It’s been awhile since Square Enix released a piano solo CD for something other than Final Fantasy. It happens so rarely, that I cannot help but get excited. When word got out that a Kingdom Hearts piano CD was coming, I was on cloud nine.
Then, not long after the announcement, the tracklist was announced, alongside some short audio samples on the album’s official page. At this point, all my hopes were dashed.
Seriously, take a look at this tracklist, and ask yourself: where is Destati? Where is Deep Dive? Where are all of the awesome battle themes Shimomura wrote for this series? Why is the album primarily a character theme album?
Don’t get me wrong. The arrangements are decent, and the performers do a remarkable job. Many of the arrangements are grand and bombastic; certainly too difficult for any hobby-level pianist to perform. You definitely need to be a trained concert pianist to take on most of these pieces. But despite their technical difficulty, I feel that this album is completely lacking what makes Kingdom Hearts music so great.
“Dearly Beloved,” an obvious choice for a piano collection, acts as bookends for the album. In the opening, we get a minimalist arrangement, and at the ending, we get the “Concert Paraphrase,” which is another way of saying “super-hard in-your-face piano.” I prefer the latter arrangement.
A pleasant surprise is to be found in “Traverse Town.” Everyone’s least favorite, over-played song from the original Kingdom Hearts actually sounds fresh and enjoyable in this simple piano solo arrangement. After that, it all becomes a blur. If you can even acknowledge the distinct melodies for the next six tracks, then you’re a bigger Kingdom Hearts fan than I. “Hand in Hand” is an impressive piece with a familiar melody, but I felt that it had, perhaps, too much power behind it. There was no subtlety to the arrangement, no dynamic variation. Everything was just loud, all the time.
After the “Namine” track, which I tend to skip if only because I’ve never liked the character, there’s the four-movement suite for the series’ main characters: Sora, Kairi, and Riku. The performer of these tracks, Miwa Sato, does a fantastic job. But again, the melodies don’t stick with me. The music doesn’t hold my interest. Perhaps there’s just something wrong with me…but I do suspect I’m not the only one who will be disappointed by these technically complex, but soulless, arrangements.
In the last grouping of tracks, the only song that catches my attention is “The 13th Side.” It opens using that same melodic pattern as Destati, and that pattern returns time and time again, at different tempos, and at different volumes. This piece is the only one that I felt showed true dynamic variation and subtlety, something I would have hoped for every track on the album.
Conclusion: consider this reviewer unimpressed. Heck, my favorite thing about the album is its cover art (“key spoon” to stir your cup of tea/cocoa/coffee, with foamy piano image? That’s awesome). Had I been given creative control, the key differences would have been track selection, and better variation in volume and tempo. As a rule, this CD does “slow = soft” and “fast = loud.” I would definitely include plenty of fast, soft pieces, because I think that’s a sound Shimomura often produces quite well on her original soundtracks. It is a shame that this CD is so underwhelming, especially considering Shimomura’s last arranged album, “drammatica,” was such a critical success. I wouldn’t mind them giving this another attempt. A “Volume 2” with different arrangements and a better track selection would still be welcomed by this gaming audiophile.