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A Musical Retrospective: Celebrating 25 Years of Final Fantasy

By Fenix Down, December 28th, 2012

SQEX 25th Anniversary On December 7th, 2012, Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy held their second Celebration concert in honor of the world-renowned RPG franchise's 25th anniversary at the Akoo Theatre in Rosemont, Illinois. One of only five performances worldwide (the first was played in London on November 2nd, and the remaining three will ring in the new year in Japan), the concert featured a setlist that encompassed music from all fourteen games in the main series of the franchise, as well as a few special surprises. But the celebration for Final Fantasy's 25th birthday began hours before the orchestra even took the stage.

The Pre-Concert Events

At five o'clock, the doors to the Akoo Theatre lobby opened and allowed ticket holders inside for a variety of pre-concert activities. The North American branch of Square Enix worked extensively with the Distant Worlds staff to add an element of Final Fantasy flare to the holiday decorations that already adorned the Akoo. They also provided a far more extensive assortment of merchandise than is typically present at the Distant Worlds shows. Fans stood in lines that stretched as far back as the entrance to the theatre itself for a chance to purchase limited edition 25th anniversary items such as the new chocobo plush, The Celebration-themed Distant Worlds t-shirts, and decks of playing cards, in addition to various Final Fantasy soundtrack CDs, figurines, and more.

Square Enix Members also set up a special Final Fantasy-themed photo booth in the lobby. A backdrop of a battle screen reminiscent of the earlier games was set up for fans to stand in front of. They were given a selection of four pillows of different mascot characters from the series to pose with, including the ever popular chocobo and Moogle. The pictures taken were uploaded to the Square Enix Facebook page a few days later.

Elsewhere in the lobby, gaming stations were set up featuring the recently released Theatrhythm Final Fantasy rhythm-based game for the Nintendo 3DS. Tournaments were held before and after the concert, with the participants competing against one another for the highest score on a pre-selected track. The winner of each tournament received a special Final Fantasy XIII-2 model Playstation 3 gaming console.

The biggest event before the concert proper was scheduled to begin around 6:50. Famed video game composer, Nobuo Uematsu, and Distant Worlds conductor, producer, and arranger, Arnie Roth, appeared alongside a handful of musicians from the orchestra to perform two intimate chamber music arrangements for all ticket holders. Uematsu on keyboard and Roth on violin performed a chilling rendition of Dark World from Final Fantasy VI, which was followed by a new Chocobo Theme medley comprised of the original classic theme and Samba de Chocobo from Final Fantasy IV. With a taste of what was yet to come, many fans soon made their way into the auditorium in anticipation of the main event.

The Celebration

Distant Worlds Stage The concert opened the same way most Final Fantasy titles do, with the soothing notes of The Prelude performed by The Chicagoland Pops Orchestra and Chorus. Square Enix provided a short retrospective video that played on the giant screen above the orchestra that showcased all fourteen of the main series titles. The orchestra then transitioned into a medley of themes from the first three Final Fantasy games featuring the Main Theme and Matoya's Cave from the first Final Fantasy, Elia, the Water Maiden from Final Fantasy III, and concluded with The Rebel Army's Theme from Final Fantasy II. Original 8-bit footage from the Japanese releases, as well as the more up-to-date cinematic opening of the Nintendo DS version of Final Fantasy III played on the screen as each game's music was performed.

With the first three games covered in the opening of the concert, it was time to play music from the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments of the series. Final Fantasy IV's Battle with the Four Fiends evoked powerful feelings of desperate confrontations as clips of the many battles of the game were displayed on the screen above. The Main Theme of Final Fantasy V carried with it the overwhelming sense of adventure emphasized within the game itself. The Phantom Forest from Final Fantasy VI filled the chamber with a haunting tune as Sabin, Cyan, and Shadow were shown braving the wandering spirits aboard a ghost train bound for the hereafter.

One-Winged Angel, usually the encore performance of the more conventional Distant Worlds concerts, served as the representative of Final Fantasy VII in The Celebration line-up. The audience was encouraged to shout out "Sephiroth!" at the appropriate times during the performance, but by the climax of the piece, a large portion of the crowd seemed too caught up in the music to participate. Don't Be Afraid, the normal battle theme of Final Fantasy VIII and a common staple of the Distant Worlds concert line-up, was next on the agenda and continued to pump up the exhilaration of the crowd left over from One-Winged Angel. Next up, from Final Fantasy IX, was Not Alone, which Arnie Roth took a moment to clarify was in fact the proper translation of the piece's name, opposed to You're Not Alone, the more commonly known title. The various struggles of Zidane and his friends were shown on screen as the music set the tone.

From Final Fantasy X, Zanarkand was the next piece performed. Another mainstay of the Distant Worlds tour, and for good reason, as the emotions conveyed by this piece are palpable, even more so with the footage of Yuna performing a Sending accompanying the music. The final piece before intermission was another new medley of Chocobo Themes. The Chocobo Theme of Final Fantasy XI, and Mambo de Chocobo from Final Fantasy V, among others, were strung together into a cohesive unit and served as a fine salute to the most iconic mascot of the Final Fantasy franchise.

After the intermission, The Celebration resumed with Final Fantasy XI's Vana'diel March. The first piece of the evening that was not originally composed by Uematsu, Vana'diel March was the work of Naoshi Mizuta and served as a welcome reminder that even if Uematsu is not at the helm, the music composed is still of the high quality fans have come to expect of a Final Fantasy title. The Dalmasca Estersand, composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, made its North American premiere as the representative of Final Fantasy XII. It was a well-executed arrangement from one of the least represented games in the Distant Worlds tour.

The last piece composed by someone other than Uematsu that played during The Celebration was Masashi Hamauzu's Blinded by Light from Final Fantasy XIII. The exploits of Lightning and company were brought to life in stunning CG as the powerful battle theme played. Wrapping up the chronological ascension through the series was Answers, the vocal theme of Final Fantasy XIV. Susan Calloway, the featured vocalist for Final Fantasy XIV, as well as a frequent soloist for Distant Worlds, took the stage for the first time that evening and delivered a phenomenal performance of the piece from the most recent Final Fantasy.

The show was far from over, despite having played through 25 years worth of Final Fantasy music, as Arnie Roth announced the next piece: Theme of Love from Final Fantasy IV. Following Theme of Love, Susan Calloway returned to the stage to sing the orchestrated version of Eyes on Me from Final Fantasy VIII. It was another amazing performance by Ms. Calloway as she sang a slightly tweaked rendition of the iconic love song.

SQEX FFI-III Medley All good things must come to an end, however, as the concert began to wind down for the final piece of the main set. From Final Fantasy VI: the Opera: Maria and Draco, modified and expanded just for The Celebration, now included the chorus, as well as a narrator (Eric Roth) who helped tell the story of the West's great hero, Draco (Jack Cotterell), his love, Maria (Alicia Aberneche), and his bitter rival of the East, Prince Ralse (Jonathan Green). A new battle segment was added to the climax with the intention of representing the war raging on outside the castle walls as the two rivals duel for the hand of Maria. The energy that radiated from the stage during this finale was palpable, one could easily forget to breathe while taking it all in.

Of course, there are always encores. But before that, Nobuo Uematsu joined Arnie Roth on stage and prompted everyone to sing Happy Birthday to Final Fantasy which was immediately followed by the Victory Theme. The encore of The Celebration commenced, a medley of battle themes that included Clash on the Big Bridge (Final Fantasy V), Fight With Seymour (Final Fantasy X), and Those Who Fight (Final Fantasy VII). The very last piece of the show was, appropriately, the Main Theme of Final Fantasy, the iconic piece featured in nearly every installment of the series since 1987.

The Afterparty

With The Celebration concert concluded, the fans dispersed from the auditorium. Some went to the merchandise table in a final effort to buy a memento of the event, while others entered the second Theatrhythm Final Fantasy tournament. And others still sought out the various cosplayers who attended the event in the hopes of getting a picture taken of their favorite characters. But for a select few, it was time for the post-concert VIP meet and greet session with Arnie Roth, Susan Calloway, and, of course, Nobuo Uematsu.

Zack and Cloud The line was long, providing the gathered fans plenty of time to converse with one another about their personal highlights of the concert and Final Fantasy in general. Or they simply thought about what to say once their turn to approach the table finally arrived, and hope that they do not become so star-struck that they fail to say any of it when the moment arrived. The VIP ticket holders brought with them Final Fantasy paraphernalia that was either bought at the concert itself or brought from home. Items that ranged from soundtrack CDs, game cartridges, sheet music, wall scrolls, posters, and more were presented before Arnie Roth, Nobuo Uematsu, and Susan Calloway while they made small talk with the fans and posed for pictures taken by a local professional photographer.

There was a certain euphoric quality to the faces of the fans as they left that table, holding their newly signed Distant Worlds CD, poster, or program booklet as if it were the most priceless item in the world. Just seeing that look on their faces, while reflecting on the 25 years worth of music that had been played earlier that night, is enough to make one realize just how much Final Fantasy means to people. And as Final Fantasy looks on to the future, so too does Distant Worlds continue to plan for future concert dates and CD releases. To 2013 and beyond.


01.25.2013 1:29pm

Jiro, I know SE's [i]Distant Worlds[/i] concerts have toured both Sydney and Adelaide, not to mention Australia's own Eminence Orchestra regularly does FF/gaming/anime themed concerts all around Australia too (the first one I went to was the [i]Night in Fantasia[/i] concert in Sydney in 2004, which Uematsu himself also attended), so anything it possible I guess (holds out vain hope that Perth will one day feature a FF concert).

Anyway, sounds like you had a wonderful night Fenix (and I am extremely jealous) ;). Great article!

01.02.2013 7:44am

I really wish one of these concerts was held close to me. Queensland is just a horrible state to live in generally, so I'm not holding my breath :(

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