Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY

Arnie Roth and Nobuo Uematsu were back in Canada last Saturday for a concert where we got to enjoy the music of Final Fantasy, performed by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and the Tallis Choir of Toronto. Thanks to a generous boyfriend, I was able to attend with a stomach full of crêpe!

If you remember the PLAY! A Video Game Symphony in 2006, you may think of this concert as its spiritual successor. Once again we're at Front Street, Arnie Roth is conducting, and Nobuo Uematsu is a special guest along with Hiroki Ogawa (director of Dog Ear Records). The difference this time is that Final Fantasy songs and footage are used exclusively.

Also, once again, the tickets cost more than just a pretty penny. For almost the exact same seats as I had last time, each ticket was just under $200. VIP tickets, now referred to as "Meet & Greet" tickets, cost $50 in addition to the ticket price. All things considered, it wasn't a surprise when hardly any of my friends opted to purchase them.

Although this was all taking place at the same venue as PLAY!, the ambiance had changed greatly in the newly renovated Sony Centre (previously known as Hummingbird Centre and O'Keefe Centre). Both levels of the lobby were crowded and people were sitting on the floor. We had orchestra level seats but found ourselves retreating to the upper lobby to get breathing room and a better view of the crowd. From there, we could clearly see the souvenir stand which was set up in the middle of the lobby, while a menu of food rebranded with Final Fantasy terms was being passed out.

Oddly enough, nobody seemed to be selling programs. Luckily, a coworker was able to get the Toronto program list from Arnie Roth. It's a bit disheartening when a shiny menu of overpriced food is the only physical object you have to remember the night. We didn't have real tickets since most of us had to get printable e-tickets during the Sony Centre's renovations. The options for souvenirs were decently priced compared to the food. The black and white Distant Worlds CDs were for sale at $20 each, while T-shirts and posters were $15 each.

On the bright side, there were several people who came in full costumes despite freezing temperatures outside. It made the atmosphere a little more festive. Not going to lie, I was wearing the Rinoa (FF8) ballroom dress with a matching ivory fascinator made by a friend with an ivory chiffon shawl (that came from my own graduation dress) to stay warm. Out of all the costumes, a Yuna (FF10) and a Cid (FF7) got the most attention due to their easily visible props.

Distant Worlds: Toronto Program
GameSong Title
FF8Liberi Fatali
FFVictory Theme
FF10To Zanarkand
FF8Don't be Afraid
FF7Aerith's Theme
FF1-3Medley 2010
FF5Dear Friends
FF9Vamo' alla Flamenco
FF5Clash on the Big Bridge
FF7Opening – Bombing Mission
FF8Fisherman's Horizon
FF11Memoro de la Ŝtono – Distant Worlds
FF13Fabula Nova Crystallis
FF13Blinded By Light
FF14Navigator's Glory
FF14Primal Judgement
FF14Chocobo Theme
FFSeibu/Swing de Chocobo
FF6Opera "Maria and Draco"
FF6Terra's Theme
FF7One Winged Angel

The concert fittingly opened with Liberi Fatali, which reminded me of the PLAY! concert. It also allowed us to hear the choir from the get-go. As fans of FF8 who consider the soundtrack to be one of Nobuo's best, we were both pleased with the selection. It helps that Squall and Rinoa are still our favourite characters.

Arnie then 'began' the concert with the Victory Theme, which prompted much cheering. My date and I looked at each other thinking exactly what everyone else was thinking, "Wouldn't you want to end the concert with that?" We shrugged our shoulders and laughed. I can't remember if it was before or after the first pieces, but Arnie brought Nobuo and Hiroki to the stage and introduced them. This meant more cheers and camera flashes but it seemed like there was no etiquette in place for when everyone should stop. According to friends who sat on the balcony level, glowing cameras were recording, phones were ringing, and patrons were talking all throughout the performance.

The concert began proper with Zanarkand, accompanied by full motion video footage of FFX. The movie sequence ended with Yuna's Ikai okuri dance at Kilika, which I think is the most iconic and well choreographed CG scene in the whole game. We were then treated to an energetic rendition of Don't be Afraid, opening with Japanese in game footage of FF8's Dollet Mission. The video began at the Town Square and the percussionists timed some of the sound effects to match. As soon as the first screen wipe into battle, the song began proper. The video was edited so that the orchestra music coincided with mission sequences and the XATM-092 chase, ending with Squall getting into a hydrofoil in the nick of time.

Things then mellowed out with Aerith's Theme, in the familiar orchestral arrangement that has been around for years. Footage of Aerith from both FF7 and Advent Children movie were used but some of the scenes didn't quite fit the tone of the song. The FF1-3 Medley had select theme songs and ended with my favourite part: Elia, the Water Maiden. It's a very pretty melody and I like all the arrangements of it, especially the vocal one.

A special treat for us was guitarist Kevin Ramessar who played along with the full orchestra for a relaxing Dear Friends and a lively Vamo' alla Flamenco. The flamenco feel was there but I felt like the arrangement was holding something back for the most part; it was very safe. Everyone in the audience was just waiting for Kevin to bust out with more flair; we knew he had it in him but it never quite happened. The accompanying FF9 footage with Vivi reminded me of how likable the cast was and how I need to replay this game soon. If only the battles weren't so slow!

Speaking of battles, two popular themes were then announced. J-E-N-O-V-A was the first, but everyone was audibly dismayed to find out that they wouldn't get to hear Dancing Mad. Still, they were extremely happy with the arrangement of Clash on the Big Bridge. Also known as Gilgamesh's Theme, this arrangement included the choir. Both amazing pieces took a lot out of the performers, especially the percussionists who were tripping over each other on the cramped stage, so they were visibly relieved that the intermission was next.

Between the two songs was my favourite FF11 field song, Ronfaure. I've always wanted to hear this live as it's such a perfectly composed song for the locale. Of course, that was also because I was a San d'Orian Elvaan for a good chunk of my life. I used to associate this tune with the first time I saw the outside world in that game, but after years of travelling in that world, I always found myself walking through Ronfaure to get back to San d'Oria – so hearing this song was like coming home.

After the intermission, a fitting piece that got everyone back into the right mood was used. It was the exciting FF7 Opening – Bombing Mission accompanied by edited footage of some corresponding FMV and in game sequences. This was a huge contrast to the next piece, which was a choir and orchestral arrangement of Fisherman's Horizon that invoked a feeling of nostalgia and laid-back easiness.

As an ex-FF11 player, Memoro de la Ŝtono – Distant Worlds took me right back to when I first logged into the game. Listening to the choir singing in Esperanto and watching footage of a fully grown Aldo looking at the destroyed Tavnazia reminded me of the time when my friends and I travelled to that same mountain to find that same view many years ago. Likewise, Kirsten Fielding's vocals took me back to when we finished the Chains of Promathia expansion. Being the voice of Ulmia is no easy task and Kirsten struggled on some of the higher notes, possibly due to illness. It was nice to hear the song with a voice that has a more lyrical quality to it than the original vocalist, Izumi Masuda, who I distinctly remember as being surprisingly operatic for Ulmia – a chorister who had stage fright as a child.

Completely skipping FF12's music, the concert went straight into two major FF13 pieces. Kirsten, now warmed up, effortlessly sang the lyrics to The Promise, also known as Serah's theme. This was followed by Blinded By Light, an orchestrated version of the battle theme that fans were jumping in their seats for.

Premiering in North America were two arrangements from FF14, the new MMORPG. Navigator's Glory, Limsa Lominsa's theme and Primal Judgement. The audience was lukewarm after these songs, as most in attendance haven't played the game yet and don't plan to – despite the music being excellent.

The Chocobo Theme of FF14 was then played as part of a medley leading up to Swing de Chocobo. This was the quirky highlight of show, as the arrangement is exclusive to Nobuo's concerts and the video editing of chocobos throughout the series was entertaining. However, there was some copy-pasta footage and by the fourth time we saw the same footage in less than two minutes, my boyfriend turned to say, "just like FF14."

What made my night perfect was the full FF6 Maria and Draco opera sequence. Robert Kinar (Tenor for Draco), David Roth (Baritone for Ralse) and Christina Stelmacovich (Mezzo-Soprano for Maria/Celes) took the stage and my eyes lit up. I honestly didn't expect it to be on the program because of the length and requirements, so I was ecstatic. This was accompanied by timed footage of the English SNES game, which made for some hilarity at the start: projected on the screen was the in game conductor and his orchestra, while below him was Arnie Roth and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. At this point I had to say, "Yo dawg I heard you like operas."

I love all the different parts of this little opera. I was one of the players who purposely lingered while Celes is getting ready to hear it. My favourite part of the opening is the one with the Harp (I'm biased) and the Flute (really biased). Everything was flawless, though the in game footage with the lead singing characters was taken out. It's possibly because the length and lyrics of this performance were different from the game. The lyrics we heard were from an English translation specific to the Distant Worlds and More Friends concerts. I also noticed that the in game party was Locke, Sabin and Edgar. Is it me or did everyone use this same team at this point in the game?

After the Ultros-free finale to the opera with a standing ovation, Terra's Theme was played. It was accompanied by footage of the FF6 opening credits sequence, where three Magitech Armor suits are marching through the snow in Mode 7. There was a twist though, being that the credits appearing were not for the game, but for the Distant Worlds concerts. Things got a bit confusing as the audience began to cheer for every other name that appeared, understandably, but after a certain point the music was obscured. Eventually, everyone didn't recognize the names as much and the music was audible again.

Arnie Roth then walked off the stage after everyone's applause, only to return for the encore – and highlight – of the show. Nobuo Uematsu joined the choir in singing Sephiroth's theme, One Winged Angel! He was really bouncy and hamming it up. Although he has done this in previous concerts, I'm pretty sure this was a first for Toronto.

Overall, it was a fun and hectic concert. We heard quite a lot of music and there were a lot of fans to see but I don't know if I will attend another Final Fantasy concert. It would take a considerable amount of new and original arrangements, or friends who really want me to go with them. I was very happy with the program but noted that there was a distinct lack of FF4 music and far too much of FF14. I was also hoping for my two favourite songs Theme of Love and Love Grows, but the opera more than made up for that. Heck, I'd say my life is complete having finally seen Maria and Draco live!

More Information
Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY
Guitarist Kevin Ramessar
Dog Ear Records Co., Ltd.
Photos courtesy of A&C Games

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