Recently, my husband and I made our way through the crowded hallways of the Sony Center in Toronto to hear Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. As we took our seats in the mezzanine, musicians on the stage below tuned instruments and briefly practiced music. I sat back in my seat and watched the crowd stream in—women in evening gowns, men in suits, teenage girls in elaborate Gothic Lolita dresses, and others in full video-game-character cosplay outfits. My crowd-watching ceased as the lights lowered and conductor Arnie Roth took the stage. The audience applauded politely as he bowed and welcomed the orchestra. And then a Japanese man dressed all in black except for a white bandana slowly entered the auditorium, two security guards in his wake. The crowd roared.
Nobuo Uematsu had entered the house.
Noubou Uematsu is one of the world’s most respected video game composers. He is a self-taught musician who started on piano at the age of eleven. His style is a unique combination of rock and classical music, and he cites musicians from Elton John and Jimi Hendrix to Carl Orff and Tchaikovsky as major influences. While his discography includes many games, including Lost Odyssey and Romancing SaGa 2, he is most famous for Final Fantasy. And on this night I got to witness his genius first-hand.
Uematsu’s show has a long history. It began touring in 2002, in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary of the first Final Fantasy game. Initially entitled simply Final Fantasy, the concert series first toured only in Japan and combined orchestrated video game music with in-game images projected onto a large screen. It proved so popular that it toured six additional Japanese cities in 2004, and a year later, it came to the United States under the title Dear Friends: Music From Final Fantasy. Since then, the musical score has expanded to include the most recent Final Fantasy games, and the concert now travels around the globe under the title Distant Worlds.
What makes this concert unique is the opportunity to hear video game music performed by a full orchestra, often with a chorus. The audience clearly loved every song in Toronto, but they cheered loudest when the orchestra played music from the original Nintendo Entertainment System while a large screen above depicted old sprite graphics. The entire experience took gamers like me down memory lane as we listened to our favorite re-mastered songs and watched in-game moments. The program included such classics as “Terra’s Theme,” the “Maria and Draco” opera, “Liberi Fatali,” “Don’t Be Afraid,” “Swing de Chocobo,” (which had the crowd shaking with laughter) and “Aerith’s Theme.” The audience roared when the musicians struck the most famous eight notes of the entire game series, the “Victory Theme,” which plays whenever a gamer wins a battle in all Final Fantasy games. Arnie Roth deemed us the first North American audience to hear music from the newest game, Final Fantasy XVI. In my opinion, the best song of the entire show was the Distant Worlds theme itself, “Memoro de la Stono,” which is from my favorite game, Final Fantasy XI.
At the end of the concert, the orchestra treated the audience to a special encore of one of the most beloved Final Fantasy songs, “One Winged Angel,” Sephiroth’s theme from Final Fantasy VII. Nobuo Uematsu jumped up on stage to join the choir, and the crowds’ screams almost drowned out the song. For fans, there could be no better ending for this evening, and I left more connected to the series than I had ever been.
As we walked back to our hotel, my husband asked if we could follow the show’s tour so we could see it again as soon as possible. And then we found out its next stop was Sydney, Australia. Oh dear. Distant worlds, indeed.