Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy
- "A quality collection of orchestral Final Fantasy for new fans, but with little new to offer to collectors."
- Release date: 2007-12-04
- Catalog number: AWR-10101
- Retail price: $19.98
- Publisher: AWR Records
One disc (74 minutes)
- Opening ~ Bombing Mission (FFVII) [4:03] MP3 sample
- Liberi Fatali (FFVIII) [3:15]
- Aerith's Theme (FFVII) [5:48] MP3 sample
- Fisherman's Horizon (FFVIII) [4:53] MP3 sample
- Don't be Afraid (FFVIII) [3:45]
- Memoro de la Stono ~ Distant Worlds (FFXI) [8:42]
- Medley 2002 (FFI-III) [8:04]
- Theme of Love (FFIV) [5:22]
- Vamo' alla Flamenco (FFIX) [4:15] MP3 sample
- Love Grows (FFVIII) [5:10]
- Opera "Maria and Draco" (FFVI) [12:15] MP3 sample
- Swing de Chocobo [4:33]
- One-Winged Angel (FFVII) [4:26] MP3 sample
A quality collection of orchestral Final Fantasy for new fans, but with little new to offer to collectors.
Editor's review by Adam Corn (2011-09-27)
The first thing to know about "Distant Worlds - Music from Final Fantasy" is that it's essentially an orchestral "best of" compilation album. Though the performances are all new and recorded exclusively for this album, the arrangements are not - virtually every one has been available in one or more previous Final Fantasy soundtrack releases (and most made available again in later ones). Thus the question becomes whether the track selection and new performances are good enough for new fans to choose Distant Worlds over those other albums, and for long-time collectors to supplement them with. My own feelings toward the album are too mixed to respond with a resounding "yes", though in certain circumstances I can certainly see it as a solid purchase.
The album kicks off with "Opening ~ Bombing Mission" from Final Fantasy VII, an arrangement which made its album debut in the concert album More Friends (along with "Swing de Chocobo" and "Opera Maria and Draco"). As the original version was one of the best demonstrations of the masterful sci-fi synth-orchestral fusion in FFVII, not to mention one of the great openings for a soundtrack of any sort, this orchestral arrangement has a lot to live up to, and if put against such high expectations it disappoints. The power in the orchestra is there but the arrangement lacks both the imperative, driving quality and the sci-fi flare of the original, with a couple of additions and modifications that are too conservative for such a progressive OST. For the slightly different quality it possesses the Distant Worlds version is still a good piece, but it pales next to the original.
The other two selections from FFVII are both lifted from the FFVII Reunion Tracks album (the third arrangement from that album, "FFVII Main Theme", can be found on Distant Worlds 2). Though the arrangements are the same, the performances and recording are noticeably different, and in the case of "Aerith's Theme" it's for the better. The tender lead woodwinds are more delicate, the soft backing instrumentals more graceful, and the brief moments of loudness and triumph more refined. As for "One-Winged Angel", I find the performances in the Reunion Tracks version slightly better capture the menace of the piece, though fans who have never heard it for comparison will likely be entirely satisfied with the Distant Worlds version.
Beating out FFVII as the most represented title of the album is Final Fantasy VIII. All four of its arrangements have been taken directly from the 1999 FFVIII arranged album Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec. That particular release is of such high quality that no serious Final Fantasy music fan has reason to be without it, so again the question is how well do the Distant Worlds versions compare. And in the case of the bombastic opening choral piece "Liberi Fatali", more so than in "One-Winged Angel" I find the performances lack the urgency of the previous version, even if the orchestra isn't lacking the least in sheer power. The main battle theme "Don't Be Afraid" and the "Eyes on Me" orchestral arrangement "Love Grows" compare better, though the former can be found on several other albums and the latter is a slightly mundane choice.
The highlight for me is by far FFVIII's "Fisherman's Horizon", not only because of the improved performance and recording, which like "Aerith's Theme" is more intricate and emotive than its previous orchestral release, but because this is the one re-used arrangement to boast some significant and beneficial tweaks. Though the arrangement has always featured a chorus it's taken a hugely expanded role here, in an almost church choir-like form that you'd expect from a 1940s Christmas carol. That may sound like a peculiar choice for a Final Fantasy album but it actually makes for a welcome and tremendously pretty change of pace.
Tracks seven through nine all debuted in the Tokyo 20020220 orchestral concert and can be found in its subsequent double-disc live album. The Distant Worlds recordings for the Final Fantasy I-III "Medley 2002" and Final Fantasy IV's "Theme of Love" sound far better, though for different reasons I consider neither piece a really noteworthy inclusion. In Final Fantasy IX's "Vamo' alla Flamenco" as well, there's no question the orchestral recording bests the one in 20020220. The track-defining solo guitar performance sounds off to me in this version, but for those hearing it in orchestral form for the first time it's not likely to be an issue.
Finally we come the two vocal tracks of the album, which combined take up a good twenty minutes of its running time. "Memoro de la Stono ~ Distant Worlds" hails from the Final Fantasy XI OST and is surprisingly good at its start - more somber than most Final Fantasy pieces and showing Shiro Hamaguchi at his orchestrating best. Unfortunately rather than leaving the arrangement in its original superb state they've gone and cut in the "Distant Worlds" vocal theme, which suffering from poorly written, nature-obsessed English-language lyrics and overly idealistic choral accompaniment totally kills the somber mood of the piece.
And that brings us to the twelve-minute performance of the famous Final Fantasy VI "Opera Maria and Draco", complete with three vocalists to perform the three solo parts. Whereas previous orchestral arrangements of the opera featured vocals in Japanese or Italian, this time around they're in English. Obviously this makes it easier for us English speakers to understand the sung dialog, but with lines like "Maria, Maria, I love you so" and "I am thankful my beloved for your tenderness and grace" that's not necessarily a good thing. Combined with vocal performances that though respectable aren't of the highest caliber and the piece is a little hard to take seriously at times. The other problem lies with the arrangement, which even at twelve minutes feels rushed. Certain sections that really deserve repetition are given a single pass and the climax of the entire production, the "Grand Finale?" segment from the OST, is missing altogether. Granted over the years I've become accustomed to the famous Orchestral Game Concert 4 version, which at 23 minutes is anything but rushed and which does include the Grand Finale segment in very climactic form, so those experiencing the FFVI opera for the first time via the Distant Worlds arrangement may well be more impressed. It certainly does have a few special qualities of its own, but I can't help but think every time I listen to it that it could have been better (and the More Friends recording of the same arrangement is, with better vocal performances and a more patiently rendered performance overall).
Despite my many nitpicks I won't deny that Distant Worlds is a good album. Taken purely on its own merit it's an enjoyable listen, and for those who are new to the Final Fantasy music scene and just want some good orchestral music on the cheap it certainly provides that opportunity. But for fans who already have many of the albums from which these arrangements are compiled, the collection here is mostly redundant and the performances on the whole not so drastically better as to demand a double-dip. My recommendation is to first consider the second Distant Worlds album, which offers a better selection of rarities, or the double-disc "Returning Home" live album, which though not as good a recording is a more thorough compilation with some can't-miss exclusives. Any essential tracks that remain from this first Distant Worlds can just as easily be downloaded individually - with each available not only on the likes of iTunes and Amazon but also in lossless format on Bandcamp, this is one case where fans can afford to be choosy.
An amazing collection of orchestrated Final Fantasy music.
Reader review by Ugly Bob (2011-09-27)
As a successor of sorts to the Dear Friends and More Friends series of concerts, Distant Worlds seeks to meld the music of Final Fantasy with the orchestrations and epic nature of classical live performances, and this first album release makes the experience available to all. Nobuo Uematsu's music is conducted by Arnie Roth, well known even before this venture and even more so now, as his clout did a lot to bring this project off the ground.
The album opens with "Opening ~ Bombing Mission" from Final Fantasy VII. This rendition carries a powerful orchestral style and is a great opening piece, leaving the listener anxious for more. All of the players get in on the piece, with powerful strings and percussion alike. I like the rising action around the three-minute mark that is highly reminiscent of the game and well suited for an orchestral performance.
"Liberi Fatali", the opening from Final Fantasy VIII, is a great choral piece in the tradition of "Carmina Burana Oh Fortuna" by Carl Orff. Its epic chanting has made it a favorite for concerts since the game first came out in 1999. This performance hits all the right notes, with a subdued opening gaining more energy as the piece moves to the rising action, which hits the big time around the one-minute mark. It's just what fans will expect when it comes to hearing this piece performed live. The choir leads do an especially great job, making this a standout.
"Memora de la Stono ~ Distant Worlds" was an unfamiliar piece to me but is among the most memorable of the album. The first four minutes are chanting by a male choir with some strings accompanying. The piece gains a different identity around 3:54 when a female soloist enters the fray. She skillfully leads the rest of the orchestra for the remainder of the piece, with echoes from the background for emphasis, for a great and memorable performance.
"Medley 2002" is a holdover from the 20020220 concert held in Japan. It's a medley from the first two Final Fantasy games; as their relatively simplistic scores do not have quite as many pieces suitable for orchestration as latter titles, a medley is most fitting. It opens with a bit of the "Prelude" and moves to a rendition of what sounds like "Matoya's Cave". The highlight from the first game's arrangements is at 4:50; where trumpets and other create a rather whimsical tune that is just fun to listen to. After the more solemn opening, it's a fine change of pace. The track moves into Final Fantasy II territory with an epic orchestration of the "Rebel Army Theme". FFII is an overlooked game with some great music, and I would have liked to hear its "Battle Theme" done in a similar style, as it's an energetic piece that is superior to the one in original but not nearly as recognized. Either way, it's great to hear the music in this format and the group does an amazing job in this performance. The interesting thing about this release of the medley from 2002 is it has a more appropriate name - as there doesn't seem to be anything from Final Fantasy III in its eight minute length, the previous name of "Final Fantasy I-III Medley" didn't quite work.
The opera "Maria and Draco" deserves special mention, it being the longest piece on the album and one of the few times this amazing music from FFVI has been properly orchestrated. The male and female soloists, representing the two title characters, sing in English and give a stirring performance. The lyrics aren't the same as in the game, making the piece a treat for fans looking for a tribute with something different in mind. Except for the "Grand Finale?" sequence, each part of one of FFVI's most memorable scenes is faithfully recreated in this performance, from the "Overture" to "Aria de Mezzo Caratterre" to the "Wedding Waltz" and "Duel". Every moment carries the weight of the piece and feels as powerful in a live performance as it did so many years ago on a simple little sound chip. Kudos to the producers for including this piece and having it live up to what fans knew was possible!
The final track is appropriately "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII, the most popular and well-known track in the history of Final Fantasy's music. The performance for Distant Worlds hits all the right notes, with each member of the choir working in tandem to create a great unified sound. Past choir performances of this piece were lacking for this reason, and you can't blame the acoustics solely - they just lacked the necessary menace that the piece conveys under most conditions. I'm happy to report that this isn't the case on a Distant Worlds. Though it has been truncated a bit it's still a great closing piece.
Distant Worlds is an amazing collection of orchestrated Final Fantasy music, as essential for new fans as for the ones who have been with the series since its inception. The reception has been strong, and with a second album and continuing live productions things are looking bright for the show's future. Here's to Arnie Roth, Nobuo Uematsu, and all the dedicated and talented performers that bring Distant Worlds to life!
- Japan edition released Jan 14, 2009 (catalog no. SQEX-10136).
- Track 6 "Memoro de la Stono ~ Distant Worlds" arranged by Naoshi Mizuta and Sachiko Miyano with vocals by Susan Calloway.
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