Travelling to a Distant World

Sometimes, it’s hard to think of what I want to write for a blog post and at other times, it’s the opposite. Guess which one this post was? Confession time! I really don’t like the word “magical.” Perhaps it’s because I’m driven by science and logic more than belief. Maybe it’s the overuse of the word by Steve Jobs (RIP) to describe the various iProduct features which are actually just retooled tech from several years ago but I simply don’t like the word. However, if I was going to use it to describe something, perhaps what I experienced last Saturday could come close.

I posted about this way back last year, when the tickets went on sale in December 2010. That’s a long time! Regular tickets arrived for buyers months ago but mine didn’t arrive until about 2 weeks before the event.

So I splurged on the ticket and got the big VIP experience which included some of the best seats at the Royal Albert Hall and a meet and greet with the conductor, Arnie Roth and some guy named Uematsu Nobuo.

And here’s where I was seated. Probably the best set of seats for the all-round experience. Being on the floor may have gotten me closer to the stage but the sound would have been blasting out and it would have been difficult to see the screens. It’s not as great as the seats I had for the Zelda concert but the Royal Albert Hall was a very different kind of venue compared to the Hammersmith Apollo.

Sufficed to say, the place was packed. Tickets were sold out in a matter of weeks and I remember I had to sit on the phone for 20 minutes on hold to see if they had any VIP tickets available back in December!

And you could really tell that people had been looking forward to this a lot. Either that or they have never been to an orchestral concert before as there were applause and cheers while the orchestra were tuning their instruments!! Had this been at a smaller venue, I would have been tempted to shout “play freebird!!” but this wasn’t the kind of place for that. The concert was played by the same group as the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary concert, the London Philharmonic concert orchestra with vocals from the london Voices!

After that, Uematsu Nobuo came on the screen dressed up in full Japanese formalwear, you know? The kind you see the groom wear in a traditional Japanese wedding! He took a bow at the center of the stage and then walked off. After that, Arnie Roth came on stage and the concert began in earnest!

And here was the itinerary for the evening. A bit of music from every main Final Fantasy game ever released! Rather appropriately, the evening began with prelude. This took a little more significance for me as it was the very first piece of Final Fantasy music I ever heard, back when I played Final Fantasy VII for the first time. For a few minutes, I wasn’t an adult listening to a concert at the RAH, I was a young boy, sitting in a small room at my parents house, in front of a small 14″ TV, listening to the first notes from the FFVII CD as the game spun around in my PS1. (Incidentally, my brother was playing on our new N64 at the time). None of the Zelda melodies had this effect on me so it instantly set the mood and told me that this was going to be special!

After the prelude, the orchestra jumped into Liberi Fatali as the original opening video for FFVIII played on the screen. And once again, it was like I was in front of my TV again, watching the opening of the game for the first time.

Once Liberi Fatali ended, Arnie Roth then addressed the audience for the first time for the evening. He thanked us for coming and said how he was very happy that Distant Worlds had FINALLY arrived in London while cheekily plugging the fact that the concert was already scheduled to return next year!! And you can bet that I’ll be there again!! Following that, he explained that he felt that the concert really needed a special melody to be played in order for it to truly begin, a melody of just 9 notes. And I’m sure that everybody in the audience knew what he was talking about (otherwise they have no right to be there!). Yup, it was the victory theme!!

Next, something happened which was very very special to me. Arnie Roth then went on to talk about how most of the music played that evening was the work of one man and that man was with us that very evening (which we already knew) before asking us to raise our hands for Uematsu Nobuo-sensei. At this point, I think we all started clapping automatically, expecting him to appear on stage. But I was distracted by a very bright light on the left hand side of my vision. It was very distracting and I didn’t know what it was for, but tracing the path of the light, I understood very quickly. Uematsu-sensei wasn’t going to be on the stage, we was in the audience just a FEW SEATS DOWN FROM ME!!!!!!
Seriously, I could have taken a few steps to my right and I could put my hand on his shoulder!!! Out of respect for the man and the rest of the audience, I refrained from geeking out and taking photos so you’ll just have imagine it all. And he sat there throughout the whole performance!!!

Once things calmed down, the concert continued. And I think the next song, “don’t be afraid” really hit home the difference between Distant Worlds and the Zelda 25th Anniversary concert. It was the battle theme from Final Fantasy VIII and initially, there was no music at all. Just a video of the battle group making their way across the very first battle in the game. And then, when they encountered their first enemy, THEN the music began. It showed just how well the producers knew the music being played and also the level of refinement the concerts have gone through. Compared to that, the Zelda Anniversary concert felt a little hap hazardous and a little bolted together. That’s not a slight on the Zelda concert and there are some advantages to having set up like that. For example, the general tone of the Zelda concert was somewhat warmer and a little light-hearted while Distant Worlds felt rather cold and professional.  But since I am much more invested in the Final Fantasy series compared to  the Legend of Zelda, I much prefer Distant Worlds.

Aeris’ theme (you’ll have to blow my brains out and replace it with a recording before I’ll call her Aerith) was also one which touched me. Especially when they played to part on the video just before the end of Disk 1 (need I say more?). Once again, was was transported back. I remember my heart sinking as I realised that I was not getting her back into my party, I remember desperately trying to proceed through the game to get her back (and reach a save point) and I also remember that I was supposed to be leaving the house for dinner with my relatives from Hong Kong who were down for a visit while this was going on! The fact that so many of the tracks brought back so many memories is a testament to not only the power of music to reawaken our memories but just how memorable the tracks themselves were!

Things were not perfect though. Notably, there were some duff notes played on some tracks on the first half and the brass section overpowered all the other instruments in the second half, which meant that tracks like JENOVA (my personal fave for the evening) and Blinded by Light were mere shadows of what they were meant to be as you were unable to hear the string sections correctly. I may hate a lot of FFXIII with a passion but the music is definitely something which I don’t dislike so it’s a shame that the sole entry for the game didn’t get the treatment it deserved. I also heard some other complaints from other members of the audience but it all really depends on how bad your fanboy levels got. At the very least, the organisers should be applauded for playing themes such as Dancing Mad (Kelfkas theme) to take advantage of the pipe organ at the RAH (take note Nintendo: if an organ is needed, then make sure there is one to use and don’t just play badly distorted pre-recordings!!) and I know some people were happy to the point of tears when they played “eyes on me”

The end also bears worth mentioning as while they were playing Terras theme, they played an edited version of the FFVI opening (the mode 7 snowfall) with the credits changed to the staff of the concert! But, of course, what would a concert be without an Encore? After Terras theme, Uematsu Nobuo took to the stage and, after a little coaxing, he joined the London Voices and we were treated to one of the big omissions from the playlist, One Winged Angel!!!

Whew, that’s a lot of text!! And that was the end of the evening for most people, but not for me.

Firstly, there was a quick photo session with other members of the Destructoid community who were also at the event

No doubt, the number will grow for next years concert after everyone hears how brilliant it was!

And after that, I made my way to the waiting room where the meet and greet was being held. Unlike the Zelda meet, we all knew exactly what we were getting into.

First, there was FREE BOOZE!!!

We were also separated into 2 rooms. This was to help control the queue and prevent crowding as one room was where the VIP audience was to wait while the second room was where the real action was at.

We were also given  complimentary programmes for the show. Wish I knew that beforehand. I paid £5 for one first so now I have 2!

Having a closer look at the programme, the more ugly side of the professionalism of the concert becomes more apparent. The Zelda programme felt a lot better than the Distant Worlds one and it wasn’t cluttered with adverts either!

The last few pages were just ads for the play arts kai figures and FFXIII-2. Back to the event, this was the reason why people were willing to spend a lot more for the VIP tickets!

Again, the organisation was very strict, especially when compared to the zelda concert. we could only present 1 item to each person to sign (so you could have 3 items signed by 3 separately or one item signed by them all). And I asked Mr Roth about how he got started with the whole concert but the security guys kept pushing me along so he couldn’t provide a proper answer. Can’t complain too much though. We were warned about this in our letter which accompanied our tickets afterall.

As for extra swag…

I got both Distant World CDs!! Out of the 2, I prefer the second one, but only because it has JENOVA and Zanarkand, as well as the theme from Final Fantasy VII on it. I’m hoping that they make a 3rd soon. I’m sure they have enough material!

And here’s my signed programme!

A wonderful evening and one to remember for a long time. You can bet that I’ll be getting tickets to next years concert too!! It’ll be the 25th anniversary for the series as well, you know!!

An absolutely fantastic concert and one I would recommend to any Final Fantasy fan and even those who have never played one of the games before, I’m sure they’ll probably recognise something from the playlist! My only regret from the evening was that they didn’t play the Final Fantasy VII battle theme…

There’s only one thing I can think of which could top this and it’ll never happen as it’s a copyright minefield! You see, my favourite game music composer isn’t Uematsu-sensei, but rather Mitsuda Yasunori. The man who did the music for the Xeno-series of games. I would absoutely love to hear a concert of the Xenogears and Xenosaga music but that’ll probably never happen. Heck, I’d settle for a live concert of the Myth OST which was released earlier this year which contained orchestral versions of select Xenogears tracks! But for now, Distant Worlds will more than suffice. Roll on November 2012!!!


4 comments to Travelling to a Distant World

  • Pretty awesome that you stuck around to get a signed programme! I remember when I attended this, and it was absolutely breathtaking. Not as great as I had expected (I didn’t get all tingly and emotional as much as I thought I would), but incredible nonetheless.
    When they did the instrument tuning at the beginning, I was so excited! I managed to get front-row seats, so I could see everyone on stage very very clearly!

    I only have the first disc. Pretty awesome that you have that second one too! Oh do want!!

  • Well, the VIP tickets were sold pretty much on the meet and greet after the concert. The seats were good but not £160+ (~$250) good, esp when the other seats were going for around the £50 mark so not staying would have been a waste. At the very least, it ended fairly promptly, unlike the Zelda concert where I didn’t leave the venue until 1am and most of the public transport systems had closed!!

    I didn’t get emotional per se, but being able to make me reminisce about my time playing the games was pretty special. The Zelda concert definitely didn’t do that for me!
    And the first disk is pretty good but I really do prefer the second. About time they prep for a 3rd CD now, isn’t it?

  • Q

    What a night you had there! Getting to listen to the Final Fantasy music whose games you have played, and having Nobuo Uematsu sitting as audience close to your vicinity. 😮

    I remember reading programme list that is played in Canada last year and no music from FFIV is mentioned, which is a bit strange.

    Hope I will get to attend such concert one day. Don’t know the chance Hong Kong will get one in the near future, and recently after probing into concert tickets here in Hong Kong it appears that sometimes up to 50% tickets are already not available but are restricted to ‘internal people’ only, which is pretty sad and have to force people to resort to acquiring tickets through reselling or some relationships.

    The way how FFVIII footage comes as an introduction of some sort the boss music piece to set up the atmosphere, as well as bringing a bit of humour there. The organisers have thought it well there. And getting to have your programme signed makes this memorable night you’ve got there!

  • You are right there, Q! It really was quite the evening! They did make quite the hubbub about there being some music from each main final fantasy game in the London concert, even though they really focused on FFVII and VIII.

    It’s really bad to hear about the ticket thing in HK, but I can’t say I’m surprised… I think that practice is everywhere to a certain degree but 50% is ridiculously excessive, especially since you have to wonder if those “internal people” know the game series enough to enjoy it as much as others more familiar with the game might.
    Well, if you want to visit London around mid november next year, you could always check out the next concert! I’m definitely going to go again!!

    They way they combine the footage and the music really shows that they know what the concert is all about and they are old pros at this by now. By comparison, the the Zelda concert feels a little slapped together and could have done with some refinement!

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