Video game concerts have been around for a while, making the tour rounds in major cities around the world. Among the more popular video game concerts I’ve heard of are the ones dedicated to the music from Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. I never had the opportunity to experience a video game concert until the Distant Worlds music from Final Fantasy concert came to town this past weekend.
Distant Worlds performed at the prestigious and world famous Carnegie Hall on Saturday, January 13th. My cousin has long been wanting to attend one of these concerts, but never really had the chance to go. The last time a Distant Worlds tour came to the East Coast was in New Jersey and not exactly the most convenient place to attend one. Not that Jersey is particularly far from New York City, but we would prefer to avoid any extra commuting just to go to a concert. When Distant Worlds announced they will be in NYC in January, my cousin didn’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity to snag tickets and invited me to join him as well. It was perfect that Distant Worlds performed at Carnegie Hall. Their latest tour stop coincided with Final Fantasy’s celebration of 30 years for the series. Words can’t even begin to express how much I really loved this concert. My cousin and I agreed that we didn’t want the experience to end.
The concert featured the Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dessoff Choirs, and GRAMMY-winning artist Arnie Roth leading as conductor. Final Fantasy’s long-time composer Nobuo Uematsu was also in attendance. Because of Final Fantasy’s 30th Anniversary, the concert had some special guests and surprises along the way. One of the surprise guests who attended the concert was Yoko Shimomura, the composer of Final Fantasy XV.
A common staple of a Distant Worlds concert, as I’ve heard and read about many times before, was that the live music would be accompanied with HD video presentations of scenes from many of the Final Fantasy games projected on a giant screen. For example, when the orchestra played music from Final Fantasy VIII, the audience were able to watch some moments from the game and relive the experience of having played it. Or if you never played the game, like I haven’t, you get to sit back and enjoy some really great music and admire how much the technology and computer animation has evolved over Final Fantasy’s 30-year history.
The concert played a little of everything from most of Final Fantasy’s catalog and some newer stuff, like music from the online only Final Fantasy XIV. While the show tried to cover as much of the music they could from each installment of Final Fantasy, most of the concert was heavily focused on music from Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. My cousin wasn’t particularly surprised by this because he told me that of all the games in the series, FFVII and FFVIII tend to be the standout favorites of the series for most fans. Taking pictures or recording video during the concert was strictly prohibited, so the only photos I was able to take were of the stage before the concert started and when everyone took a bow at the end of the show. As I soaked in every aspect of the concert, I did my best to commit every moment of it to memory. Arnie Roth paused in between sets to talk to the audience, make jokes, and introduce some of the next pieces they were about to perform. The whole show was fun and wonderfully choreographed.
I feel you don’t fully appreciate the music from these video games until you’ve heard it played live. Nothing really compares to a live performance and I can see why video game concerts are getting really popular. And even if you don’t play video games, a non-gamer can still appreciate the show for how beautifully composed each piece of music is. Final Fantasy’s music has a reputation for being the gold standard for video game music and it’s clear to see why. Each note is carefully constructed and the right instruments are lovingly chosen to set the mood or tone for a scene or the whole game itself. Arnie Roth told the audience at one point that the goal of every single concert they perform on their tours is to pick a selection of music that best represents the series. I think they succeed on all accounts. I may not have played Final Fantasy since the very beginning or been a gamer since I was a kid, but you do recognize the common themes each game has in common to each other. The series has adventure, romance, action, sadness, loss, and a battle between good and evil. Every single music played during the concert, no matter which game it came from, showcased all these themes and emotions really well. The games invite you to go on a journey with them and its reflected in their music.
Even without my extensive knowledge or experience with the Final Fantasy series, it was amazing just how much of the music I recognized without playing some of these games. As a teenager, I stumbled upon music from Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII when I was hunting for anime music to put on my iPod. Although I never knew the context from which the music plays in either game, it didn’t matter because the music was excellent by itself. When I became a gamer later in life I did play, though never finished, Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy XIII. And of course the game I did play and finish, and is my absolute favorite game, is the recent Final Fantasy XV. When music from these games played I was excited, but maybe not as excited as hearing the music from FFXV. The two songs from FFXV that were performed at the concert were Apocalypsis Noctis and Somnus. These choices made me super happy because these were two of my favorites from the soundtrack, especially Somnus.
Apocalypsis Noctis and Somnus blew my mind away by how awesome and beautiful the music sounded live. Apocalypsis Noctis was as epic and thrilling as the first time I heard it played in the game. The Dessoff Choirs singing the vocals in Apocalypsis Noctis gave me the absolute chills because sung live it does take you back to moments in the game when there’s a sense of danger and urgency being conveyed in the song. After hearing Apocalypsis Noctis live, it almost doesn’t do the actual soundtrack recording justice at all. Somnus was as pretty live as it always has been on the recorded soundtrack. Seeing Arnie Roth pull out the violin to play the song reminded me why I adore this piece so much. It was lovely from start to finish with the violin and piano being the main instruments you hear, and as I mentioned in an older post, Somnus sounds like a melancholic lullaby. Haunting and sad at the same time. These songs composed by Yoko Shimomura made my evening for the rest of the performance.
The conclusion of the concert ended with the best of them all, and was the one song my cousin wanted to hear the most, which was Sephiroth’s theme from Final Fantasy VII. Arnie Roth invited the audience to participate in this one by singing the “Sephiroth” part of the chorus with the Dessoff Choirs, and even Nobuo Uematsu came on stage to sing along with them. It was super cute to watch Uematsu run over to take his place with the Dessoff Choirs on the stage before they started the song for the finale. It was good fun and a great way to close out the whole show.
I had a blast with my first video game concert and I would definitely want to do another one again if Distant Worlds ever came back to my city. It was well worth the money and time I spent that Saturday. Besides, I think this concert gave me the right motivation to try and finish the other Final Fantasy games I do have in my possession. A concert like this one can have that kind of effect on you.