By Ted AYALA
There are few things that really unite the increasingly fractured fan-base for Final Fantasy, Square-Enix’s ironically deathless video game series which is in its 14th installment – and that’s not counting its numerous spin-offs. An Internet Verdun has been drawn-up in various online forums by the partisans of different games in this continually evolving series. Friendships are lost, family members turn against each other on debates whether Final Fantasy VII is indeed the greatest JRPG ever made, or if the earlier installments for Nintendo remain superior, the artistry of Yoshitaka Amano as opposed to Tetsuya Nomura, or whether the series’ MMORPG installments are the worst thing to ever happen to the series. But one thing that will bring all these parties together in agreement is Nobuo Uemtasu, the games’ long-running composer and one of the most respected composers for video games today.
Uematsu’s following internationally borders on the frenzied, with many people buying games solely on the basis of his contribution. His music, haunting and unforgettable, has won acclaim ever since the days of the NES. Uematsu was one of the few composers that could make real music from the (by today’s standards) primitive music chips he had to work for. Even in the early days, there was a scope to his music that seemed to call for a grander treatment. In comes “Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds,” a symphonic celebration of Uematsu’s art.
Comprising mostly of members from the San Diego Symphony, the Distant Worlds Philharmonic under the charismatic and energetic direction of Arnie Roth brought the music from these games to life, allowing them to develop and build into self contained musical structures.
Surveying selections from every game in the main series, Distant Worlds brought a sensation of almost holy communion among the Final Fantasy laity. Dazzling and solid arrangements of Uemtasu’s music, played in tandem with some of the most dramatic scenes from the games, left an aura of hushed awe in UCLA’s Royce Hall over Sept. 9 and Sept. 10.
Whether it was Dancing Mad, the demented church-organ finale to Final Fantasy VI, a medley of tunes from the first three games, or the complex expressions of the more recent games, the reaction was the same: wild approbation.
When the composer himself appeared on stage playing the organ in duo with Arnie Roth’s solo violin in a sensitively restrained and telling arrangement of the Dark World track from Final Fantasy VI, the din in the hall was almost overwhelming.
But the roof nearly blew off when Roth announced some of the evening’s guests that were sitting in the hall: programmer and Square-Enix executive Hiromichi Tanaka and the series’ creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, who has since left Square-Enix to found his own company Mistwalker.
Uemtasu’s music, as presented by Distant Worlds, showed that it was more than capable of standing on its own away from the games that were their inspiration. Video game music has long ceased being merely nothing more than digital beeps and tweets. Great, powerful, and melodious music, on par with anything being composed today for film and the concert stage, has found a home on this still emerging medium. With their faultless and brilliant playing, the musicians of Distant Worlds clearly showed that this is music worthy of the attention of any discerning listener of fine music, not just video game fans.