For every geek out there (including yours truly), the brand Final Fantasy rings a familiar and nostalgic bell: the series of 15 Japanese role-playing games spread over 29 years is truly a household name in the gaming industry. One of the elements of Final Fantasy that makes it so engaging and memorable has got to be the music - the game's distinctive and well-renowned scores are so unique in its own way that it brings back a sense of nostalgia whenever heard. So you can imagine the heady excitement I felt when Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy announced that they were going to hold a one-night only concert in Singapore, seven years past since they graced our shores.
In short, Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is a global symphony concert tour showcasing the music of the world-renowned Final Fantasy video games series, and is conducted by the Grammy-award winning conductor Arnie Roth. When Distant Worlds first debuted here in 2009, it had three sold-out concerts because of its highlights like the original soloist for Final Fantasy X’s Suteki da Ne, RIKKI. And seven years later, its fans' reception was no different: the Star Vista Performing Arts Theatre was packed with more than 5000 fans - all of us waiting for the nostalgia to send us on a maudlin trip. And boy was it magical!
We were treated to a multi-sensory experience, which somehow combined content from the Final Fantasy games with virtuoso music from the orchestra. It made me feel like I was in the video game itself! Starting with the stirring Prelude theme, the concert revisited many memorable and nostalgic moments from the series, from Squall’s SEED adventures in Final Fantasy VIII with Balamb Garden – Ami to Lightning’s entrance into the city of Cocoon in Final Fantasy XIII with Blinded by Light.
The concert also focused on distinctive elements of the Final Fantasy series, such as the Chocobo medley from Final Fantasy’s 25th anniversary, which consist of the Chocobo themes from Final Fantasy II to Final Fantasy XIII - a brilliant move to me, because it sunk us further into Pit Nostalgia. Then they treated us to the more popular soundtracks from the series, such as Zanarkand and Suteki da Ne from Final Fantasy X, featuring the vocals of RIKKI. Her enchanting performance of Suteki da Ne tugged at the audiences' heartstrings, and coupled with the combination of the visuals from the game, she hit home run, making this part of the concert most memorable to me.
What set Distant Worlds apart from a normal music concert was its engagement with the audience - which came in different forms. We were surprised with many treats we didn't anticipate, like the world premiere of Apocalpysis Noctis from Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV, the unexpected inclusion of fan favourites such Man with a Machine Gun from Final Fantasy VIII, and a group picture of everyone in the audience wearing masks of Final Fantasy XV’s characters! It kept us so engrossed and engaged for three entire hours that we didn't even realise it when the concert reached its finale.
And just like the final chapter in the game, the concert ended off with a bang: the orchestra performed an encore of the most popular song from the series: Final Fantasy VII’s One Winged Angel. It had us all singing the name of the most famous villain of Final Fantasy series, Sephiroth, with the orchestra’s choir, making for an unusually interesting ending to the show.
Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy was a visual and auditory trip down the memory lane for fans of the longstanding video games series. But, was it worth the seven year wait? Comparing this concert to the 2009 one and its other international concerts, I personally felt there still were some elements lacking from this concert that made it less memorable or distinctive from the rest. This could have been due to the orchestra’s relative inexperience with video games music in general or the orchestra's song selection, which glaringly omitted fan favourites such as Aerith’s Theme from Final Fantasy VII and Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII.
Still, the concert provided fans with a memorable and sentimental glimpse into the world of Final Fantasy - which for many - represents a cache of feelings and emotions from their childhood. The concert definitely wasn't something non-gamers wouldn't have appreciated either, given the prowess of award-winning composer, Nobuo Uematsu. Finally (pun intended!), Distant Worlds served as a poignant tribute to Final Fantasy’s history: a review of its past accomplishments and its eventual development into one of the gaming industry’s most celebrated names.