A Night at the Eorzean Symphony

After a long week at E3, a few members of the Gamer Escape staff were fortunate enough to attend one of only two performances in North America for Eorzean Symphony. After the Final Fantasy XIV orchestra concert in Japan last September, we hoped that the show would make it overseas. When we talked to FFXIV Sound Director Masayoshi Soken in November of last year, he told us that they would be working to bring it to other locations as well. It wasn’t long after that they announced they would perform in Los Angeles and Dortmund. There was no way we were going to pass up a chance to attend!

This is a little different than a normal write up. All of us that attended the concert decided to get together and talk about the concert and that conversation is what you can read below.

FireMarth: Well, the first three tracks I didn’t get much of a listen to since I was going nuts on the camera at the time. They were:

A New Hope
Serenity
Breaking Boundaries

Miroku: So, I’m a massive Star Wars fan and opening up with A New Hope (The Ul’Dah theme) totally reminded me of the John Williams opening score (Plus, yay similar titles)

FireMarth: Have to wonder if that was intentional at all.

Miroku: It instantly set the mood that the show wanted to be an epic spectacle with a narrative.

Fusionx: Yoshida came out on stage after that, saying that they named the track that because of 2.0. It makes sense but I never really realized that it was intentional… I wonder if they gave that name to the Ul’dah theme because Ul’dah ended up being the hub in 1.0?

Miroku: It would make sense. Not to mention Thanalan kind of looks like Tatooine.

Fusionx: Haha, you’re really stuck on the Star Wars thing. I had never even considered that…
It was funny when Yoshida-san came out though, he did a survey of the audience. Seeing who had been to a lot of orchestra concerts before this show.

FireMarth: Divided them up into typical MMO playing styles too. That was pretty funny, got some chuckles outta me.

Miroku: To be fair, my last big orchestra concert was a John Williams concert. Oh my god that was amazing.

Fusionx: I think all of my prior ochestra concerts…were also Final Fantasy concerts.

Miroku: “Pay attention to your tanks guys! Your healers (who’ve been to concerts once or twice before) are here to help you!”

FireMarth: According to Yoshida at the show, I guess I’m a Healer!

Fusionx: God help us all. I can’t imagine you being a viable healer in anything.

FireMarth: Speaking of which, this was the first time I’d ever actually seen Yoshida. Seems like an entertaining guy.

Miroku: He’s a hoot

Fusionx: Oh yeah, fun fact: FireMarth is one of the only people on staff that doesn’t play Final Fantasy XIV. So his perspective on the show will be… interesting.

Miroku: That’s a good point actually – FireMarth: Could you see yourself trying FFXIV out based on just the music you heard? I’m curious how the lack of context altered your enjoyment

FireMarth: Can’t really say for sure. Never played XIV because the whole game style of an MMO never really appealed to me.

Fusionx: He was probably the only dry eyed person in the room during Answers.

Miroku: What a heartless monster.

FireMarth: You’re getting ahead of yourself! We’re still at the beginning of the show!

Fusionx: But before we talk about some of our favorite pieces, the second one they performed after Yoshida-san left the stage was Serenity – the theme of the Black Shroud around Gridania. The opening for this track always gives me chills. I can remember just setting it on repeat when I got the Orchestra Mini Album! It’s incredibly soothing.

Miroku: So good. I think it was the first time I’ve ever heard the track in its entirety.

Fusionx: Yeah, A Realm Reborn did some interesting stuff with the area music, where it would play it in parts depending on where you were on the map. It’s a bit odd the first time you hear some of those area themes.

Miroku: Yeah. It really works better as a whole, continuous piece rather than what’s in game, in my opinion.

FireMarth: So I have to ask: was all of this first half from A Realm Reborn, or did any of the tracks originate in 1.0?

Miroku: There wasn’t anything from 1.0 that was played

Fusionx: They’ve re-used a lot of the original 1.0 music since the transition, however all of the tracks at the concert where ones composed by Masayoshi Soken, with the exception of the two vocal tracks. Those were all Nobuo Uematsu.

FireMarth: Third track was Breaking Boundaries – any thoughts on that one?

Fusionx: I liked the on screen stuff for this one. Breaking Boundaries is a track that plays during the job quests in the game. They showed lots of different cutscenes from the job quests in this one.

Miroku: Again, I don’t think I’ve heard it in its entirety before because you’re so focused at those moments in game! Like you remember moments here and there when the music is more intense, but it was really a treat to listen to.

FireMarth: Speaking of the video part of the concert, I had to stop watching it when they showed the orchestra playing on it. The video was slightly out of sync with the music playing on stage.

Fusionx: I noticed that too. There was a slight delay, and the camera work was…not great, unfortunately.

Miroku: I mean, there’s always technical difficulties on opening night. They pulled it off though!

Fusionx: No doubt it was difficult, all these rehearsals for only two shows.

FireMarth: Next up we had Out of the Shattered Labyrinth, probably the first track I really got to pay attention to. The soloist they brought out singing opera style was amazing…for the whole twenty seconds she was on stage. Couldn’t help but laugh when she smiled and gracefully drifted off stage after singing a few notes.

Fusionx: I remember getting goosebumps when I heard this on the BluRay they released of the concert they performed in Japan.

Miroku: For sure. The song in game was a massive nostalgia bomb for FF3, but hearing it live was outstanding. I think it was my favorite of the night, along side Answers.

Fusionx: It’s definitely up there for me as well.

FireMarth: If anything, the songs started sounding more like “Final Fantasy” for me with the next track, Ultima. Probably ’cause it was the first one that really featured the choir.

Fusionx: True. While other tracks did use the choir, they were up full time for this one. I actually started singing along in my head to some of it.

Miroku: For sure. You start to have these pseudo flashbacks to dodging mechanics when the orchestra comes in after the choir.

FireMarth: There was a moment in it where the choir seemed like it fell off time with the rest of the orchestra though.

Miroku: That could be possible. I didn’t notice it myself since the song itself is frantic by nature.

Fusionx: All I could think of during this song is “…we never did hear more about the Heart of Sabik.”

Miroku: Bahaha

Fusionx: FireMarth is over there scratching his head now I’m sure.

Miroku: Just maybe. Or casually stroking that majestic beard.

Fusionx: …are you watching me?

Miroku: Duh.

Fusionx: In any case, Ultima was really great live!

Miroku: Yes! All the good things!

Fusionx: I’m a sucker for a good chorus piece.

FireMarth: After that we got both Yoshida and Soken up on stage…Soken adorned with a moogle doll on his lapel. Dude seemed like a happy ball of energy.

Miroku: I mean, wouldn’t you be after seeing 100+ people make your art come to life, LIVE?

Fusionx: Every single time I’ve seen Soken, he always has so much energy. I don’t know how he does it, but I’d love to know his secret…though in this case I would be excited too, knowing an orchestra is about to perform the music that i composed.

FireMarth: I just liked a real simple quote from him: While he was using a translator most of the time on stage, he switches to English so simply say “We’re finally here!” Finally having his music played live on stage in the US.

Miroku: You could totally feel the love and the passion the man has for his craft.

Fusionx: Having talked to him years ago at PAX when he was saying how torn he was on if he wanted to do rock concerts or orchestra concerts. That line from him put a giant smile on the face. They’re actually in the middle of a rock concert tour right now. Not only did he get his wish, but he got them both at the same time!

Miroku: I didn’t know the Primals were still touring!

Fusionx: E3 week was a break for them. They did a few shows before, and they’re doing a few after.

Miroku: Ughhhh I want them to come to the states.

Fusionx: All in Japan except for their stop in Seoul. At least we’ll get to see them at Fan Fest in November! With new songs too! They’ve performed themes for Lakshmi and Sofia so far on their tour.

Miroku: So awesome!

FireMarth: Yoshida then introduced the next two songs in the setlist, Calamity Unbound and Rise of the White Raven, as being from the “Coil of Bahamut.” Can you guys give me some context for that?

Fusionx: Oh, the Coil…

Miroku: Good times.

Fusionx: So when 1.0 went into 2.0, they did so by using Bahamut. He shows up, and essentially reshapes the realm of Eorzea. Once 2.0 launched, the Coil of Bahamut was the first 8-man raid series. It dealt with going through these areas to figure out what the story was with Bahamut, why he was there, what happened afterwards, etc. To this day, I don’t think any of their 8-man raids has been so important to the overall narrative of the game.

FireMarth: Any opinions on the tracks in particular? These two kind of blended together for me.

Fusionx: Rise of the White Raven…so many memories with this one. It was essentially the final boss music of 1.0.

Miroku: That one brought back some massive memories. Especially with the battlefield showing up in the sky. Lots of feels for me, a 1.23b junkie.

Fusionx: I’ve always enjoyed the entire story arc of Nael…er…Eula…er…Nael van Darnus. It’s such a great theme, especially when you add in both of the opera singers.

Miroku: Yeah. Those two were outstanding. Again, in game you lose yourself in the mechanics you forget to actually listen to the music

Fusionx: Unless you’re crazy like me, where you buy the soundtracks and then just loop a particular song for hours at a time.

FireMarth: Glad to see the opera singer from Shattered Labyrinth up on stage again for that one, but once again she was criminally underused. Such a great voice for such little singing.

Miroku: I mean, blame Soken for not putting in more operettic tracks.

FireMarth: If I ever meet Soken I’ll tell him he needs to change that.

Fusionx: It’s not his fault, he had no idea these things would be performed live.

FireMarth: After those songs Yoshida gets up one more time to introduce what I was personally looking forward to: Susan Calloway. Oh, and a song called Answers, but yeah, Susan Calloway. Amazing singer.

Miroku: She’s great. We did an interview with her a while back.

FireMarth: I hate you so much right now.

Fusionx: Susan is great, I’ve talked to her a couple of times yeah. In all honesty, when it comes to Answers…when the track was first released during 1.0, I wasn’t actually crazy about it.

FireMarth: First saw her at a Distant Worlds show in Columbus, OH, where she sang Melodies of Life from Final Fantasy IX. That song brought some tears to my eyes. Answers was OK.

Fusionx: It wasn’t until they released the End of an Era video for it that I really fell in love with it.

FireMarth: The weird part in the middle where she speaks rather than sings kinda threw me off.

Fusionx: That was always my issue as well. Unless you’re listening to it with the video, it seems kind of all over the place doesn’t it?

Miroku: For context, I think Susan voices Hydaelyn in the song itself.

FireMarth: The video playing during that song, correct me if I’m wrong, but that was the ending cinematic for 1.0, right?

Miroku: Yeah.

Fusionx: So for our non-FFXIV player, At the end of 1.0, we had this giant red ball in the sky, Dalamud. During the 1.x patches, it got closer and closer to the planet. Eventually it’s this huge thing in the sky, and during the last days of service, players could fight the Garlean Empire in Mor Dhona. When the servers shut down, we were shown that video. I will never not be emotional seeing the End of an Era cinematic.

Miroku: Bear in mind, there was basically ZERO inclination that Bahamut was inside Dalamud.

Fusionx: There actually were hints! Not many picked up on it though.

Miroku: After the fact there’s a few nods here and there (similar word structure between Dalamud and Bahamut, and -Flare moves used in the white raven fight)

FireMarth: It’s such a Final Fantasy thing to do though. “This giant ominous moon? THERE’S A DAMN DRAGON INSIDE OF IT.”

Fusionx: It’s such a powerful cinematic that they crafted around the song. As the song goes on it’s, “Oh it’s Bahamut… that’s not good,” and then you get to Louisoux trying to bind Bahamut again and…it fails. An incredible sense of dread flows over you. “Did…did we just lose?”

Miroku: I don’t think I’ve had a video game experience ever put me in such a state of awe and dread before. Seeing it live though, oh man.

Fusionx: I remember live streaming the end of 1.0 when this video went up…I had to take a moment.

FireMarth: Well that awe and dread is how the first half of the concert ended! Any overall opinions on the first act?

Miroku: Great! It was everything I wanted and almost nothing I expected to see (except Answers, of course)

Fusionx: I think the first half went really well. There are so many great tracks in there…I’m feeling relaxed just re-playing Serenity in my head…

FireMarth: I just have to remark on how great the acoustics of the Dolby Theater are. Dunno how it was from where y’all were sitting, but I was on the far left side of the parterre at ground level, and I could hear everything from the bass hits to the subtle harp in the background.

Miroku: Oh its a great venue – Kingdom Hearts last year sounded just as good, if not better, and we were in the nose bleeds.

FireMarth: Alright! After enjoying a classy glass of wine at the bar, up next was the second half of the show, which apparently was entirely taken from Heavensward.
First three tracks were:

Ominous Prognisticks
Painted Foothills
Revenge Twofold

And I’d like to point out that I don’t believe “Prognisticks” is a real word.

Fusionx: This is going to just be personal preference for me but…while they’re great songs, they’ve never really been up towards the top of my list.

Miroku: I was just about to say the same thing

Fusionx: That having been said, they were performed great!

FireMarth: I personally liked the ambiance of Painted Foothills myself.

Miroku: That one was quite good – one of those tracks you never get to listen to all the way though, similar to Serenity. I thought the first half of the show was much stronger content wise.

FireMarth: I’d have to fight you on that – I though the second half blew the first half away. Mostly because of the tracks after these three, though. After those we get more Calloway though, with Dragonsong, which, in my opinion, was a much better song than Answers.

Miroku: BYE.

Fusionx: Haha.

Miroku: She’s always wonderful.

FireMarth: Then again, I’m a sucker for piano. Less “epic chanting orchestra” more “soothing piano and strings.”

Fusionx: I don’t mind Dragonsong…but my real love of the second part was Heavensward. I think, again, it’s because of the attached memories I have for it.

FireMarth: And we got Yoshida talking to Calloway after this one. I think he was asking her if she preferred performing in Japan or America.

Fusionx: She was good though – she said that Final Fantasy fans everywhere are great and not too be biased but…I’d definitely agree

Miroku: I mean, I’m awful, but collectively, we’re ‘ait.

FireMarth: Now, the next two were my personal favorites of the night. First up: Moebius. My piano bias shows through, I really liked the piano melody hiding in the background throughout.

Fusionx: Yes! I was looking forward to this one!, I wanted to see if they would do that one thing in the middle…

Miroku: For once, I’m with you FireMarth! I never finished the content Moebius was apart of, so it was a new experience for me!

FireMarth: YAY I’M NOT ALONE!

Miroku: I loved it. especially the nods to the earlier tiers of the Alexander raids. AND OH MY GOD TIME STOP.

Fusionx: In Japan, Nobuo Uematsu was there as well and so all three of them marched around the aisles. I’m so glad they did the same thing here.

Naoki Yoshida, Nobuo Uematsu, and Masayoshi Soken walk out during the pause in Moebius, each playing an instrument. Image: 4gamer.net

FireMarth: Watching the entire orchestra freeze while Yoshida and Soken marched across the stage with a bass drum and glockenspiel…that was unexpected.

Fusionx: They did the time stop in Frankfurt, Germany as well when they performed Rise. I’ll never forget being there and seeing that live…it was incredible.

FireMarth: I really liked how much fun the conductor was having with the show too. She seemed to really be getting into it, rather than the being the stereotypical “stuffy and serious” kind of orchestra conductor.

Fusionx: If you’re doing an orchestra concert for Final Fantasy, there’s no way you can’t have fun. Even Arnie Roth on the Distant Worlds tour always seems to be enjoying himself.

Miroku: For sure! You have to wonder how often they get to perform something that deviates from the norm like video game music. Also, Arnie is the best.

FireMarth: The ages of the orchestra members seemed to skew older, I’d also wonder how many actually knew anything about what they were playing.

Fusionx: I’d be willing to bet there was at least one person that got the call, “You want me to perform WHAT?!?! YES!”

Miroku: Bahaha

FireMarth: Anyways, up next was far and away my favorite performance of the night: Oblivion. Arranged for string quartet. And I have to say as a former violist, HELL YEAH THE VIOLA GOT SOLOS.

Fusionx: So, my opinion is going to be a little different here, but let me say first and foremost: I love Oblivion done by a string quartet. I’ve listened to the track from the concert BluRay a million times…so I’m a bit sad when I say that I feel like something was off with the Friday night performance of it. Of course it’s entirely possible that maybe that was just a week of E3 catching up with me during that particular song.

FireMarth: To be fair, the violist’s pizzicato near the beginning sounded off sync, but once it got going I didn’t hear any other issues. It was an absolutely beautiful piece.

Miroku: There were a few technical things off with the night as a whole, but it was gorgeous regardless

FireMarth: Bah, I’ve been playing music most of my life, so it’s really hard to ignore things like that for me…

Miroku: Totally fair FireMarth.

Fusionx: I think this was probably the tear jerker of the night. Not a dry eye in the house for the most part.

Miroku: But yeah, that one really tugged at my heartstrings. Considering I have five of them total, that’s a huge complement.

Fusionx: I have to ask for this one…not having played FFXIV, seeing the scenes on screen for this one FireMarth… how did Oblivion make you feel?

FireMarth: I’ll be honest, I don’t even remember what was on the screen. I was just lost in the quartet playing.

Fusionx: And just think… the original version of Oblivion is a J-Rock kind of track haha. It’s quite different!

Miroku: Yeah!

FireMarth: …really? Didn’t get that vibe whatsoever.

Miroku: Oh yeah. It’s Shiva’s fight theme.

FireMarth: I’m gonna pull it up to listen to while we talk about the next track then: Heroes. Didn’t have much to say on this one.

Fusionx: Another great use of the choir with Heroes.

Miroku: This might just be my game bias, but I thought Heroes was a little weak of a closer for the Heavensward portion.

FireMarth: I don’t believe it was the closer, there was still one more track after this and before the encore: the eponymous Heavensward.

Miroku: Thats right!

FireMarth: Yoshida said he gave Soken an incredibly short turnaround time on composing that one.

Fusionx: Heavensward…brings chills. I know I said this earlier, but this was my favorite part of the second half. I’ll never forget seeing the Heavensward teaser at Fan Fest with this song playing.

Miroku: Very very very good.

FireMarth: And we got the opera singer up on stage for the third time! And she actually had some good stage time!

Miroku: I can’t believe he made that song in five days.

Fusionx: That’s right! I remember Soken coming out on Stage at Fan Fest so he could see what the newest video looked like. He hadn’t seen it yet! That excitement of seeing the Gates of Judgement, the Warrior of Light changes jobs from a Warrior into a Dragoon, seeing all those dragoons at the end. I’m getting pumped up just thinking about it!

Miroku: For anyone new reading, Fusionx likes Dragoons. A lot.

FireMarth: I’ve come to learn that myself.

Fusionx: Though the song gets really sad when they pair it with the opening cinematic for Heavensward…poor Nanamo drinking that poison. Anyway! They did close out with the battle theme from A Realm Reborn.

FireMarth: Which one was that?

Fusionx: Actually, that was second from last!

FireMarth: My setlist says the first song in the encore was A World Apart, which sounds like a remix of the Final Fantasy Main Theme to me.

Miroku: Yup yup

Fusionx: That’s right. Torn from the Heavens I believe was what they played, and with the chorus!

FireMarth: Yup, that was their final song. Was gonna ask if it was some famous song, since the crowd went wild on that one.

Miroku: I think its the first song you hear in the game.

Fusionx: This was kind of the main theme of A Realm Reborn when the game relaunched. They used it for a lot of things.

FireMarth: Aaaaaand that was the end of the show! Any overall thoughts from you two?

Miroku: Absolutely awful. Needed more robots. (I loved it and it was an absolute treat.) I want more of these types of concerts more often.

Fusionx: Having been to…gosh, at least seven Distant Worlds concerts or so and having listened to the mini album and BluRay on repeat for days at a time, I really loved it. It’s so great to be their in person.

FireMarth: Going in with no knowledge, I was impressed with the show. As I said, the acoustics were amazing, and the soloists blew me away. There were a few issues here and there, but as evidenced by you two, I don’t think many noticed. I still feel the second act was leagues ahead of the first though.

Fusionx: I guess that just goes to show how big of an impact memories of the game can have on the experience overall. It’s not something I had really thought about before.

Miroku: Couldn’t have put it better myself, Fusionx.

Fusionx: There are two more shows in Germany for Eorzean Symphony and then…that’s it! Soken hopes they’re a success so they can do more in the future.

FireMarth: Guess it’s time to send you to Germany again Fusion.

Fusionx: A ten hour flight for a 2-3 hour concert? I don’t know about that one….


Check out our E3 interview with FFXIV Producer/Director Naoki Yoshida and Sound Director Masayoshi Soken here.