Final Fantasy is one of the most storied role-playing series of games ever created. The franchise’s history spans through generations of gamers worldwide. Fans have shown their enthusiasm by creating costumes, music, and other elaborate forms of art based on their love for the series. But one group from northern Florida took their passion to a higher level and created the Final Fantasy Ball, a stage show that brought the heartfelt storytelling and emotion of the series to life.
The Final Fantasy Ball was a stage show hosted at the Shadocon Anime, Gaming, and Comics convention located in Tampa, Florida. The show, created back in 2002, combined elements of traditional theater and dancing with the characters and themes of the Final Fantasy games. Rudy Gomez, Director of the Final Fantasy Ball since 2010 and Shadocon Director of Operations, described the event as a means to reach out to other fans, introduce new people to the games, and help create fun convention memories for everyone.
“The idea started in the form of a joke between our friends a long time ago. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to see the Waltz for the Moon performed live?’”
Although Rudy directed and managed the show, it was brought to life by a number of people. Volunteer cast members took a large role in helping make the Final Fantasy Ball into the event everyone clamored to see. Many costumes and stage props used in the performances were made by cast members who played multiple parts. Rudy expressed gratitude to the many volunteers who helped make the show outstanding each year. “Every year there are many factors to take into consideration as to what kind of story should be told and which game we should approach in doing so. Everyone who comes to audition is a volunteer; they place their precious time, skills, money, blood, sweat and tears into this.”
Each Final Fantasy Ball placed a heavy emphasis on interactive dancing with the audience, which became very popular for attendees at the Shadocon convention. While the story explored elements from the Final Fantasy games, the interactive dancing intertwined with current popular music and key moments from the games. Cast members would step out into the audience and dance alongside viewers in character, making attendees feel completely immersed in the experience. Rudy believed that this aspect was a cornerstone of the show that would keep the audience engrossed in what they presented, very similar to the engaging experiences you find in a Final Fantasy game.
“We spend many hours in a Final Fantasy adventure and get sucked into that universe. I felt our event should feel no less. So interactive concepts were derived every year to highlight interaction between our performers and the audience, but also turning the attention inwards by making the audience interact with one another,” he said. Encouraging the audience to be interactive helped make attendees become more connected to the show, provoking many cheers and heartfelt cries for every event on stage.
Fantasies however don’t last forever. After years of hosting the Final Fantasy Ball at Shadocon, Rudy came to the decision that the show would end in 2015. Many fans and cast members expressed sadness and disappointment, but Rudy felt he had accomplished everything he could with the show and that the time was right for it to come to a conclusion. “After the show in 2014, I delivered the message of passing on our legacies to one another. I knew standing in the tech booth watching my cast perform the finale that my curtain call was close behind. But even though I had told myself it was time, there was a final story left to tell.”
That story was Kingdom Hearts. The game franchise that mixes up Final Fantasy with Disney characters is something fans had constantly asked for. Although the namesake of the show is Final Fantasy, Rudy frequently thought of implementing other Square Enix-related titles into the performances.
“For years people asked me to reach into the world of Kingdom Hearts,” he said. “Now more than ever I felt it was time to give them what they longed for and go out with a bang.”
The final show was an emotional conclusion for both Rudy and the show cast, who played to a packed auditorium. When asked if he would ever return to Shadocon to do the Final Fantasy Ball again, Rudy only had this to say. “Would I ever consider it? Maybe. The future has many possibilities and paths. Personally it was one of the best things I’d ever done. But as I always said this was not my show, this was all of our’s show.”