Final Fantasy, a franchise that does not understand the meaning of final, has been around for three decades already. And within that three decades, the franchise has already released 15 main game titles with more to come in time!
One thing Final Fantasy can be known for is their music. Thus, the birth of Distant Worlds, an orchestral performance playing soundtracks across different Final Fantasy titles. Under the wings of Arnie Roth (music director and conductor) and the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, the man who started it all, they have been touring around the world sharing with us spectacular arrangements for almost 12 years!
It is without a doubt that Final Fantasy is one of the greatest investments by Square Enix. Likewise, one of our greatest investments too.
I grew up alongside Final Fantasy since I was 8 thanks to the influence of my elder brother (bless him!) with Final Fantasy 8 being my first exposure from start to finish. From there on, I started fostered a love for the series especially when it came to the PS1 era titles (Final Fantasy 6, 7, 8 and 9).
Hours spent on grinding, completing the game, reading up lore and backstory of each character was the epitome of my childhood gaming days. I even picked up piano just to play the soundtracks with my very own fingers.
Then Distant Worlds came to the limelight. I still remember being disheartened when it was only available in Singapore and not in KL and even when it came to KL in the later years, I was still too young to go. So, Distant Worlds has always been in the corner of my eyes growing up and now I finally had the chance to witness it in person!
For starters, I’ve never been to an actual orchestra, especially one held in the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas before, so everything felt new to me. The official merchandise sales were tempting, but as a college student, I couldn’t afford to pay 150+ for any of their CDs. Heck, I couldn’t even bring myself to spend on their official T-shirt which was RM84.
The seats I got with my friends were at the Upper Circle (the cheapest!) and it was actually in a nice location. It had an overview of the whole orchestra and the screen was placed nicely at eye-level. The sound reached our area nicely too.
When the prelude started playing, I was hit with a strong wave of nostalgia. I remember thinking, “I’m not dreaming. I’m finally here. This is really happening.” Tears started to build up and I was just so touched by everything; the video montage, the raw melody itself and just being there.
Throughout the orchestra, the conductor Arnie Roth interacted with the audience prompting us to cheer if we were fans of certain titles right before the piece and making cheeky little comments on how Square Enix should hurry up with the release of Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
Out of all the pieces played that night, a few pieces left a good impression on me. First, the Chocobo Medley. The video that was played was filled with cute cutscenes of our favourite yellow bird and it was even in sync with the choir. The upbeat piece got me silently tapping to its rhythm.
Second, Aerith’s Theme. The classic theme that brought, yet again, tears to my eyes. It was beautiful, and paired together with the video that showed her not-so spoiler death, I had that bittersweet feeling of nostalgia building inside me.
It was the same for the third piece, the Ignis and Ravus theme medley. I could hear the lines King Regis told Ignis in my mind when the music started, as it was the same as the trailer for Final Fantasy XV: Episode Ignis. The scenes shared between Luna and Ravus during Ravus’s part in the medley just made me tear up again.
Arnie told us that night, in every Distant Worlds, there are 2 songs that have to be played no matter what. One of it is Final Fantasy X’s To Zanarkand. The other one had such an impact, we even had a short singing class for us to sing along! It was none other than the One Winged Angel.
It was played as an encore and certainly a great way to end the show. We were asked to sing along whenever Sephiroth’s name appeared in the song by the conductor. He even conducted the audience’s singing! A grand finale befitting of the esteemed Sephiroth.
In a nutshell, I teared up a lot. After all, my entire childhood revolved around these fictional characters. I grew up idolizing some of them, as cringey as it may sound, and learned a lot of life lessons from the games I’ve played. The whole 2 hour plus experience went by so fast, the whole thing felt like less than an hour – and I want more!
On the other hand, the downside of it was that they chose many soundtracks that were more mainstream, causing certain pieces to be overshadowed. As an example, 6 pieces (inclusive of a part in the medley and encore) from Final Fantasy VII were played throughout the orchestra while there was only one piece played from Final Fantasy IX.
So, if you’re a fan of the less mainstream titles, a.k.a not Final Fantasy VII, you might be a little unsatisfied. But, even if you are unfamiliar with certain titles, you can still enjoy the masterpiece composed and arranged for this occasion. I still enjoyed songs from Final Fantasy XIV despite not hearing it beforehand.
As a Final Fantasy fan, if you have the chance, please check out Distant Worlds the next time it comes around. It will certainly not disappoint!