I had the privilege of attending a special performance of Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy last night here at San Diego Comic-Con 2010. It was held outdoors, at San Diego's Embarcadero waterfront venue, on a lovely, cool evening. The concert was completely sold out, as you'd expect at an event as large as Comic-Con, but I don't think anyone in the audience was prepared for all the surprises the concert had in store.
Composer Nobuo Uematsu showed up and sat in the audience with the fans. Beyond that, over twenty Square Enix staff members from Japan were also in the audience. Conductor Arnie Roth said that he had a special line-up prepared for his guests, and he wasn't kidding!
First off, know that there's plenty of new songs in the line-up for Distant Worlds. Now that the second CD has been released, I was expecting to hear some of the new pieces performed live. They did not disappoint on this. One of the best was "Jenova," from Final Fantasy VII. This arrangement was very cool, with a drummer on a trap set keeping a very fast tempo. Slick brass and fancy choir work make this arrangement quite different from the original, but it turned out to be a crowd pleaser. Another new piece was a very short treat: In between longer songs, the "Victory Theme" you'd likely know from every Final Fantasy game was inserted.
The first of many special treats was a vocal performance for the concert's namesake, Final Fantasy XI's "Distant Worlds." After this we were treated to a tribute to Final Fantasy XIII. The presentation opened with speech from the voice actress that played Vanille, and continued with composer Masashi Hamauzu's "The Promise" and "Fang's Theme," both of which were fantastic. This whole presentation was set to video that was pieced together from footage from the latest Final Fantasy game.
The surprises continued with a first look (and listen!) of Final Fantasy XIV. New footage of the game played as a never-heard-before song from Nobuo Uematsu was performed by the orchestra. The song started off with lovely piano and strings, but later escalated into a more charged, vibrant piece that sounded a bit like a battle theme.
The two-hour event featured many other loved tunes. I especially enjoyed the back-to-back performances of Final Fantasy VIII's "Fisherman's Horizon" and "Man with the Machine Gun." The Final Fantasy "Main Theme" set to a multi-game video montage was quite moving. What really won the crowd over was the performance of Final Fantasy VI's opera, complete with three great vocalists playing the opera's main roles. The whole thing ended with an encore performance of "Sephiroth," with Uematsu joining the choir.
I'm still on a bit of a high from the performance, so you'll have to excuse my high level of enthusiasm. I'd highly recommend seeing Distant Worlds when it comes near you this year. They've added a bunch of new songs from their new CD to their line-up, and it's quite thrilling to hear them live. They're working on expanding the performances worldwide, beyond the North and South American dates. Two performances for Tokyo were just announced, and they're working on cities like London and Amsterdam now. Do not miss this!