Comic-Con has passed and is once again upon us. Last year the San Diego Symphony played a video game music based concert at the Embarcadero Marina Park near the San Diego convention center. They have done this since 2005 with the “Dear Friends” Final Fantasy concert series. It is part of their annual Summer Pops series and every year since “Dear Friends” they have been scheduling a video game music concert on the first day of every Comic-Con. It’s always been scheduled as a night concert, as to not impose on precious Comic-Con time for attendees. Since new traditions should not be broken, last year they played “Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy” with Arnie Roth taking the reins as conductor once more; but this year the cycle may be slightly broken, because they plan on playing kung fu movie music. If you would like information on the concert tour, this is where you can find info: www.ffdistantworlds.com “Distant Worlds” is an actual soundtrack that you can buy and not just an exclusive concert series like “Dear Friends.”
My first taste of Final Fantasy and its music came in the form Final Fantasy II for the Super Nintendo. Back then the numbering systems were a bit confusing. Part two for the U.S. was actually Final Fantasy 5 in Japan. I didn’t actually own the game, but my friend did. He came over to my house and we ended up spending the whole day playing through the whole story line. He already played once through, so he knew exactly where to go through the whole story. To see an interactive story like this as a video game absolutely amazed me. I then played through Final Fantasy 3 (Final Fantasy 6 in Japan) and was impressed how they did the opera scene.
So the actual game pulled me into the Final Fantasy scene, but something else sucked me into the whole video game music scene. It was Final Fantasy 7. This was a game exclusive to the then new Playstation game system, also abbreviated as PSX. I was holding off on purchasing a PSX until my friend showed me the “Knights of the Round” materia summon in Final Fantasy 7! Here is what it looks like: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_amxuUJSnw[/youtube] This game became my reason game for purchasing a PSX. The music seemed to have totally evolved from midi tones to full featured orchestral sound. It had crazy CG cut scenes and ludicrous story to match. Every Final Fantasy game since then has had top notch orchestral music.
When I learned of the “Dear Friends” concert in L.A. at the 2004 E3, I became very sad. I could not make it to see the concert and I knew if I could, there would be no way for me to purchase tickets. I was actually considering going to the E3 that year and catch the concert after, but when I looked up purchase information for buying tickets, they were sold out with the quickness. I knew the concert was going to be played at newly built Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. and that the acoustics of this new place was going to be insane. I then chalked this one up in the missed opportunities pile and attempted to make myself feel better by thinking that they were automatically going to make a CD of this concert. I figured I would wait and keep an eye out for it in the stores. I figured wrong! I waited and waited for nothing. I then learned that there was going to be a concert series and they were going to make a stop at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2005. I bought my tickets like 3 to 4 months in advance and bought tickets for 2 other friends. That first Comic-Con day, after the Con, I ran to the Embarcadero and sat in my seat. I was highly impressed and got chills down my spine when they played the song “One-Winged Angel”, the freaking Sephiroth song! I couldn’t believe it; one of the best Final Fantasy songs ever, being played by a professional orchestra. It sounded amazing.
So my journey into looking for a CD of this series almost never ended. I was thinking in the back of my head, the Disney Concert Hall has killer acoustics, this was a ground breaking historical event; they would have to have had some professional recording equipment setup and sell a CD. My search came up “20020220 Music from Final Fantasy”, which was close, but no cigar. I even looked in Tokyo, Japan (while I was visiting relatives) in several game and music stores. We are talking about the Mecca of game soundtracks and they too did not have it! The closest thing I found in Japan was an album called “More Friends”, which was good in its own right, but it ain’t no “Dear Friends.” I also bought a DVD called “VOICES”, which was a Final Fantasy music concert in Japan. This was good also, but everything was in Japanese! I then came to the conclusion that they are never going to make a CD of this concert. What I would do next is just look up Final Fantasy Dear Friends in a Google search once about every 3 months.
Enter “Distant Worlds.” This conglomeration of the best and most memorable songs in the Final Fantasy universe is something that will get you blutterbunged. It’s like “Dear Friends” 2.0, the new and improved shit! Not only does it help you reminisce of the past Final Fantasy games, it adds its own spice and flavor to the mix.
This album came up on a shopping site when I was randomly searching for other Final Fantasy albums. I looked at it and saw that it was something that I have never seen before. This was the light at the end of the tunnel. I looked at the song list and said this is it. This is as close as its going to get. Here is a gallery of the insides of the CD album:
All the songs on the album were, of course, composed by the great Nobuo Uematsu. The music was conducted again by Arnie Roth and played by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra along with Allmanna Sangen doing the chorals. Uematsu and Roth have been together since the first major Final Fantasy tour. They both seem to discern each other very well, even though they can’t understand each other’s native language, and go together like peas and carrots. This is proof positive that music can truly become the universal Lingua Franca. “My wish is for my music to reach beyond racial, national and religious boundaries and to bring the enjoyment of music to everyone.” – Nobuo Uematsu
The album starts out with a song that just about every Final Fantasy fan is familiar with, the first song from Final Fantasy 7. It even has the famous steam sounds from the train scene at the beginning. This is when you really get the feel of how much quality of sound you are going to get for the rest of the soundtrack. You hear the crispness of the big brass section, the precision and boom of the percussion section, and the wonderful airy-ness of the woodwinds and strings. The second track is from Final Fantasy 8 and really gets your heart racing as you begin to hear the big sound of the chorus section. Then the soundtrack eases you back with some beautiful piano melodies in Aerith’s Theme. Two songs later they bring your heart back pumping with some monster fighting music that has some tight sounding xylophones and a big booming bass drum.
Towards the middle of the album they play a song called “Memoro de la Stono~Distant Worlds.” This is a song played in Final Fantasy 11. The female solo vocal is performed by a singer named Susan Calloway. You can check her out here: www.susancalloway.com Her voice is just as enchanting and adorable as her looks. She did a very awesome performance on this album and sounds absolutely flawless. She sings in an almost seductively sad mood and makes you wish that all the lullabies that put you to sleep were sung by her. There is a certain “clearness” to her voice that is just unmatched. This track is what brings the whole album just over the top. It was actually her performance on this album that jumpstarted her career as singer. Phenomenal is the only word I can think of when it comes to her voice.
After the blowout Calloway performance the album brings you back to some more old Final Fantasy memories with a medley of tunes from Final Fantasy 1-3. It begins with the familiar tones that play at the title screen of many Final Fantasy games and is played on a harp. Another song that is later played is called, “Vamo’ alla Flamenco.” The acoustic guitar played here becomes another memorable moment in the album. You can’t have a Final Fantasy soundtrack without having some type of Chocobo related music. That is exactly what Swing de Chocobo is. It’s like a Super Mario type jazz rendition of the basic clumsy chocobo song.
Another memorable moment in the album was track number 11. It’s called Opera “Maria and Draco.” I remember when I first heard this song. I was driving and the beginning sounds like some boring opera and I paid no attention. But as the song progressed I immediately recognized the melody. As soon as I parked my car, I had to look at the back of the CD case to see where it came from and sure enough I was right on the money. The song came from the opera scene in Final Fantasy 3 on the Super Nintendo ( it’s actually listed as coming from Final Fantasy 6 in the CD track listing, they were following the Japanese order of things). If you guys don’t remember the scene, here it is:
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They actually had professional opera singers sing out the lyrics that were just basic midi tones in the game. I was completely amazed.
No Final Fantasy music compilation is complete without the world famous Sephiroth song, “One-Winged Angel.” I remember when I first had to fight this end boss in FF7 and heard this song for the first time as well. It got me all nervous and sweaty and gave me the “OH SHIT!” feeling. To this day, I still get goosebumps every time I hear this song. When this song was played in the “Dear Friends” concert at the end of the event, the conductor surprised everyone by playing an encore of this song. By far this is probably the most memorable Final Fantasy song in all Final Fantasy history.
As I was doing research on this album, I found out that another Distant Worlds album was released. It was recorded January of last year. It’s called, “Distant Worlds II: More Music from Final Fantasy” and Susan Calloway is doing another song on this album as well. I will purchase this album as soon as I can.
If you are a true Final Fantasy fan, and not just a “House Gamer”, you will certainly not be disappointed in purchasing this album. You can tell the producers went to great lengths in making this a quality album. An album truly worth the wait and trust me I waited a long time for something like this. You can ask Torrence. I bothered him many a time to use his gaming connections to ask and find out if they were ever going to release the “Dear Friends” concert on CD. PLEASE DO NOT PURCHASE THE MP3 ALBUM OF THIS CD. You would be doing a grave injustice to the music and quality of this album by listening to a compressed reduction of the beautiful sounds that emanate from this CD.