'Final Fantasy' evolves into a musical pioneer for games

By Tatiana Craine

Video games have come a long way since the days of “Pong” and other gaming pioneers. Since then, dozens of different gaming consoles have cropped up on gamer’s shelves from Atari’s old-school joystick to the state-of-the-art Wii. Player experience increased with each console upgrade-the games got more advanced and the graphics became more real. However, what set the games apart from one another wasn’t necessarily the complexities of the game missions or the color of the game characters’ outfits-it was the sound. More specifically, the music. The world over, gamers and non-gamers alike recognize the familiar tunes accompanying Nintendo’s original “Mario Bros” games. The original, simplistic musical scores from the dawn of the videogame have changed immensely over the videogame industry’s lifespan. Today games are complemented by more than electronic blips; they boast entire scores of orchestrated music fit for-what else-an orchestra.

Perhaps more than any other, “Final Fantasy” has achieved the apex of musical composition within a videogame. For more than twenty years, “Final Fantasy” has been challenging players with quests and role-playing; and even after a couple decades, the franchise is still going strong. Slated for a 2010 release, “Final Fantasy XIII,” the latest installment in the series, has been long awaited by fervent fans. “Final Fantasy” is the fourth most popular videogame ever, bested only by “Mario,” “Pokemon” and “The Sims.”

For players, part of the allure of “Final Fantasy” comes from realistic graphics and game-play innovations abundant in the latter installments, two CGI films and the captivating storylines. Throughout the evolution of “Final Fantasy,” gamers have been treated with an adventure that feels like an enthralling book or film-not a mere videogame. The players find more than missions involving pixels fighting pixels in “Final Fantasy.” However, the story and the characters would be hardly as charming for gamers without the music. An adventure movie without a soundtrack is like spring without rain-it just doesn’t feel right. “Final Fantasy” is just as good, if not better than, an adventure film, since players control the outcome and the game flaunts a soundtrack by one of the most celebrated videogame composers.

Original “Final Fantasy” musical composer Nobuo Uematsu blended ornate orchestral themes with classic electronic beats with snippets of rock and voice choirs, creating some of the most identifiable and unique videogame melodies. Players dedicate countless hours to the game, and game makers have appeased the fans by featuring music as advanced as the CGI characters throughout “Final Fantasy.”

The music in “Final Fantasy” has been hailed around the globe and honored with many tours featuring Uematsu and others’ musical compositions. Years ago, symphonic game music concerts began touring Japan presenting the best of game songs. As the music became more appreciated by a wider demographic, the tours began to spread across the world. “TIME Magazine” even honored Uematsu with a spot in the “Time 100: the Next Wave Music” issue.

For the twentieth anniversary of the “Final Fantasy” franchise, “Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy” debuted in Europe in 2007 and has been traveling ever since. This weekend, Minneapolis will be host to Uematsu and acclaimed music director Arnie Roth as “Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy” takes the stage at the Orpheum Theatre.

Roth, a Grammy award-winner, has worked with celebrated musicians like Diana Ross, Jewel and Charlotte Church. Esteemed by the musical community, Roth has conducted many symphonic orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. However, throughout the gaming industry he is most renowned for his work with Uematsu on “Final Fantasy.” Roth has been on several other “Final Fantasy” symphonic game music concert tours in the past, and will conduct “Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy” in Minneapolis.

The concert will feature giant projections of famous game sequences and action stills as the orchestra plays onstage. The tour highlights local musicians from each tour stop and will be using the talents of a freelance orchestra including members from the Minneapolis Orchestra. Additionally, some of the Macalester College Concert Choir members will also be honored by performing songs with the orchestra during the show.

“Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy” isn’t intended merely for the gamers out there, the iconic music has appealed to countless audiences around the world. The show unites not only adoration for one of the most successful videogames ever, but also appreciation for distinctive and exceptional music.

The Orpheum Theatre presents “Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy” for one night only on Saturday, April 11 at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $31.00-128.50.