By Quentin H. / April 7th, 2022
You can also buy tickets here.
If you don’t want to be spoiled about the concert or what songs could be played, then just know this: the performance of A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY that I saw at the Hertz Hall in Berkeley, California is my favorite video game music concert that I have ever attended since the Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY premiere in March 2008. If you have a performance coming anywhere within a few hours of you and you love FINAL FANTASY, then you need to go. You are in for a magical evening that will make you fall in love with this series even more.
If you want to know more, then please read on after the photo!
If you’ve ever attended a Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY concert (or really any other video game music concert), then you have a fairly good idea of what to expect: a full orchestra will be playing a live arrangement while a large screen is showing a curated cutscene arrangement from the game above/behind in a large, darkened theater. It has been that way ever since I first attended the North American debut of Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY at the Rosemont Theater in March 2008.
A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY takes a different approach: instead of a full orchestra, there are just a handful of musicians (called the New World Players), plus the conductor, present. Instead of dropping the lights and showing off a carefully selected cutscene sequence for each song, there is…nothing. Finally, at least in the venue I attended, the theater is much smaller and there is only one level of seating. The result of all of these changes is an amazingly intimate (as in the show’s title!) setting where the music is the first and only focus.
First off, you won’t miss the cutscenes being gone. It was a bit unusual at first for me, but I quickly stopped noticing that they were not there. The music being performed was the true star of the show, and I honestly think that cutscenes would have taken away from the intimate nature of the music being performed. As even though there were only 11 musicians (and Eric Roth, who was conducting) present, the music pieces did not suffer whatsoever in the process from the lack of a full orchestra, as the compositions were cleverly arranged and selected to take full advantage of the instruments at hand. For example, during the performance of “One Winged Angel” from FINAL FANTASY VII, there is traditionally a chorus that sings lyrics in Latin. Obviously, there wasn’t a chorus present at this show and so instead, the piano and the trumpet would alternate taking over the vocal section by ‘singing’ those notes. The biggest surprise for me was hearing “Zanarkand” (FINAL FANTASY X) being played so well with only a handful of musicians. I have only previously heard this song played on the Distant Worlds soundtrack and within the game itself, and I was impressed with how aptly adapted and perfectly this song was performed with the limited musicians present.
A limited number of musicians (as you can tell from the above photograph) also meant that everyone had, at some point, an opportunity to uniquely shine with their instruments (as some were performing multiple instruments as part of the show, which is impressive in its own right). However, this also gave a great opportunity for solo performances. First there is Mike Smith, who played “FINAL FANTASY Theme” as a guitar solo encore, and this arrangement was incredible and unexpected. I believe that during one of Mr. Roth’s chats with the audience (which I will talk about later), he said that this was a new piece for the concert series but it felt like it had always belonged in the show to me. This performance was also lucky enough to have Benyamin Nuss as the pianist. The name should sound familiar if you’ve followed FINAL FANTASY concerts before, as he has performed at numerous Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY concerts and at various FINAL FANTASY XIV Fanfest events while also maintaining a wholly separate music career. He performed several solo piano pieces, including “Aerith’s Theme” (FINAL FANTASY VII) and “Blue Fields” (FINAL FANTASY VIII). He is a literal magician with the piano, as both of these songs were expertly arranged and played with so much heart by him to a captivated audience.
Yes, I said “Blue Fields.”
A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY does something rather unique by playing a LOT of deep-cut pieces from the FINAL FANTASY series. Coming in that night, I never expected to hear a version of “Sorrow” (FINAL FANTASY XII), “Land of the Dwarves” (FINAL FANTASY XIV Online), “Force Your Way”/”Find Your Way” (FINAL FANTASY VIII), “My Home, Sweet Home” (FINAL FANTASY V), or “Red Wings” (FINAL FANTASY IV). These are all not necessarily the most well-known compositions from these games, but it surprised me to hear these absolutely gorgeous arrangements live. There were numerous times during the show that Mr. Roth would state that this was the first time this song was being performed for the concert series, and it just showed that A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY is a constantly evolving concert series that seeks to bring in new music from the FINAL FANTASY series.
This brings me to the various monologues that Mr. Roth would have with the audience. After every song or two, he would turn back to the audience and talk with us about how excited he was to be here, thanking us repeatedly for coming out, or talk a little about the concert itself before he introduced more musical pieces. He had an incredible warmth and energy to him that made it clear that he was EXCITED to be there and that he was so happy that all of us (including his family, who was present!) were able to come out to the show. An interesting theme that he kept bringing up was that FINAL FANTASY is a series that had been going on for decades, and he would talk about what was happening at the time certain games came out. For instance, he discussed how the top song in 1992 when FINAL FANTASY IV was released was “I Will Always Love You.” It was a great way to really anchor in how historical FINAL FANTASY is, and Mr. Roth really made this show spark in a way that made me feel like it was especially being played for me.
“A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY is a performance by people who clearly love FINAL FANTASY and who understand why it is such a special series to so many people.”
If there is ONE thing that I wish that the concert did differently, it is that I wish that the concert would play music from some of the FINAL FANTASY sequels or spinoffs. For instance, “Sunset Path” from Lightning Returns: FINAL FANTASY XIII would have fit in perfectly with both the deep-cut nature of this concert while also being something that could be conceivably (to me at least- although I am not a music expert) be played with just a limited number of musicians. There are so many games outside of the mainline series that deserve love too, after all. This wasn’t enough to make me feel any differently about the show as a whole, and it was only something that I thought about as I was writing up this review.
Regardless- this is a concert that is clearly meant to speak to people who love FINAL FANTASY, even if that love is for only one or two games out of the series. For me, this was no more evident than the performance of “Sarutabaruta” from FINAL FANTASY XI Online after the intermission. I was not expecting this piece to be played, as I purposefully went into the show without knowing anything about the potential songs to be played and come on- who really expects FINAL FANTASY XI Online to be recognized in 2022 in such a public way despite it being it being the game’s 20th anniversary?
The moment that those opening “Sarutabaruta” notes started to play, I was instantly transported back to 2004 when I first bought the game, and I was trying to slaughter Yagudo just outside the Federation of Windurst as a White Mage. There was magic in that moment, and it reminded me of everything -and everyone- that I had met while playing that MMORPG both in-game and in real life. FINAL FANTASY XI Online is my favorite FINAL FANTASY game and it is one of the biggest influences upon me as a person, and Mr. Roth and the handful of performers managed to get the emotions and heart of that piece exactly right. What FINAL FANTASY XI Online means to me is undoubtedly what FINAL FANTASY VII or FINAL FANTASY X means to another person, and I know that that same love and care as interjected into each song played across the two-and-a-half hours that night in that small setting. A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY is a performance by people who clearly love FINAL FANTASY and who understand why it is such a special series to so many people.
As I said at the top of this review: if you can go, go. You honestly won’t regret it.
My ticket was provided to me by AWR Music.
You can see upcoming performances and buy tickets (on sale now) for upcoming performances of A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY here.
What songs do you hope for them to play at an upcoming concert? Are you planning on attending?
Let us known in the comments below!
A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASYAWR MusicConcert ReviewDistant Worlds: Music From FINAL FANTASYEric RothFinal FantasyMusicSESquare Enix