There have been a lot of different Final Fantasy concerts, with different brandings and different groups, since 2000. There was that 20020220 album, Dear Friends, More Friends, Voices, and now Distant Worlds. The latest seems to be the real deal. It’s solid. The album for the first “Distant Worlds” recording was published in two different regions with different catalog numbers, and the second album is set to do the same thing.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot new happening.
Just look at the tracklist. Though all of these recordings are new compared to Distant Worlds’ first CD, try comparing this tracklist to 20020220, Dear Friends, More Friends, Voices, and all previous studio arrange albums. What remains standing as a “new” arrangement? On the surface, only two seem to be truly new. One is “Dancing Mad,” only because this arrangement isn’t just the final portion of the four-part suite (found arranged on Black Mages). This is all four parts, and that makes it a fantastic track. The other is “Prima Vista Orchestra,” a track I had completely forgotten about from FFIX.
But then, that’s just the surface. While some of these tracks are almost note-for-note replicas of previous arrangements (see FFVIII‘s “Man With a Machine Gun” on FLWV), others are arranged in a way I’ve simply never heard before (“JENOVA” from FFVII). And then there’s that 8 second victory theme (apologies to iTunes users who paid $1 for that track)…
Of course, the whole album is solid. It’s a great orchestral recording, on par with DW1 regarding performance and recording quality. But I do have some gripes nonetheless. First of all, the vocalist. I don’t know who she is, but her well-pronounced English betrays the power of “Melodies of Life” and “Suteki da ne.” I know how stupid that sounds when I say it. But I’m saying it anyway. Those lyrics are trite and ridiculous. Mask them with the voice of someone who isn’t a native speaker of the language, or give us the Japanese version outright. These vocal performances just sounded ridiculous to me. I couldn’t stand them.
Fortunately, the instrumental backing behind those vocal parts were good enough to make up for it.
The highlight of the album is, without question, “Dancing Mad.” Grand Finale as an album had some good tracks, but it’s 15 years old now and we need some new FFVI arrangements in our lives. This is the one you wanted. Trust me. The choir is awesome. The organ in part three is awesome. The fact that they arranged all four parts and made a 10 minute suite out of this incredible work of music is just … wow. It’s about time! I love this track. It makes the album, for me.
Other favorites include “Ronfaure,” “At Zanarkand,” and “Main Theme of FFVII.” I was disappointed with “JENOVA.” Granted it’s not an easy piece to transpose to orchestra. But they used a trap set (standard drum kit) to maintain the beat, and I would’ve much preferred they try to arrange and perform without it. Use traditional auxiliary percussion in its place.
My biggest complaint about the album is the lack of old music. This album doesn’t go past FFV, and they did “Dear Friends” (heard it before, even though this is a good arrangement/performance of it). Nothing from FFI through IV? That’s crazy talk. “Troian Beauty” from FFIV would’ve been great. The main theme of FFIII is always a favorite. A dungeon theme from FFIII would be good too. Please don’t take FFI through III music and stick it in a medley. Do something good with the old tracks! Come on!
All in all: a good orchestral companion to Final Fantasy music, but another of many. If you like “Dancing Mad” as much as I do, it’s a must-have. Otherwise, it’s merely a “nice to have.”