The music from the Final Fantasy series has always been special. The first official video game concert held in the US was a Final Fantasy show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in May of 2004. While not the first video game concert to be held ever, it should be pointed out that the show sold out almost immediately and helped set the stage for more shows in the future. Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy started in 2007 and has been touring worldwide ever since and on Saturday, September 25th I was finally able to attend a show for myself.
I’ve been itching to attend a Distant Worlds show for a good long while and while this wasn’t my first ever trip to a video game symphony, this was one show that I’ve been looking forward to. Earlier in the year, I did attend A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy in La Jolla California. An officially sanctioned show with a smaller orchestra and no video screens to showcase the action from the games. Even though it was smaller, that show was still amazing to attend and a great date night. After attending that show with my lovely girlfriend, Fanney, she mentioned how she would love to go to the bigger show, mostly so she could see the game footage and have some idea of what was going on during a piece of music. As luck would have it, Distant Worlds had a show scheduled in Los Angeles on a night we could both attend. Tickets were immediately bought and we even convinced our friend Joon to join us as well since he is also a huge Final Fantasy fan.
The general vibe at the concert was relaxing and exciting. While one would think to dress up in your best when attending a symphony, video game fans have a different approach. There were people in some amazing outfits and dresses, but there were also some cosplayers walking about and fans wearing the special Uniqlo Final Fantasy shirts. One minute you would see a couple dressed to the nines, and the next you would see a Tifa cosplayer alongside a group of moogles. It was fantastic to see and nothing felt out of place. Even with me in my Final Fantasy I t-shirt, I didn’t feel underdressed. All the attendees were there to enjoy music from one of our favorite video game franchises and just enjoy the night. If there was one thing I do regret, it’s that I didn’t get to the theater early enough to buy some merchandise. We arrived at the Microsoft Theater about half an hour before the show was set to start and the merchandise line was incredibly long. Refreshments were almost as long as the merchandise and a few items I was hoping to get did sell out. So pro-tip for anyone wanting to attend a Distant Worlds show if you want the merchandise you need to get there EARLY. Do not underestimate Final Fantasy fans for they will get the goods. While I was lucky enough to walk away with a shirt and a music box, I missed out on some other items.
The show started with the Prelude playing and immediately I was giddy and had an uncontrollable smile on my face. The screens showed off the beautiful logo for the show as well as clips from a myriad of games. Even if you weren’t familiar with all the games the conductor, Arnie Roth, would get on a microphone and tell the audience the songs and which game they were from. A beautiful logo of the said game would come up on screen and the orchestra would play about 2 or 3 songs from each game. They started with the original Final Fantasy and mostly worked their way in numerical order, only going out of order in the second half of the show. For the first half what struck me as a bit odd but made some commercial sense was that the footage being shown for games I-VI was all from the Pixel Remasters. No original NES footage, no PSP footage, and no DS footage. I can only assume this is because Square wants to push the Pixel Remasters and this would be the way to do it, even though the graphics and art style of the PSP games are beautifully detailed. Aside from the footage, what I did appreciate was how they weren’t afraid to throw in a little joke when the moment arose. While playing songs from Final Fantasy IV, the infamous “Spoony Bard” line came up on the screen. Not only that but while playing Phantom Train from Final Fantasy VI, a shot of Sabin throwing the Phantom Train got a huge laugh from the audience.
While I highly enjoyed the first half of the show, you could tell the audience was itching for music from the later games. Not to say the first half was boring, but you could feel the room’s energy rise when the show’s second half began. the second half started with Final Fantasy VIII‘s Liberi Fatali and went right into Aerith’s Theme where I will freely admit to getting a tad emotional. As an added treat Yoko Shimomura (the composer for Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XV) was in the audience and when it was time to play one of her songs, the audience erupted. The song they played was Apocalypsis Noctis and talk about hype. There were times in the show when the game footage didn’t sync up with the music, meaning the action on screen felt out of place, but with Apocalypsis Noctis it did 100%. Not only was Yoko Shimomura in the audience, but for the Final Fantasy X number they brought out Ritsuki Nakano to sing Suteki da ne (Isn’t It Wonderful). For those wondering, Suteki da ne is the song sung when Tidus and Yuna share their first kiss in the game and Nakano is the original singer. This was quite possibly the most beautiful moment in the show. I was constantly watching her sing and looking up at the screen to see scenes of Tidus and Yuna and I could’ve sworn I heard some people around me crying. A touching moment to be sure and somehow a fitting place to bring in the main theme of Final Fantasy. While the orchestra was playing this classic song, the credits were rolling on screen and it just felt right. Even though I knew the show wasn’t over, there was still the encore, but it felt like I was watching the end credits of a game. I went on a journey through 35 years of Final Fantasy music and this was the end.
Of course, it wasn’t the end as my girlfriend was next to me wondering when they would play One Winged Angel. We were treated not only with one encore song but 2, and the first one they played was To Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X. A true fan favorite and one of the songs I was hoping to hear that night. Like any great performance, they saved the best for last. After the applause from Zanarkand was over, the chorus immediately stood up and we all knew what was going to play next. Video recording and photos were allowed during the performance and while my phone stayed in my pocket for 99% of the show, this was the exception. The opening notes were met with cheers from the audience and then silence as we all basked in the glory that was One Winged Angel, the most famous song from Final Fantasy. I’ve heard this song plenty of times, but listening to it live was surreal. This was also when the footage deviated from showing game footage and instead showed footage from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. I was thinking they would show footage from the remake but it was nice to see Advent Children get some love.
Once the show was over there were 2 things I wanted to do right when I got home. Play some Final Fantasy games and look up tickets for the next show. It was such a fantastic night that I’m eagerly awaiting the next show in Los Angeles. It’s not just the Final Fantasy show I’ll be looking forward to. Video game concerts and symphonies have become a more common occurrence so that one doesn’t have to wait too long for the next show. While you may still have to wait for a bit and do some research for a particular game/franchise to have a concert, going to a show like this live is worth it. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the games and strengthened my desire to play them and experience the music firsthand. If you’ve never been to a Distant Worlds show then I’d highly recommend that you go and experience it for yourself.