Review: A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy

As a huge fan of music from Final Fantasy¬†and the Distant Worlds tour, I was immediately interested in their A New World event, which is meant to be a much smaller, intimate ensemble-based affair. Their live performances were held too far away for me to attend, but I patiently awaited the release of an album so I could get in on the action, and that’s finally here.

What we have is a live recording from their London performance, which features the aforementioned ensemble complete with pianist Benyamin Nuss. Does the concert and recording live up to past efforts from the Distant Worlds team?

Read our review below.

As mentioned, the smaller ensemble lends itself to a more intimate atmosphere. You can really pick out each individual element, although all sections are represented, from strings and woodwinds to brass and percussion (there’s even what sounds to be a drum set featured, adding a modern edge to some of the arrangements). The arrangements themselves vary from trimmed-down versions of their full orchestral counterparts to all-new versions of themes that have never been performed live in this fashion, and I’ll say those tended to be my favorites.

The album flips the tradition of the “One Winged Angel” encore on its head, opening with that piece instead. It’s an energetic way to start off the album before launching into an all-new piece, “A New World,” from Final Fantasy V, from which the concert derives its name. It’s a somber theme, and a nice arrangement. Other new arrangements include “Dark World” from Final Fantasy VI, which features organ and melancholy strings, and is simply fantastic, an upbeat and whimsical “Moogle Theme” that you can’t help but tap your feet to, a decisive “Red Wings” with tense rolling snares and bass notes on the piano, a beautiful rendition of “The Promise” from Final Fantasy XIII, which also gets a sparse “Blinded by Light” with solo strings and piano. Final Fantasy VIII’s “Force Your Way” is filled up with percussion, and a really neat sound when the strings and piano double up, a slow and dream-inducing “Gustaberg” from Final Fantasy XI for solo piano, a somber yet beautiful “Fragment of Memories” on solo strings, and lovely acoustic guitar in both “Troia” from Final Fantasy IV (one of my favorite Uematsu themes of all time) and “Town” from the original Final Fantasy (easily my favorite on the album) with its pop ballad approach. There’s a tense intro added to the regal “Rebel Army” from Final Fantasy II, which is perfect for this type of ensemble given its sophisticated sound, the highly-interpretive “Eruyt Village” Piano Collections arrangement from Final Fantasy XII with jazzy elements and a dark edge, and a driving “Decisive Battle” from Final Fantasy VI with great use of percussion. There’s a playful chocobo medley that makes use of squeaky duck toys that gets a laugh from the audience, a piano-only version of “Still More Fighting” from Final Fantasy VII’s Piano Collections CD, and the Final Fantasy X staple, “At Zanarkand,” in which you can hear the emotion dripping from each individual performer.

In all, I was not disappointed with the wait for this album. While I could gripe and say I wish some of the tracks were longer (particularly my favorites, “Troia” and “Town”), I love what is here, and there’s a lot of variety to enjoy. I was surprised by some of the track selections, as many of these pieces had never been performed live, and none of them have been performed in this fashion before aside from the solo piano pieces.

The great thing is that this album is pretty widely available, whether your preference is iTunes or even Bandcamp. Go stream it there right now, see if it’s your thing, and pick it up! It’s definitely worth the attention of every Final Fantasy fan out there.

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