Currently Listening: Distant Worlds I – Music from Final Fantasy

_Back in the late ’90s there was a game that forever changed the definition of what a “video game” meant and what it meant to invest time and effort into exploring a world. That game was Final Fantasy VII.

Previously my experience with games had been titles like Crash Bandicoot, Wipeout, and a lovable game known as Croc. I was about 9 or 10 at the time, so that made sense. But when Final Fantasy came into my life I began to see gaming as more than just a “fun” thing to do. It was no longer about jumping on crates and collecting fruit, it was a doorway to another world–a nexus point that escorted my consciousness to a universe of limitless fantasy and imagination. And while I could write endlessly about the many aspects of Final Fantasy that made this possible, perhaps one of the most powerful of all the components that made up VII and VIII was the music.

Distant Worlds I – Music from Final Fantasy is a wonderful collection of orchestral performances of classic Final Fantasy songs from the Distant Worlds tour. Conducted by Arnie Roth and composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, these 13 tracks cover songs dating back to Final Fantasy I and gong up to IX (Uematsu’s last Final Fantasy game until XIV) this CD is simply breathtaking–especially if your primary experience with these songs was through the old MIDI performances in the game. Hearing real instruments and real people–especially the operatic performances–bring these pieces to life touches on every emotional level as a gamer. But aside from being the soundtrack to this powerful series of games, it’s amazing to just listen to the music as separate from its origin. The compositional prowess of Uematsu ranks him, in my opinion, as one of the greatest composers of our time. Whether its the quirky and playful nature of “Swing de Chocobo,” the passion and melodically epic sprawl of “Vamo’ alla Flamenco,” the emotional and poignant delicacy of “Aeirth’s Theme,” or the menacing and ominous march of “One-Winged Angel,” the musical palette of the Japanese composer is, I’d argue, virtually without rival in video game music and truly distinct amongst composers in general.

Though Distant Worlds is a recent recording, its music has been around for some time and has, arguably, created a standard for gaming music in general. Again I think back to Final Fantasy VII as well as VIII. Few games at that time–perhaps with the exception of Metal Gear Solid–contain such audacity. It’s from these songs that one can see the shift in gaming, as I mentioned earlier, away from stomping on things and collecting random items, to an experience that’s deeply personal and captivating.

As one of my must have albums in my collection, Distant Worlds stands as an aural connection to universes and worlds that have forever become apart of me and as a collection of amazing composition and performance.

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