E3 is a time of gaming magic — the Los Angeles Convention Center is abuzz with extravagant sounds, millions of lights, and gigantic displays that really sell the festive air of video gaming’s biggest convention. However, while the show floor was teeming with electronic nirvana, I found my mind drifting back to one of my favorite moments of the week: the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra’s Encore Tour.
A little more than a couple miles away from the LACC, fans were lined up (many with make-shift Keyblades and costumes in tow) around the Dororthy Chandler Pavilion. The venue, for those who have never visited, has sprawling beautiful staircases and crystal chandeliers hanging from the half-century-old concert hall. That location seemed both fitting to the lavish occasion, and completely alien to the demographic of Kingdom Hearts fans flocking to the souvenir booth. Some people came dressed to the nines in tuxedos, while others just threw on their favorite Riku t-shirt from Hot Topic. More importantly, the show was fandom in its own element.
With a few chimes, we were ushered into a back-room while the main crowd was getting seated in front of the orchestra. Stationed behind an inch-thick glass wall, it was obviously a packed-house — perhaps not an easy task for most encore performances with an over-3,000 seat capacity. However, both the Kingdom Hearts fandom and gaming music fans showed up in force to support La Fée Sauvage, the orchestra group that so readily performs these gaming symphonies.
And after a quick tune-up, the concert started with a Kingdom Hearts medley taking center stage. While our audio is distorted — something that happens when you are behind thick glass — feel free to check out the first few minutes of the show below.
Like many of these gaming-themed concerts, the schtick was amazing orchestral versions of the songs paired up with iconic moments and visuals from the game. And while that may seem cheesy on the surface, there was an art to it in a way I haven’t experienced in more traditional performances with the New York Philharmonic or watching the Nashville Symphony. Digging deep into the Disney roots of the Kingdom Hearts series, the performance has a near-Fantasia like feel. Each beat and hit matched with something on the screen.
Taking my seat front and center after the above recording, I managed to get the full experience of the night. While the music of the series and La Fée Sauvage’s rendition of the show was undoubtedly beautiful, what tied the magic of the night was the reaction of the crowd. There is a lot to be said of the passion (and patience) of the Kingdom Hearts fanbase, but all emotions were on full display that night. You could hear deep belly laughter when Goofy or Pluto meandered onto the screen, or gasps when we caught a glimpse of Axel — erm… Lea — in flashback sections. Meanwhile, the orchestra seemed as in-tune with the fans as they were each other, swooning and crescendoing when the emotions ran hot.
Then, there was the pièce de résistance of the night, a flurry of surprises that seemed to come back-to-back. For the debut performance in Los Angeles, the series composer Yoko Shimomura was not only in attendance but took the stage to help out with the performance. Even better, the key director of the Kingdom Hearts series — Tetsuya Nomura — took the stage to offer one of the biggest announcements leading up to E3. Just as we predicted, it was finally time for us to hear the Kingdom Hearts release date, and what better place than a packed house of the series’ biggest fans?
Without the month-long delay dampening the mood, Nomura-san debuted a brand new trailer which (still) hasn’t been fully revealed to the public yet. While some of these reveals and footage would come later on in both the Microsoft, Sony, and Square Enix press conferences, fans first got a glimpse of Ratatouille‘s Remy and new shots of the Tangled world. And at the end of it all, a January 29th release date.
And while all of this news thrilled me as a Kingdom Hearts fan, what really stirred up the emotion was the reaction from everyone in attendance. Sure, there was loud applause and hollers through the night, but nothing like how fans reacted to each moment of the trailer. No matter if it was a glimpse of “Nort-ed” Aqua or just the tiniest flash of ex-Organization 13 member Zexion/Ienzo, the uproar rivaled the Nintendo NY reaction to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Without a doubt, some of this experience is something that can only be had that night — there is no matching the build-up in hype as people waited for an official release date of Kingdom Hearts III. But this in no way cheapens what was an amazing experience, whether you are a Kingdom Hearts than 20 remaining showsdie-hard or just a fan of gaming music. The Kingdom Hearts Orchestra’s Encore World Tour has a little less around the globe, and I wouldn’t risk missing it if you’ve been putting it off.