Distant Worlds 30th Anniversary Delivers an Emotional PerformanceDecember 4, 2017
This past weekend, Final Fantasy fans gathered in Toronto as the Sony Centre hosted the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds 30th Anniversary concert. Or as my fiancée likes to call it, “Date Night with the Sobmaster”… That’s right, I have no shame in admitting that I teared up and may or may not have cried at multiple points.
Final Fantasy… Where do I even begin with anything related to Final Fantasy? If you are a fan of RPG games, especially JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) then you have to be living under a rock to have never come across a Final Fantasy title.
I had to think hard to remember when I was first exposed to a Final Fantasy game – I recall renting one for my SNES from a local video store (remember when those were a thing?!). It was Final Fantasy VI, released in North America under the title of Final Fantasy III. I was definitely too young to truly appreciate the mechanics and depth of the game since I couldn’t have been more than 10 at the time. It wasn’t until FF VII (7) was released for the PC and Playstation that I would truly be ready to dive into a Final Fantasy title. By then I was old enough to understand the following that Final Fantasy titles had. I would hear endlessly from friends just how amazing the series was. Knowing that each was a stand alone title, I bought myself FF VIII, no longer being able to wait to be sucked into the world of Square Enix. I was instantly hooked. As soon as I finished FF VIII, I was fortunate enough to receive FF VII as a gift. My love for Final Fantasy was unquestionable, so much so that these games became my reason for investing in new consoles.
OK, now that that’s been dealt with, let’s get back to the concert. To put it simply, the show was magical. Simply magical. I have been dying to attend a Distant Worlds concert since I had first heard of it, but constantly had to pass. This time around, I refused to miss it – and am I ever glad this is the one that I attended. My fiancée and our friends waited in the lobby as we prepared to be seated, though any hopes of checking out the merchandise were dashed by the mob that swarmed it during the entire pre-show wait.
The concert opened up with a quick hello from none other than Nobuo Uematsu-san. For those that are unfamiliar with the name, he is the genius composer who scored most of the Final Fantasy games. It was truly an honour to be sitting in the same room as the man responsible for so many of the songs that brought literal tears to my eyes. Shortly after his introduction, the maestro opened with the classic FF opening theme. The screen showcased the world of Final Fantasy in a beautiful medley of footage from throughout the franchise as the music was played flawlessly. It was definitely emotional for me and it had just begun.
From there we heard various tracks from the series. It’s impossible to pick out the favourites. Every suite was executed to utter perfection with equally well composed video clips to match. One moment that garnered great awe and applause from the audience was when they played the opening ‘Bombing Mission’ theme from Final Fantasy 7 and used footage from the much anticipated, unreleased remake. The hype is definitely real on that title and you can be certain I will be eagerly awaiting to get my hands on it; heaven forbid I have to buy some next gen Playstation in order to play it.
I’m sure a non-music-related fan favourite moment was the surprise proposal that occurred just before the intermission! We were fortunate to be sitting right next to a gentleman that got help from the conductor to display his proposal message on the big screen. (For those wondering she did say yes!) This was just another example of how something that many may dismiss as “just a video game” can mean so much more to people. It brings people together; friends, family and lovers alike…
After the intermission, they featured songs from Final Fantasy X. ‘To Zanarkand’ was an emotional segment, especially as the song focused on Yuna’s dance for the dead. The crisp and vivid HD video flowed beautifully with the eerily ethereal playing of the orchestra. It brought me back to my high school days where I’d spend my summer fully immersed in a universe where Tidus and his friends fought their way to battle with Sin, while making sure I had a stacked lineup for my Blitzball team (still one of the best side games in the franchise I feel).
No Distant Worlds would be complete without a newly reinvented rendition of the Chocobos theme, which this time around was, as the maestro put it, a ‘Cinco de Chocobos’. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the lightheartedness of seeing Chocobos from FF7 running the race track at the Golden Saucer was a great break from my emotional roller coaster.
The encore performance of ‘One Winged Angel’ (Sephiroth’s theme) was great as it showed the humorous side of Nobuo-San and the conductor as they got the crowd involved in singing the “Sephiroth” chant along with the choir.
The following morning over brunch, my fiancée’s family asked about the show and my favourite moments, and were surprised to hear that I was so emotionally attached to the series. They asked what it was about the music and Final Fantasy that struck so deep. I wondered how to answer what should have been such a simple question but was more complex than I realized. I have spent close to 20 years of my life falling in love with these games. Every story arc, every character, every nation, every conflict, every resolution… I have spent countless hours sharing in the turmoils and triumphs of Cloud, Squall, Sephiroth, Noctis, Gladiolus…. the list is endless. The thing about Final Fantasy, is that no matter how dark the times get, we finish the game hoping for a brighter tomorrow. It instills hope. And when you are growing up feeling like you’re alone and an outcast in the world (which sadly has become more common than we’d like to admit) it becomes very easy to connect with and latch onto characters in their worlds. Square Enix has an unrivalled talent for creating characters that you cheer for. Even if you can’t relate to them, you can’t help but root for them.
What’s more, the music is the under appreciated glue that ties the characters, the story and your emotions together. It is impossible to separate the music from the story with the way Square Enix produces their mystic sorcery known as Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy XV is one of my favourites in the franchise. It is by no means the best gameplay, or deepest story, but it is definitely a leader in other qualities, one of which being the music (that topic could be an entirely different article… maybe another time). You must have an especially skilled team to make me forget all former association of the song ‘Stand By Me’ and to have it forever reassigned to Noctis and his crew…
This is but a small glimpse of why the Distant Worlds concert was such an amazing experience for me. Not only did they play several songs from Final Fantasy XV (my fave, and no I did not manage to keep a dry eye during any of it) and my other beloved titles, but it was incredibly nostalgic. There’s something surreal about sitting in a concert hall as a 31-year-old, and listening to music that brings back the sensation of being a kid turning on his Playstation as he eagerly loads up his newly acquired game. The waves of joy, anticipation, sadness, elation and mourning from following years of games came rushing back over two of the most nostalgic hours of my life this year.
You don’t have to be a fan of Final Fantasy or gaming to appreciate how just incredible the Distant Worlds performance was. If you have any appreciation for music, cinematics and/or storytelling then you will find something to love about this show. I cannot recommend it enough. Thank you Nobuo-San , thank you Square Enix, thank you Distant Worlds orchestra and thank you Sony Centre. Thank you for making it possible to relive the unadulterated joy that I felt when I first started falling in love with Final Fantasy.
This article was written for publication on The GCE by Angel Song.