This year two of the most consistently frustrating things in the world turn 30: the Final Fantasy series, and myself. It’s no exaggeration to say one of the two carries with it a legacy of euphoric highs and staggering lows (spoiler: it’s not me…mostly) but has one aspect which has remained solid from its inception in the late eighties to its modern day incarnations, and that’s the music.
From the 16-bit earworms of the early titles to the sweeping orchestral scores of later entries, Final Fantasy soundtracks have a magical ability to encapsulate players within the games of the series, turning solid role playing games into emotional journeys.
Such is the impact of these epic soundtracks, nearly 10 years ago a decision was made to take these pieces on tour, performing the music of Final Fantasy to audiences around the world with a live orchestra, choir and accompanying visuals under the banner of “Distant Worlds”. Very few series besides The Legend of Zelda and, more recently, Silent Hill, can boast the same musical legacy, and neither of those have consistently drawn crowds to venues in major cities across the globe to the extent of Square Enix’s ever-present juggernaut.
I’ve been lucky enough to see “Distant Worlds” twice so far and am writing this piece to wholeheartedly tell you to the same. Even if you just have a vague interest in the Final Fantasy games, do whatever it takes to get a ticket and experience it for yourself.
From the moment you walk into the venue there is an air of anticipation. Excited series fans gather, discussing their favourite tunes and whether they will make the setlist. A young(ish) girl in photo perfect Aeris cosplay hands out flowers to younger fans who eagerly wait to pose for photos. A queue forms at the merch desk to buy CD soundtracks, cute plushies or custom clothing. As a lifelong fan it’s a dream come true.
In the arena it’s even better as excited chatter precedes the show. The words “Golden Saucer”, “Zanarkand” and “Chocobo” flutter across the air as you catch snippets of surrounding conversations. An impressive Lulu cosplayer clutches a Moogle doll and she takes her seat in front.
When the lights start to dim the excitement reaches fever pitch as the orchestra take their seats to steady applause. Arnie Roth, longtime conductor of the concerts, soaks up the appreciation for a moment before summoning an electric silence with a flick of his baton.
What follows is two hours of the best kind of fan service. Arnie occasionally acknowledges individual Final Fantasy titles, regularly name-checks legendary series composer Nobuo Uematsu and even draws a cheer from the audience by mentioning regular Square Enix elephant in the room, the long awaited Final Fantasy VII remake. Memorable musical pieces from predominantly modern incarnations are accompanied by the appropriate FMVs on a large projector, even occasionally drawing chuckles from the captivated crowd as the graphics show their age.
As the set reaches its conclusion with a rousing, crowd-assisted rendition of a classic Final Fantasy VII melody (10,000 people yelling “Sephiroth!” in unison is as incredible as it sounds) the crowd begrudgingly heads for the exits, most humming one of the many catchy tunes embedded in their heads for the next few hours, days or weeks but almost all with a smile on their face.
Final Fantasy is timeless and enduring — its very title proves this. “Distant Worlds” is the perfect celebration of it, and hardcore and casual fans of the series alike should experience video gaming’s greatest musical legacy in its finest and purest form.
The “Distant Worlds” 30th Anniversary concert comes to the Royal Albert Hall in London on the 4th November. For details visit http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/events/2017/distant-worlds-music-from-final-fantasy/