Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy
By James D. Deaux IV
27 June 2005 — Before next-generation video game systems were introduced to the market, video game music was hardly thought of as a real genre unto itself. After all, 8- and 16-bit music didn't (for the most part) really present us with incredibly deep songs. And on the extremely rare occurrences when video game music concerts did happen, they stayed within Japan. However, that was then, and this is now.
Video game music is beginning to make a name for itself in the general media and it is rapidly growing in popularity thanks to advanced technology and live orchestras. One composer who has helped bring about this surge in video game music notoriety is Nobuo Uematsu — the composer of the music in the legendary Final Fantasy franchise. When I heard that his critically acclaimed Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy concert series would make a stop in Atlanta (with two shows, no less), I leapt at the chance to go see one of them. The ticket itself was $70, but I would have paid far more to see this concert because let's face it — this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event. The programs they sold at the concert were gorgeous, and contained original artwork from the covers of every Final Fantasy game. I used every last dollar in my wallet to purchase one because it truly was worth the price.
The Dear Friends Setlist:
"Liberi Fatali" (Final Fantasy VIII)
"To Zanarkand" (Final Fantasy X)
"Terra" (Final Fantasy VI)
"Theme of Love" (Final Fantasy IV)
"Dear Friends" (Final Fantasy V)
"Vamo' Alla Flamenco" (Final Fantasy IX)
"Love Grows" (Final Fantasy VIII)
"Aeris' Theme" (Final Fantasy VII)
"You Are Not Alone" (Final Fantasy IX)
"Ronfaure" (Final Fantasy XI)
"Medley" (Final Fantasy I-III)
"Cloud Smiles" (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children)
"Final Fantasy Theme" (a.k.a. "Prelude")
"One-Winged Angel" (Final Fantasy VII)
The set-up when you enter the Symphony Hall was this: there were three huge screens lowered down from the ceiling — one for each third of the audience, left, center and right. On these screens, clips from the later Final Fantasy games were shown during their respective songs (silent, of course). After the clips finished, the music would still be playing, so the cameras would pan over the various members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as they played their instruments. For example, during "To Zanarkand", the clips showed Yuna (one of the main protagonists in the game) performing a ritual dance to send the souls of the dead off to the next realm. After the in-game clips (which were usually around 60-75 seconds each) ended, it faded to the orchestra and more specifically the piano player. In the original version, the entire song is piano music with no other instruments. Even still, the song is astoundingly beautiful. One can imagine how grand the piece sounded with an entire orchestra behind the piano. The movies playing along with the songs created an entirely different atmosphere than an average classical music concert. During "To Zanarkand" and especially "Aeris' Theme", the scope of the movies along with the pure emotion of the songs was enough to make the concertgoer shed a sorrowful tear.
Before intermission, the conductor, Arnie Roth, informed us that Nobuo Uematsu was unable to attend the Atlanta concerts because of a last-minute problem. This was very disappointing, obviously, but they played a video of him on the screens. Uematsu thanked us for coming to the concert and wished us all the very best while apologizing for not being able to attend. While it was unfortunate that Uematsu could not be there, Arnie Roth made up for it with his winning personality. After a set (every three songs for this particular show), he would announce the next set of songs with a joke on his lips. His sense of humor was well received by the Atlanta audience.
After the Final Fantasy theme ("Prelude"), we, the audience, gave the orchestra and Roth a rousing standing ovation. According to the program, that was the end of the show. There were no other songs listed after "Prelude" in the free or $20 program. Roth, as per tradition, left the stage and returned seconds later. It was then that the choir, which had previously only been on stage at the beginning of the concert for "Liberi Fatali", returned to the risers. I knew immediately what was going to happen. During the applause, I was so excited that I said to the gentleman sitting next to me, "One-Winged Angel! It has to be!" We all sat back down as Roth resumed his position at his stand. Suddenly, the thunderous strings sounded as "One-Winged Angel", arguably the most popular video game song ever written, let alone in the Final Fantasy series, began. We nearly blew the roof off of the Symphony Hall in excitement. The adrenaline that was flowing during those four and a half minutes was nigh-immeasurable. When the song concluded, we gave an even louder ovation than before. Roth grabbed his microphone once again and said, "That was so good, why don't we do it again?" So, true to his word, he conducted the orchestra to a double-encore of "One-Winged Angel", which was delight.
Upon completion, Arnie Roth left the stage and returned one final time. He took the microphone and thanked us again for coming and urged us to send feedback to Square-Enix, the series' vaunted company, so that they know people love the shows and want a new concert series in the future. The first thing I did when I returned home that evening was send an e-mail to Square-Enix raving about how brilliant the concert was.
Needless to say, the concert was well worth the price of admission. In fact, I dare say I would call it a bargain given how special the experience was. As a person who has grown up with video games, being able to say I attended a concert of this type is such a rewarding thought. All I can do now is wait and hope for a DVD release along with news of a future Dear Friends concert tour. I also pray that Yasunori Mitsuda, the composer of the amazing Xenogears and Chrono Cross soundtracks, among many others (and good friend of Nobuo Uematsu) decides to put on a concert series sometime soon. As successful as the Dear Friends series was, I can only hope he follows in his friend's footsteps because I might sell everything I own to get a ticket to that show.