Review Summary: The continuation of Nobuo Uematsu's beautiful and highly regarded "Distant Worlds." A must for longtime fans.
Rarely do musicians, let alone video game soundtrack composers, gain such a massive, unearthly dedicated following as the one Nobuo Uematsu claims. Nobuo, known simply as “Nobu” to fans, is most well known for his work with the equally regarded Final Fantasy
video game series, as well as a number of anime and other non-soundtrack works. Selling out concerts and topping the charts is really a common occurrence for the man, and it’s not too difficult to see why. Nobu has a certain something
in regards to his skills as a composer, something that goes beyond that of mere “sound tracking;” ultimately a flair for making the pitch perfect soundscape for someone to become fully immersed in. The ability to make a perfect, consistent, and completely vibrant realm of music for each release is something the man excels with. Because of this prominence, this mass following, the Distant Worlds
series came into being.
Less than a collection of songs, and more a celebration of a legendary career, Distant Worlds II
follows up where its 2006 predecessor left off. It’s Final Fantasy
music through and through; a collection of fan favorites, as well as some lesser known pieces. As an amalgamation of Nobuo’s work, it’s a success, picking pieces from a wide swath, essentially making a mass mixture of styles and moods. It sails with jovial bliss, then quickly plunges into chaos and melancholy; a true treat for those looking for variety, but a major disappointment for those more interested in consistency.
Like the album before it, Distant Worlds II
was recorded in June of 2010, by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, and boy is it ever obvious. The album is huge--not in terms of length or track number, but in sheer sound. The Orchestra breathes life into Nobu’s work like never before, especially the older games, whose soundtracks relied on primitive methods. The lush, palpable sounds that help recreate the songs make Distant Worlds II
a must, even for purists.
Line after line could be spent describing what the album sounds like, and which instruments play what, but what it really all boils down to is one thing: the songs. After all, it’s what games are represented, and what songs are played that truly make all the difference. Honestly, this is what makes Distant Worlds II
such an exciting endeavor. It’s especially wonderful considering that there really aren’t any “fan favorites” per se, but rather, each individual has their own preference. Unfortunately, this is where the album kind of stumbles a bit. The song choices range from brilliant to questionable. For instance, “Main Theme From Final Fantasy VII” is brilliant, especially here, as it’s one of the most fully realized renditions out there. However, tracks like “Melodies of Life” and “Suteki da ne” raise eyebrows. “Melodies of Life” has always been sort of, well, cheesy
, but the amount of melodrama has been upped thanks in part to a overly boisterous vocal performance. She wails and bellows, and by all means has a wonderful voice, but just doesn’t fit well at all with the rest of the music. “Suteki da ne” suffers the same, albeit more so. The track is more frail, more subdued, and the vocals do little to portray that. It is a shame really, for both tracks have been highly regarded, and are easily some of the more beautiful in Nobu’s discography. Yet it is “Dancing Mad” that takes the prize for strangest choice. The whimsically maddening piece sort of goes off the deep end in the latter half. Featuring a menacing organ, the song sort of spirals into weird techno/Nintendo core suite. It’s weird and completely unpalatable; a true disappointment.
Aside from the above mentioned pieces, Distant Worlds II
is full of outstanding tracks, both pleasantly surprising and wonderfully nostalgic. “The Man With The Machine Gun,” a little known piece, manages to be refreshing, as it’s upbeat and brassy, featuring the militant stylings prevalent in the Final Fantasy VIII
soundtrack. “Ronfaure,” perhaps the least known song (as Final Fantasy XI
never really caught on outside of Japan) is a fun, energetic fanfare-esque tune that really captures the essence of the album. “To Zanarkand” is represented phenomenally here. What was largely a soft, piano driven song, has transferred into a bold, swelling orchestral piece, full of more character and beauty than ever before. But for longtime fans, nothing really hits as hard as “Prelude” and “Victory Theme,” two songs that have been around since the series’ inception. Both, especially “Victory Theme,” aren’t really so much fleshed out songs, as they are mere splashes of nostalgia and personality.
The songs are wonderful, and the music is simply pitch perfect, but they really can’t completely save Distant Worlds II
from its largest weakness: there is literally nothing new here. The fact of the matter is that each track has been around for years, and in some cases, decades. The re-imaginings are wonderful, yes, but that doesn’t belittle the fact that these same basic tunes have already been around for quite some time. That being said, for longtime fans, the nostalgia factor is just too high to ignore, and Distant Worlds II
will be a fantastical journey nonetheless.