By Thomas J. Allen
Somebody’s getting laid tonight. The stage is set at the Wolf Trap Theatre. A midsummer night’s breeze. The breathless art of Yoshitaka Amano. The operatic and emotional themes of composer Nobuo Uematsu. Cosplayers safely locked away so as not to destroy the high class ambiance. Guys grinning from ear to ear as they guide their clueless little Chocobos through the aisles to their seats. Tonight will be a night of beautiful scoring.
Final Fantasy is in concert! The show, titled “Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy,” is produced and conducted by Arnie Roth, a name that deserves to be chanted with the likes of Sephiroth, the most popular Final Fantasy tune that is also conspicuously absent from the program. That is, until Arnie saves the day with a last-minute “extra” performance foreshadowed by the disclaimer “Program subject to change.” This would not be the last surprise of the evening.
Grammy-winner Roth has the energy and enthusiasm of any Final Fantasy fan. He bounds through the program with youthful joy, fully appreciative of the importance of Final Fantasy and its impact on generations of game players.
In its twenty year history, the worlds of Final Fantasy have become so large that one could imagine college courses devoted to their study, where students and professors clash over their favorites just as Star Wars provokes a generational divide over favored trilogies.
With Final Fantasy, the younger generation of fans appears to have won, with only one selection from Final Fantasy VI listed in the program, and not the one I would expect. I sat through the concert feeling old and forgotten.
Though the new generation of fans began with Final Fantasy VII, the older generation has endured the series’ exploration of science-fiction, most memorably executed in Final Fantasy VIII, when both generations seemed to be satisfied most. Still, despite IX’s throwback to the series’ medieval roots, the older generation has never found the bounty of music and story seen in VI.
Final Fantasy VIII makes an impressive showing in the concert. Liberi Fatali, the game’s opening theme set against visuals of tides and winds, avoids the original in-game text by intercutting quick shots of speeding trains. It works.
From the same game we get the Don’t Be Afraid battle theme, Fisherman’s Horizon, and The Man with the Machine Gun. From IX, Vamo’alla Flamenco is performed. From X, Zanarkand. From XI, Ronfaure and Memoro de la Stono. Surprises include selections from XIII and XIV. Yes, XIV.
Final Fantasy is a wonder of the modern world. Each game explores a unique world of pure fantasy with unadulterated explosions of art and music. The Roman numerals of each title do not represent sequels as much as they represent the number of 60-hour epic journeys where no man has gone before. Saving the world never gets tired when each time we are saving a whole new world.
If this world is as playful as it could be, the last Final Fantasy game will have us saving the world we know, exploring different fantasy visions of our world as seen through Jews, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, mercenaries, royalty, isolationists, globalists, hermits, inventors, motorheads, gays, and Sesame Street’s own Chocobo, Big Bird. Sound goofy? Take another look at the series’ past.
Humor aside, the closest comparison to Final Fantasy for the benefit of neophytes might be Star Trek, which may explain the amusing attempts of festival conductor Emil de Cou to put this “fascinating” concert in perspective, complete with the cliché line that “long gone are the electronic bleeps and blops of Frogger and Donkey Kong.”
The next night, during the “Video Games Live” (VGL) PBS special, composer Tommy Tallarico acknowledged the same bleeps but gave props to the oft-overlooked “bloops.” The “blops” were as rightfully forgotten as Nolan Bushnell’s “contribution” to Ralph Baer’s pioneering of early electronic games. LOL.
Though not as polished as VGL’s video editing, Distant Worlds uses video very effectively. While live shots of orchestra members would have gone a long way, the game video capably reflects the mood of the music. The Chocobo video drew lots of laughs, and the performance of Opera Maria was perhaps the first time heard in English for many ears.
The final surprise of the evening was a rendition of Terra’s theme (from VI), correcting the gravest of injustices. One wonders who vets these videos, because an odd shot of the character Shadow had nothing to do with the rest of the Terra montage.
The end of the night was as sad as Aerith’s theme, played earlier. The cars dispersed from the hills of the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Fans surely extended the experience listening to freshly purchased Final Fantasy concert CD’s while wading through traffic, and finely dressed youngsters surely convinced their tag-along friends, dates, and families of their sophisticated taste. Mission accomplished.
Count me among the convinced, even if we disagree over the best of the best of Final Fantasy.