Game Music, Reviews

FINAL FANTASY XI Vana♪Con Anniversary 11.11.11 (Review)

March 26, 2012 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook FINAL FANTASY XI Vana♪Con Anniversary 11.11.11 (Review)on Twitter

Izumi Tsukushi and Akio Shiraishi told us there would be several music releases over the course of 2012 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Final Fantasy. We’ve already reviewed the first PIANO OPERA album, but this DVD recording celebrating the anniversary of Final Fantasy XI was actually the first release in this celebration.

Recorded on November 11, 2011 at the Vana Con event in Japan, this is a live recording of the one-off concert that took place to commemorate nine years of Final Fantasy XI.

Hit the jump for our review.

Upon inserting the DVD, it jumps right into the action. No logos, no previews, just a rather straightforward menu with no background music. There are options to play the entire contents, select by scene, watch some ‘special’ content or choose your stereo output configuration.

The performance begins with a brief introduction from an announcer before moving on to the first piece of music. Throughout the recording, a high-pitched female MC introduces songs and talks to guests on stage including Naoshi Mizuta and Kumi Tanioka at various points in the concert (unfortunately it appears as though Nobuo Uematsu was not in attendance). There was also a large video screen behind the orchestra which displayed game footage, and on the DVD, they sometimes cut to the footage in fullscreen mode.

Here’s the set list, including the breaks for the MC:

01 Opening
02 Procession of Heroes ~ Vana’diel March Medley
03 MC-1-
04 Ronfaure
05 Griffons Never Die
06 MC-2-
07 Fighters of the Crystal
08 Ragnarok
09 MC-3-
10 Distant Worlds
11 Awakening
12 MC-4-
13 The Sanctuary of Zi’Tah
14 Gustaberg
15 Four Nations, One Sky ~ A Tribute to the Cities
16 MC-5-
17 A New Horizon – Tavnazian Archipelago
18 Sword Songs ~ Battle Medley
19 MC-6-
20 Melodies Errant
21 MC-7-
22 Main Theme ~ FINAL FANTASY XI Version

Subtract out the MC segments and the opening and you have 14 pieces of music. The arrangements here tend to be a little on the straightforward side, and some are surprisingly brief, but there are a few surprises in store for fans.

Starting with “Procession of Heroes ~ Vana’diel March Medley,” fans should appreciate the familiar snare rolls and powerful string stabs which gave me goosebumps even though I personally never got very far into the game. The transition between the two sections was great, and this provided an effective opening to the performance.

This was followed by the familiar “Ronfaure,” a composition by Uematsu, and the same arrangement that’s been performed at Distant Worlds. This one always gets a great reaction from fans, and was great to see here. “Griffons Never Die” and “A New Horizon ~ Tavnazian Archipelago” are also quite beautiful, the former with sweeping strings that are bold yet touching and the latter with decisive string stabs and brass that give way to a beautiful string and woodwind interlude.

Despite the varied styles presented in Final Fantasy XI, many of the pieced performed were a bit on the heavy side. “Fighters of the Crystal,” for example, sports an intense, bombastic orchestral arrangement, while “Awakening” was dark and ominous with lots of game footage shown on the screen.

“Distant Worls” was of course featured with the original vocalist, Izumi Masuda, but honestly I never cared for this song until I heard Susan Calloway sing it on the Distant Worlds CD, and after hearing it, it makes Masuda’s version sound even worse with her heavily accented English.

The hands down best thing about this concert was the presence of Kumi Tanioka on stage. After a long chat with the MC, she took to center stage where a piano had been set up for her. She played through “The Sanctuary of Zi’Tah” with its lovely melody that builds in intensity over the course of the piece and a mellow and relaxed rendition of “Gustaberg.” She was quite impressive on the piano, and didn’t even bring any sheet music with her.

Next, Tanioka was joined by the entire orchestra for what was probably the best arrangement of the evening, “Four Nations, One Sky ~ A Tribute to the Cities,” which, as you’d guess, covers the four main city themes. While the transitions weren’t the most elegant, I loved each of the themes, although I do have a bias towards Windurst. The theme from San d’Oria turns into a nice little waltz, and there’s lots of playful tambourine throughout.

From here, a number of medleys were featured. “Sword Songs ~ Battle Medley” was a piece that I was greatly looking forward to, but surprised me by how short it was and by how few themes were incorporated. None of my favorites made the cut, which was a disappointment. “Melodies Errant” from the recently-released Final Fantasy XI -PLUS- CD was also included, also coming in short.

The last piece performed is “Main Theme ~ Final Fantasy XI Version.” I enjoy the arrangement that’s true to the original with nice flourishes here and there, coming at a measured pace. Even after all these years, I still can’t help but be moved by this piece.

The ‘special’ section on the DVD is a behind-the-scenes video of the concert rehearsal with the composers and arrangers talking about trouble spots. There’s brief commentary from the composers, video of the stage setup, the merchandise table, the surprisingly small concert hall, and segments showing Mizuta and Tanioka talking to each other backstage while the concert is going on.

The packaging is nice, coming in a DVD-sized case with an outer cardboard sleeve. The booklet contains bios on the composers, performers, and staff members involved, and there are tons of screenshots from the game throughout.

Still, however, while there are a few solid arrangements, there’s not much meat here for the 4,500 Yen asking price. I wish there had been a CD included with the DVD because it’s unlikely that I’m going to dig this DVD out again to hear them, but would do so if I had the music files on my iPod. Still, hardcore fans of Final Fantasy XI’s music should appreciate this release, and they can pick it up at CD Japan or Play-Asia.

What are your favorite musical moments from Final Fantasy XI? Could you go for an entire concert performed by Kumi Tanioka on piano?

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