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Distant Worlds, and the rise of the video game symphony

By Elizabeth Peck

As video games continue to grow in popularity, fans are finding new ways to experience their favorite games: in concert.

Video game symphonies are quickly rising in popularity, and continue to perform sold out concerts and draw attendees both young and old. More people than ever are visiting the symphony to see their favorite video game music performed live by orchestra groups such as The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, Distant Worlds: The Music of Final Fantasy and Video Games Live. Even high school bands and small town orchestras have taken to performing video game arrangements.

I was able to attend the Distant Worlds concert on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. It wasn’t the first symphony performance I had been to, but after having left the concert, I saw there were many reasons why video game symphonies and orchestras are consistently outperforming other acts.

Looking around the concert hall, fans young and old, male and female, and symphony enthusiasts and first-timers were all gathered together to celebrate the one love they all had in common. They chatted excitedly with one another about their favorite titles and tracks, past shows, and what they hoped they would play.

The concert itself was anything but your cut-and-dry symphony. Most normal performances include simply sitting and listening to the music being played in front of you. But Distant Worlds director Arnie Roth and composer Nobuo Uematsu wanted exactly the opposite. =

On the stage, behind the symphony, sat a large screen where footage from the corresponding Final Fantasy title would play while you listened. This gave the attendee something to interact with while listening. In between tracks, Roth would introduce and speak about the compositions and joke with Uematsu. There was even a composition called “Chocobo Medley” that called for audience participation to sing out a phrase at the right time.

The symphony played a variety of tracks from popular fan favorites to hidden gems, like “The Hymn of the Fayth” for the more involved fans. Even casual players found something to enjoy.

Distant Worlds has been touring for almost ten years, but Roth and Uematsu consistently give something special to each show. In Chicago alone, they premiered a handful of new compositions that weren’t played anywhere else, and devoted the second half of the concert to the anniversary of Final Fantasy VI. The constantly changing repertoire is what draws fans back for more.

But overall, these symphonies are more energetic and eye catching than the norm. They continue to draw a broad range of people into the concert halls because they offer a new way to experience and interact with your favorite game in a new and different way than before. At the end of the show, Roth mentioned that the popularity of the event has grown astronomically over the years, and Distant Worlds has a long and promising future ahead.