San Diego Comic-Con International 2005
Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy

by Bamboo Dong,

For years, Nobuo Uematsu has graced the popular Final Fantasy games with his memorable music and his piercing melodies. For just as many years, fans of those games have listened to his music and have shared their emotions with the characters on the screens.

Coinciding with the first night of Comic-Con, the music came alive with the Dear Friends concert. Presented by the talented San Diego Symphony, the event was part of their Summer Pops schedule. Held behind the convention center at Embarcadero Marina Park South, the outdoor concert had tickets ranging from $25 to $85. The most expensive tickets netted the holder to a seat close to the stage, while the cheapest tickets landed the patron on the grass near the sidelines. Being an outdoor concert though, there were also plenty of fans who decided to lay down blankets outside of the venue and enjoy the music from there.

What set this Dear Friends concert apart from some of the others in the series was the fact that it was an outdoor concert. Patrons looking forward to a semi-formal indoor event were disappointed. In fact, while almost everyone was dressed in casual attire, there were even cosplayers roaming around—something you'd never see at an indoor orchestra concert. It also gave rise to behavior generally deemed unacceptable at concerts, like fans standing on their chairs yelling for more, and dancing along with the music.

There were other problems typically associated with an outdoor performance as well, namely the acoustics. One of the most captivating parts about listening to a full orchestra in a concert hall is the way the medley of notes bounce off the walls and surround the listener. With this concert, the natural sound died off several rows from the stage, only to be replaced by speakers. While acceptable for a rock concert, it puts a damper on orchestral music.

Another big let problem with the outdoor venue was the interference from outside noise. At the beginning of one of the pieces, a helicopter flew overhead, drowning out the sound of the orchestra. Luckily, the conductor started over, which was an excellent decision that was well received by the fans.

Most of the problems with the concert could mostly be pegged on things outside of the symphony's control. For a concert dedicated to video game music, proper decorum can't be expected, but for serious music fans, some of the crowd's reactions were overboard, like screaming and cheering. Upon talking to people who attended other, indoor Dear Friends concerts, the audiences were much more subdued and practiced better etiquette, as a result of their surroundings. While Summer Pops concerts are generally supposed to be loose and casual, some of the fans were just too much.

On the upside though, the San Diego Symphony was magnificent. Their full talent couldn't be appreciated with the acoustics, but they played wonderfully and with plenty of passion. If anyone was to do Uematsu's music justice, the musicians certainly accomplished that goal. For the pieces that had a chorus, singers were brought in to provide the vocals. Any Final Fantasy fan would have been in heaven to be able to share this experience with so many other fellow game fans.

Though the musicians played wonderfully, it was a little discomfiting to note that the announcer for the event couldn't differentiate between “songs” and “pieces,” a distinction taken very seriously by many musicians.

Program List:

  1. Liberi Fatali (FFVIII)
  2. Zanarkand (FFX)
  3. Terra's Theme (FFVI)
  4. Theme of Love (FFIV)
  5. Dear Friends (FFV)
  6. Vamo' Alla Flamenco (FFIX)
  7. Love Grows (FFXIII)


  8. Aeris's Theme (FFVII)
  9. Not Alone (FFIX)
  10. Ronfaure (FFXI)
  11. Final Fantasy Medley (FFI – FFIII)
  12. Cloud Smiles (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children)
  13. Final Fantasy
  14. Encore: One Winged Angel (FFVII)
  15. Encore: One Winged Angel (FFVII)

There was, however, one very wonderful part about having an outdoor concert that no one present will ever be able to forget. Right before the intermission, the orchestra was directed through “Love Grows” from Final Fantasy VIII. As the piece was nearing the ending, the large screen showing the views of the orchestra began playing footage from the game. Fans of the game immediately recognized it as the dance scene between Squall and Rinoa. At the end of the video, fireworks were shot off to match those in the video. Truly a breathtaking sight, it was the perfect way to lead into the intermission.

At the end of the concert, a great cheer went up when chorus members trooped onto the stage for the encore—a powerful rendition of “One Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII. The performance was absolutely superlative. The musicians played with energy and vigor, and the chorus was incredibly talented. From the tiniest trill of the piccolos to the perfectly coordinated glissandos, the end effect was absolutely breathtaking.

After it was over, the symphony received a well-deserved standing ovation. For game fans, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear their favorite music the way it was meant to be heard. Turning to the audience, the conductor asked, “Do you want to hear more?” Responding to a resounding cheer, he surprised the crowd by leading the symphony into yet another performance of “One Winged Angel.” Exalted fans were thrilled by this, but many in the crowd left in disbelief. Repeating an encore may have excited some of the concertgoers, but a large majority of them were taken aback.

Even with the various setbacks, the concert was absolutely amazing. The San Diego Symphony is an incredibly talented group of musicians and they brought life to Uematsu's melodies like only he could have envisioned. While there were issues with the Summer Pops venue and some of the people in the crowd, the concert was an event that won't be easily forgotten. From the exquisite music to the fireworks display, the concert was definitely a one of a kind experience.

If any more Dear Friends concerts chance to make their run through the United States, fans of the Final Fantasy series should definitely make it a point to try to attend one near them. Even if a concert doesn't turn out to be picture perfect, the experience is worth every minute and every cent.

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