in any way resemble an orchestral piece. Those deep drums, that folk whistle/pan-pipe thing (sorry, not good on instruments), those sounds are so moving and atmospheric.
My second stand out piece is one I think they play more regularly: Liberi Fatali, from Final Fantasy VIII. I already own an orchestral version of this, but nothing can prepare for the sheer terror of those voices chanting. There is just something so ominous about it, and when you see the video screen and are reminded of some of the dark elements in VIII, it really gets to you.
Gripes? No, not really. They didn’t play much from IX, which was a shame and the piece from XIII perhaps wasn’t my favourite (although it did mean that I got to spend ages looking at Fang on the big screen), but overall? AWESOME!
No recording or photography is allowed during the performance, but luckily the Distant Worlds team do have a YouTube Channel (although it doesn’t look like it’s been updated in 4 years), and so if you still don’t believe me, go take a look!
I hope this has brought back good memories for those who have been before, or perhaps inspired you to go in the future! If you do happen to be in the vicinity of Lyon, Toronto, Osaka, Tokyo, New York, Kansas, Los Angeles, St Petersburg (FL), Portland or Paris, then I can HIGHLY recommend getting tickets!
Thanks for Reading
Tickets for upcoming shows, as well as links to buy their CDs etc. are available on the Distant Worlds website.