The Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds Concert Cured My Depression

final fantasy distant worlds concert
Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds (c) Square Enix

Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds sounds simple enough on paper. It brings together the Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dessoff Choirs under the direction of Grammy Award-winner Arnie Roth to perform some of the Final Fantasy series’ greatest hits. In 30 years of Final Fantasy, there are a number of legendary scores to choose from, and Roth is absolutely spoiled for choice.

The concert this past Saturday on Jan. 13 in Carnegie Hall may be one of my most precious memories. Being in a room full of Final Fantasy ’s biggest fans--the kinds of fans who would shell out over $100 a ticket to hear Final Fantasy music performed live at Carnegie Hall--is an extraordinary experience. Not only was the concert in celebration of Final Fantasy ’s 30th birthday, it was also the Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra’s 10th anniversary.

The crowd gasped when Roth announced that veteran Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu was in attendance, as well as Final Fantasy XV composer Yoko Shimomura, both of whom took the stage to thunderous, bruising applause. Certain classic songs, such as Final Fantasy VIII’s “Liberi Fatali” or Final Fantasy X ’s “Welcome to Zanarkand,” caused a hush of respect to fall over the crowd.

Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds also includes “exclusive new HD video presentations from Square Enix” which are projected on a giant screen behind the orchestra as the music plays. I was unprepared for the way cinematics from favorite scenes and favorite games, combined with music swelling and breaking, would play with my heart. Red XIII racing with his kids towards the high cliffs overlooking a Midgar retaken by nature? Vivi (best character in Final Fantasy of all time, fight me) watching helplessly as his fellow Black Mages plummet from an airship? Noctis on the phone hearing of Insomnia’s fall?

Nothing made me realize the grip the Final Fantasy series has on my heart more than the single, manful tear of emotion that stood in my eye as “Liberi Fatali” began. When the orchestra played “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII as the camera panned overhead during the famous sequence where Sephiroth swoops down to kill her, then cut right before he ends her life, you could feel the emotion in the audience. The echoes of “Hymn of the Faith” ringing in the Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall felt positively religious.

It’s not just the post-VII games that got love, either. The orchestra performed the original Final Fantasy theme as well as the “Swing de Chocobo” arrangement of the well-known chocobo theme and even the opera “Maria and Draco” from Final Fantasy VI, complete with resplendent opera singers on stage. Final Fantasy fans could not ask for their beloved series to be treated with greater respect than these professional, talented people putting together this beautiful concert, complete with lovingly put-together HD footage playing behind them.

Depression is not something I enjoy talking about, but I will say this: it is a thief of joy. It robs you of interest in your favorite things. It steals from you the ability to be moved by simple pleasures such as a game you enjoy or a piece of music you once loved. While attending this concert, I felt those things again: enjoyment, affection, an earnest sincerity of emotion. I remembered what it felt like to play those games and lose myself in distant worlds of romance, drama, struggle and victory.

I not only remembered being happy; I was happy. I went home, put on the Distant Worlds vinyl I purchased at the concert, listened to the albums which are available to stream for free, and felt joy. You don’t realize what you’ve lost until you feel it again.

It might be corny or even cringeworthy to admit that a J-RPG series famed for absurd costume design, silver-haired villains and plot holes you could drive an airship through is the first thing to make you feel happiness in years, but I’ll admit it. And I suspect I wouldn’t be alone in admitting it, either.

 

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