Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY at Otakon 2018

live report - 16.10.2018 01:01

The Distant Worlds event at Otakon was a rare and welcome treat for fans as they were presented with not one, but two special performances during the convention weekend.

The Distant Worlds event at Otakon was a rare and welcome treat for fans as they were presented with not one, but two special performances during the convention weekend. Friday’s Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY show was definitely one of the most highly anticipated events, with VIP packages completely sold out and fans lining up three hours early to secure their seats for the performance. The halls of the convention center were completely abuzz with excited chatter while people took the opportunity to purchase official merchandise and waited for the event to begin.

When doors opened the long, orderly lines quickly filed in and every seat in the hall was taken as Otakon reached its maximum capacity, eventually having to close off the room. The orchestra settled into their sections, and then finally music director Arnie Roth and composer Nobuo Uematsu were welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation. After giving quick waves and bows to everyone in the room, Roth took the center platform and Uematsu took his seat in the audience as the performance began.

The concert opened with a calm atmosphere and a brightly lit stage, as the chorus gradually joined in while video clips from “FINAL FANTASY” played across the screens. FINAL FANTASY SERIES: Prelude FINAL FANTASY VIII: Liberi Fatali eased the audience into the Distant Worlds experience, followed immediately by the FINAL FANTASY Victory Theme as the tempo quickly increased while a 30th anniversary logo and battle scenes were displayed to accompany the music.

After the first two arrangements, Arnie Roth took a moment to address the audience with a warm introduction, “Welcome to Distant Worlds, and welcome Distant Worlds to Otakon! Thank you for having us,” and the audience erupted in loud cheers before he continued. “Not sure everyone knows, but this is another premiere. This is our first actual performance at a convention! My congratulations to Otakon for pulling it off. Thank you Otakon. I’m thrilled to be here with you. I have to tell you that this last year has been all kinds of different milestones and anniversaries. The biggest one of course, the 30th anniversary of ‘FINAL FANTASY’!” At this announcement, the room once again lit up with applause. Once it quieted down, he continued, “I wonder if you know, that we also have a special anniversary – the 10th anniversary of Distant Worlds!” More cheering followed.

As Roth continued, cameras panned to the audience where Nobuo Uematsu was seated. “The most thrilling thing about being here is that we have our great colleague, friend, and mentor. He was here from the beginning, he’s the reason there is a Distant Worlds... Nobuo Uematsu is here! He can’t get out to many of these, so thank you Nobuo-san for coming out, especially to Otakon!” Uematsu responded with a smile and nods of gratitude as the fans continued to honor him.

Roth then went on to acknowledge other distinguished guests in the audience, including colleagues from SQUARE ENIX and Dog Ear Records, and proceeded to introduce the Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra and Distant Worlds Chorus.

“In our next segment we’re going to play a new arrangement […] this one is Cosmo Canyon from ‘FFVII’. But before that, we love ‘FFVI’. A few years ago Nobuo-san was particularly interested in doing a little salute to ‘FFVI’. We did many new arrangements and we wanted to bring one of them here, so we’ll start with the Character Theme Medley from ‘FFVI’.”

The room quieted and the stage slightly dimmed as the FINAL FANTASY VI: Character Theme Medley began. Its cheerful and light composition slowly built up to a playfully intense sound as various castle scenes from “FFVI” were featured on the screen. The orchestra was directed right into FINAL FANTASY VII: Cosmo Canyon, lead with heavy percussions, cheery strings, and light woodwinds as the stage lighting intensified along with the music.

Arnie Roth then took a moment to introduce the next piece, starting with the question, “How many are playing ‘FFXIV’? We brought to you tonight a medley that was put together by Masayoshi Soken, composer for ‘XIV’. We have a wonderful soprano solo to begin with as part of that. This is HEAVENSWARD.”

A muted piano and a delicate soprano solo opened the arrangement against a somber, snowy visual, and the soloist’s voice climbed beautifully high, sending chills down everyone’s spine. The orchestra then made a booming entrance into the piece as the rest of the choir joined in with a background melody. Towards the end, the percussion and chorus sections brought the instrumentation to a climax with a hurried drum cadence and a dramatic crescendo of vocals as an intense dragon battle played across the screens.

After that energetic conclusion, Roth picked up the microphone again. “Thank you so much! We do need to do some classics, right? In our next segment, a piece we love to come back to from ‘FFIV’, an Uematsu composition, Theme of Love. And how many ‘FFIX’ players do we have?” The audience responded with a cheer. “So, we’re going to start with this from ‘IX’, Not Alone.”

An exciting, stormy boat scene kicked off the arrangement, and the audience members couldn’t help but watch the captivating display as the music cheerily played along in the background. After a brief moment of applause, Theme of Love began, and fans seemed completely enchanted by the theatrical video playing along as the melodramatic composition progressed.

Roth wasted no time in introducing the next song, leading in with another question to the audience, “How many of us are playing ‘FFXIV’ now? We were excited to have Yoko Shimomura with us when we were at Carnegie Hall last, and tonight we’re going to play something from XV for you, Apocalypsis Noctis!

The song started off passionately, building up to an even more intense level as the orchestra vigorously played. Though much shorter than previous arrangements, the audience was absolutely astonished by the ferocity of the music, offering a standing ovation that the orchestra acknowledged with a bow.

“You know that ‘FFVII’ remake that’s coming up?” Roth began, “In this next segment, we’re going to play something from ‘FFVII’ with some surprises in it – the Opening – Bombing Mission from ‘FFVII’. But before I get to that, let me ask you a question. How many versions of the Chocobo Theme do you think there are?” The crowd laughed at his question. “There might be a thousand… there might be ten thousand maybe?” He proceeded to explain the various versions of the Chocobo Theme and how a few of them came about. Before closing his remarks he promised another unique version of the song for Sunday’s A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY show, featuring a ukulele. “There’s so many versions, and during the 25th anniversary we put together this medley, and it turned out to be extremely popular. I mean, Chocobo’s a popular character right? So please enjoy Chocobo Medley!”

As the music began, fans were immediately drawn to the screens as baby Chocobos appeared. A collective “awww” resounded through the room, followed by laughter at various scenes of Chocobos growing up. More sounds of amusement filled the room as the orchestra began playing in a traditional marching band style, and the choir shouted out the letters “C-H-O-C-O-B-O” in a cheer. The audience couldn’t help but chuckle and join in on the fun, loudly clapping and whistling when the arrangement finished.

Shortly after, FINAL FANTASY VII: Opening – Bombing Mission quietly began, steadily increasing the tension as the screens started to depict a rather dramatic action scene. The drums and brass sections perfectly complemented the action-packed display, and the audience was left completely awed as the performance intensified.

“When we began this quest, Distant Worlds bringing music from ‘FINAL FANTASY’ around the globe, one of the things that we decided was that at every official ‘FINAL FANTASY’ concert, there were a couple of classics that really belonged in each one,” Roth stated. “And what we’re going to play next is one of them, from ‘FFX’, the beautiful Zanarkand. And after that, we’re going to do a battle medley for you. This was another one that came out of the 25th anniversary. We love it so much […] and I’m happy to play them for you. But first, from ‘FFX’ the beautiful Zanarkand.”

The audience was softly lulled into the serene sounds and alluring visuals from ‘FFX’, before jumping into the abundantly triumphant tone of the FINAL FANTASY SERIES: Battle & Victory Theme Medley. The stage lighting changed dramatically with the music and fans reacted to the thrilling battle scenes with gasps, nods, and various facial expressions ranging from surprise to apprehension. Thunderous applause and praise ensued at the conclusion of the energetic composition.

As credits slowly began to roll across the screens, the FINAL FANTASY Series Main Theme was performed, and once it finished fans gave a long standing ovation, wildly cheering as Roth, Uematsu, and the orchestra and choir were acknowledged for a few moments before everyone departed from the stage.

For the encore, Nobuo Uematsu was invited back to the stage to express his appreciation for the musicians and the audience, and to join Arnie Roth for one last song. After teaching everyone three special notes and the word that accompanied them, Uematsu requested, “More, I want more!”

The audience sang even louder until he was satisfied with their short rehearsal, then he joined the choir section to perform under Roth’s direction. Much to the delight of Uematsu and the orchestra, everyone was extremely enthusiastic in their task, chanting out their assigned notes for “Sephiroth” whenever Roth spun around to direct the crowd at the appropriate moment. Once the intense, fan-accompanied rendition of FINAL FANTASY VII: One-Winged Angel concluded, the entire room erupted with praise.

Overall, the performance went above and beyond expectations as fans continued to cheer and express how emotional they felt over the experience long after the guests of honor departed from the stage. Murmurs of “absolutely sensational”, “outstanding performance”, and “beyond expectations” were heard as people filed out of the hall, while many others were left speechless and had to take a moment to collect themselves outside the doors. The Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY performance was truly a unique experience, and an outstanding milestone for both Distant Worlds and Otakon.

Set list

01. FINAL FANTASY SERIES: Prelude FINAL FANTASY VIII: Liberi Fatali
02. FINAL FANTASY Victory Theme
03. FINAL FANTASY VI: Character Theme Medley
04. FINAL FANTASY VII: Cosmo Canyon
05. FINAL FANTASY XIV: HEAVENSWARD
06. FINAL FANTASY IX: Not Alone
07. FINAL FANTASY IV: Theme of Love
08. FINAL FANTASY XV: Apocalypsis Noctis
09. FINAL FANTASY SERIES: Chocobo Medley 2012
10. FINAL FANTASY VII: Opening – Bombing Mission
11. FINAL FANTASY X: Zanarkand
12. FINAL FANTASY SERIES: Battle & Victory Theme Medley
13. FINAL FANTASY Series Main Theme

Encore

01. FINAL FANTASY VII: One-Winged Angel
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