Longtime composer Nobuo Uematsu is a name many video game fans will recognize. His contribution to the soundtracks of Final Fantasy and the game music genre are astounding to say the least. From working for a small company known as Square in 1987, to founding his own music production company Dog Ear Records, Uematsu’s talent has touched the hearts of his many listening fans.
In celebration of the memorable themes expressed throughout the Final Fantasy franchise, AWR Music Productions and Uematsu teamed up to create a global concert series known as Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY. Distant Worlds has now been touring since 2007, hitting many locations around the globe including North America. I was lucky enough to attend one of these concerts last summer in Chicago.
But this wasn’t just any Distant Worlds concert, as there were actually two concerts played back to back containing a marathon of every title featured on both the Distant Worlds I and II albums. In order to pull off such an event, Arnie Roth, conductor for the touring series, said at the concert that Square Enix pulled out all the stops by flying in vocalist Susan Calloway and pianist Benyamin Nuss. These concerts featured the first North American presentation of new versions of the Final Fantasy I-III and Chocobo medleys, the premiere of Final Fantasy IX’s: You Are Not Alone, and it featured the first time Uematsu and Roth got together on stage to perform Dark World from Final Fantasy VI.
The moment the infamous Final Fantasy Prelude began playing, quickly leading into Final Fantasy VIII’s: Liberi Fatali, was an experience that I met with pure joy. The Chicago Pops Orchestra followed the choir’s resounding “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec” with a thunderous segment that made my eyes water. Song after song played with vibrancy, but some did stand out more than others. Benyamin Nuss played Those Who Fight from Final Fantasy VII, solo on the piano with such speed, while Susan Calloway sang Answers from Final Fantasy XIV with a clear and powerful voice. But the most moving of pieces were Dancing Mad and The Opera: Maria and Draco from Final Fantasy VI. Dancing Mad filled the entire symphony hall with a majestic organ, and words can’t quite explain the effects of seeing real opera singers play the parts of Maria and Draco live.
Distant Worlds exists to celebrate the music of Nobuo Uematsu and the work he did with Final Fantasy. Over time some songs have become more famous than others, but even standard background music can become catchy. Listening to Uematsu for the last decade in the games I played, makes it easier to pinpoint his music in soundtracks and not even just from Final Fantasy. Just the other day I had Epsylon Range from Lost Odyssey stuck in my head. Uematsu doesn’t just familiarize us with the different worlds in the various Final Fantasies, he takes us to the distant worlds found in so many other games. He sets the mood for different locations, from dark caves to hidden libraries. Without his talent we wouldn’t be able to accurately feel the deaths of characters or the emotions of flying on grand airships. And what of the many battle and boss themes that signify through sound the importance of an enemy? Uematsu is like a guide who feeds our ears with an auditory mise-en-scene.
For me, attending the Distant Worlds marathon concerts in Chicago is probably my most special moment with the music that exists from Nobuo Uematsu. Some people have gotten married to his music, while at least one person has proposed at a Distant Worlds concert thus far. For others their connections to his music may simply be that of enjoyment when playing an RPG, listening to a good song that plays in the background. If you have a special moment or connection to a song written by Uematsu, that just may have taken you to a distant world, please share it in the comments.