This image is from the Arts at Michigan website.

On Saturday, March 19, Rackham Auditorium hosted the New World Players chamber ensemble’s performance of “A New World: Intimate Music from ‘Final Fantasy.’” The small orchestra was led by conductor Eric Roth, who received his B.A. from the University of Michigan.

“Final Fantasy” is a widely praised fantasy media franchise best known for its 15+ different installments of the “Final Fantasy” video game series. Although distinct versions of the games feature new settings and plots, they maintain a few central characters and a similar plot of emotionally motivated heroes defeating an evil force. The original game was released in 1987, and it still draws a massive community of loyal fans today. Accordingly, the “Final Fantasy” franchise has earned more than $11.7 billion in sales, making it one of the top-grossing video game franchises to ever exist.

The music of “Final Fantasy” has enjoyed great stand-alone success as well. Video game fans and music historians alike look to Nobuo Uematsu’s scores as a case study for what it takes to change an industry. Many games at the time had simple motifs, like the Pac-Man theme, but Uematsu’s complex work provided lush instrumentation within the limited technology of the time, elevating the standard for video game music.

As someone who was not previously familiar with the game or music of “Final Fantasy,” I was disappointed that there were no programs for this event. I would have enjoyed knowing more about the music, especially the context of each song within the franchise. The lack of a program, however, did not seem to affect the “Final Fantasy” fans in the audience who already knew the music well. Between each piece, Roth would make a few jokes or introduce the title of the next work; he was met with cheers from the audience each time. Even when he did not state the name of a song, the crowd would cheer and exclaim something like “I love this one” within the first few beats. 

The music selection ranged from upbeat bouncy melodies to more harrowing, slow ballads. The pieces were selected from across the franchise, with the most songs from “Final Fantasy VIII.” Roth explained that the ensemble changes the repertoire all throughout their “Final Fantasy” tour. Although some of the more ballad-like pieces employed classical styling techniques, it was evident that it was not your traditional, full-bodied classical music. Without the nostalgia and positive association with the music that Final Fantasy players have, I felt that there was something missing from the music, as if there was a certain level of shallowness within each arrangement. Still, the pieces were enjoyable overall, especially due to the variety in the concert repertoire. “One-Winged Angel,” from “Final Fantasy VIII,” was particularly captivating, harboring quick and unexpected melodic shifts that kept me engaged. But, with the many opportunities for people to see much cheaper orchestral concerts in Ann Arbor, I do not think the $50 ticket would be worth it for many “Final Fantasy” laymen.

After the final piece and much-anticipated encore, audience members seemed energized — excited and moved by the music they just heard. It then came as no surprise that there was a hefty line for the “Final Fantasy” merchandise being sold in the Rackham lobby. 

“A New World: Intimate Music from ‘Final Fantasy’” is just one example of the many mixed media entertainment experiences that have become popular in the early 21st century. Merging internet culture and fine art, concerts like this show how each of these expressive forces shape each other. Ann Arbor was lucky to host this kind of event, one that I imagine will become more and more popular in the future.

Daily Arts Contributor Nicole Appiani can be reached at