I wasn’t too great a fan of the original Kingdom Hearts, nor its music. It often felt too understated or quiet, too willing to be soft and boring. Little outside of the opening song caught my attention, and it’s a shame too, since music is such a huge part of what makes a game. Thankfully, this has changed with Kingdom Hearts II, even with the repeat tracks from the first game and Chain of Memories.
The sequel more than makes up for its predecessor’s lack of aural attraction. “Passion” will be, doubtless, the most celebrated track of the album merely for being the opening. I have to say, I much prefer it to Simple and Clean. It has a more mature sound and catchier rhythm to it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Simple and Clean, but Passion is definitely the finer piece.
A soundtrack is not about its opening theme however. Many of the ambient tracks have a playful feel to them, while maintaining the epic sound I’ve been expecting of this game. “Dearly Beloved” is an excellent opening piece from the first disc and carries a nostalgic theme of romance, building upon itself as it goes on. It starts very lightly, subtly layering intensity while maintaining its romantic lull. It’s a track I could listen to time and again.
Amongst other favourites, I quite enjoy Scherzo Di Notte, which has an urgent, military feel to it, though not without the classic musical tones signature to this album. One might imagine racing through a castle while this plays in the background, or hastily preparing for an important mission. I imagine that’s exactly the effect the composer wanted as well.
There are also a few tracks which recall famous Disney pieces such as “Beauty and the Beast,” which receives a 46-second instrumental recap, probably for the intruduction of said film characters in game. It’s not a long track, but it brings back good childhood memories and fits perfectly in the game.
One other track that made me chuckle was “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. It’s sung in Japanese, which sounds completely strange to my ears. Mind you, I’m familiar with Japanese, but hearing a song of my childhood sung in Japanese is bizarre. A good rendition though, and certainly longer than Beauty and the Beast at 2:05.
There are certain tracks on the album which make me raise a brow and ask “why” on occassion. These aren’t truly bad pieces, but I’m sure they’ll sound better in game than they do on their own. One such piece is the Mickey Mouse Club March, which gets the regimental band treatment, complete with snare drums and silver flute. It’s not a bad track, but I wonder if it isn’t bordering a little too much on advertisement.
Other tribute tracks of note include One Winged Angel, which any Square-Enix fan can recognize from Final Fantasy VII and via its remake in FFVII: Advent Children. This remix has less intense bass but still comes across as an epic piece, sure to get long-time FF fans cheering. It clocks in at 2:12, down from 4:23 minutes of the original and 6:07 of the Advent Children remake. Although short, it’s still very enjoyable.
The attention paid to creating an epic score, but without the usual dark dramatics of series’ such as Final Fantasy, certainly shows. Yoko Shimomura is probably best known for her work on the previous Kingdom Hearts amd her sound has evolved quite a bit from the original. She manages to balance the epic scope of the world with the more optimistic ideals professed by the characters, resulting in something compelling, yet hopeful.
Other contributors on the list include composer Kaoru Wada, known for his work on the TV series InuYasha, and as I mentioned before, artist Hikaru Utada. Utada is known worldwide for having a romantic yet upbeat flavor, something which works especially well in both renditions of Passion on the disc. I personally prefer the regular rendition, but “~after the battle~” is a great reprisal. There’s something very charming about Utada’s voice, regardless of the music being fast or slow.
It’s one to buy, folks. Kingdom Hearts II’s soundtrack is a great success. There are a few “why?” tracks here and there, and a handful that only serve as ambient pieces, but the majority make this a truly memorable soundtrack. Kudos to Shimomura, Wada, and Utada for making this a winner.