Review: ‘More Friends: Music From Final Fantasy’

Videogames are becoming more and more like movies, and movie music has been played in concert for decades, so why not play videogame music live? That seems to be the thought behind "More Friends: Music From Final Fantasy," the sequel to last year's sold-out "Dear Friends" at the smaller Disney Hall (this year's concert, while crowded, had plenty of empty seats).

Videogames are becoming more and more like movies, and movie music has been played in concert for decades, so why not play videogame music live? That seems to be the thought behind “More Friends: Music From Final Fantasy,” the sequel to last year’s sold-out “Dear Friends” at the smaller Disney Hall (this year’s concert, while crowded, had plenty of empty seats). The answer — at least when the music is as broad and colorful as Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu’s score to the popular “Final Fantasy” series — is another question: Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

Uematsu covers the breadth of Western music in his score: swelling orchestral pieces like “Terra’s Theme” (from “Final Fantasy VI”) were followed by the swing-time jazz number “Swing de Chocobo” (“Final Fantasy II”), accompanied by screen shots from the various “Final Fantasy” games. The visual montage could serve as a primer in the evolution of the modern-day videogame: Eight-bit graphics eventually gave way to cinema-style digital art, putting in real-time perspective the technological advancements made in just the last two decades.

The second half of the program contained the undisputed highlight: the first U.S. performance by Uematsu’s rock band, the Black Mages, who play reinterpretations of battle music from the games. The mostly teenage, almost exclusively male audience geeked out as guitars shred where swords fly, drums roared through battle marches and the tight, proggy band (think Yes, Rush or King Crimson at their most technical) roared through the most cinematic part of the games’ score.

Everything that came after — from Celine Dion-ish Japanese superstar RIKKI to the mini-opera “Maria & Draco” — was an afterthought. The concert had proven its point: Videogame music isn’t just for gaming nerds. They just seemed to be the ones who bought tickets.

More Friends: Music From Final Fantasy

Gibson Amphitheater; 6,251 capacity; $90 top

Production

Presented by JMP Prods.

Cast

Conductor: Arnie Roth. Performers: World Festival Symphony, CSUF University Singers, the Black Mages Featured vocalists: RIKKI, Emiko Shiratori, Stephanie Woodling, Chad Berlinghieri, Todd Robinson.
MC: James Arnold Taylor.
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