This being the definitive Kingdom Hearts soundtrack collection, I would be remiss in not writing the definitive Kingdom Hearts soundtrack review, and therefore I’m going to cover all three games, giving due attention to each (although many tracks are repeated at least once). Tracks almost universally fall into one of three categories: world themes, used for the majority of the gameplay, battle themes, which are either paired with a particular world or used for boss battles, and filler tracks, mainly used during cutscenes.
Discs One and Two – Kingdom Hearts
Disc 1 is one of the strongest discs in the album, and nearly every track is fairly strong. The opening track to all the Kingdom Hearts games, Dearly Beloved, starts us off here, and while there are four more nearly identical versions of this track to come, here it is new, and is one of the most effective opening tracks to a game. The orchestral version of Hikari comes next, and I cannot stress how better this sounds compared to both vocal versions of this song. The New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra show off their talent for unconventional music well here, and they are wisely brought back later for similar tracks. The mood set by these two opening tracks is suddenly shattered with the remixed version of Hikari used in the opening video. While Hikaru Utada’s vocals are impressive, the speed at which this is played makes this feel too rushed to enjoy, and the remix sounds completely at odds with the style of the song. This remix feels even more jarring when the next track, Dive into the Heart -Destati- begins. Also a vocal track, this feels haunting while remaining calm and is a good finishing track for the opening group. The regular in-game tracks finally kick in here, beginning with the Destiny Islands theme. While this theme is charming enough, its melody and beat are so repetitive that it becomes dull even before it manages a single loop. Thankfully, the next track, Bustin’ Up on the Beach is surprisingly good, and though its only used for a minigame, considerable effort has been put into making this cheerful without becoming too cheesy.
Whether through desire or necessity, a number of the themes from Kingdom Hearts are familiar Disney themes, and the first of these is the Mickey Mouse Club March. Like a lot of the later themes this gives the impression that it could be looped interminably and become tedious almost immediately. In addition, the instrumentation used lowers the quality of how the song actually sounds, which doesn’t help matters. As a filler track Treasured Memories is fairly melancholy and memorable, contrasting with the more ominous Strange Whispers that gives the game’s first hint at villainy. Kairi’s Theme has three iterations in Kingdom Hearts I, and while this is the weakest version it plays off Treasured Memories as evoking feelings of sorrow without being too depressing, and this is followed up with It Began With a Letter. Unfortunately, A Walk In Andante somewhat kills the mood, and while it isn’t a bad track it feels more like a filler track than anything else so far in the game.
The first real battle track in this game, Night of Fate, is also one of the best in the whole series. With a repeating bass track, piano and flute it establishes what will be a staple of most of the regular and boss battle themes in the game. Many shares similarities with the themes of the various worlds they’re heard in, but Night of Fate is completely unlike Destiny Islands. Shimomura belongs to the cadre of composers who are known for having multiple battle themes in their soundtracks, and Kingdom Hearts is no exception. The first boss battle theme, Destiny’s Force, is most often heard as the ‘world’ boss battle theme. This is one of the best battle tracks in the series, and draws upon Shimomura’s earlier work. In particular, it sounds very similar to the track Aid from Legend of Mana. As one of the few ‘rousing’ battle themes in the game, Destiny’s Force works as an accompaniment to large, imposing bosses that take effort and skill to defeat. The next few tracks are listenable, if not particularly interesting. Despite being fairly repetitive, Traverse Town is one of the better world themes that appear in the game, and the tracks that surround it Where is This? and The Heartless Has Come both manage to convey some emotion. These are followed with another boss theme, Shrouding Dark Cloud, played during the first half of the game in lesser boss battles. Blast Away! -Gummi Ship I- is the first of the various themes used when piloting the somewhat amusingly named Gummi Ship though space to the worlds in the game, and while all three themes share the same melody they have slightly different styles. Here, at the start of the game, the theme is very light, even bringing in the star map theme heard later for a few seconds.
This ‘fluffy’ sentiment is continued with the first big set of world themes, beginning with Wonderland. Tricksy Clock is an effective opening that is carried on with Welcome to Wonderland and To Our Surprise. Although it is not particularly interesting, they are fairly close with how one would imagine it to sound, slightly childish and theatrical. Olympus Coliseum, Road to a Hero and Go for It! all sound authentically pompous and suitable for a coliseum, though they are also fairly light, which makes the heavy pounding of No Time to Think a nice, if slightly jarring, twist in style. I found myself enjoying Deep Jungle rather more than I thought I would, for though the variation in instrumentation is not that great in this game they managed to stretch to a tribal drum beat that stands out as unique on this soundtrack. Having a Wild Time and Holy Bananas! arrange the main melody in Deep Jungle in slightly different styles, but this particular theme is so catchy I was able to listen to all three in a row without them becoming too dull. Squirming Evil is the next boss battle theme in the soundtrack, and replaces Shrouding Dark Cloud in the second half of the game as the main sub-boss theme. Unfortunately, while it is fairly effective in conveying a sense of danger, it is also fairly unmemorable, and overall it is the weakest of the battle themes in the game. Hand in Hand is a theme that gets reused several times over the series, and while it’s not my favorite filler track theme it effectively sounds decent.
Kairi II sounds very similar to the original, but with its softer sound and better instrumentation comes out as my personal favorite of the three variations of her theme in the game. Merlin’s Magical House sounds more like a filler track than anything else, also it does serve as a nominally good introduction to the next of tracks, which are repeated on the other discs. The four tracks starting with Winnie the Pooh are all from the ‘minigame’ world in the game, but are not particularly enjoyable unless you are extremely fond of that particular theme. The last trio of tracks on this rather packed disc concern the Gummi Ship, with Shipmeister’s Humoresque providing the workshop theme and Precious Stars in the Sky forming the world map theme used throughout the game. The second Gummi Ship theme Blast Away -Gummi Ship II- sounds fairly similar to the first theme, if slightly more action packed than last time.
Disc 2 opens with a pair of tracks that I eventually became a bit too familiar with for my liking. A Day in Agrabah uses harsh string synths to capture the spirit of a desert city fairly effectively (or at least as much as Disney themselves ever did). This world’s battle track, Arabian Dream is very similar, if faster paced. Villains of a Sort is a filler track, and though it is better overall than Strange Whispers, it still manages to be more dull than ominous. A Very Small Wish is the next world track, used in a giant whale. With no route really to go down aside from the surreal, Shimomura manages to come out with a fairly effective track for the environment, and Monstrous Monstro manages to add a slight theatrical slant on the theme, comparable (if unfavorably) to Final Fantasy VI’s Grand Finale. This section ends with a passable reprise of Dearly Beloved entitled Friends in My Heart. The next block of tracks deal with the world of Atlantica from The Little Mermaid, which should quickly become apparent for fans of the film as Under the Sea is an instrumental adaptation of the song from the movie. Unfortunately, the world in the game was infamous for becoming monotonous extremely quickly, and this track doesn’t help matters at all. The battle theme here is a bit of an improvement, but overall the themes from this world and the next are weaker than the rest in the game. The next filler track, A Piece of Peace, continues the slide of filler tracks to the point where the one after it (Oopsy-Daisy, a few tracks below), isn’t really worth mentioning at all.
Thankfully, there is one track here that does manage to impress. The name of the ‘big’ boss theme of the game, The Deep End, doesn’t really give it justice. This evokes feelings of danger in a way that the some of the other boss themes don’t really succeed in doing. Although it is only used for a handful of bosses in the game, all in the second half, a lot of effort goes into this track, and the end result is one of the most powerful tracks in the whole album. Unfortunately, at this point in the game this kind of quality is rare. As with Agrabah and Atlantica, Halloween Town’s theme is fairly repetitive, and even Spooks of Halloween Town shows the same kind of listlessness as the adapted This is Halloween. The Neverland world halts the slide in quality of music, however, with Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship, Pirate’s Gigue and Never Land Sky. While the last of the three tracks is closer to a filler track than a real level theme, the first two – used for the main theme ofthe level and the battle theme – are both surprisingly good, though this affirms my belief that Shimomura’s original tracks are much better than ones adapted from Disney themes. Finishing this block of tracks is Kairi III, and while not as good as Kairi II the change in style at this point in the game manages to show some emotional depth in the soundtrack, something that had been lacking.
After the final Gummi Ship theme, Blast Away! -Gummi Ship III-, which is darker than either of the two other themes, another fantastic set of tracks follows with Hollow Bastion and its battle theme Scherzo di Notte. Hollow Bastion would be fairly effective as a final dungeon theme, and while it isn’t there’s definitely a sense here the end of the game is approaching. The staccato strings and haunting flute make this the best level track in the game for me. Scherzo di Notte plays off this theme well without even needing to reuse elements of the track itself, and is another favorite from this game. However, my personal favorite out of all the tracks in this entire collection is this next one, Forze del Male. Translating as ‘Forces of Evil’ in English, this is used for two of the most important battles in the game, the duel between Sora in Riku at Hollow Bastion and the third round of the final battle. It begins with a solo church organ, before bringing in the heaviest percussion track Kingdom Hearts ever gets (which is still not particularly heavy), while using deep choir samples and strings to accompany the church organ which keeps its prominence throughout. This is followed by a filler track during one of the more important cutscenes in the game. Because of this, a reprise of Hikari is used, this time used in a gentler manner than the previous orchestral or dance pop versions. The subsequent sixteen second Miracle may as well have been tagged on to the end of the track though, as apart they sound a little awkward.
Final area themes can vary wildly from composer to composer. Some go down the road of creating powerful and rousing tracks, others prefer them to be more wistful. Here, Shimomura elects to repeat the more sombre section of Dive into the Heart in End of the World, while the heavier sections of the track become this area’s battle track, Fragments of Sorrow. Reusing the track heard at the very start of the game may seem unoriginal, but thanks to the choral element in both pieces they capture the mood at the end of the game well and allow things to come full circle before the last battle.
Although the majority of the final battle uses previous battle tracks (The Deep End, Destiny’s Force and Forze del Male), the last battle theme is new. Guardando nel Buio is the only boss battle track in the entire series to use a choir, and while Latin chanting may be very cliché for the final boss theme of an RPG here it is not overused, only being brought in for a few seconds in the middle while allowing the strings to take over for the rest of the track. The post-final boss death sequence track, Beyond the Door, acts as a suitable coda for this track, bringing in a church organ to evoke a feeling of finality. The rather short ending theme, Always on My Mind is a track that, while starting off separate, is merged into subsequent versions of Dearly Beloved, though this is not really surprising as the middle section brings the latter track in before folding into Kairi’s theme to end. The ending FMV song and main theme of the game, Hikari (which became Simple and Clean in the English version), comes next, though I have to say I’m not really a fan of this song in either language. It seems altogether too cheesy and comes in so loud and so suddenly that after the peace of the previous track I felt like turning my speakers right down for this.
Although there are certainly some in-game tracks that deserve praise, the two staff roll tracks performed by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra are the real highlights of the album. This one, March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra, is the weaker of the two, but is still a nice change from the synthesized tracks used in game, and while it is only really an orchestrated version of the main Kingdom Hearts theme, it has enough variation to remain interesting throughout its five minutes.
This disc ends with the post credits themes, Hand in Hand -Reprise- and Dearly Beloved -Reprise-, which are similar to their earlier variations. These are followed by two bonus tracks, starting with an early version of Having a Wild Time. This is the only development track in the album and was also included in the original soundtrack release of Kingdom Hearts I. It’s curious that the opportunity to make this complete collection didn’t inspire them to add a few more development tracks, but it’s still interesting to have this one, although it doesn’t really give that much insight into the different styles Shimomura experimented with over the course of the game. The second bonus track, Destati, is a mix of the various choir tracks in the game, namely Dive into the Heart and Guardando nel Buio.
Discs Three Through Six – Kingdom Hearts II
As should be evident from the number of discs, the soundtrack for Kingdom Hearts II has been lengthened for this release. While there are a few tracks that have remained the same length for obvious reasons (the main theme and end credits), the majority of tracks have doubled in size, and a few new ones have been added. Like, the first game, Kingdom Hearts II opens with a rendition of Dearly Beloved, though this particular version actually eschews the normal style of the track by softening the melody and is my personal favorite of the various iterations of this theme. This might have something to do with the composer, Kaoru Wada, whose contributions to the soundtrack are all considerably better than Yoko Shimomura’s. This is followed by the main theme of the game, Passion, in both an orchestral and vocal form. There’s no real consensus on which out of Hikari and Passion is the stronger track, though I personally prefer the latter’s seriousness.
One of Kingdom Hearts II‘s main drawbacks was the lengthy introductory sequence, and the music used during this section didn’t exactly help matters. Lazy Afternoons is one of those tracks that wanders on and never goes anywhere. Here it just incites me to push fast forward, in the game it’s the kind of track that can entice you to switch the console off and do something else instead. While definitely not what she was intending, Shimomura has managed to write a track that has the effect of telling you ‘you’re not getting anything done today, and this is a bad thing’. The battle track, Sinister Sundown, is an improvement, and manages to provide a little excitement into this section of the album. This is the first place where the string synths that eventually become the best thing about the soundtrack appear in force, and while they are probably just the normal synths played a couple of octaves higher, I like to think that they actually went to the effort of using actual violin synths, and I will generally refer to these higher synths as the ‘violin’ throughout.
What follows is a reprise of Dive into the Heart -Destati-, and here the difference in instrumentation between Kingdom Hearts I and Kingdom Hearts II is painfully audible. Whereas Kingdom Hearts I actually used real choir samples, here most of the samples are the kind of choir ‘ahh’ sounds found on a cheap keyboard. Fragments of Sorrow also reappears here, and the same problem is noticeable. While repeated listening to these tracks will make the bad synthesized instrumentation not as obvious, here it is still conspicuous even after repeated listening despite the vocals. The first boss battle theme of the game, Tension Rising, unfortunately doesn’t pack the same kind of punch that any of the tracks in the first game, though it sounds sinister enough, and the pounding synths and church organ produce a slightly dizzying effect of trying to overwhelm the player and trying to get them to drop their guard. Continuing the reused themes from the first game is Kairi, which again is almost identical aside from the lower quality instrumentation. Far better is the track Missing You, which puts a piano in prominence with a string backing, and is the strongest filler track on the album so far. The first of the Organization XIII battle themes is next, and unlike the Heartless boss themes, these at least are memorable. Indeed, The 13th Struggle is one of the best battle tracks on the soundtrack. Utilizing a church organ, violin, piano, and even a deep brass synth for the bass, this manages to introduce a sense of ferocity missing from other tracks, and the bridge brings in Organization XIII‘s leitmotif to connect the tracks together. Next are two character themes, Roxas and Sora, which are fitting twinned together. The styles on both are considerably different, with Roxas’s theme being melancholy, and Sora’s being far more upbeat. Of the two I prefer Roxas, mainly because Sora ends up being a bit too cheesy for my liking.
After the lengthy introduction, the next four tracks can be thematically grouped together as pertaining to the first world visited in the ‘main game’. The Afternoon Streets is similar to Lazy Afternoons, but the addition of the violin in the second half of the theme makes this an improvement. Conversely, Working Together is less impressive than Sinister Sundown, and doesn’t really pair up with The Afternoon Streets as well. Skipping over the previously heard Friends in My Heart, Magical Mystery is used for a very brief section at the end of the world, and like other ominous tracks manages to become dull rather too quickly for my liking.
A Twinkle in the Sky is this game’s star map theme, and while it shares some similarities with Precious Stars in the Sky it is altogether more serene, a theme which is carried on by the next track, Reviving Hollow Bastion. Most of the tracks that were taken from the first game are almost identical here, but this track has actually been arranged into an entirely new version. While the second half is the same as the theme from the first game, the first section is lighter and more upbeat. While this does reflect the changes in Hollow Bastion’s world in the game, a lot of the feeling that was in this track has been lost, and it now just seems to wander aimlessly until settling back into the original Hollow Bastion theme. While I applaud the idea of experimenting in changing the style of this track, here it unfortunately failed. Scherzo di Notte still sounds the same, but the strings that were so prominent in the first game’s rendering have been replaced with a piano and violin, which struggle to carry off the demands of the composition without any other support. This is followed by the upbeat and unmemorable filler track Laughter and Merriment, which sounds somewhat jarring coming between Scherzo di Notte and the next battle theme. Unlike the first game, where boss battles were structured and had a theme depending on their importance, Kingdom Hearts II seems to select battle themes almost at random. Desire for All That Is Lost is one of a number of tracks played during forced battles, and although the track does manage to create a sense of tension, it is a step down from Scherzo di Notte, and is the first boss battle track since Squirming Evil I found myself disliking.
The last track on this disc is the theme to Organization XIII. The closest this game ever gets to a main villain theme, this track’s is most prominently heard when first meeting the Organization, and before the final battle. While Shimomura is not really known for her character themes in the same way as Nobuo Uematsu is, this is a fairly effective track, combining feelings of sadness and disquietude.
Disc 4 opens with a block of tracks relating to the Gummi ship minigame, beginning with the new workshop theme, Gearing Up. It is followed by similarly styled Shipmeisters’ Sanity and Blast Off!, and while these are enjoyable enough to listen to, they exemplify the major problem with Kingdom Hearts II’s music; lack of effort. At this stage of the soundtrack, there’s nothing at all that stands out as impressive, as if Shimomura didn’t really know how to create anything new over what she’d already done for Kingdom Hearts I. Thankfully, this listlessness is broken up in the middle with Asteroid Attack, the first of the Gummi ship themes. Like the sections in the game themselves, the style of these tracks are somewhat different to the rest of the game. Pairing a fast beat with a slower melody allows the track to seem open and calm while at the same time being action filled.
The next section of themes deals with the Beauty and the Beast World, and here the earlier worries about the effort being put into this soundtrack are partially alleviated. Waltz of the Damned and its battle track, Dance of the Daring, actually sound new while at the same time capturing the same style of music that got Shimomura her fans. Unfortunately, these tracks are few and far between on this soundtrack. Hesitation suffers from the same problem that previous filler tracks had, and Dance to the Death has such a similar beat to Desire for All That Is Lost that even after repeated listening I still confused the two. Even a short rendition of the theme from Beauty and the Beast gets lost here. Still, filler tracks and battle tracks aside, Shimomura does manage to capture the theme of the various worlds in the game, and The Home of Dragons and Fields of Honor manage to do to the Land of Dragons what Waltz of the Damned did to the Beast’s Castle. Vim and Vigor is a slight improvement over previous boss battle themes, especially after the relative dullness of the preceding track, Apprehension. Indeed, Vim and Vigor is the most rousing song yet, with rising strings intermittently cut off by a single piano chord. The second Gummi ship theme, Cloudchasers, helps to reinforce my opinion that the ship themes in this game are a huge improvement over those heard in Kingdom Hearts I. This track could be twinned with Asteroid Attack, and neither would sound out of place on a chill-out CD.
With the Olympus Coliseum not making the same impact on this game as the previous one, I can forgive Shimomura for reusing the same theme in both games. Although I still dislike it as much here as before, by this point it is familiar to old players, and helps to cement the idea that this is a known place. In addition, the next track, The Underworld, is entirely new, although it sounds considerably less creepy than I would have liked, and in the end comes out sounding a little ‘goofy’ (the only time I’ll make that joke, I promise)! The battle theme, What Lies Beneath doesn’t manage to carry the same punch that the previous battle tracks did, but it does fit in well with the quirkiness of the Underworld theme. Villains of a Sort isn’t really worth mentioning at all, as it is sample for sample taken straight out of Kingdom Hearts I, with nothing changed at all (indeed, this could make it the King of filler tracks in this collection). The next track, Beneath the Ground, is yet another battle track, this time used in battles in this game’s coliseum. Reflecting the change in location from a classical temple to an underworld dungeon, this piece is darker than Go For It!, and pairs a light but pounding percussion with the theme from What Lies Beneath very effectively. This ended up being one of my surprise favorites on this soundtrack.
Despite not appearing as a level in Kingdom Hearts I, Disney Castle manages to be subject to a couple of reused themes. Both Mickey Mouse Club March and A Walk in Andante reappear here, though on the plus side, the battle track for this world, Rowdy Rumble, is effective and surprisingly – given the setting – louder than many of the previous battle themes. Thankfully, another pair of new themes in Monochrome Dreams and Old Friends, Old Rivals appear for one of the most surreal parts of the game. This bizarreness is reflected in the nature of the music, with Monochrome Dreams in particular capturing the mood of a quaint and antiquated environment – surprising considering the 21st century instrumentation that this soundtrack has. After the third Gummi ship minigame theme, Floating in Bliss, which adheres very closely to the style and quality of the previous two themes, this disc ends on a very familiar note with the reappearance of the two Winnie the Pooh themes, along with a new sped up version of Bounce-O-Rama, which has a different beat but to all intents and purposes is still the same track.
Isn’t it Lovely? is the Atlantica theme for this game, and while it isn’t as memorably as Under the Sea, it is considerably less repetitive – and annoying – than its counterpart. Here the violin synth again shows its quality next to the lackluster backing synths, and this track manages to achieve the state of being mellow without also becoming either cheerless or boring. Let’s Sing and Dance is, at this point, the most pointless inclusion on the soundtrack, and indeed knowing Square Enix’s previous treatment of soundtracks it’s surprising this appeared at all. It does manage to lead into the next block of tracks effectively, however. These next five tracks, Swim This Way, Part of Your World, Under the Sea, Ursula’s Revenge and A New Day is Dawning, are the five vocal tracks used during the push-the-button-displayed-on-the-screen minigames, and the quality of these is variable, to say the least. For fans of the Little Mermaid, hearing Part of Your World and Under the Sea in Japanese will go against the notion that songs always sound better in Japanese. For people unfamiliar with those tracks, they will probably join Swim This Way, Ursula’s Revenge and A New Day is Dawning in being slightly embarrassing to listen to. Indeed, of the five, only Ursula’s Revenge stands up to repeated listening, and that’s only because I am still unsure if Ursula was voiced by a man or a woman. Before ending the Atlantica section, Shimomura evidently thought that I had not already listened to enough singing, and I was duly subjected to Any Time Any Place. Afterwards, I immediately changed my opinion on what was the most pointless track on the album.
Leaving Atlantica and traveling to the world of Pirates of the Caribbean, this section opens with the decidedly un-Caribbean sounding Nights of the Cursed. Wisely going the route of playing this section seriously, this is more ambient than melodic, but does manage to set the tone of the world well. Unfortunately, this is then ruined by He’s a Pirate. This arrangement of the same track from the Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl soundtrack album has even worse synths than most of the tracks in Kingdom Hearts II, though knowing the original track may be emphasizing my personal dislike of this version. Still, nobody could really deny that it has the effect of completely ruining the tone of the section, and can only sound distinctly juvenile in the game. It is followed by The Corrupted, which seems to fulfill the function of ‘yet another generic boss track’. It is extremely unmemorable, and the only good thing about it is that it leads into one of the best tracks in the entire box set. Hazardous Highway is my favorite of the Gummi ship themes, and possibly the most unique piece of music on the soundtrack. The usual synths are replaced by an electric guitar, and the effect is a fast paced and exciting action track that eschews the normal mood of the game and replaces it with a Devil May Cry-esque feeling that that player is going to ‘kick ass’ at this point. It’s no Pain the Universe, but it is something to look forward to, and I question the logic of not making more tracks like this when Shimomura’s rock themes are often held to be of a very high standard.
While Kingdom Hearts II’s development was changed after the success of the first game to have a greater degree of originality, some sections were retained, which was good for Shimomura, as remixing previous tracks probably allowed her to meet some very tight deadlines. A Day in Agrabah and Arabian Dream are near-clones of their counterparts in Kingdom Hearts I, and the inclusion of the violin stops these versions from sounding noticeably worse than their previous iterations. Indeed, listening to Arabian Dream again apparently wasn’t quite enough, as it’s immediately followed with an almost identical track, Arabian Daydream.
Whereas Atlantica had been changed to remove the recognizable but irritatingly repetitive theme, this is unfortunately not repeated with Halloween Town. This is Halloween and Spooks of Halloween are, like Agrabah’s block, the same tracks from Kingdom Hearts I. Thankfully, there are no additional tracks here, but the repetitive nature of these tracks makes this five minute section seem longer than it actually is. This run of old tracks finally comes to an end with Adventures in the Savannah, the first track in the Lion King world. Mixing deep ambient synths with what is apparently a ‘mbira’ and a drum that has a slight tribal flavor, this track does at least sound like someone vaguely knew what Africa was. Like the violin, Ishimoto’s flute synths aren’t that bad to listen to, which makes this one of the better tracks on this disc. Most of the elements in this track reappear in the battle track for this area, Savannah Pride, though this track includes a slightly emotional melody that isn’t really mirrored by the action in the game at that point. This track is one of the very few in this album that sounds better on its own rather than an accompaniment to in-game action. It is followed by this world’s unique boss theme, The Encounter, which foreshadows some of the later boss battle themes. While it does not follow the same style as previous tracks, it does manage to capture the same style as classic Shimomura compositions. Indeed, for the first time in a while Kingdom Hearts II’s score feels like it was written by the same woman who composed Legend of Mana, and this track as a whole is an enjoyable coda to the Lion King block.
While Space Paranoids sounds like an Engrish title for an anime, older fans will recognize it as the name of the game in Tron. For this section Shimomura decided surrealism was the way to go, but while this track attempted to convey a feeling of technology, it falls down thanks to slightly out of tune synth lead, and sounds somewhat childish instead. The same problem is evident in both Byte Bashing and Byte Striking, the two battle themes for this area. However, although this disc as a whole is not really that impressive, it does shine at the very end with a couple of tracks, the first of these being Sinister Shadows. Though this is played during a few of the forced battles in the second half of the game, it is most memorable for being included in the section of the game where the player has to fight a thousand Heartless. While most of the synths are again, annoyingly low quality, the section where the violin is brought in makes this seem better than it would otherwise be. It is followed by the second Organization XIII boss battle theme, The 13th Dilemma. Changing style from the previous battle theme, it draws upon various leitmotifs from Organization XIII’s theme and The 13th Struggle to create a battle theme with fast percussion, but with slow, drawn out strings. The piano used later on in this track is a nice touch, helping it stand out among all the other battle tracks in this game. This is definitely a no-holds barred battle theme, and quite effectively gives the impression that you have a serious chance of dying against any boss while this is playing.
Mostly filled with tracks relating to the end sections of Kingdom Hearts II, this disc begins well with the rousing Showdown at Hollow Bastion. Indeed, as a filler theme, this is the best on the whole album, and manages to pack a lot of emotion into a track that’s only forty-eight seconds long. Unfortunately, this build up is immediately damaged by an adaptation of One-Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy VII. Even though I was used to the low quality synths by now, the quality of this track was so noticeably worse than the original I had to skip over it. Even fans of the original track will be very disappointed by this sub-par inclusion. Things get a little bit better with the final Gummi Ship theme however. Battleship Bravery has more in common with the earlier themes of the game than Hazardous Highway, which is a shame, as even though the theme is the ‘gateway’ to the final group of tracks it doesn’t manage to be as memorable as it should have been.
The final world theme, Sacred Moon, is not as dark as it might have been, paired to an area given the bleak title of The World That Never Was. Containing choir synths and a piano, the various components of this track feel more melancholy than ominous, but as a final area track, it somehow manages to come together as an effective and somewhat sinister theme. While this and the next track, Deep Drive (which acts as this world’s battle theme), aren’t as powerful as End of the World and Fragments of Sorrow, there’s a definite sense here that the end of the game is imminent, with many wildly different emotions converging. This feeling is carried over into the final character theme of the game, Riku. As a character, Riku is a conflict of emotions, and despite the sorrow filled nature of this track, there is a hint of contentment here. Along with Roxas, this is my favorite character theme in the game. Courage‘s beat is similar to many of the boss themes heard throughout the game, though the melody is far lighter and more rousing than anything previously. The doubling of each track’s length really shines through here, and aside from the wobble at the start with One-Winged Angel Disc 6 works well as a suite.
With the length of the last few tracks, fewer tracks are included on this disc, so it may be slightly surprising that the trio of final boss themes are already here. The first, Disappeared, is unfortunately a fairly weak theme, though it is fairly effective as a ’round one’ of a series of battles. Far more interesting is the next track, A Fight to the Death. While it isn’t as The Deep End (and not even close to the standard of Forze del Male), it is a marked improvement over the other battle tracks in this game. Beginning slow with a piano before building up to a rousing duel between the powerful bass and the wandering piano, there is a definite sense of conflict here. But even this is nothing to the game’s masterpiece (and the only battle theme in the game that comes close to the best of the Kingdom Hearts I battle themes. At eight minutes, Darkness of the Unknown is the longest in-game track on the entire album, and for good reason. The track consists of three distinct phases mirroring the three-round final battle in the game, and while these are not strung together in the game itself there is enough cohesion between the three to warrant them being merged as a single track in the game. The first round is shorter than the others, acting more as an introduction than anything else. The middle third has the fastest pace, bringing together a church organ with the best of the synths used in the game (namely the piano and violin) to suggest a exciting and somewhat majestic confrontation between the main characters and the final boss. Things slow down for the final section, but the violin remains, and while there is less sense of danger here there is enough weight to avoid the sense that the player has at this point already won. Only after this track is there truly a sense that everything is over. Like Kingdom Hearts I, this game’s primary ending theme is the main vocal track, and aside from a lighter backing this version of Passion is almost identical to the previous one.
The last few tracks deal with the end of the game. The first of these is also my favorite. Fantasia alla Marcia for piano, chorus and orchestra certainly ranks up with the very best tracks on the album, and unlike the other tracks, the quality of the instrumentation is actually good for once. Indeed, this is even better than the credits theme in the first game. Although they begin in similar ways, the choice of tracks chosen is more impressive here, with Dearly Beloved, Guardando nel Buio and Showdown at Hollow Bastion all included. The tracks after this act as a fairly effective coda to the game, with Kaoru Wada reworking the Destiny Islands and bringing things round full circle, and another version of Hand in Hand mirroring its place in the first game. One notable track, again by Kaoru Wada, is Sunset Horizons, used in the sneak peek trailer at the very end of the game. Wada’s synths allow him to create tracks that Shimomura would have found different, and this unnerving track hints that there is much more to come. The disc (and the game) finally ends with Shinko Ogata (known for the Final Fantasy piano collections) performing Dearly Beloved, which acts as a peaceful addendum to the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack.
Discs Seven and Eight – Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
Kicking off with the same track that ended Disc 6, Dearly Beloved sets the tone for the Re:Chain of Memories soundtrack. The majority of the soundtrack contains tracks identical to ones from Kingdom Hearts I, and in a few cases these are so interminable that I felt tempted to reach for the fast forward button. Kaoru Wada’s Memories in Pieces is one of the new tracks, designed to pick up immediately after Hand in Hand -Reprise- (the last track in Kingdom Hearts I), before flowing into the themes of both Namine and Castle Oblivion briefly. Traverse Town is the first in a block of instantly recognizable tunes, but it also becomes evident here that unlike Kingdom Hearts II, which saw a marked drop in overall quality in tracks that were brought over from Kingdom Hearts I, tracks that were reused here often sound far better than they did in the first game. The battle version of Hand in Hand is also an improvement, with additional percussion that makes this feel more like a battle track than the Kingdom Hearts I version. Unfortunately, Just Wondering and Struggle Away let down the filler and battle themes respectively (as do the later Disquieting and The Fight for My Friends), simply by suffering from the same lackluster composing that plagued Kingdom Hearts II. Welcome to Wonderland, and To Our Surprise, should all be familiar tracks by now, though Piccolo Resto is another new track (again sounding rather weak against the returning themes). The following tracks, Olympus Coliseum and Go for It!, will most likely be ingrained within the mind at this point.
The Agrabah tracks, A Day in Agrabah and Arabian Dream should also be familiar at this point, though it is interesting to compare one of the few tracks that make it into all three games, to show the marked improvement in instrumentation from Kingdom Hearts II to Re:Chain of Memories. The same is true with A Very Small Wish and Monstrous Monstro, and this strong part of the soundtrack continues with La Pace, the first filler track for a long while I ended up liking. While not particular interesting, and not one I’d immediately think of if I was thinking of my favorite tracks in this album, I found it rather charming and a nice change from the same old tracks from Kingdom Hearts I. Speaking of which, This is Halloween and Spooks of Halloween Town rise their ugly heads once again, and are just as repetitive as they were the previous two times. While they don’t make the soundtrack bad, they certainly don’t make it good either. Before being ‘assaulted’ by Under the Sea and An Adventure in Atlantica again, there’s the latest filler track, The 13th Floor, which surprisingly is lighter than its name would suggest. Skipping over the short and unmemorable Face It!, The Force in You opens the same way as Forze del Male , but after the opening it morphs into the same lackluster battle themes heard throughout Re:Chain of Memories.
Once again, old themes reappear with Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and Pirate’s Gigue, with no real changes. However, the next track, Scent of Silence, is one of the few filler tracks worth listening to in this game’s soundtrack, and captures a spirit of insanity as well as a sinister feeling. Hollow Bastion and Scherzo di Notte are the same as their versions from Kingdom Hearts I, though like Traverse Town here the synths manage to sound noticeably better than those from the first game. Somewhat fittingly, this is followed by another track that begins the same way as Forze del Male, Revenge of Chaos. Unfortunately this likewise is not half as good as the former track, though it is a definite improvement over The Force in You.
The Winnie the Pooh theme rears its fuzzy honey-coated once again head next, along with two new mini-game themes, March-A-Long and Dash-A-Long. Both are similar in style, and though they are simpler than the mini game themes in previous games, these are my personal favorites. Their quirkiness fits in with the setting, and the improvement on the string synths makes a huge difference to how well the tracks sound. Thirteenth Discretion may as well be named Yet Another Filler Track, which is a shame as this could have been made more memorable with the inclusion of a section from Organization XIII’s theme. A better track is the boss battle track The 13th Struggle, which shares a name and most of the same melody as the same track from Kingdom Hearts II. The difference, however, is made apparent in the bridge, which doesn’t exist in the same way. Instead, the main section just continues on until the loop around, which isn’t that surprising considering that this stemmed from the original version heard in the Game Boy Advance version.
The versions of Lazy Afternoons and Sinister Sundown here are huge improvements over their counterparts in Kingdom Hearts II, though the former still suffers from the problem of creating the impression that the player has already been playing the game far too long. Destiny Islands was heard at the very beginning of Kingdom Hearts I and the very end of Kingdom Heart II, and it finally gets another reprise here. While it is closer to the version from the first game, Shimomura has slowed the track down considerably and removed the irritating backing beat, making it seem more mellow and closer to the image of a peaceful island in the middle of nowhere. Hearing this feels like the soundtrack collection has finally come full circle, and it’s nice that this is positioned here, so close to the end. It is paired with Night of Fate, though here the track is taken ad verbatim from Kingdom Hearts I. Namine works quite well as the fourth main character theme next to Sora, Riku, Roxas and Kairi, and it’s a bit of a shame that this track didn’t appear in Kingdom Hearts II at all. As a filler track though it works well, and unlike many others in this game it actually manages to be memorable. Somewhat oddly, the main castle theme, heard throughout the game, is finally included right before the final battles. Castle Oblivion is one of the better tracks on the album, and while there is no real discernible melody it stands out as both a strong and memorable track against some of the other new tracks for this game. The violin makes its return here, but it is used so slow and ominously that Shimomura finally succeeds in writing a truly haunting level theme.
Graceful Assassin kicks off the trio of final battle tracks for Re:Chain of Memories. Like Forze del Male, it begins with a church organ, though here the organ is a lot less prominent, and instead choir samples and the violin, along with a piano, form the bulk of the instrumentation here. This is somewhat lighter and slower than previous battle tracks, though there is a sense of peril that prevents the track from becoming too unsuitable for a battle. Once again the Organization XIII leitmotifs reappear, though again less attention is given to it than the other sections of the music. Scythe of Petals is the weakest of the three final battle themes, but a somewhat harsher violin rescues it from mediocrity and ensures that it is overall as memorable as the two themes surrounding it. The final battle track and the last track on the disc, Lord of the Castle, was written solely for Re:Chain of Memories, and it’s my personal favorite of the three. While it doesn’t have a prominent melody, it reuses the Organization XIII leitmotif using deep, heavy synths paired with choir samples that sound impressive for a change. This produces an illusion of vastness without being too overwhelming. This feels very much like a battle track, and is a fantastic way to end the Re:Chain of Memories soundtrack.
Discs Nine – The Extra Tracks
The ninth and final disc contains a few tracks from later editions of Kingdom Hearts I and II, and didn’t make it into the original soundtrack releases. First up are the Kingdom Hearts I versions of One-Winged Angel and Disappeared, which may seem somewhat redundant as nearly identical versions of both are included on the Kingdom Hearts II part of the soundtrack. However, it’s nice that they decided to be very thorough in including tracks for this album, though from a structural view it would have been better had these appeared in their respective places on the Kingdom Hearts I discs. Between these two is Night on Bald Mountain for Modest Mussorgsky aficionados – or people who watched Fantasia), which is used in a very unique boss fight in the first game. As with He’s A Pirate, it shows the problem of running an orchestral piece of music though a MIDI synthesizer, and unfortunately it sounds considerably less terrifying than when this piece was used in Earthworm Jim (which I’m sure was not their intention).
The last track from Kingdom Hearts I is Another Side, which contains the track played during the Deep Dive trailer included in the international version of Kingdom Hearts I. Having listened to the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack, the quality of this piece over the whole of the soundtrack is evident. Beginning with Organization XIII’s theme with a far softer piano and better choir synths, here it truly sounds both melancholy and haunting. The track then leads into the a section that would later be drawn upon to make the Organization XIII battle themes. Listening to this is somewhat painful, as it makes me wonder just how good the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack could have been if all the tracks had used instrumentation of this quality, and it is a huge shame that they decided to go down the route they did for that game.
The other eight tracks are from Kingdom Hearts II. The first track, What a Surprise?!, is the first light and airy track for a long while, and like Another Side the quality of this track seems much improved over the normal Kingdom Hearts II tracks. It is followed by Happy Holidays!, which seems to serve much the same purpose, though in a higher paced situation. Next up is The 13th Reflection, which really is the last of the Organization XIII boss battles, this one played during the optional battles against them in Kingdom Hearts II. Although it starts of quieter and less forceful than previous boss themes, it quickly builds up, repeating the piano leitmotif used on some of the other Organization XIII battle tracks. While not as memorable as The 13th Dilemma or The 13th Struggle, it manages to stand with them in quality.
Cavern of Remembrance is a curious track, sounding more like a menu track than a dungeon theme, but that doesn’t stop it being a fantastic piece. Here, right at the end, this finally convinced me that the piano could stand up with the violin and the flute as being on of the good synthesized instruments used in the game. The mood of the track is very evocative, and all the various components are used here for excellent effect. The battle track for this area, Deep Anxiety draws upon elements of the previous track, in particular the soft piano, but here it is paired with heavy piano chords light yet fast percussion that greatly increases the pace.
Next is The Other Promise, used during yet another new battle, the Roxas boss battle included in the World That Never Was section of the game. Reusing Roxas’s theme here makes this the slowest battle theme in the game, and one of very few not to include percussion anywhere. This seems more like a cutscene theme than a battle track, and is about as emotional as this soundtrack ever gets. Rage Awakened is the last of the new battle tracks, this one for the toughest optional battle in the whole of Kingdom Hearts II. While there is nothing really new here, it uses heavier string synths than usual for the bass, and there are hints at future recurring theme that re-emerges in the next track.
The very last track on the album, Fate of the Unknown, is another from Kaoru Wada, and is one of my favorite pieces in the whole soundtrack, for the quality of the instrumentation and the composition itself. The choir samples are far darker than in any other track in this album, and while again there is nothing new in the action section, the piano and violin are here joined by a saxophone in making this a beautiful and somewhat haunting finale to the album.
There can be no denying that this is the definitive Kingdom Hearts soundtrack collection, and with the next Kingdom Hearts game a considerably long way off this release is not going to be trumped in the next year or so. The one major complaint I have with the structure of the album as it stands is the placement of Re:Chain of Memories in the collection. Although the tracks were updated and arranged after Kingdom Hearts II was released, they were originally composed sometime before, and you can see that in the progression from the few tracks that were taken from Chain of Memories and used in the game. The 13th Struggle is a perfect example of this.
But this is a small complaint. Overall the soundtrack collection is a very strong addition to Yoko Shimomura’s resumé, and probably even more so for Kaoru Wada, who managed to shine over Shimomura’s tracks and steal my praise whenever he was given a chance. For Shimomura, this will probably not be her last contribution to Kingdom Hearts, though if I could I would advise her to go down the road of using the same kind of synths as Wada. In addition, listening to all these tracks has given me the strong impression that overall less effort was going into this than Legend of Mana. I hope in the future she will find herself able to create a Kingdom Hearts soundtrack with consistent quality throughout, though either way, I suspect anything she manages will, at least, be listenable.