Final Fantasy and I have had a love/hate relationship over the last 25 years. As I kid, I became something of a connoisseur of the series. In the mid nineties, my Friday nights were spent grinding through the hardest dungeons, fighting and battling until my legion became the biggest bunch of badasses since, well... the last game. As I have gotten older, the sequels have seemed to miss their mark (VII is overrated: Yes, I said it).
Plot points aside, the music has always remained strong, so when conductor Arnie Roth led the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Chorus in "Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy" and the Meyerson Symphony Center on Friday, I joined my gaming brethren in the audience. The concert showcased the works of composers Nobuo Uematsu, a living god of the franchise with 13 main title games under his belt, and Masashi Hamauzu who composed the score for Final Fantasy XIII. I still don't know why they named it "Distant Worlds," the worlds were only as far as my living room whenever I wanted to explore them, but I digress.
The resulting combination of conductor Arnie Roth and the soundtrack of my geek youth was a dork's most glorious wet dream. Five things in particular stood out for me.
#5 Victory Fanfare done right. At the very beginning of the concert, Roth went through the pre-performance formalities. Because I'm an intern and don't want to miss anything, I took down notes on everything like an overachieving elementary student. Then Roth announced that there was only one way to start the show and cued the orchestra. Dun-dun-da-dun-dun-da-dun-dun-dun! They played the most epic version of the victory theme I've ever heard. Joyously startled, I thought: "Did I just win at notetaking?" For a tune that lasted only 6 seconds, and is all of 9 notes, I've never had anything make me feel so accomplished while having done nothing at all.
#4. Special Guests Friday's concert had two special guests in attendance. The first being vocalist Susan Calloway, who was personally chosen by Uematsu to do vocals for Final Fantasy XIV (are you getting tired of roman numerals yet?). Calloway lent her voice to the performances of "Blessed by Light," "Kiss Me Goodbye," "Eyes on Me," and "Suteki Da Ne". I would have personally preferred to hear Suteki done in Japanese, but ... sorry, my nerd side is showing.
The second guest of the evening was Final Fantasy XIII composer Masashi Hamauzu. Fun fact: Hamauzu got his start in the Final Fantasy franchise by singing in the chorus for "One-winged Angel" in Final Fantasy VII. What would seem like a pointless fact ripe for Trivial Pursuit boomeranged as Hamauzu joined the chorus for the encore of "One-Winged Angel." The geek love from the audience was palpable.
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#3 Old-School Final Fantasy Gets a Nod. As I said in the beginning, the more recent entries into franchise have left me scratching my head, lost in reminiscence for the retro titles in the series. I was pleasantly surprised to see Roth conjure songs from the games of my youth. Included in the set were "Theme of Love" (IV), "Battle at the Big Bridge" (V), and "Terra's theme" (VI). It was refreshing to see these pieces get the honor that they could not receive at the time of their original release due to then, technological limitations. My only problem with this was the omission of "Aria di Mezzo Carattere" from VI, which has been performed in the concert series in the past. Come on, it practically screams for the orchestra treatment. What gives?
#2 The Meyerson Unleashed Its Inner Nerd Friday night was an odd combination of crowds at the Meyerson. Suit-and-tie wearing orchestra types sat beside teenage fanboys who wore little more than t-shirts and shorts. Only during a Final Fantasy concert can you see cosplayers at the Meyerson. It was refreshing to see the venue open itself up for a crowd that normally wouldn't be at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I can only hope this leads to more concerts like it in the future.
#1 You Got Art in my Video Games. The orchestrated renditions of some of the songs brought life to a few that weren't as impressive in their original versions. A special nod must be given to "You're not alone" from Final Fantasy IX, which was decent, but not amazing in the original game. However, under Roth, this song was one of the best of the show. Also of note was "Swing de Chocobo". For those who have not had their geek cards stamped yet, the chocobo is more-or-less the mascot for the entire franchise. Take an ostrich and combine it with a chicken, and you have a chocobo. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra took the normally simple theme and turned it into a jazzy swing number. Yes, the orchestra did a jazz song about a flightless bird (I see nothing wrong with this at all) and made it epic. Performances like this and the DSO's recent Legend of Zelda concert last January are great because they prove there's a growing acceptance of video game music legitimacy in more high-art circles.
I would also like to give an honorable mention to a certain gentleman who chose the middle of the concert to pop the question. After "The Theme of Love" was performed, Roth announced that there was an announcement to be made: four important words crossed the oversized video screen: "Will You Marry Me?" I can't think of a better geek proposal to save my life. Neither could the crowd. Thank you, sir, wherever you are, for ensuring future generations of geeks to come.