As fans, commentators and the world alike continue to fling every spear, arrow and barbed tweet imaginable at the debatable quality of the final season of HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones, the one general consensus and collective agreement amidst the uproar and amongst the offended is that it still sounds great.

Ramin Djawadi’s Emmy-award winning music is often at the top of any list of the show’s greatest achievements, and for whatever twists and turns its characters and plot lines may have taken, Thrones has always been a proud standard bearer in the tradition of great fantasy scores.

Migrating from one fantastical landscape to other ‘distant worlds’ then, you can draw notable parallels with Square Enix’s hugely celebrated Final Fantasy series of video games. Even the most staunch veteran of the franchise - of which there are many millions - will likely be able to point to a tentpole title or two within the popular franchise that they feel has not lived up to its reputation, or otherwise fallen short of expectations. Be it the online stylings of XI or XIV (the series’ numbering having a penchant for roman numerals), the linear structuring of XIII, or the heavy cuts and streamlining to XV’s second and third acts, you can likely find as many naysayers per title as you can cheerleaders.

With that all being said, much like Thrones, the music of Final Fantasy is often cited as amongst the finest in the medium by fans and critics alike, with franchise devotees making the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy international concert such a success as to be returning to London once again in 2019, over a decade after its first performance.

A name synonymous with Worlds - and the Final Fantasy brand as a whole - is celebrated composer Nobuo Uematsu; responsible for the gorgeous soundtracks of the initial nine instalments, after which he shared or became only tangentially involved in compositions (contributing just the main themes of Final Fantasy XII and XIII, for instance). Given his prolific involvement with the franchise, it is unsurprising (and fitting) that a core chunk of the music offered in any Distant Worlds concert are from his enviable list of wonders. 2019’s Worlds is no different - with early samplings including Final Fantasy IX’s ‘Festival of the Hunt’ and the iconic main ‘Final Fantasy theme’ itself.

However, with the franchise moving on now mostly without Uematsu’s involvement, the concert has changed with the times. The first act, for instance, focuses significantly on some of the more recent releases - from the rousing, choral bombast of Yoko Shimomura’s ‘Apocalypsis Noctis’ (from Final Fantasy XV) to a handful of numbers both orchestrated and sung from XIV. The latter - ‘Dragonsong’ and ‘Answers’ - performed ably by series’ veteran Susan Calloway, are indeed Uematsu’s works (again, the only contributions he made to the title), but the nostalgic and purist in me pined for more traditional offerings, with the also-sang ‘melodies of life’ from IX or VIII’s ‘Eyes on Me’ both being absent this time round.

An appearance by original recording artist, Japanese singer Rikki, to perform Final Fantasy X’s ‘Sutaki Da Ne’ was a fan-favourite moment, then.

Post intermission, though, the show did indeed take a full swing to one of Uematsu’s most renowned soundtracks, with an extended set celebrating Final Fantasy VII. Hearing the London Symphony Concert Orchestra, supported by the superb Maida Vale singers, filling the Royal Albert Hall with the likes of ‘Cosmo Canyon’, ‘Aerith’s Theme’ and a jaunty, jazzy ‘Cinco de Chocobo’ is an experience of dizzying joy for any fan of the games, and indeed anyone who enjoys a fine composition beautifully performed. And once you get to the grand swells of ‘Aerith’s Theme’ the haunting beauty of ‘Zanarkand’ (from Final Fantasy X) or are invited to join in on an auditorium-wide chant during VII’s iconic villain standard ‘One Winged Angel’, the experience truly transcends itself.

Conductor Arnie Roth, who has championed and led Worlds since inception, once again proves a steady, guiding hand through the myriad of styles and genres the franchise offers with its musical accompaniment, and a knowing, lively host for the evening (see: urging Square Enix employees present to “hurry up!” with the long anticipated remake of VII). And, as to be expected, the Albert Hall proved itself once again to be an enviable, nigh-incomparable venue for such a sweeping symphony (including, for instance, being able to utilise the Hall’s enormous organ for a rendition of Final Fantasy VI’s gloriously anarchic ‘Dancing Mad’).

If the first half of the programme this year was something of a personal disappointment for a fan raised on the early Playstation era of Final Fantasy, that is pure subjectivity, and isn’t in any way to say the performances fell short (‘Apocalypsis Noctis’, in fact, was a suitably high-impact opener). It simply grieves an ardent Uematsu and Fantasy fan to not once again be able to hear the sublime likes of Final Fantasy IX’s ‘Not Alone’ or XIII’s ‘Libera Fatali’ in such capable hands and glorious surroundings.

But, unlike the recent conclusion to Thrones, there is seemingly nothing ‘Final’ about this franchise, (with the aforementioned remake of VII and the inevitable XVI looming somewhere on the hopefully not-too-distant horizon), and hopefully not for this fantastic concert series, either. So with some luck (though likely only a little needed, given how well-attended the tour continues to be) there will be many more opportunities to come to hear the series’ great music in such perfect conditions. One could pontificate and personally invigilate the makeup of each individual programme but, after over a decade, all involved should actually be commended on keeping things fresh, and not simply wheeling out the exact same hit list upon every visit. This time round, the celebration of VII put one of the franchise’s strongest entries (both musically and otherwise) front and centre, and the ever-reliable LSCO and Maida Vale singers, under the sagely guidance of Roth, transported a veritably international assembly of fans to distant worlds and beyond in glorious, fantastical Final Fantasy style.

RATING -  ★★★★★

DISTANT WORLDS: MUSIC FROM FINAL FANTASY continues its international tour at various venues worldwide until 13 October 2019. 

For more information on the show, including tour dates and venue details, please visit

For more information on other productions and performances at the Royal Albert Hall, please visit, or call the Box Office direct on 020 7589 8212.

Tickets for this performance of 'Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy' were provided courtesy of The Royal Albert Hall directly. The author acknowledges their generous invitation.