I’ll go ahead and admit it up front. Despite my daily log-ins into Final Fantasy XIV‘s Eorzea, I consider myself a lapsed Final Fantasy fan. Almost a decade of Final Fantasy XIII, with its incoherent, disastrous plot and an endless barrage of side titles (I’m looking at you, Type-0) has clouded my positive memories of why Final Fantasy has had such a big impact on my life. Even today I look at the upcoming Final Fantasy XV with a bit of hesitation. It’s within this context that I had the pleasure to attend a recent performance of Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy at the Jones Hall for the Performing Arts in Houston, Texas.
For those unaware, Distant Worlds is one of a handful of Final Fantasy musical tours that plays in concert halls worldwide. Unlike “A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy”, which focuses purely on the music with new arrangements of classic compositions in a smaller setting, Distant Worlds pulls no punches – presenting a full orchestra, band, and chorus playing Final Fantasy tracks from throughout the series’ history. It truly is an audiovisual spectacle that plays homage to the series, and kept me entertained throughout.
All it took was the heart pumping and melodic beats of Final Fantasy IX’s “Festival of the Hunt” to remind me of the charming and rambunctious cast of my favorite title in the series. From the joking Zidane, adorable Vivi, zany Steiner, and even more zany Quina I was whisked away to the world of Gaia once again.
Minutes later, I was taken from my seat in the exquisite symphony hall back to the Estersands of Final Fantasy XII. As the booming sounds of “The Dalmasca Estersand” roared over a display of Balthier, Fran, and the crew roaming the streets of Rabanastre, I couldn’t wait to revisit the world of Ivalice via Zodiac Age, the Final Fantasy XII remake.
This isn’t to say that unchanged versions of your favorite tracks are all you will hear at Distant Worlds. As a part of the celebration of the series’ rich history, unique medleys – or combinations of remixed tracks – are performed as well. Two featured during the Houston performance were a character medley from Final Fantasy VI and the chocobo medley. The Final Fantasy VI medley stood out in particular – from Kefka to Locke, VI has always been known for its diverse cast. It would have been unfortunate to only highlight one of these characters in the two hour span of Distant Worlds, so a medley celebrating several character themes was on point.
If there was one thing that was clear, it was how unapologetic Distant Worlds is when it comes to its love for the series. One can tell that Director Arnie Roth and his team have a real appreciation for how crucial the music of Final Fantasy has been in its ability to teleport players into these worlds. For example, Arnie shared a small anecdote about “Balamb Garden” – one such theme that has become so synonymous with the locale and world it represents.
When the Distant Worlds crew requested for Balamb Garden to be added to the Distant Worlds lineup, Square Enix could not seem to find the composition – it had been lost! Finally, after many years of searching, the Distant Worlds team reverse engineered it. Talk about dedication! Hearing those calming piano tunes immediately brought me back to the Garden – reminding me of those cherished moments playing Final Fantasy VIII, networking via the Garden Festival Committee, trying to make it to the cafeteria for lunch, and doing all I could to make it as a member of SeeD.
With a commitment to including Yoko Shimomura’s Final Fantasy XV soundtrack in the future, Distant Worlds is one rendezvous with the series I will be sure to revisit.
This passion for the music is reflected by the fans in attendance. From the giggles and awws at baby chocobos shuffling about on screen during the chocobo medley to the thunderous applause at Final Fantasy V’s “Clash on the Big Bridge” and audience participation shouting “SE-PHI-ROTH” in unison during “One Winged Angel” – one gets a huge sense of community and the shared experience all Final Fantasy fans have enjoyed.
The event peaked with a medley that featured battle tracks in historical order from Final Fantasy’s one through fourteen. As portions of the medley transitioned battle themes from one title to the next, fight scenes from each title accompanied. Every title was given due service and respect – from the 8-bit encounters in Final Fantasy II to the MMORPG battles in Final Fantasy XI. In an acknowledgement to the rich diversity in battle themes, main tracks were set aside to highlight seldom played but just as treasured pieces, such as Seymour’s Theme from Final Fantasy X. While not quite the ‘post applause show closer,’ it was a great performance at the tail end of the evening having run through the full gambit of the Final Fantasy lineage.
I left Distant Worlds a much more appreciative Final Fantasy fan than I went in. It’s a testament to the quality of the music the series is known for and the work the Distant Worlds team has done to bring that music on tour worldwide.
Their impact is actually felt outside the symphony halls – “Opening/Bombing Mission” from the Final Fantasy VII Remake trailer that will forever be remembered as one of the greatest new game reveals in gaming culture was actually performed by the Distant Worlds folks. In fact, they may be doing several tracks, some of which were performed live during the Houston show, such as Cosmo Canyon and Jenova’s Theme. After listening to them in person, I hope there is much more on the horizon. With a commitment to including Yoko Shimomura’s Final Fantasy XV soundtrack in the future, Distant Worlds is one rendezvous with the series I will be sure to revisit.