KINGDOM HEARTS Orchestra -World Tour- Review
KINGDOM HEARTS Orchestra -World Tour- is the official concert of the KINGDOM HEARTS video game series. The show was initially created in 2017 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of KINGDOM HEARTS and now the concert continues with its second wave of performances in 2018. The KINGDOM HEARTS Orchestra -World Tour- concert is created by Wildfaery under the supervision of the series creator Tetsuya Nomura, with the music program overseen by the composer of the series Yoko Shimomura.
Besides the humid weather and the torrential downpour that fell upon us the minute we arrived at the theater, the night was memorable(including getting to our seats while keeping our food dry). One of the first things I noticed is that, even with the terrible weather conditions, it was impressive to see a fair amount of fans dressed as their favorite characters from KINGDOM HEARTS. There was one cosplay in particular that had these hand drawn pictures that were identical to the ones that the character Naminé drew in Kingdom Hearts II as part of her dress and all I could think about was the work and dedication that goes into a project such as that. It's a perfect example of how strongly fans of the series around the world relate to these games and of course, the music that compliments the worlds and characters that inhabit it.
Once we were seated, there was an intercom announcement that the show was about to begin and after few minutes, each section of the orchestra came out on stage. Followed by the conductor, lead violinist and finally the pianist. Without any delay, the projectors displayed a scene with the main character Sora and instruments strummed the opening notes of the first piece..
Hikari: Instrumental Ver. - The show began with the Orchestral Version of Hikari (named after the Japanese singer Hikari Utada) also known as Simple and Clean in the USA and Europe. It's an majestic piece that the string section really makes come alive and a great way to kick-off the two hour symphony.
Dearly Beloved: KINGDOM HEARTS II Ver. - This is the most recognizable song in Kingdom Hearts. Even people I know that haven't played Kingdom Hearts or in some cases, don't play video games at all have heard this piece. It's a calm, simple 16-note piano piece that repeats while the flute and violin compliment along side. My personal favorite rendition of this song is from KINGDOM HEARTS: Birth by Sleep. For the most part, it keeps in line with the KINGDOM HEARTS II version but the piano changes up the progression and then pauses about a minute in for a solo violin before resuming with the melody, keeping it fresh. But, It was still great to hear my second favorite version live.
Destati - This is a dark, foreboding piece. It's played prior to, and while facing the final enemy(Ansem) in KINGDOM HEARTS. The Choir is the primary focus here, giving us the sense of desperation and imminent danger, the performance does not disappoint. Percussion, Brass and Strings were excellent and drove home that feeling of suspense. One issue I had was that we hear this piece too often in one night, there are other medleys and themes later on that at least pay homage to this piece, that space could have been filled with other tracks.
Organization XIII - This is another primarily piano piece with religious vocals in the background. It conveys emptiness, a search for meaning and belonging for this cult like organization.
Traverse Town - A newer piece that was included for this tour and was a pleasant surprise. It was certainly a much jazzier rendition compared to the original track. The overhead video was focusing on the more humorous video clips from the games revolving around Traverse Town and the characters that visit.
Treasured Memories - Is a very calm, reflective piano piece that has a time signature of 4/4 time and plays during various Kingdom Hearts games typically during a cutscene movie or flashback. The footage focused on Kari, Sora and Rikku at Destiny Islands. Also when Terra and Aqua see them when they're younger.
The World of KINGDOM HEARTS - This is a medley of the many(but not all) worlds visited in the throughout the Kingdom Hearts series. The locations played are as follows: Mickey Mouse Club March (Heard at Disney Castle), Olympus Coliseum (Theme played during the Hercules movie), A Very Small Wish (Theme for Monstro from Pinocchio), Waltz of the Damned (Theme for Beast's Castle), Secret of Neverland (Theme for Neverland), The Silent Forest (Theme for the Enchanted Dominion) and lastly La Cloche (Theme for The City of Bells in the Hunchback of Notre Dame) I absolutely loved the flute portion at the end of the track—about 8 or 9 minutes in—that was originally played by an organ in the game. Beautiful execution and fitting end to this ten minute long medley.
After The World of KINGDOM HEARTS, we're treated to a short video featuring Aqua, Terra & Ventus from the game KINGDOM HEARTS: Birth by Sleep. They were meeting up in what's called the Keyblade Graveyard, leading up to this next track..
Fate of the Unknown - Easily one of, if not my favorite song from the KINGDOM HEARTS Series and quite possibly my favorite performance of the night. The opening notes bring me back. This track is played during a secret cut-scene at the end of KINGDOM HEARTS II FINAL MIX+. Yoko Shimomura speaks of her attachment to this song in the concert program. It features the characters Ventus, Aqua & Terra during their battle with the antagonist Xehanort. The haunting Choir, Piano, Strings, English Horns and Percussion Section all do their part to bring a feeling of resistance, intense struggle and finally.. hope. I was expecting the hidden cut-scene to coincide with the music but the clips shown were instead of various battle moments in KINGDOM HEARTS: Birth by Sleep. One minor issue I noticed was during the performance was when the piano was playing lower notes it sounded like the speakers us above were crackling; perhaps an issue with the acoustics at that time but I'm glad to say it was the only time this was experienced.
Threats of the Land: KINGDOM HEARTS Battle Medley - This next medley focuses primarily on the battle themes of the KINGDOM HEARTS Series—the tracks are played in the order you hear them in-game. Yoko Shimomura acknowledges that this is a tough medley to perform and jokingly says that it has no sympathy for the performers. The tracks are: Night of Fate (Battle Theme for Destiny Islands and other parts of the games), To Our Surprise (Battle Theme for Wonderland), Go For It! (Battle Theme for Olympus Coliseum), only a short segment of Having a Wild Time (Battle Theme for Deep Jungle) leading into Hand in Hand (Battle Theme in Traverse Town), Arabian Dream (Battle Theme for Agrabah), Monstrous Monstro (Battle Theme for Monstro), about seven seconds of An Adventure in Atlantica (Battle Theme for Atlantica), Spooks of Halloween Town (Battle Theme for Halloween Town) by far the fan favorite of the show judging by the cheering from the crowd, Pirate's Gigue (Battle Theme for Captain Hook's Pirate Ship) and finishing off the second medley is Scherzo Di Notte (Battle Theme for Hollow Bastion) beginning solely with strings and piano, then the rest of the instruments soon join to a gradual crescendo. The transitions between the songs were seamless, very well done. Overall, 11-tracks are played and essentially each one is from the first KINGDOM HEARTS game. Of course with such a large library of music I realize not every song can be played but I was personally hoping to hear more battle themes from KINGDOM HEARTS II, perhaps for the 2019 world tour.
Next there was a 15 minute intermission. The show resumed with..
Heroes and Heroines: Characters' Medley - The third medley of the night showcasing all of the main characters across the games: Sora, Riku, Kari, Naminé, Roxas, Xion, Terra, Aqua, Ventus and Vanitas. Aqua's Theme has always been a favorite of mine and while the arrangement sounded just fine, I do wish that the lead violin wouldn't have taken a backseat and skip a number of notes before rejoining the rest of the strings. For me, It sounds too empty; especially considering it's the most emotional part of the song. One surprise here was the inclusion of Vanitas(who's theme is composed by Takeharu Ishimoto), because—as far as I'm aware—he's not exactly a hero. But his theme is a nice change of pace for the medley since his theme resembles a battle theme and it's the only character theme to utilize the fantastic choir.
Lazy Afternoons~At Dusk, I Will Think of You... - This is one of the newer additions for the concert. It's a blend of two tracks, both run at 4/4 time: Lazy Afternoons (From KINGDOM HEARTS II) and At Dusk, I Will Think of You...(From KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days). The performance was pleasant and peaceful. Yoko Shimomura said the piece is meant to be slower, relaxing, like a sunset. I think that suites it perfectly.
Vector of the Heavens - This track is from KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days, it's is close to six minutes in length and it has some wonderful plays on the melody. In the original track, the piano is the lead and a higher decibel than the other instruments but in the new arrangement the strings are the highlight, playing the notes the piano had in the original track. I've always been a fan of Yoko Shimomura's predominant piano style but regardless of which you enjoy more, it's a solid performance by the orchestra.
Wave of Darkness - This may be a lesser known track of the bunch so far, since it's only been around for just over a year but It's an epic battle track that plays during the "Tide of Darkness" Battle in KINGDOM HEARTS 0.2(a new short episode included in KINGDOM HEARTS 2.5 ReMIX) but recently it's also been used in the summer trailer for the upcoming KINGDOM HEARTS III.
Daybreak Town: The Heart of X - These two tracks are the only ones I'm not entirely familiar with.. they're from the browser/mobile release Kingdom Hearts χ. The first track reminds me of Lazy Afternoons, it's a mellower piece and the second is a more happy-go-lucky, upbeat track. They're decent pieces that I'll have to listen to more later on.
After Daybreak Town: The Heart of X, another short video clip shown of Roxas approaching Sora while he's in his stasis during the beginning of KINGDOM HEARTS II. After the clip finishes, the next song begins..
The Other Promise - One of the most popular songs among fans. It's an arrangement of Roxas' theme. Unlike the original piece(which consists of mostly piano and violin), this version—as you would assume—includes full orchestral treatment: pizzicato strings, horns, crash cymbals, euphoric choir, it's all here and their addition makes the piece sound fantastic. I later found that It's virtually the same version and length as the one from the album "drammatica - The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura" released in 2008.
Let Darkness Assemble: Final Boss Battle Medley - This is fourth medley of the night and one that composer Yoko Shimonura said she particularly enjoys, it includes the following final boss themes: Guardando nel buio (translated "Looking in the Dark", plays in KINGDOM HEARTS during World of Chaos battle) it opens with a phrase from Destati, Darkness of the Unknown (the final battle with Xemnas from KINGDOM HEARTS II), Dismiss (final boss theme with Terra-Xehanort from KINGDOM HEARTS: Birth by Sleep) and lastly L'Impeto Oscuro (final boss theme from the more recent KINGDOM HEARTS: Dream Drop Distance). It's an aggressive piece and a break from the somber nature of the previous ones. Heavy on the choir and percussion, building the momentum to coincide with the action sequences displayed on the over head projector. Mostly cut-scenes of the bosses were shown on-screen, rather than the actual battle scenes.
Passion: Instrumental Ver. - This piece is from KINGDOM HEARTS II and is the orchestral/instrumental version of the Opening Theme of the game. This arrangement is meant to condense the entire game into a single musical number—as stated by the series composer—and it accomplishes that goal.
With the conclusion of Passion: Instrumental Ver. the conductor left the stage. This was a bit of an awkward moment because the audience did clap and cheer but quickly fell silent, like they assumed the show was over but it was quite obvious that it was not—at least to us—considering every member from the orchestra remained seated. The lead violinist then motions with her hand to the audience to essentially make noise for an encore. After the audience grew louder, the conductor returned to the stage to begin the first of the final two pieces for the night..
Kingdom Hearts III: Toy Story Medley - I was glad to see something played from KINGDOM HEARTS III before the night was over. With Toy Story's popularity, this medley was a fine choice. It consists of an instrumental version of "You've Got a Friend in Me" by Randy Newman and the new battle theme for the Toy Story level in the game. I'm not 100% sure if it's an original composition or an up-tempo arrangement of a Disney track but either way, it was lively and entertaining.
Fantasia Alla Marcia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra - The final piece of the night. It played as the credits for the symphony rolled on the screen, as it does at the end of KINGDOM HEARTS II. The movement is almost eight minutes long and consists of song variations of the following tracks: March Caprice, Dearly Beloved, Always on my Mind, Guardando Nel Buio and Another Side. A few of these we've heard earlier on but in Fantasia they blend beautifully with one another and at the end, every section of the orchestra takes part to leave us with a strong majestic finish. it's another one of my all-time favorites from the series..
With that, the concert is concluded. The orchestra members all stood on-by-one when acknowledged by the conductor to receive their well deserved applause. The loudest cheers came for the lead violinist whose performance was immaculate. The orchestra then followed the conductor off stage in a orderly fashion.
We arrived an hour early, which gave us plenty of time to stand in line for some merchandise. The items available are: KINGDOM HEARTS Orchestra -World Tour- CD $39 (contains 12-tracks from the concert), Tour Concert Program $39 (48-pages of behind the scenes look of the concert, including interviews with both the creator of KINGDOM HEARTS - Tetsuya Nomura, and the composer of KINGDOM HEARTS - Yoko Shimomura. Along with the process of the arrangements and information about the KINGOM HEARTS Series), Chief Conductor Keyblade $55 (a small conductor wand in the model of Sora's Kingdom Keyblade; it includes a show stand), Card Holder $35, Pouch $40 and lastly T-Shirts $35 (the image is the concert illustration of Sora in black and white extending his Keyblade out). The items are on the expensive side but I found this to be the case at almost any of the Video Game Symphonies I've attended. If you were unable to purchase an item because it was sold out, the items are also available online at khshop.wildfaery.com but keep in mind they sell quickly there as well. I tried to pick up the World Tour Album and received an e-mail from them informing me that the CD I was purchasing will not be re-stocked for a couple months, so just keep that in mind. By far my favorite item I was able to pick up was the Tour Concert Program. It's high quality and beautifully made, each page is laminated and contains bio's on each person involved in the concert program, insightful interviews and personal footnotes from Yoko Shimomura on the pieces involved in the orchestra. If you're a KINGDOM HEARTS fan, I'd highly recommend getting yourself copy.
The ticket prices were approximately the same amount as the other symphonies we've attended for the seats we chose. Sadly, there are only a small handful of select cities offering VIP passes to meet and greet KINGDOM HEARTS composer Yoko Shimomura and our area was one where VIP was not available; as was expected. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a city where VIP passes are offered, the program states that Yoko Shimomura will appear on stage after her performance and 100 VIP ticket holders will be able to take one photo and received one autograph with her. I hope Wildfary expands the VIP tour passes for next year because meeting Yoko Shimomura is a lifelong dream for many of us fans.
Some criticism I have is that while there were plenty of medleys and main themes that were showcased, I can't help but feel that there were too many recycled tracks and a lot that were left out—specifically from KINGDOM HEARTS II. Level themes such as: Home of the Dragons, This is Halloween, What A Suprise?!, or Hallow Bastion. I would have also loved to hear battle themes such as: Vim and Vigor(my favorite), 13th Struggle, He's a Pirate or Sinister Sundown. It's a large concert and I don't expect each one of us to hear our personal choices but hopefully by the next round of tours in 2019, more themes from KINGDOM HEARTS II will be incorporated.
I did notice one thing anecdotally—and it surprised me a bit—that the crowd was not as active as some of the previous symphonies we've attended. Now, while that may sound like a negative thing, It's not. We were able to enjoy the music more without the constant cheering, whistling and clapping that's been experienced at for example: The Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses. While it can be an indication of how passionate fans are about a beloved series, there is a tipping point and it can take away from those of us who came to enjoy the music when there is continuous interruptions of cheering and applause—especially at a symphony and before a piece is concluded. Thankfully, that wasn't that case at KINGDOM HEARTS Orchestra World Tour, the audience practiced proper etiquette and it made for a much more enjoyable evening.
Another things I noticed, this was the case with my second attendance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses as well, is the lack of personal connection between the show and the audience. What I mean by that is there was no talking beforehand by program leaders, no acknowledgement of the audience, no announcements of which song is coming next and it sort of makes it feel as if the show is on autopilot. To give an example of how I think it's done correctly, I'd have to mention Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY. The conductor Arnie Roth would speak before the show began, introduce the audience to the music being played, how much he personally enjoys a selection or two and why that is, throw out a line such as "before we continue, we have something important to do first" and then play the famous Victory Theme every FINAL FANTASY fan is familiar with, ask the audience how much did you enjoy that last piece? It gave the show a certain direction that I felt was lacking in this concert. Having said that, we had a great night. KINGDOM HEARTS -World Tour- is a wonderful concert that any fan of the series or a fan of classical music will absolutely enjoy. Who knows how many more years these video game concerts will be around(I hope a long time), so if you are given the opportunity to attend, please don't pass it up. The fantastic arrangements, well-edited video scenes, unique lighting, general ambiance of like-minded KINGDOM HEARTS fans and finally having the chance to hear those treasured songs that we've grown up with played live, make attending this show all-the-more worth it.