On September 23 and 24 Square Enix held the "Eorzean Symphony: Final Fantasy XIV Orchestra Concert 2017" in Tokyo. The four concerts (to my knowledge all with identical programs) were dedicated exclusively to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and its first expansion pack, Heavensward. I attended the September 24 afternoon show, and even having little familiarity with the two titles' music, I came away impressed by the arrangements, performance, and overall production.
---Part One: A Realm Reborn---
1. A New Hope
3. Breaking Boundaries
4. Out of the Shattered Labyrinth
6. Calamity Unbound
7. Rise of the White Raven
---Part Two: Heavensward---
9. Ominous Prognisticks
10. Painted Foothills
11. Revenge Twofold
17. A World Apart
18. Torn from the Heavens
The first half of the concert, dedicated to A Realm Reborn, got off to a good start with the fanfare "A New Hope", and got better from there with the second piece "Serenity". I've always loved the piano version of that theme on the arranged album From Astral to Umbral (the only FFXIV album I've listened to extensively), and the concert arrangement maintained the piano part's beauty while adding a richer fantasy feel from the orchestra in full. "Out of the Shattered Labyrinth" was a very good orchestral action piece, and the choral battle theme "Ultima" which followed was equally impressive, thanks to excellent arrangement and performances. In fact I'd say the choral performance for the concert as a whole was the strongest of the four Square Enix-produced Final Fantasy orchestral concerts I've seen to date.
Concluding the first half of the program was the orchestral-choral epic "Answers", featuring solo vocalist Susan Calloway. This was my second time to hear the piece live, in addition to hearing a few different recorded versions on various Final Fantasy arranged albums, and among those I'd say this performance closely follows the Distant Worlds: Returning Home album performance as the best to date. Calloway's performance achieved the right balance of being subdued yet imposing in some places, while soaring and epic at others, and though she did seem to hold back on a few of the high notes - perhaps due to having four performances in two days - the dramatic effect was hardly diminished.
After being pleasantly surprised by the first half of the program, the second half, dedicated to the expansion pack Heavensward, had me a bit disappointed to start, as its opening three pieces felt a bit generic in comparison. Fortunately the second half picked up with another excellent Susan Calloway performance in "Dragonsong" and maintained its energy from there, with the orchestral action theme "Moebius" (another arrangement with great interplay between piano and orchestra), the choral action theme "Heroes", and a string quartet rendition of "Oblivion" in between as a well-timed change of pace. Concluding the main program was the title theme "Heavensward", which thanks to excellent performances by the solo soprano, chorus and orchestra made for a dramatic grand finale to the concert.
As an encore the orchestra performed "A World Apart", one of the more memorable takes on the venerable Final Fantasy main theme thanks to its lively arrangement. Following an enthusiastic standing ovation from a large part of the audience came the second and final encore piece "Torn from the Heavens", which though one of the simpler selections of the concert, as an energetic orchestral-choral piece with hints of the Prelude theme was a good choice.
Performances & Presentation
As with the Distant Worlds: The Celebration concert I attended in Tokyo in 2012, Eorzean Symphony was held at Tokyo International Forum. Despite being an aesthetically impressive venue both outside and in, due to the hall's large size it's apparently necessary to amplify these concert performances over the venue sound system. To me this somewhat defeats the purpose of hearing a live orchestral concert, and it was a significant distraction at the Distant Worlds concert, but perhaps simply due to a better seating location this time around it wasn't as much of an issue, and after the first few pieces found myself focused more on the music itself than the acoustics.
The performances in all aspects left very little to be desired. With the sound being amplified it's hard to make direct comparisons with other orchestral concerts, but there were no audible mistakes by the orchestra to speak of, and as mentioned the performance by the chorus - which was assembled especially for the concert - was one of the better ones I've heard. Special mention goes to conductor Hirofumi Kurita, who gave one of the more enthusiastic performances I've seen at a VGM concert and seemed to be sincerely enjoying his time on stage. According to VGMdb he's quite active in game music orchestral productions, and I hope to be seeing him in action again soon.
Similar to the Distant Worlds concerts there was a video screen showing footage from the games, as well as occasional close-ups of the orchestra. The video projection felt like more of a benefit at this concert (or less of a detriment depending on your perspective) than the Distant Worlds ones, I think simply because as a modern production FFXIV's in-game footage has a more cinematic quality than classic Final Fantasy titles, better befitting an epic-leaning orchestral concert.
Emceeing the concert was FFXIV producer Naoki Yoshida, who was joined on stage on several occasions by FFXIV main composer Masayoshi Soken, as well as by Nobuo Uematsu for his two pieces performed by Susan Calloway. I came away very pleased with the emceeing and the flow of the concert as a whole - I find it much more interesting listening to the production team than some voice actor or unrelated announcer, and the on-stage discussion and banter was both brief and entertaining enough to not feel like a distraction from the concert proper.
Of the dozen or so orchestral game concerts I've been to thus far, this was by far the least familiar I've been with the program's music going into a concert, so to come away as satisfied as I was was a pleasant surprise and a good sign that Soken and company created a high-quality orchestral production exceeding mere fan familiarity and nostalgia. Though neither of the two featured OSTs completely won me over after my brief listens to them, the Eorzean Symphony concert ignited an interest in any FFXIV-related orchestral albums. Two such albums have been released already - Final Fantasy XIV Orchestral Arrangement Album (VGMdb), which has eight studio recordings of tracks featured in the concert, and Eorzean Symphony: Final Fantasy XIV Orchestral Album (VGMdb), a Blu-ray release with those same eight tracks plus two extra studio recordings (including the excellent "Moebius"), as well as live recordings of all 18 pieces from the concert. Given the enthusiastic fan response to the concert in Tokyo - with three sold-out shows and one nearly packed one - and Yoshida's comments during the concert about hoping to make it international, hopefully Final Fantasy XIV fans around the world will have the opportunity to experience these impressive orchestral arrangements not only on album, but live in the near future.