Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds III -More Music from Final Fantasy-
Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds III -More Music from Final Fantasy-
January 21, 2015
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Since 2004, music from the Final Fantasy series has been performed in concert settings, beginning with the Tour de Japon under conductor Arnie Roth. Final Fantasy concert music reached international concert halls in 2005 with its Dear Friends concert tour (and later a sequel concert tour .0), also under the baton of Arnie Roth. Roth has since moved on to the latest major Final Fantasy concert series Distant Worlds, which has been performed in four continents and has been recorded for CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray. The album for the most recent concert tour, Distant Worlds III, has revamped some old Final Fantasy themes as well as added some brand-new ones to the mix.
The album opens with an unusual arrangement of “Hymn of the Fayth / Yuna’s Sending” from Final Fantasy X. The arrangement is an interesting one; while it opens with several iterations of the hymn (which, in the original game, is sung at all vocal levels at various points from bass to soprano to full chorus), it quickly becomes something more pandiatonic, with frequent fourths, sevenths, and ninths peppering the piece more and more as it continues. The resulting arrangement is much edgier harmonically than its original renditions. On some level, I am unsure if the arrangement works due to some of the specific clashing sounds (does each dissonance work? How many parallel chords is too many?), but on the other hand the unusual selection is refreshing, and hearing the piece in a full symphonic setting, albeit a choir-heavy setting, is wonderful.
I was mildly amused at seeing both “Character Medley” and “Balance is Restored” from Final Fantasy VI on the album, as in the game, “Balance is Restored” (or the ending theme of the game) is essentially a 20+ minute long character medley of every playable character in the game (with the Final Fantasy Main Theme tacked on at the end). However, the two tracks were solidly separate. “Character Medley” features a thematic blend of the major characters in the game. Opening with “Terra’s Theme” (which doubles as the overworld theme in FFVI), the orchestra gives a simple and straightforward rendition of the main protagonist’s iconic theme before decrescendoing into the dark and sinister “Kefka’s Theme,” representing the main antagonist of the game. “Celes’ Theme” follows (unusual for Distant Worlds, which has usually stuck with some rendition of the “Aria De Mezzo Carraterre,” essentially the vocalized “Celes’ Theme”) — hearing it in its instrumental setting is nice break from the usual “Aria” which, while immensely enjoyable in the setting of a live orchestra, has already been featured in the first two Distant Worlds concerts. The medley then combines “Celes’ Theme” with “Locke’s Theme” before transitioning completely into the more traditionally heroic “Locke’s Theme,” a trick used in the original ending theme of the game. The medley is very straightforward, but welcome, particularly from a game with such a massive cast of characters.
“Balance is Restored” takes the character themes and the main theme out of the ending music for Final Fantasy VI and essentially plays what’s left; and it works. I have to admit that this was one of my favorite tracks in the original game — all 21 minutes of it — and I was surprised and delighted to discover that it got some attention this time around. VI has such an memorable array of music in its score, so I would have been happy hearing nearly any song from the soundtrack represented in this concert. The resulting arrangement of “Balance is Restored” (which subtracts about fifteen minutes from its original arrangement) is triumphant, taking snippets of various character themes, particularly Locke’s and Terra’s, and creating an original piece of music in the game that lives up to any other track in the score. Unfortunately, since the music takes place largely during the end credits, it’s not quite as frequently listened to or remembered as some of the other pieces, which is why I was so satisfied with its inclusion in the Distant Worlds concert.
“Balamb Garden – Ami” is a concert adaptation of the Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec album, which was a treat to hear live — particularly the former in this mashup of themes that was, perhaps, more sugary than the rest of the tracks on the album. “Balamb Garden” is one of those themes that remains a major in-game motif from the beginning to the end of the game, so much so that when I played the game in college, my non-gaming roommate would get it stuck in her head for days on end. The theme is steadfastly unadorned, simply the last three notes of a descending major scale, and translates well to orchestra, sounding at times like something out of Jeremy Soule’s Oblivion atmospheres. The second half of the mash-up, “Ami,” was one I didn’t enjoy quite as much. It has a more complex melody, filled with delicate accidentals and dotted notes, and I found that it took away from the tranquil simplicity of “Balamb Garden”. Listening to the increased complexity of “Ami,” I found myself constantly wanting to return to the first half of the piece. Just before the mash-up ends, the three descending notes of “Balamb Garden” return, playing three times, and ending with a finite major chord.
One of my favorite returning themes was “Not Alone,” a kind of pseudo-battle theme from Final Fantasy IX (although the style of the piece may suggest otherwise). IX has always been one of my all-time favorite soundtracks in terms of its varied musicality – while soundtracks over a couple of discs long often run out of novel themes and ideas halfway through the score, “Not Alone” is an extremely strong variation of one of the first themes on the first disc. While this arrangement from Shiro Hamaguchi previously featured in Tour de Japon, it is gratifying to see it featured in Distant Worlds III. The concert also features a large, sweeping orchestral arrangement of “Roses of May,” originally a simple and light piano melody that later turns into a spirited battle theme. The nature of the melody changes significantly from the original game’s rendition, becoming far more grandiose through a slow but full set of strings, and has a much more stately affect as a result. The piece is well-executed, and I loved the thought put into the theme of a character who, despite their strong role in the game (and strong musical theme), is only rarely acknowledged. Because IX has such a myriad of themes, it is a fitting score to include two different orchestral themes from in the concert series.
From Final Fantasy XIV, alongside the returning “Answers” (sung again by Susan Calloway, who also performs “Kiss me Goodbye” from Final Fantasy XII), the primal battle theme for Ifrit made its first appearance in the orchestral concert setting. The piece is easily the most dramatic on the whole album, opening with an apocalyptic, scale, featuring a choir descending chromatically until soli strings enter with a jarring pattern, almost battling with the vocals for center stage. The main motif of this piece is the harmonic minor scale which is repeated in almost every section of the boss battle theme. There is no attempt to be subtle with the intensity of “Primal Judgement” — even the held-out chords are accented with snare drum and every harmonic scale rises to meet yet another descending harmonic minor pattern. As blatant as this piece is with its force, it unquestionably succeeds in its game-to-live-orchestra transition, a feat with which Distant Worlds has struggled with reaching on more than one occasion.
Distant Worlds III brings another wonderful installment of Final Fantasy music to the concert hall, and its quality has not diminished since its first concert. The most successful and invigorating tracks on this albums were the new ones — while the returning favorites like “Chocobo Medley” and “Battle Medley” make logistical sense, I keep returning to this series to see what other memorable themes and arrangements have been added to the score, not to hear the repeats of (very well arranged) old favorites. I am very much looking forward to future Distant Worlds concerts and curious to see what Arnie Roth and Uematsu have next in store.
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Posted on April 28, 2015 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on January 17, 2016.