Music from Final Fantasy at Powell Hall, 3/23-3/24/12: Review, Photos and Setlist

Some fans came in costume: Yuna from Final Fantasy X. - Mabel Suen
Mabel Suen
Some fans came in costume: Yuna from Final Fantasy X.

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy Powell Hall March 23 and March 24, 2012

The most interesting aspect of a Final Fantasy concert could be the audience. The orchestra was often met with thunderous applause and screaming between pieces or at the start of familiar and popular songs -- more like a rock show than a typical orchestral performance. Once the music began, the crowd was unusually quiet, wanting to soak in the sounds of their beloved games.

Since its inception in December 2007, Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy has traveled the world, sharing with audiences the grandeur and elegance of the musical scores found in the video game series. Not unlike the films of Disney or Lucas Arts, Final Fantasy has provided a fictional universe to intertwine with the childhood memories of many and has done this through the malleable art-form of video gaming.

Distant Worlds is a collaborative effort between series composer Nobuo Uematsu and Grammy Award-winning artist and composer Arnie Roth. Featuring carefully considered selections from the history of Final Fantasy, Distant Worlds carries with it a wide range of musical styles and techniques, reminding fans of accompanying scenes of despair, love, unity and betrayal.

Final Fantasy premiered on the Famicom, better known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, in the late days of December 1987. The series allows players a considerable degree of interaction with the characters and story featured therein. The Role Playing Game genre is dependent on the emotional attachment of the player -- with the limited technologies available in 1987, the creative staff behind Final Fantasy had to consider the audio just as carefully as the visual elements to convey a deep and enriching plot.

Photos were not allowed in the concert hall, but the lobby made for a vibrant scene. - Mabel Suen
Mabel Suen
Photos were not allowed in the concert hall, but the lobby made for a vibrant scene.

Composer Uematsu has been absolutely essential to the growth of the music found within the video games. It has largely been his brainchild since the first title launched in 1987, and Uematsu's innovations have been expressed through the growth of the series, from the first installment to the most recent entry, Final Fantasy XIV.

On March 23 and 24 of 2012, Uematsu and Roth, in a collaborative effort with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, brought Distant Worlds to Powell Hall. The artfully crafted atrium and the elegant layout of the building lent itself to the fantastical music of Distant Worlds.

The concert was split between two nights, and each evening had a unique set list. A few of the selections were shared on both Friday and Saturday, but the fans who attended both nights didn't seem to mind the overlap. Each performance carried a different tone, with Friday focusing on the chorus and Saturday involving more crowd participation.

Note: Hereafter, each game in the Final Fantasy series will be referred to by its Roman numeral.

Cosplayers spotted in the wild: Red Mage from Final Fantasy V (left), Setzer from Final Fantasy VI (right). - Mabel Suen
Mabel Suen
Cosplayers spotted in the wild: Red Mage from Final Fantasy V (left), Setzer from Final Fantasy VI (right).

Friday evening began with "Prelude," a recurring piece in the Final Fantasy ethos. "Prelude" was a fitting start to an aural tour of Final Fantasy, as it was the first piece one usually heard when booting up a copy of the game. The St. Louis Symphony Chorus followed "Prelude" with the first verse of "Liberi Fatali," the vocally driven title song for VIII. Although most pieces in the series share a single composer, each Final Fantasy game contains its own world, characters and mythology that rarely connects from entry to entry. In fact, II is not a sequel to the first Final Fantasy title. The music has evolved over time with the available technology, and Uematsu took a different approach to composing with each entry.

"Liberi Fatali" was followed up by the most used piece in Final Fantasy: "The Victory Theme." This jingle is an indicative piece that is triggered in the game every time the player wins a battle. Each title in the series has its own incarnation of "The Victory Theme," but the basic tune remains the same. Composer Arnie Roth introduced the song, saying that it was "the most important piece we play."

The symphony went full-steam through VIII's "Don't Be Afraid" and XI's "Memoro de la Stono-Distant Worlds," the piece from which this concert takes its name. Susan Calloway entered the stage on "Distant Worlds" for a gripping vocal performance. Calloway's guest appearance was especially striking because she has recorded with Uematsu in the past, most recently for XIV. Game footage was projected above the orchestra, providing a fitting and nostalgic backdrop. The images often served as comedic relief, showcasing the light-hearted nature of the series.

One of the night's highlights was IV's "Theme of Love," one of Uematsu's most renowned and recognizable pieces, fully arranged for orchestra. Because of market decisions, IV was released in the United States as II on the Super Nintendo and was the first game in the series to see commercial success in North America. "Theme of Love" was followed up by XI's "Ronfaure" and "Clash on the Big Bridge," a particularly memorable piece from V that featured a battle with recurring villain Gilgamesh.