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Distant Worlds: why music is Final Fantasy’s legacy

Monday, 3 December 2012 08:38 GMT By Alex Donaldson

Final Fantasy’s music is an enduring part of its legacy. Alex Donaldson speaks with Arnie Roth, conductor of Distant Worlds, a concert dedicated to the sounds of the series.

Distant Worlds

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy began in 2007 and now tours across the globe, playing near two hours of music at each show.

The concert primarily plays music from the core, numbered Final Fantasy titles, mostly composed by Nobuo Uematsu.

Grammy Award-winning Arnie Roth is the conductor and main producer of the concert series, and says he fell into conducting game music by coincidence.

Final Fantasy turns 25 on December 18th, with Distant Worlds performing a small series of special ‘Celebration’ concerts in London, Chicago and a handful of other cities between regular shows.

As Final Fantasy turns 25 years old many will consider its legacy – 100 million units sold and a veritable media empire of just about anything you can think of. One of its most impressive legacies is a more cultural one, though – the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concert series, which returned to London’s Royal Albert Hall last month.

Since 2007 the series has toured the globe, playing to thousands of fans in a vast number of countries. The marriage of Nobuo Uematsu’s scores to Grammy Award-winning conductor and composer Arnie Roth has made the concerts a success – and one that is hugely symbolic.

“I think it’s fantastic in a wider sense because the situation is rather grim for music education,” Roth explains in a telephone interview about Distant Worlds.

“We’ve got whole generations who are cutting these classes out of the public schools. These children aren’t really being exposed to music in any significant form at school. It’s one of the first things to be cut; these things are considered expendable. Certainly in the United States; I’m not as well versed in Europe, but I know there are budget problems everywhere.”

It’s true, too. While the British government has pledged to protect music education spending from cuts that are too savage, in April of this year worrying reports of cuts and privatization to state music tuition rumbled through the newspapers. The situation abroad is even worse, with little of the expensive, easily-cut state-funded music tuition in the age of the recession.

“The problem is that’s devastating to all of us, believe it or not,” Roth explains. “We’re not growing a new audience for symphony orchestras, for classical music – people aren’t being exposed.

“There’s no interest in cultivating that, and these decisions will affect us culturally for many generations to come.”

Help comes from the unlikeliest of places – and in this case, Roth believes video games have a vital role to play in introducing younger generations to music where schools continually fail.

“It’s something that Final Fantasy and these concerts can help with,” he argues, his conviction quite apparent even over the phone. “In a lot of cases it is many fans’ very first introduction to symphony orchestra concerts.

“So many fans have told me that it’s their first time hearing an orchestra. We’re delighted that we can fill this secondary function. We’re not only celebrating and playing these beloved scores but also seeing these fans recognizing an oboe solo or appreciating how a sweeping section of violins plays together. They’re able to see what these sounds are, how they’re produced.”

“We try to be very, very much about the music. Almost exclusively about the music. Yes, we have the video content, but that’s not the focus.”

In a sense Final Fantasy is responsible for the entire video game concert craze that has swept through the industry. Square Enix held a concert, “Dear Friends,” during E3 2004, and Roth was involved. The show was dominated by a media presence, and while fans attended, it was a small show.

“A lot of producers looked at that one concert and said ‘Well, it’s one thing for a concert of video game music to be presented during a video game convention, but…’ They didn’t believe it could stand on its own two feet as a concert attraction,” Roth says.

But he had taken notice – and in February 2005, Roth performed the same concert for the public in his base of Chicago. It was a sell-out success. It marked the first time he’d work with Nobuo Uematsu and Square Enix directly, and the company asked him to take on a short tour of Final Fantasy-themed concerts that year.

A sporadic series of Square Enix concerts followed including several CD and DVD recording releases, all helmed by Roth. In 2007 he decided to license Final Fantasy’s music from Square Enix and produce a proper concert series.

Others taking notice of the success of ‘Dear Friends’ were likely Tommy Tallarico and Mass Effect Composer Jack Wall – as a year after that first concert, at E3 2005, the pair debuted Video Games Live. Their show performs pieces from Mario, Zelda, Warcraft, Metal Gear, Mass Effect and, of course, Final Fantasy amongst others. Surprise, surprise – Roth was even involved there.

“I helped them with getting scores and various other things,” he tells me – but went on to explain how Distant Worlds differs. “The difference between what they do and Distant Worlds is that Video Games Live is much more about the spectacle – the light show, the theatrics that are going on.”

For reasons outlined above, the authenticity and size of a full orchestra is something Roth is keen to introduce to the video game audience.

“There’s a place for all these things,” he admits, “But we try to be very, very much about the music. Almost exclusively about the music. Yes, we have the video content, but that’s not the focus.”

“We will never do a concert that is fifteen or twenty musicians. We have to perform with a seventy piece orchestra. We have to have at least thirty or forty voices in the choir – sixty, preferably… plus other soloists. This is what this is about. This is a template that was started in Japan even before I was involved – We recognize, respect and embrace that heritage.

“So we’re a little bit different from the other ones, but on the other hand there’s a place for the style of things like the Zelda 25th performances or Video Games Live or Play and other things.”

From how Roth talks one gets the impression that he views it as his duty to keep the concerts as musically pure as possible.

“Nobuo didn’t just show up out the ether,” Roth argues. “It may seem that way to a lot of people, but in fact he built upon the foundations, the building blocks that we got from all these other composers, going way back to Beethoven and going right up to movie score composers who are working right now.”

At one point in our conversation, he suggests that he’d like to run a concert one day with no video screens showing game footage, allowing fans to truly concentrate on the on-stage performance rather than ogling fancy Square Enix CGI.

There’s a reason behind wanting to keep that musical purity, Roth passionately reveals – after countless video game scores including Final Fantasy, Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, parts of Chrono Trigger and a suite of others, Nobuo Uematsu’s legacy is assured – but Roth is concerned about the future.

“If you talk to somebody like Nobuo Uematsu, you’ll know right away, and we all say this – we all stand on the shoulders of all the great composers and arrangers who came before us,” Roth enthuses.

Other video game composers, such as Nintendo’s Koji Kondo, Elder Scrolls tunesmith Jeremy Soule or fellow Final Fantasy maestros Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masashi Hamauzu will also have their music endure – But who comes next?

“Nobuo didn’t just show up out the ether,” Roth argues. “It may seem that way to a lot of people, but in fact he built upon the foundations, the building blocks that we got from all these other composers, going way back to Beethoven and going right up to movie score composers who are working right now. Plus the impressionistic composers! Bach, Strauss, Debussy, whatever.

“All of these elements are incorporated in the music from Final Fantasy and in these concerts. It’s absolutely an educational aspect and a great honour and pleasure to present it for all these audiences.”

While Roth is quick to admit a love for many video game scores – he cites Warcraft and Halo, both of which he worked on with Play: A Video Game Symphony as well as a particular love for Square Enix’s Chrono Cross & Chrono Trigger – he tells us he believes that Final Fantasy holds something special that helps it to spread the word of the power of music and the cry for better music education.

“Here’s what distinguishes the music of Final Fantasy from other video games,” he says – and, again, the excitement and conviction in his voice is palpable.

“The craftsmanship and skill these scores have been put together with in many cases elevate them to way beyond what many of the other video game scores were, at least in their original forms.

“Some of them have been arranged now for concert, but the reality is – I mean, just look at the vast library of Final Fantasy music – so much music, and it’s all so well crafted from such an early moment.

“This is the perfect vehicle for music education, the perfect vehicle with which to give symphony music this kind of exposure. I’m very happy that it can function on that level for fans; that it can be a great exposure for them – and hopefully a great show too.”

Have you checked out Distant Worlds live? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us what you thought of the show below.

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2 Comments

  1. Cryss

    I’ve attended both performances at London’s Royal Albert, the atmosphere is always electric. Whilst the video content is all well and good (great editing work on the chocobo medley), watching Arnie Roth majestically conduct the audience is amazing.

    As a Final Fantasy Fanatic, there is nothing more amazing than hearing your favourite songs presented by an Orchestra. Plus the first time I went the people playing the music kept looking at the screens with a wtf is this look on their faces, priceless!

    #1 2 years ago
  2. NinjaMidget

    Was in London last year but missed it. Someone on my course got a VIP ticket and met Nobuo Uematsu. Needless to say I was incredibly jealous.

    I won’t miss it next year though!

    #2 2 years ago

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    Harmonix has lifted the lid on the long-rumoured Rock Band 4, stating it will support 2,168 previously released tracks and last-gen instruments on PS4 and Xbox One. The game will be out this year. Harmonix has yet to reveal specific features for the game, but it has been built with a completely new engine. As […]

  • First run of Rodea the Sky Soldier copies on Wii U come with Wii version

    The first print run of Rodea the Sky Soldier on Wii U will come with the Wii version packed in, NIS America has confirmed. The publisher confirmed today in a press release that anyone who buys the first run of the retail version of Rodea the Sky Soldier on Wii U will find the Wii […]

  • Unreal Tournament 4 lets modders sell cosmetic items to players

    Unreal Tournament 4 is a game built with the help of the modding community. So it’s only natural that it will feature a marketplace where all cosmetic items can be sold. Epic Games has confirmed that it will allow modders from the community to sell the cosmetics items they’ve created on the game’s marketplace. The […]

  • D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is coming to PC – rumour

    SWERY 65 has shown off D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die running on PC at GDC this week, teasing that a possible port may be on the way. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is SWERY 65′s latest project. An episodic detective affair, D4 came out on Xbox One last September and utilised Kinect as its main […]

  • Valve’s Lighthouse, VR controllers and more explained

    Valve’s less-talked about prototype VR controllers and its Lighthouse technology have been shown in more detail. When HTC announced Vive, the VR headset it’s working on with Valve, it mentioned “base stations” and ergonomic controllers. Now we know what they meant by that. The controllers are still in prototype phase, and will look better when […]

  • Listen to two professional Counter-Strike players explain why Dust2 is so popular

    Hear what makes iconic Counter-Strike map Dust2 one of the most popular maps in shooter history from two former eSports players. Sal “Volcano” Garozzo and Shawn “FMPONE” Snelling are both retired professional Counter-Strike players who are currently working as designers. At GDC this year, the pair hosted a panel titled “Community Level Design for Competitive […]

  • Core Morpheus hardware locked in, no plans for wireless version

    Sony has finalised the core hardware for its VR headset Project Morpheus, and does not currently plan on releasing a wireless version. SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida spoke to Gamespot at GDC and confirmed that the core hardware of Morpheus is “pretty much done” but that “lots of tweaks and improvements” are still being […]

  • Watch the full Phil Spencer keynote from GDC 2015

    The full GDC 2015 keynote of Xbox boss Phil Spencer is now available to watch. In case you missed last nights’s Phil Spencer keynote at GDC 2015, the whole thing has been made available to watch on YouTube. The address is titled “The Future of Gaming Across the Microsoft Ecosytem,” and it’s where Spencer announced […]

  • Elite: Dangerous won’t be “dumbed down” for Xbox One

    The Xbox One version of Elite: Dangerous will in fact be the same as the PC one. Elite: Dangerous developer Frontier came out on stage last night at GDC to announce the game making its console debut on Xbox One. Some have feared that the port would not provide the same experience as the PC […]

  • Virtual reality: by gum, it’s really happening

    Virtual reality has exited the realm of peripheral gimmick and turned into something that just might go mainstream. VR has an uphill battle ahead of it. The tech is going to be expensive, and there are a number of problems that need to be solved before it could be considered an inclusive technology (motion sickness, […]

  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor takes Game of the Year at GDC Awards 2015

    And the winner is: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor beat out Alien: Isolation, Bayonetta 2, Destiny, and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to win Game of the Year at the Game Developer’s Choice Awards 2015. Elsewhere in the awards, Ustwo’s mobile hit Monument Valley was a stand-out favourite, with wins in the Innovation, […]

  • Alien: Isolation was prototyped in third-person – video

    Alien: Isolation is one of the most effectively scary triple-A games in years, but it didn’t start off a perfect creation of pure terror. Creative Assembly prototyped Alien: Isolation in third-person perspective before they nailed down the final approach. The developer revealed this during a GDC 2015 presentation, and it’s a good reminder that games […]

  • Madden 15 added to EA Vault

    Madden 15 is now included in EA’s all-you-can-eat subscriber service. Madden 15 is the ninth game to be added to the EA Vault, a stash of games available on demand for EA Access subscribers. It's still Madden Season for EA Access members – Madden NFL 15 is now in The Vault for all members. Go […]

  • Source Engine 2 doesn’t have hidden costs or royalties – but is Steam exclusive

    Three major engines went free at GDC 2015, and each of them is monetising in a different way. There’s been a heck of a lot of discussion about development tools and the costs associated with them during GDC 2015. First Epic announced that Unreal Engine 4 would be free, bar royalities on successful releases. Then […]

  • Final Fantasy creator hates sequels

    Final Fantasy, a byword in prolific franchises, was created by a man who hates sequel. Final Fantasy games are famous for being reinvented with each core release, and it was not until series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi began to withdraw from the franchise after Final Fantasy 9 that we started seeing regular sequels and spin-offs. Speaking […]

  • Guardian complaints led to the closure of Destiny’s Loot Cave

    Destiny players are to blame for the shuttering of the much loved Loot Cave. Early in Destiny‘s history, many players got hugely excited about the “Loot Cave”. Accessible shortly after starting the game for the first time, this high-volume spawn point allowed players to stand in one place, taking out waves and waves of low-level […]

  • Xbox and PC games boss Phil Harrison to leave Microsoft – rumour

    Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business VP and EMEA head of games Phil Harrison is rumoured to have thrown in the towel. Microsoft has not issued a statement on Harrison’s alleged departure, despite repeated questioning by press at GDC 2015. Instead, word comes via multiple sources speaking to GamesIndustry at the show. According to the rumours, Harrison […]

  • Metal Gear Online commentated trailer explains stuffed dog – but not invisibility

    Metal Gear Online developer Kojima Productions has provided significantly more insight into how the multiplayer side of The Phantom Pain works. Metal Gear Online is the online multiplayer component of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. Konami hasn’t shared a great deal about it yet, but we did see a very cool Metal Gear […]

  • Elite: Dangerous Xbox One trailer shows off space MMO

    If Elite: Dangerous looks this good on Xbox One we have nothing to complain about. Microsoft revealed Elite: Dangerous is coming to Xbox One this year during its GDC presentations today. We don’t know very much about the port, but I suppose we ought to have expected it; Frontier Developments has a very close relationship […]

  • Battletoads to appear in Shovel Knight Xbox One

    A Battletoads remake must be on the horizon. Right? Right?? The Battletoads will appear in the upcoming Xbox One version of Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games revealed today. The Battletoads drop in for a fight! Shovel Knight is headed to Xbox One and meets up with @RareLtd brawling trio! pic.twitter.com/OCQIuWbH3W — Yacht Club Games (@YachtClubGames) […]

  • The Division pre-alpha footage leaks, Ubisoft says it’s well out of date

    The Division fans finally got a look at Ubisoft’s MMO this week, but the publisher has said the footage is not in any way representative. Pre-alpha footage of the The Division was leaked this week, but has since been thoroughly smacked down by takedown notices. All that remains are a few screenshots and a GIF: […]

  • Microsoft HoloLens designer killed in hit and run accident

    Very sad news out of Redmond this week, as Mike Ey was killed in a tragic accident. Ey, 30, was one of the key project designers on Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset. He was killed on Saturday morning in a rear-end collision. The driver of the second vehicle fled the scene but was tracked down by […]

  • AMD throws support behind VR with new low-latency anti-nausea tech

    GPU manufacturer AMD has released a new SDK compatible with “a broad set of VR devices”. Called LiquidVR, the tech is designed to “bring better content, comfort, and compatibility to VR applications” including games, simulation, entertainment, education, social media, travel, medicine, real estate and ecommerce, apparently. AMD said maintaining comfort and realism in VR environments […]

  • Danganronpa 3 in the works, but a long way off yet

    A new Danganronpa is happening. Danganronpa 3 is in the very, very early production stages, writer Kodaka Kazutaka has confirmed. Nothing about the project is “set in stone”, Kazutaka told Polygon, so there are no details to share yet; the characters and story may change several times before being finalised. The writer said he’s weighing […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare MLG Pro League 2015 schedule announced

    Major League Gaming has announced the full schedule for the 2015 Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare MLG Pro League. The eSpots firm revealed two more seasons of Pro League, a live Relegation tournament for Season Three, and a season ending World Championship with $250,000 up for grabs You can watch all the action on MLG.tv […]

  • Happy Birthday PlayStation 2, you are almost old enough to drive

    Amidst all the GDC 2015 hoopla today, we forgot to wish PlayStation 2 a Happy Birthday. The system turned 15 years old today, going by its March 4, 2000 launch date in Japan. It was released in the west that autumn, and had shipped 100 million units in less than six years post launch. PS2 […]

  • Here’s what the final version of Valve’s Steam Controller looks like

    A look at the updated Steam Controller has surfaced via a hands-on post from Polygon. Valve said what you see in the images below is the final version of the controller. The controller has gone through numerous revisions since it was first revealed, but it seems Valve has decided on two touch pads which work […]

  • The Sims, SimCity developer closed down

    The Sims 4 developer Maxis has been shuttered, EA has confirmed. The Sims, SimCity and the rest of the Sim franchise has traditionally been helmed by Maxis, which had its flagship studio in Emeryville, California. Now EA has confirmed with Kotaku that this studio is being closed. “Today we are consolidating Maxis IP development to […]

  • Gigantic MOBA coming to Windows 10 and Xbox One with cross-play

    Today during GDC 2015, Microsoft announced that the new IP from Motiga called Gigantic will be cross-play enabled. Slated for Windows 10 and Xbox One, the five-on-five third-person battle arena game allows the player to select from an array of heroes with distinctive powers and play styles. Players will then make their way through areas […]

  • Here’s a look at Unreal Tournament DirectX 12 gameplay

    Epic Games is creating Unreal Tournament using Unreal Engine 4 running on DirectX 12, which Microsoft says “sets a new bar for visual fidelity.” DirectX 12 is a single API developers can access across Windows devices, which can result in a 20% improvement in performance over DX11 running on the same machine. The Unreal Tournament […]

  • Wireless adapter for Xbox One controllers out later this year

    Microsoft announced at GDC 2015 today it will that all wireless Xbox gaming accessories will be designed for and supported on both Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PCs moving forward. Later this year, a wireless adapter will be released, allowing current Xbox controllers and future devices to be used wirelessly on PCs. This will […]