Saturday Night: Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds At Jones Hall
Rocks Off scrambled like a mad bastard last year in order to catch Final Fantasy Distant Worlds at the Houston Symphony. This year, we were only marginally better prepared, but no less excited.
To be sure, much of the music promised to be the same, but there were enough significant differences planned that demanded our return to view them. In the negative category, unlike the first tour, legendary video-game composer and the mind responsible for most of Final Fantasy's stellar soundtrack, Nobuo Uematsu, was to be absent due to complications from the earthquakes. In his place, Final Fantasy XIII composer Masashi Hamauzu joined conductor Arnie Roth.
On the very positive side was the presence of soprano Susan Calloway, who has become a recurring musical voice in the game series through performances on the Distant Worlds albums. From her work on the tours and with Roth and Uematsu, she has graduated to an appearance in the main series. Calloway is scheduled to appear singing the song "Answer Me" in the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV, a game that is currently in the process of a massive overall for its PS3 release.
As the lights dropped and the music began, Aftermath thought that Roth made a mistake in his choice of opening number. Rather than utilizing what may the most famous musical overture in video-game history, the traditional harp-based main theme, Roth jumped right in to more action-filled numbers from Final Fantasy VIII.
Look, VIII had some of the best music in the series, we're not questioning that, but the game itself remains a black sheep in Final Fantasy fandom because of its chunky interface and feeling more like an interactive movie than a video game. What the music has in beauty, we think it lacks in emotional investment because more than a few gamers, us included, put down the controller long before the end.
Lynda Rouner Cheyenne as Aeris
It wasn't long into the first set though that we got what we had most been looking for, an orchestral rendition of "Melodies of Life" complete with chorus and vocal solo by Calloway. For our money, Final Fantasy IX is the most underappreciated of the games, released in an awkward time when people were preparing for the sixth-generation systems and disappointing fans who hungered for a PS2 release rather than a PS1.
The storyline of IX was Final Fantasy's last great epic tale, in our opinion, and no modern release has yet changed our mind on that subject. All of the action in the game culminated with the post-credits song "Melodies of Life" and to this day, we cannot watch the ending without tearing up a little.
Calloway delivered the song with power and grace, though we were a little thrown at first by the more classical arrangement of the tune having been so used to the cheesy J-pop and guitars of the original. Still, her voice brought to full life a moment we had until then held only alone in our hearts, and shared it with a packed house that soaked up her vocals like a desert soaks up rain.
We thought it would be impossible to top. We were wrong.