'Final Fantasy XIV' Fan Festival 2021 Wraps With a Performance From The Primals

The Primals
Billboard JAPAN / Takanori Tsukiji

The Primals

Fans of Final Fantasy XIV were treated to two days packed with virtual entertainment at this year’s Digital Fan Festival 2021 - Around the World on May 15 and 16.

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV Online went live in 2013 and continues to bring joy and excitement to gamers everywhere, with accounts in five regions -- Japan, North America, Europe, China and Korea -- surpassing 22 million players worldwide, including the free trial versions.

The FFXIV Fan Festival, which began in 2014, is the largest event of its kind, and until this year, the in-person conventions took place individually in Japan, North America and Europe. This year’s fourth installment went completely online for the first time since the Fan Festival’s inception, and fans from around the world tuned in simultaneously to celebrate their favorite game.

This official report by writer Tetsuo Yamaguchi details day 2 of the virtual festival, which consisted of free livestreams of stage events, including a talk-show discussion by three FFXIV voice actors, as well as interactive digital activities and a live performance by the official FFXIV band The Primals.

Among the various game-related information released during the event, there were a couple of major music news items worthy of note. One was the announcement of the FFXIV Stratocaster, produced in collaboration with Fender to celebrate the brand’s 75th anniversary. The special limited-edition electric guitar features FFXIV-inspired visual details and is equipped with a “Limit Break Switch” that allows the player to unleash a different sound when pressed, much like the in-game party ability.

The other announcement was the release of the Final Fantasy XIV Vinyl LP Box, a limited set of four vinyl records packed with the music featured in the FFXIV universe. These records were cut by Bernie Grundman, the mastering engineer behind numerous landmark recordings by artists such as Carole King, Michael Jackson and more. These music-related gems go to show the passion the creators of FFXIV have for the tracks that enhance the gaming experience.

As many related words trended on social media, the two-day FFXIV Fan Festival wrapped up with a solid live performance by The Primals, the rock band led by FFXIV sound director Masayoshi Soken (vocals & guitar), with members GUNN (guitar), Eikichi Iwai (bass), Tetsuya Tachibana (drums/Hiroshi Kido stood in for the show), and FFXIV localization supervisor Michael-Christopher Koji Fox (vocals). When the band first got together, its main purpose was to play on the official arrangement albums and to perform at the previous Fan Festivals, but due to high demand by game players, the band released its own album and toured Japan in 2018, and also dropped a four-track CD last year. The band’s Fan Festival 2021 live performance was also met with excitement from fans watching from home, as could be witnessed by the torrent of comments swamping the chat timeline.

The Primals’ livestream began with a special Festival-version of the “Contents Finder StatusDuty Finder” waiting screen, which ended with the familiar sound effect signaling the start of the adventure. Following a brief scene featuring FFXIV character Ardbert, the band kicked off the set with “Insatiable,” playing the stately number accompanied by a performance video by Jason Charles Miller -- the main vocalist of the original recording who is based in the U.S. -- delivering a seamless collaboration that took advantage of the virtual show format.

Soken spoke a few words welcoming viewers to the Fan Festival concert before delving into the next number, “To the Edge.” While FFXIV has its share of the majestic, symphonic scores that might typically be imagined as background music for role-playing video games -- such as “Ultima,” featuring a rousing choral arrangement that Fox amplified with his grandiose performance after appearing in a hooded black cape -- these opening tracks were good examples of The Primals’ heavy-hitting band sound that reimagines the musical scores accompanying the FFXIV battle scenes, many of which are rock-based such as “Blinding Indigo,” a track inspired by the digital rock and big beat of the ‘90s.

The band also delivered many of the original tracks arranged in a completely different way. “Equilibrium,” which features a celestial choir section in the original, was performed as a bluesy midtempo number onstage with vocals provided by guitarist GUNN. The next track in the set, “What Angel Wakes Me,” was changed from the airy, dreamy waltz of the original to a feel-good garage rock number in common time. Soken and GUNN played the aforementioned FFXIV Stratocaster guitars during this song and provided vocals in turn, as members played solo parts as introduction. When his turn came around, Soken delighted fans by playing the victory fanfare familiar to anyone who has ever played a game in the Final Fantasy series.

Soken had mentioned earlier in the show that the band had prepared “various gimmicks” to keep viewers entertained during the livestream. True to his words, the four male dancers in colorful polo shirts who cheerfully performed their routines in “A Long Fall” were actual Square Enix employees. The zippy choreography was a nod to the fan-made meme that inspired the music video for “A Long Fall,” and the FFXIV team put in “lots of practice” to make it happen onstage.

Also, during the head-banging performance of “Under the Weight,” FFXIV producer/director Naoki Yoshida marched onstage decked out in a magma-themed outfit to provide an extra layer of rapping and shouting to the dynamic jam.

The Primals went on to play “Metal - Brute Justice Mode” with Soken displaying his musicianship through a riveting performance on the trumpet, then “Rise,” in which the band members all froze in place mid-performance of the upbeat rap-rock number as an homage to Alexander, the song’s theme. And just when viewers thought that the concert had come to an end with an exhilarating rendition of “Locus,” the band returned after an encore interlude featuring memorable scenes and lines from the game to cap off the set with the emotional “Shadowbringers,” featuring Miller’s powerfully evocative vocals once again.

The Primals’ live performance brought home the fact that the music featured in FFXIV is more than just gameplay background music and has the strength to appeal to rock fans unfamiliar with the game itself. The band will provide the theme of the upcoming FFXIV Expansion, “Pack Endwalker,” featuring the British band Architects singer Sam Carter on vocals.

--This article by writer Testuo Yamaguchi first appeared on Billboard Japan