On May 10, 2004, Nobuo Uematsu graced us with the first ever stateside performance of his compositions, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Needless to say, everyone—fans and Square Enix U.S.A. employees alike—was ecstatic at the news. Tickets sold out in three days, and a few even reemerged on a popular auction site for over a grand!

Quite a lot of work went into producing this show, and I don’t think I would be wrong to say that at times, many of us wondered if we had bitten off more than we could chew. Back at the office, it looked like a tornado had come through and blown papers, boxes, offices supplies, and merchandise samples into every nook and cranny. Our cubicle mates were a little miffed, but hey, the show must go on!

Since we’re too embarrassed to show the mess back at the office, we thought we’d show you some of the pre-concert rigging that went on instead. That gorgeous, massive structure was made specifically for the Dear Friends concert. It was designed to flow with the lines of the auditorium without obstructing the amazing acoustics and matched the wood of the concert hall.

Enough pre-concert talk. On to the show!

Some of our employees attended the concert, so I’ll be interjecting comments from a few of them throughout to give you readers an insider perspective from various departments. You’ll soon learn that we’re all huge fans of the series and Uematsu-san, too. Comments will be from business development manager Ken Berry (the business guy), quality assurance translator Freddie Hashi (the QA guy and in-house musician), and our lovely editorial specialist, Jennifer Mukai (the localization gal).

The show opened with FINAL FANTASY VIII’s "Liberi Fatali," with the chorus performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Ken noted, "This was a perfect way to start the concert. The opening chorus leading into the slow build of the energetic track really got the crowd going. "Then, after much applause, James Arnold Taylor, better known to some of you as the voice of FINAL FANTASY X’s Tidus, walked onstage as the evening’s master of ceremonies. He gave a witty speech in that undeniable Tidus voice and introduced the next songs to be performed: "Zanarkand" from FINAL FANTASY X, "Terra’s Theme" from FINAL FANTASY VI, and "Theme of Love" from FINAL FANTASY IV.

Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya cued the orchestra, and the crowd grew quiet as the melancholy scene of Yuna’s sending played on the screens overhead. " ‘Zanarkand’ has special meaning to me, as FINAL FANTASY X was my first major localization project," said Jen. Freddie felt the performance was "very passionate" and one of his favorites that night.

James Arnold Taylor reentered and explained the meaning behind the concert title Dear Friends: "I want to talk briefly about the title of tonight’s program, Dear Friends: Music from FINAL FANTASY, which also happens to be the title of the next song, _Dear Friends.’ When planning began for this concert, composer Uematsu wanted the show’s title to reflect his appreciation for the overwhelming support that he has received from his fans, music lovers, and video game players alike. Dear Friends is his heartfelt thanks to all of the fans worldwide for their continued support."

The performance continued with guitar solos for FINAL FANTASY V’s "Dear Friends", FINAL FANTASY IX’s "Vamo’ Alla Flamenco" and FINAL FANTASY VIII’s "Love Grows". Freddie said, "One moment I remember in particular is when there was a cymbal crash as fireworks bloomed behind Rinoa and Squall during ‘Love Grows’. The production value of the presentation was fantastic."

Then it was intermission and many hurried to the merchandise kiosks, which offered some unique items for sale. Concert shirts came in gray and white. The concert program detailed the history of FINAL FANTASY and featured lovely art from famed illustrator Yoshitaka Amano, including a gorgeous centerfold painting. In keeping with the theme of celebrating FINAL FANTASY, there was also a beautifully illustrated calendar which noted key dates for the series.

After intermission, the performance resumed with "Aeris’s Theme" from FINAL FANTASY VII. Aeris is probably one of the most popular and beloved characters of the series. Her death launched a myriad of rumors about a "Raise Aeris" ability and evoked many tears. Many feel "Aeris’s Theme" captures the essence of her beauty, sadness, and hope.

Next up were "Not Alone" from FINAL FANTASY IX and "Ronfaure" from FINAL FANTASY XI. On the latter piece, Jen commented, "I’ve spent so much time in that area of Vana’diel and heard that music so often, but hearing this new arrangement live was eye-opening, fresh."

Then James Arnold Taylor returned with the sad news that it was time for the final three songs of the evening to be performed. This included classics such as a FINAL FANTASY I-III medley and the FINAL FANTASY theme song as well as a sneak peek at music and scenes from the upcoming DVD FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN.

As the final notes of the FINAL FANTASY theme faded, the crowd exploded into wild applause. Little did they know there was more to come…

Miguel Harth-Bedoya returned to the stage and remarked that he had never imagined they would be playing video game music. Clearly impressed, he then introduced the man behind it all: Nobuo Uematsu. The crowd went wild.

Surely there couldn’t be more surprises, could there? Yes, there could. After speaking a few words, Uematsu introduced FINAL FANTASY creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and series illustrator Yoshitaka Amano! With the "Big Three" onstage, the crowd went absolutely berserk this time. Through this, Uematsu riled them up even more, although we didn’t think that was possible. "It was entertaining to see the crowd scream like they were at a rock concert.

I’m sure that the performers are used to bursts of applause over their years of performing, but this was a completely different story. The performers looked stunned and unsure of how to react to the somewhat boisterous crowd." said Freddie. Ken was very pleased to see the three "getting the ovation they so deserve," and Jen, who had a first row view, was "blown away."

Just when it looked like the evening was coming to an end, the Master Chorale returned for the encore "One Winged Angel," a chilling score from FINAL FANTASY VII accompanied by a CG sequence of Sephiroth’s revelation. Ken said, "I have heard orchestral performances elsewhere, but the acoustics and crowd here could not be beat. My VIP guest said it was the best concert he had heard, period." Freddie said, "As a musician and as a fan of the series, it was an inspirational and emotional experience to watch the music come to life right before my eyes. The professionalism demonstrated during each of the songs from the syncopated rhythmns created between the instruments, to the massive crescendo in the end was simply astounding. "Jen, who grew up playing the series, could not for the life of her pick a favorite song. "Every song brought back memories of playing each FINAL FANTASY over the years," she said.

Uematsu held a post-concert interview afterward, during which fans put love notes up to the windows for him to see. He later joined the other 2/3 of the "Big Three" at a post-concert reception. Once all this was over, we all slept for a very, very long time.

Thank you to our fans for your continued loyalty and support. And thank you, Uematsu-san, for allowing us to experience such a wonderful performance.

-Square Enix U.S.A., Inc.
Public Relations Team


Photography: Karen Miller