By Quentin H. / November 1st, 2021
SPOILER FREE REVIEW
If you want a detailed and spoileriffic review, then re-join me after the picture below. If you’re just wanting a quick, spoiler-free check on whether or not FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE: Orchestra World Tour is worth checking out, then your simple answer is yes.
While this is a show that was clearly arranged around the setlist first and foremost with some storytelling issues that affect the concert as a cohesive whole, the music is absolutely amazing to listen to and you will see almost all of your favorite moments in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE and in EPISODE INTERmission in the concert. If you can find an available ticket to buy, then please do because I don’t think you will regret it.
SPOILERS BEGIN HERE
I have attended a lot of SQUARE ENIX concerts, including the somewhat-misfiring FINAL FANTASY VII – A Symphonic Reunion concert from 2019. While this concert was not perfect and at times a bit surprising in its execution, it was absolutely worth attending and I am so glad that I made the six-and-a-half hour drive down to the October 23, 2021 performance in the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California.
Arnie Roth – conductor of pretty much every SQUARE ENIX-linked concert series since the March 1, 2008 debut performance of Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY at the Rosemont Theater that yours truly had attended – led the ShinRa Symphony Orchestra and Chorus through 22 songs (including two encores) taken from FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE and its story DLC, EPISODE INTERmission.
As I had previously attended the FINAL FANTASY VII – A Symphonic Reunion concert in 2019, where the orchestra didn’t play all of the songs but instead would rest intermittently for pre-recorded pieces to instead play, I was quite pleased that they performed all of the music in this concert show. The musical performance itself was great, and it was clear that the orchestra both enjoyed what they were playing and actually cared about what they were playing. With that said, my biggest issue was with how the chorus was integrated in with the orchestra. I assume it was a sound mixing issue, but for the first half of the concert (before the intermission), the orchestra was frequently drowning out or competing against the chorus instead of complimenting it. At times, I almost found myself straining to hear the vocals and the person I was there with agreed with me about this. Thankfully, this was corrected in the second half – especially in time for the One Winged Angel encore at the very end.
The biggest surprise of the night was that Yosh Morita, from The Prophets, came to sing “Hollow.” He was so animated to watch, and he was definitely the highlight of the entire concert as he absolutely got completely into putting on a masterful performance. The fact that he was there was a genuine surprise for me that I was extremely happy to get to see, as I figured that we might not have anyone with recognition there to perform the song due to the concert’s date being moved from June 2020 several times because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The one major blessing from having to wait so long for the FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Orchestra World Tour was that it gave AWR Music and SQUARE ENIX an opportunity to give the Yuffie DLC, EPISODE INTERmission, some love with a performance of “Descendant of Shinobi”. If you remember, this DLC was only announced in February 2021 alongside the PlayStation 5 upgrade for FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. While I can only speculate, I cannot imagine that this DLC would have had an opportunity to be included in the setlist if the concert had happened when it was originally supposed to in June 2020. This song was a personal highlight for me of the show, and I am so glad that they could work it into the concert somehow as it absolutely deserved to be there.
SQUARE ENIX and AWR Music also managed the impossible feat of making this concert accessible to people who had only played the original FINAL FANTASY VII and who just wanted to hear the music live. The concert did not dwell on the whole ‘reunion’ time/fate altering aspects of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, but instead made it about the characters and placed an emphasis on the continuity from the original game. In fact, I brought a friend with me who had only played the original PlayStation One release, and he absolutely loved the concert and was able to keep pace with what was going on with the clips on screen despite not having played the new game. I don’t know if it was SQUARE ENIX and AWR Music’s intention to make sure that this concert was accessible to anyone who loved FINAL FANTASY VII, but they definitely succeeded in making it happen.
All that said, the music is only half of a SQUARE ENIX orchestra concert. If you haven’t been to one before, then you should know that the live orchestra music is played against a backdrop of carefully curated and arranged cutscene clips from the relevant game(s) that relate to the particular music piece itself.
The way that FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Orchestra World Tour opened was to play “The Prelude – Reunion” against a backdrop of clips from the original FINAL FANTASY VII game for the PlayStation One console. After that, the concert then switched to FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE and it played a series of clips from the opening cinematic through the end of the Mako 1 Reactor bombings and subsequent escape with the accompanying music. At this point, it seemed like the concert was going to follow the game’s story chronologically while having the music to accompany the gameplay.
It is when Cloud falls through the church roof and encounters Aerith as “Flowers Blooming in the Church” starts to play, that the concert’s storytelling format changes as the accompanying cinematics transformed into a clip show that showed the relevant character story all the way until the start of the ShinRa missions at the end of the game. When the next piece would start (in this case “The Turks’ Theme”), it would rewind back to the introduction of Reno at the church not long after Cloud falls through the ceiling, and tell the Turks’ storyline through the end of the Sector 8 plate dropping chapter. Individually, each cinematic was worked beautifully to fit in with the accompanying music piece and I have absolutely no issues with how they were arranged within each musical sequence. However, this constant flipping back and forth was a little jarring when the expectation had initially been set up through the first few musical pieces that this would be a chronological (game-wise) orchestra experience – especially in light of how the concert ultimately went back to the chronological format at the end of the concert with the ShinRa raid through the end of the game.
This made me feel like the setlist was decided first, and the graphics were subsequently arranged around the music. While there were some songs that only focused around one particular part of the game (such as the crowd-favorite “Stand Up” that showed off Cloud’s dancing to Aerith’s obvious delight at the Honeybee Inn), the constant going back and forth in gameplay in each individual song that was bookended with long, chronological scenes and musical accompaniment bothered me a little when I tried to look at the concert as a cohesive whole after it was all over.
Part of this format choice, I think, goes back to the issue that FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE is only one part of the FINAL FANTASY VII story. When the orchestra was performing Tifa’s Theme, for instance, you didn’t see her and Cloud deep in Cloud’s subconscious after they fall into the Lifestream following Mideel or beneath the Highwind before they descend into the crater at the game’s end. Both of these are extremely pivotal and extremely important moments to FINAL FANTASY VII…but they simply don’t exist yet in this retelling (if they ever will), as this game only covered them leaving Midgar. As a result, I am guessing that AWR Music and SQUARE ENIX only had a limited amount of cutscenes to ultimately work with while also trying to tell a ‘complete’ story across each individual song and across the whole concert from a 50-hour or so video game.
This was evident than during the first encore for “Aerith’s Theme”, when that performance was just played against a static background image of the flowers inside the church…presumably because the appropriate clips of Cloud and Aerith’s relaionship together had already been used for “Flowers Blooming in the Church”. There were also a few ‘extra’ clips integrated in particular songs, such as there being a bit too long of gameplay fighting on the train before Tifa and Cloud roll out from it together in “Tifa’s Theme” or how much we saw of Cloud and Wedge being strapped together during the parachute sequence in “Jessie’s Theme.” This suggested that there was a need to include something to help hit the song-length time in a few places.
To be clear, this ultimately is just a minor structural thing that bothered me about the concert, and it did not detract from the overall quality of the paired cinematics or how the game’s story was ultimately told. There is something simply magical about seeing these characters I love on a big screen, and all of the important story beats (and some silly ones) were all there and expertly arranged. You are going to fall a little in love with Tifa during “Tifa’s Theme” and you’re absolutely going to laugh out loud during “Stand Up,” and it is a testament to the strength of the cinematics and orchestra/chorus itself that that happens.
There are a few other things that I want to talk about that I can’t really fit in elsewhere. The bike ride’s cheek kiss reward from Jessie wasn’t included in “Jessie’s Theme” and there weren’t any gameplay clips of Cloud fighting Sephiroth himself at the end of the game or during “One Winged Angel.” I thought those were very odd omissions that would have fit in well in the concert during those appropriate pieces. Finally, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Orchestra World Tour did something that I had never seen before to great effect: they would occasionally have the orchestra begin performing without clips from the game in the background…until it got past the introductory notes and the piece began in earnest. This was really, really effective in making me first pay attention to only the music and the orchestra and then it dropped me immediately into the game’s cinematics. Very, very effective and very, very cool to see.
While I did point out some things I did not care for about FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Orchestra World Tour, it is important to state that none of this truly affected or soured my concert-going experience. I really loved attending FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Orchestra World Tour, and I think pretty much anyone else who is a fan of the game will too. I have been to a lot of SQUARE ENIX concerts, such as the FINAL FANTASY XIV ORCHESTRA CONCERT 2018 – Eorzean Symphony and KINGDOM HEARTS ORCHESTRA – World of Tres – Concert, and SQUARE ENIX knows how to put on a great show…which they definitely did here. It is the strength of the orchestra and on how strongly AWR Music and SQUARE ENIX arranged the clips to the music that makes this show worth it. This is why it gets such a high score from me with only a single star knocked off for the formatting issues that I noted above.
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Orchestra World Tour is absolutely an amazing concert to attend, and I do not want to dissuade anyone who enjoyed FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE from attending. I paid for my tickets, and I thought the concert was well worth the money. I sincerely hope that AWR Music and SQUARE ENIX partner up again to make a sequel concert for the next game to come out, as I will be sure to buy a ticket for the day that they go up for sale. I am, furthermore, excited to see what video games that they will collaborate on next.
Arnie RothAWR MusicCloudCloud StrifeEPISODE INTERMissionFinal Fantasy VIIFinal Fantasy VII remakeFINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Orchestra World TourMicrosoft TheaterOrchestrashinraSquare EnixYuffie DLC