In a time when travel is challenging amid the pandemic, it was more than welcome to have Distant Worlds, the Final Fantasy symphony orchestra concert tour, visit San Francisco for performances on April 15 and 16 at Davies Symphony Hall. Since its inception over 30 years ago, the Final Fantasy series has offered players 15 core games with not only various stories and characters, but also memorable and emotive music. Under the direction of Arnie Roth, the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Symphony Chorus took attendees on a musical journey through the various worlds of Final Fantasy, accompanied by HD video and imagery from the games.
The night began with one of the most iconic pieces of video game music, “Prelude.” The ascending and descending melody instantly silenced audience members, initially buzzing with audible excitement, and arrested their attention. Then, the symphony and choir swept attendees away with the powerful music and fast rhythm of “Liberi Fatali” from Final Fantasy VIII. Rounding off the opening pieces with the signature Final Fantasy Victory Theme, the performers earned enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
Showcasing music from the latest installment of the series, Final Fantasy XV, the symphony performed “Ignis and Ravus Theme Medley,” which featured battle gameplay of Ignis to match the music’s intensity and cut scenes of Ravus and Luna to complement the shift to more emotional music. The concert also celebrated music from earlier games in the franchise such as Final Fantasy IV’s “Battle with the Four Fiends.” The dynamic and punchy piece was well accompanied by original concept art by Yoshitaka Amano, known for his unique and striking style.
While video games tend to bring battle music to mind, the concert also dedicated time to its more sentimental pieces like Final Fantasy X’s “To Zanarkand,” which was a beautiful blend of instruments that came together so harmoniously with every swell in the music. When “Aerith’s Theme” played, long-time Final Fantasy VII fans were delighted to see the delicate piece paired with videos of Aerith from the original game. The choir had its moments to shine as well. It took center stage with a vocal-only performance, “Hymn of the Fayth,” enchanting the audience with their soothing harmonies. Also, a soloist with vibrant vocals opened Final Fantasy XIV’s “Heavensward” that set the symphony up to launch into the grand and uplifting music.
No Final Fantasy concert is complete without two things: a Chocobo medley and Final Fantasy VII’s “One Winged Angel.” Performing the “Chocobo Medley 2012,” which includes “Choc-A-Bye-Baby,” “Mambo de Chocobo,” and Pulse de Chocobo,” never fails to charm the audience when the adorable large yellow birds appear on onscreen, and the upbeat tune is punctuated by the choir grunting or spelling out Chocobo in unison. As for a different kind of charming, “One Winged Angel” is the perfect, and possibly the only way, to end a Final Fantasy concert. As the theme song for Sephiroth, who is one of the most beloved video game villains, it’s intense, menacing and above all, thrilling. There’s nothing else like experiencing it live in concert, when the symphony and choir perform in tandem with the crowd enthusiastically chanting Sephiroth’s name as the night comes to an end, leaving the audience on a high and ready for another adventure. With Final Fantasy’s large repertoire of music, there’s still a lot more worlds to explore out there.
Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony