From the moment I learned Yoko Shimomura was composing Kingdom Hearts, I eagerly awaited the chance to pre-order my copy. Considering her last two composing duties (Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana) have made her one of my favorite composers of all time, I had faith that her most recent project would not disappoint. Besides, who else could take on the task of composing a Disney/Square project other than the woman behind Super Mario RPG‘s musical notes? And although I admit Kingdom Hearts isn’t completely what I had expected or hoped it to be, I still enjoy it immensely, and it continues to grow on me.
The music of Kingdom Hearts is a bit difficult to describe. The best way I can put it is to take Legend of Mana, mix in a little bit of Super Mario RPG, a tiny smidgen of Parasite Eve, and a teaspoon of Disney and you’ve got the soundtrack. All of these games’ musical influences can easily be heard in this most current work of hers. And unlike what most people feared, this isn’t Square’s rehashing of all of Disney’s old tunes; only 5 of the 76 tracks on the album are arrangements of familiar Disney melodies, and these are handled wonderfully.
This album really can’t be compared to the rest of Square’s recent soundtracks. It’s a different type of game, and to sit down and expect to hear music on par with an epic, world-spanning RPG wouldn’t be fair, although there are some incredibly awesome themes here. These pieces don’t sound so much like they belong in a cartoon than in a feature-length animation score. Full-scale, sweeping melodies keep the listeners interested while we are aurally transported through all the different cartoon realms.
What I really found impressive is how Shimomura takes the style and sound of the different cartoons’ music/scores and incorporates them into original compositions while managing to retain her own distinct style. The Tarzan and Winnie-the-Pooh area themes are excellent examples of this. This helps the album flow much more easily, and the arranged Disney themes don’t sound like they’re out of place. More than a few of her original tracks sound very similar to her work on Legend of Mana, but this is just fine by me.
Of course, along with the good is the bad. Unfortunately, the battle themes in Kingdom Hearts are a bit lacking compared to Shimomura’s previous work. I’d been looking forward to more blazing, heart-pounding battles, and although the final battle theme, “Fragments of Sorrow” and “Guardando nel buio,” are well done with the choral undertones and spectacular orchestration, it just isn’t the same.
I feel I must make mention of the two-fully orchestrated tracks, “Hikari – KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version-” and “March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra.” These were both arranged and orchestrated by Kaoru Wada (Silent Möbius, Record of Lodoss War, 3×3 Eyes) who is also a renowned Japanese orchestral arranger/composer. In one word, these arrangements are breathtaking. I was initially a fan of Hikari’s melody, but Wada takes it to a new level transforming this vocal into an epic and energetic dramatic piece. “March Caprice” is what I imagine is the ending theme. Here we’re treated to some of Shimomura’s wonderful piano work arranged along with a majestically sweeping orchestra. Clearly, Wada is worthy of all the praise he has previously received.
After carefully listening to Kingdom Hearts I believe I can honestly say that most people will be quite surprised with this soundtrack. With so many great talents showcased here, it’s amazing this album wasn’t more highly anticipated than it was. Don’t let Disney’s name scare you away, though. Yoko Shimomura is a wonderfully talented composer, and she has crafted a truly magical piece of art with Kingdom Hearts, and both Square and Disney fans alike will find something to love here.