If you’ve been following my overall internet presence for a long time (which let’s be real, probably not?) you’ll know that I really enjoy music and nerd stuff which means Distant Worlds, a music project that turns songs from the Final Fantasy series into grand orchestral arrangements out of them, is right up my alley. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve only finished one Final Fantasy game (7), but I’ve played parts of some others (6, 8, Crisis Core, 10) and have watched friends play parts of others (9, 15) so I think I can say with some confidence that these games have great music (although, you know, that’s not exactly a controversial opinion).
I’ve known about Distant Worlds for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2020 when I found out about the A New World recordings. They describe them as “intimate music from Final Fantasy.” I don’t actually know the size of the ensemble used for A New World, but I keep referring to it as chamber music — it’s a smaller, more stripped down ensemble with less of a bombastic sound than the Distant Worlds pieces, but the arrangements are no less impressive or dramatic.
Buying the whole catalog of both of these music projects was my one big quarantine purchase, after I found myself listening to the recordings on YouTube a lot while I was working and figured I should actually give them money. Somehow the music still hasn’t gotten old for me despite the fact that I listened to it for days on end while grappling with the frustrations and limitations of working from home for two months, and it’s still music I reach for now even though I’ve been working back in the office for about a month (not by choice, I assure you).
[Just a quick disclaimer before we get started! Despite playing flute in school concert bands for a decade there are certain instruments I can’t tell apart by ear. And also I can’t tell string instruments apart at all, so if I name an instrument incorrectly, please do not come for me.]
Let’s start with Tower of the Magi, originally from Final Fantasy II. This is from the A New World recordings and it’s literally just a piano and a violin. I almost always love songs that are in a minor key and sound kind of gothic, and this song definitely delivers that. It’s a simple little tune (this song was on the NES originally after all) but it’s made very interesting!
Next let’s talk about Not Alone from Final Fantasy IX, from the third Distant Worlds album. I can’t describe exactly what it is about this song that does it for me, but somehow the big broadness of what I’ll call the B melody gets me very hype. (It’s heard for the first time at 1:17 in this arrangement, but is even more hype at 2:30.)
I played enough of Final Fantasy X to meet Seymour, but did not play enough to actually get to hear his battle theme, which is surprisingly kind of disco-y? They covered it on the first A New World album and it’s one of my top five favorite arrangements in the whole Distant Worlds/A New World repertoire. Here are of the *chef’s kiss* moments for me in this piece: the fiddle riff at 0:40ish, the way the tension builds and the music gets increasingly layered and tense leading up to the beautiful broad long notes at 1:30ish, and when the key changes at 2:10ish and the bass gets especially chunky and prominent. I could go on, but I won’t. If you’re only gonna listen to one of the songs I’ve embedded here, make it this one!
I love a beautifully brassy bombastic boss battle theme, as I’m sure all video game fans do. Distant Worlds has quite a few to offer, but I think my favorite is Battle with the Four Fiends, originally from Final Fantasy IV. I feel like this piece has good ebb and flow dynamically (aka, they could’ve just been hella loud the whole time, but sometimes the song eases off and is quieter). In the section at 1:15 where they play the main melody quietly before playing it big and loud for the first time, there is a single little drum in the background. I don’t know what kind of drum it is, but it is used to great effect throughout the whole song. The loud punctuating brass hits whenever the melody is done loudly are also A+! Also for my fellow rhythm game fans, I picked up Final Fantasy Theatrhythm this winter, and I find this track particularly satisfying to play through for some reason, the chart is somehow just feels really good to play through.
And finally I’d like to shout out love of my life, Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X. I’ve been to two Distant Worlds concerts and this song made me feel mega emotional both times, and if I’m in the right mood I can get pretty emotional listening to the recording as well. This graceful, melancholy song has repeatedly given me goosebumps! They’ve covered this in both the Distant Worlds and A New World repertoires and they’re both very lovely, but I prefer the Distant Worlds version. It sounds like both ensembles are working with the same score rhythmically, but the fuller, lusher sound of the Distant Worlds ensemble is just more to my liking with this song, as is the way the layering sounds in the section starting at 2:17 compared to the similar section in the A New World version.
I’ve avoided what I imagine to be some of the more commonly known Final Fantasy songs in this post in favor of highlighting a couple of deep cuts. But I do have a few honorable mentions:
- I would LOVE to hear Dancing Mad from Final Fantasy VI played live. Both Distant Worlds concerts I’ve been to have played the Opera (also from VI) as their big really long showpiece song instead of this and it is a PERSONAL ATTACK. (A joke, of course.) (…unless…?) (I don’t care much for the Opera.)
- Sephiroth’s theme is another song that has been covered by both Distant Worlds and A New World. I prefer the Distant Worlds version. (Shout out to the trombone flick at 1:13!)
- I can’t possibly leave out Vamo’ alla Flamenco (aka, the Chocobo Hot and Cold song from Final Fantasy IX). It’s just a really fun song!
I could go on, but I won’t because we could be here literally forever because there are so many great songs to choose from in these albums! Even if you’re not big on video games, I promise you’ll probably find something you enjoy. I encourage you to check out anything I’ve linked above. I’m not sponsored by them, obviously, who would pay me for these silly little blogs. I just wanted to share something nice with the world that people might not have heard of!