While it seems hard to believe, with the steady flow of releases from Square Enix Music, the bluntly-named Kingdom Hearts Tribute Album is the first full disc of remixes dedicated solely to the beloved Disney mashup series. While many KH arrangements tend to focus on an orchestral or piano style, or on refining the music as it was originally written, this one ventures into what some might consider jarring territory. This is a very electronic-trance-dance heavy album, with wailing guitars, dropping bass, and chiptune flavors all mashed together. It certainly makes for an eclectic listening experience, even if not every track is an outright success.
The track selection is full of the usual suspects, which is both to its credit and detriment. The opening tune is a soothing if unadventurous remix of perennial series melody “Dearly Beloved.” An echoing soundscape, trancelike vocal backing, and otherworldly church bells do help it to stand out amidst a sea of samey-sounding arrangements, and it makes sense that this would be the opening of the album, as it’s both the most neutral in terms of musical style and the iconic intro for every game in the series.
“Riku~Kairi~Sora feat. jizue” and “A Piece of Peace~Under the Sea~Traverse Town feat. fox capture plan” are mellow, soft covers of each song which again don’t venture far from the original melodies and are instead content to change up the instrumentation and riff a bit on each. My main issue with these comes down to a sense of hollowness, in that the sound is not particularly rich. This, combined with the conservative arrangements, means the second and third songs on the album fall squarely in the pleasant but relatively unexciting range.
“Traverse Town feat. Jimanica” on the other hand, is quite fun. While it stays very close to the original tune’s melody, the spacey arrangement and performance help give it a tone that is evocative of its inspiration while managing a distinctive flavor. I’m oddly reminded of Star Light Zone’s theme from the original Sonic the Hedgehog, and that’s only ever a good thing. “Always on My Mind” plays it straight (though again, certainly enjoyable) for much of its 6-minute runtime, until seguing into a rocking, electric guitar-heavy rendition of the tune that finally picks up the energy level for the whole affair.
“Bustin’ Up on the Beach~Shrouding Dark Cloud~Guardando nel buio feat. BOKKADENcI” is an 8-bit, chiptastic good time that marks a big departure from the relative safety of the first half of the disc. Aside from being a catchy, peppy cover of the first two songs in the title, it’s the totally awesome, fast-paced chippification of the first game’s final battle theme that steals the show here. I found myself bobbing my head and humming along to it even after just one listen, and if you’re a fan of the source material or chiptunes in the broadest sense, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this track.
“Dearly Beloved~Hollow Bastion~Hand in Hand~Always on My Mind feat. SOREMONSTER” is easily my favorite track on the album. A wild electronic piece that weaves acoustic guitar, a wubby beat drop, and dancy piano bits into a mere five minutes, it injects the same kind of energy so prevalent in Square Enix Music’s Battle SQ album with the far more chill vibes of Cafe SQ. The dirty electronic interlude will likely throw off some listeners, but to my taste, this is a diverse, interesting, and exciting arrangement of excellent source material.
The last few tracks on the album explore several other styles, but of particular note is “Rage Awakenened feat. 9mm Parabellum Bullet,” a heavy metal jam that might not be to every listener’s taste. This is a loud, grungy, muddy track with heavy riffing, and while I enjoyed the fresh take on a beloved song, this is easily one of the most mileage-may-vary pieces. “The 13th Struggle feat. Marmalade Butcher” is similarly brutal, with heavy electric guitar overlaid on top of the disorientating piano backing of the original and lightning-fast drums hammering away. These songs might come across as considerably more intense than fans of the source music are used to, which makes them undoubtedly polarizing.
This is a weird album, to say the least. As a person who listens to a great deal of game music and game music covers, I enjoyed the attempt to create something fresh and different with the undeniably beloved KH material. The number of different musical styles makes the album feel a bit scattered tonally as the overall sound wildly shifts from simple covers to chiptunes and shredding riffs, with lots in-between. That’s not to say it isn’t worth listening to, though. Just be prepared to hear a few things in here that might not agree with you.