20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy :: Review by Sophia
Unfortunately for those of us in North America, video game concerts are scarce. That isn't the case in Japan however. On February 20, 2002 in Tokyo, a live concert was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra at the Tokyo International Forum featuring the works of Nobuo Uematsu arranged by Shiro Hamaguchi. The CD that was released, 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy, gave the rest of us a rare glimpse of what it must have been like to have been sitting there live. The tracks on the CD include the MCs which were the Japanese voice actors of Tidus (Masakazu Morita) and Yuna (Mayuko Aoki). Considering I can't speak Japanese, you're on your own for translations!
I remember the first time I heard "Liberi Fatali and I was just stunned. The same could be said when I heard this full-blown orchestrated version of it. Although the experience of hearing it live is completely different, it nonetheless still sends chills down my spine when I hear it. Next on the list is "Theme of Love" which is one of the most prominent themes of Final Fantasy IV. The flute carries the melody beautifully in this version, creating that sense of longing, sadness, and love. A very soothing melody in any form, soft cello strings gives the piece a quality that was never felt before back in the SNES days.
After that, we have "Final Fantasy I-III Medley" which begins with the famous "Prelude" that started this whole adventure. Following that, you have your very first overworld theme which is one of the most catchy themes in the series. The arrangement was well done, giving that sense of adventure, hope, and anticipation of greater things to come. "Matoya's Cave" is another fun little tune, although this version is much slower and transitions into other dreamy themes. Of course Final Fantasy couldn't be complete without a robust version of the "Chocobo" theme. Even if you are not a fan of the theme, this bouncy, cheerful, and overall delightful rendition is hard not to enjoy especially with that triumphant finale. Moving on, "Aerith's Theme" is beautiful as always, as it has a classic touch. I don't think anyone ever gets tired of listening to it. There was nothing too special about the arrangement, but listening to an orchestrated version gives the theme a lot more depth and emotion. There's nothing like listening to the romantic sound of violin strings.
"Don't be Afraid" was done extremely well and it captured the original feel of urgency. If only the PlayStation at the time could have support music such as this. This may seem odd, but I am always curious to see when a triangle is actually used and the fast-paced intro answered my question. "Tina," also the overworld theme for Final Fantasy VI, carries with it a sense of hope and Hamaguchi's arrangement portrayed the sincerity of it well. The last part of the piece gradually climbs to a powerful and radiant finish. "Dear Friends" begins a little on the bland side, although it still very pleasant to listen to. It does have its charm which comes in later. The gentle plucking sound of the guitar adds a unique quality to the piece. Talking of guitar mastery, the subtle beginning of "Vamo' Alla Flamenco" leads you carefully into a more boisterous, vivacious flamenco full of Spanish flair. There are the ups and downs and Hamaguchi explores different emotions, speeds and style throughout this orchestration.
The second CD begins with "To Zanarkand," which is performed on the piano only and really lets you focus in on the simple melody. There is nothing to distract you from listening to every single note, each played carefully with skill and perfection. Although it is not a new arrangement or in any way fluffed up, its simplicity is more than enough. Another piano solo follows with "Yuna's Decision," which has a very different feel. The piece is very casual and relaxing, and would make great elevator music. The instrumental love themes from Final Fantasy VIII, "Love Grows," begins with the soft sound of the French horn. Once the pianist joins in, the piece takes on an uplifting transition. When paired with the horn, together they blend together wonderfully, creating a spring like love duet between two birds.
Rikki's folk singing voice is most likely not what you're used to. Her own style makes "Suteki da ne" that much more enjoyable. With an orchestra accompanying her, it adds a different feel to the song. Even though Rikki's voice is soft and quiet, the orchestra compliments her nicely while she is singing. The next piece beings with "The Place I Will Return to Someday" before leading into "Melodies of Life". Emiko Shiratori has a beautiful yet powerful voice which makes "Melodies of Life" a joy to listen to because you feel the inspiration behind it. Again the orchestration compliments her singing perfectly. Since she has a stronger voice, you can hear her clearly even though the musicians are playing their own part without having to tone it down.
Another piece to send chills down the spine, "One Winged Angel," has a strong opening and it almost feels like it's spiraling out of control but you know that it's all planned. Chaotic and wild, it definitely gives you the feeling that the series most celebrated villain Sephiroth is there. The vocals add an eerie touch. "The Man with the Machine Gun" translated better than I had expected considering that it definitely didn't seem like a track that would be played by an orchestra, but by computers and synthesizers. It did seem a bit sloppy, however it was definitely interesting to hear. It is probably not one of the strongest performances, but it is still a treat to hear.
You know that all good things must come to an end when the ending theme of "Final Fantasy" is played. That overwhelming sense of joy when you complete a game suddenly turns to a brief feeling of emptiness when you realize that the game is over. Commonly described as the 'ending credits' music, this is a lively finale that represents all the hard work that was put into the series, and, with it, the concert is brought to a close.
This was a fantastic album and definitely worth every penny. If you're a fan of Final Fantasy music, this is a must have. Even though recently Square Enix and Nobuo Uematsu have held several concerts in the US, these occurrences are rare, and the live recording has yet to be released. I think I would still rather have this version, as the audience does not overwhelm or interrupt the piece. Having attended three of the Dear Friends - Music from Final Fantasy concert tours, the amount of hootin' and hollerin' from the excitement must have made it difficult to get a good recording. 20020220 - Music from Final Fantasy comes very highly recommended.
Overall Score: 10/10