Square Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise is beloved for many reasons. Where some are enamoured with its memorable cast of characters, others relish the storytelling craft and gameplay thrills, which have evolved into real-time action from their turn-based origins. Final Fantasy XIV Online lies outside the JRPG scope, bringing an MMORPG flair into the long-running formula, and like the rest, adds its own spin to a standalone narrative.
Through all the highs and lows, an oft-overlooked element has remained a steadfast companion of the 35-year journey – the music. Weaving together these separate adventures is a rich tapestry of soundtracks, breathing life into the game environments, stirring feelings during emotionally-charged cutscenes, and elevating boss battles to an epic, adrenaline-filled affair.
The beating heart of the series, this musical legacy took centrestage at the Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy concert held on 6 October 2023 in Singapore. Making a long-awaited return after six years, the celebration of Final Fantasy tunes whisked fans away on a nostalgic and delightful trip down the memory lane, closing the night on a satisfying note.
Performed by over 100 musicians from Metropolitan Festival Orchestra – the same folks behind the Genshin Concert Tour in Singapore – and Symphonia Choralis, the one-day extravaganza opened with the Prelude medley from the series after doors closed at 7.30 pm. The accompanying visuals on a giant screen immediately dished out a blast from the past, chronicling the JRPG’s growth from its early, pixel-bit days to the modern, realistic sheen of recent games like Final Fantasy VII Remake and FFXVI.
As the orchestral and choral notes drifted off to a stop, conductor Eric Roth, stepping in to replace his dad and original conductor Arnie, kicked off a smooth segue into Final Fantasy VII Remake’s “Those Chosen by the Planet”. Similarly, iconic sequences from the 2020 release played out across the screen, bringing fans back into Midgar and revisiting the dynamics between Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, and Barret, as well as the iconic clash between the Buster Sword wielder and Sephiroth.
The next performance, “Phantom Forest ~ Phantom Train ~ The Veldt” elicited fond chuckles from those who’ve played Final Fantasy VI when the Sabin Train Suplex scene was projected. Now an Internet meme, it features monk character Sabin lifting up a sentient train locomotive and slamming it into the ground using the Suplex move, with the absurd battle animation lending notoriety to the sequence. Ah, the good old days.
The enthusiasm rose to greater heights when two special guests took to the stage. Final Fantasy XIV vocalist Susan Calloway easily snared hearts with excellent renditions of “Eyes On Me” (FFVIII) and “Dragonsong” (FFXIV), while FFX vocalist Rikki’s “Suteki Da Ne” injected deep-set nostalgia into the orchestral and singing notes – even if some may find the live singing a little underwhelming.
But the ultimate show-stealer of the night was Final Fantasy XIV. All three pieces, “Triumph”, “Invincible” and “Dragonsong” yielded loud cheers and excited responses from the crowd, as fans reminisced their adventures in the game’s Stormblood, Shadowbringers, and Heavensward expansions. Elsewhere, “To Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X brought upon a collective groan (if you know, you know), whereas the more lighthearted “Chocobo Medley” saw murmured cooing and whispered exclamations of how cute the beloved mounts are.
It wouldn’t be a proper Final Fantasy concert, much less one held in celebration of its 35-year anniversary, if one of the franchise’s most popular soundtracks didn’t make the cut. Rounding out the experience was Sephiroth’s theme song, the one and only “One-Winged Angel”, with scenes from the original Final Fantasy VII and the FFVII Advent Children computer-animated film accompanying the encore piece’s epic, sweeping instrumentals and Latin chants.
Here’s the full list of songs performed during the Singapore leg of Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy (in chronological order):
- Final Fantasy Series: Prelude Medley
- Final Fantasy VII Remake: Those Chosen by the Planet
- Final Fantasy Series: Victory Theme
- Final Fantasy VI: Phantom Forest ~ Phantom Train ~ The Veldt
- Final Fantasy XV: Apocalypsis Noctis
- Final Fantasy VIII: Eyes on Me, performed by Susan Calloway
- Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood: Triumph
- Final Fantasy X: To Zanarkand
- Final Fantasy VII Remake: Stand Up
- Final Fantasy Series: Chocobo Medley
- Final Fantasy VIII: Liberi Fatali
- Final Fantasy X: Suteki Da Ne, performed by Rikki
- Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers: Invincible
- Final Fantasy VII: Aerith’s Theme
- Final Fantasy IX: Festival of the Hunt
- Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward: Dragonsong, performed by Susan Calloway
- Final Fantasy I-VI: Battle Medley
- Final Fantasy Series: Main Theme
- Final Fantasy VII: One-Winged Angel (Encore)
While thoroughly enjoyable and full of charm the series is known for, the repertoire was notably missing soundtracks from Final Fantasy XII, FFXIII, and FFXVI, which would have been nice to listen to. The latter was likely excluded since it’s relatively recent, and that’s a shame – the action role-playing game boasts several memorable, head-bopping picks, such as “Find the Flame” and the various Eikon battle themes. Final Fantasy XIII, similarly, has its fair share of phenomenal arrangements, taking the form of “Blinded by Light”, “Lightning’s Theme”, “Saber’s Edge”, and more.
Beyond music delights, attendees also treated themselves to a photo opportunity with character cutouts featuring the main crew from Final Fantasy VII Remake. It wasn’t the only space with a snaking queue – the merchandise area saw many waiting in line to grab everything from a Distant Worlds t-shirt and Tidus plush toy to soundtrack collections from previous years. As expected, most of the items were sold out by the end of the concert.
The congestion didn’t come as a surprise, either. With a full house in attendance, the premises outside of the performance theatre faced space constraints, resulting in poor traffic management, both before and after the event, and messy navigation from one space to another.
The non-performance highlight of the night, though, was a group of cosplayers who graced the venue in full gear. Turning heads with their character-accurate getups were local cosplayers Drefan, FuryKangKong, BoiledCurry, Sabbucos, and AQ Rica, all of whom certainly brought out the Final Fantasy spirit.
Even after a six-year hiatus, Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy continues to be a fan sensation. The concert has established itself as a strong returning act for the franchise’s 35th anniversary, charming the Singapore crowd with a finely-crafted selection of soundtracks. In particular, the Final Fantasy XIV set pieces proved to be the standout here, bringing a modern, present-day touch that blends in nicely with the musical nostalgia from past titles.
It’d have been nice to feature some picks from the three missing Final Fantasy games, but otherwise, there isn’t much to complain about. For the most part, it feels like a warm and comfortable homecoming, much like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in years – six, in this case.
Header image courtesy of Avex Asia.