By Quentin H. / June 25th, 2019
I have a long history with FINAL FANTASY VII and video game concerts. I first played FINAL FANTASY VII during my senior year in high school in 2004 with a PSX copy of the game, a console emulator that I installed on a majority of the school’s computers, and a floppy disk that I kept my save on. One of my favorite memories from that time was defeating Emerald Weapon in the art room basement on the ancient, crappy computer that existed in a forgotten corner down there. I have also been attending video game concerts since the Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY opened its North America premiere at the Rosemont Theater on March 1, 2008. For that concert, I took a 24 roundtrip flight from Kentucky, organized a FINAL FANTASY XI meet-up before the show, and then slept in the O’Hare airport until my flight the next morning. When FINAL FANTASY VII- A Symphonic Reunion was first announced mid-April, my first thought was that I knew that I had to attend as a fan. My second thought was “Wait, isn’t that a little late to announce a concert that is taking place a month and a half later?”
When I returned to the Dolby Theater for the second night in a row after attending the KINGDOM HEARTS Orchestra -World of Tres- the day before, I was expecting more of the same as pretty much every other video game concert that I’ve ever seen to: They show the name of the song, the orchestra performs the song, and there is a video montage of video game cutscenes and gameplay sequences that are both expertly timed to the ebbs and swells of the music and are meant to tie story-wise into the piece being played. FINAL FANTASY VII- A Symphonic Reunion subverted my expectations in a bold and experimental manner.
After the Symphonic Reunion Harmonic Orchestra and Chorus, Elio di Tanna (piano soloist), and Arnie Roth (conductor) all took the stage and introductory remarks were given by FINAL FANTASY VII director Yoshinori Kitase, the orchestra launched into The Prelude with the full opening credits for FINAL FANTASY VII playing on the screen behind it. It was beautifully played…and then the burned-into-memory screen of New Game or Continue appeared. At that point it became obvious what SQUARE ENIX and La Fée Sauvage had planned: this concert was going to be a truncated playthrough of FINAL FANTASY VII on the PlayStation One, complete with the original graphics and calling Aerith by ‘Aeris’. This format change was totally unexpected, and it worked extremely well as it progressed through the entirety of the game until the very end, even if the audience was expected to have a passing formality already with the storyline and characters.
|The setlist for FINAL FANTASY VII- A Symphonic Reunion (Approx. 2 hours):
1) The Prelude
3) Bombing Mission
4) Those Who Fight [Piano Solo]
Before Crisis: FINAL FANTASY VII Trailer
Crisis Core: FINAL FANTASY VII Trailer
5) Anxious Heart [Piano Solo]
7) Cosmo Canyon
8) Aeris’ Theme
9) Main Theme of FINAL FANTASY VII
10) Tifa’s Theme [Piano Solo]
FINAL FANTASY VII: Advent Children Trailer
Dirge of Cerberus: FINAL FANTASY VII Trailer
11) Chocobo [Medley]
12) Jenova Absolute
13) One Winged Angel
14) Staff Roll
Every so often, the ‘gameplay’ would stop and trailers for various other titles in the Compilation of FINAL FANTASY VII would be shown on the screen and they would be dated in reference to the storyline of FINAL FANTASY VII. While it was pretty darn cool to see all of the other games, the one that really stuck out to me was that Before Crisis: FINAL FANTASY VII was represented not by images from the now-defunct Japan-only mobile game, but instead was reworked into anime-style character designs. With this game never having been allowed out of Japan, very few people worldwide have been able to play it- and it makes me really hope that we will get to see some form of Before Crisis to be released in a similar fashion to how BROTHERHOOD: FINAL FANTASY XV was before FINAL FANTASY XV was released.
Another effort such as this would definitely be appreciated in advance of FINAL FANTASY VII Remake coming out.
The music itself, however, is where the concert began to fall short. The live portions of the concert were a mixture of orchestra-performed pieces and piano soloist pieces. The Symphonic Reunion Harmonic Orchestra and the Symphonic Reunion Chorus were amazing and perfect with their playing and singing, and Elio di Tanna performed the best piano soloist rendition of Tifa’s Theme that I have ever heard in my life. The Dolby Theater, of course, is an amazingly acoustically-friendly place to the point where any seat in the auditorium is a good seat. Where the concert fell frustratingly short, however, is that the lights would frequently drop on the orchestra, Mr. Roth would literally walk off stage, and the gameplay would continue with pre-recorded music for songs such as Rufus Welcoming Ceremony, Sandy Badlands, and Turk’s Theme for lengthy periods of time. I have never been to an orchestra concert before where the live orchestra/piano would stop playing for sections of a time and it wasn’t an homage to John Cage’s 4’33”, and both myself and the other concert goers around me were surprised by this. Even though the gameplay was still amazing to watch in all its 1997-glory, the constant shifts back and forth between live and recorded music did really detract from the performance as a whole, as people came to see an orchestra play music and not to hear pre-recorded music be played instead for significant portions of the show.
At the conclusion of the concert, the director of FINAL FANTASY VII Remake,Tetsuya Nomura, took the stage and quipped “[y]ou already knew I was going to come on stage, right?” as the audience gave him a standing ovation. A gameplay trailer with voice acting was shown to the audience, and a release date was given: March 3, 2020. You can check out the trailer yourself below, and you can check out my hands-on impressions of the E3 2019 demo here:
Considering the fact that I loved the live music portions and this experimental concert format as a whole, the concert wasn’t ‘bad’ per se. It just had a lot of potential that was missed in how the concert shifted between fourteen live music pieces and plenty of pre-recorded music. I wonder -and this is purely conjecture- if the performer’s preparation time for the concert was not as long as it could have been, and SQUARE ENIX attempted to make up for it with the combination of the three piano solo pieces and the pre-recorded music. This concert was definitely aimed at the fans: the terrible attempt at marching in the Junon parade, Cloud choosing the option to run away from Aeris early on in the game, and the video sequence that showed just how hard it can be to capture a chocobo are all part of the gameplay and were meant to invoke laughs from those that are long-time fans of FINAL FANTASY VII.
At the beginning of the concert, Yoshinori Kitase took the stage and stated “[o]ur hope was for you to re-experience this game”. In that way, I think the FINAL FANTASY VII- A Symphonic Reunion succeeded, and I would honestly buy a video recording of the performance to occasionally watch at home (not that there was any merchandise whatsoever for the performance itself available, just merch from the Distant Worlds concert series and that is also available on the SQUARE ENIX Store). I just wish that there was live accompaniment throughout the entire performance.
dolby theaterE3E3 2019Final Fantasy VIIFINAL FANTASY VII- A Symphonic ReunionSquare Enix