Kingdom Hearts as a series is no stranger to musical reinterpretations. Countless arrangers, remixers, and composers have paid homage to the house that Shimomura built — something that I believe comes across as a clear testament to the strength of both the music itself and the nostalgia it inspires in huge numbers of people. Project Destati: Awakening deftly utilizes both, tapping into its creators’ love and the strength of the source material.
Released in late 2013, Awakening is an EP; a prelude to the much bigger and more comprehensive Project Destati Volume I: Light, released in 2014. It is the product of a number of musicians and arranged by Kristin Naigus, David Russell, and Sebastian Wolff. There’s a whole lot to comment on in its five tracks, rife with references and playful flourishes that indicate a deep understanding not just of the notes that make up the source music, but of the emotions they’re tied up with in the game itself.
“Destati,” the opening track, is a fitting choice. It (of course) features an arrangement of the samely-named title song and expertly joins it with components of the Kingdom Hearts final battle theme, “Guardando nel Buio.” These two tracks have always been thematically tied, and this arrangement melds them together in a way they were always meant to be but hadn’t yet been. Further complementing its status as a smart choice as prelude to the album is the weaving of a few measures of the Birth by Sleep theme, “Fate of the Unknown,” hinting back to the narrative source of all things Kingdom Hearts.
This habit of cleverly combining themes continues throughout the other tracks, particularly in “Sinister Sunburn,” which merges one of the earliest “otherworldly” battle themes in the series (“Sinister Sundown”) with Kingdom Hearts II’s “Sinister Shadows.” The bouncy performance on the piano gives energy and smoothness to the transition around 1:52, punctuating the change without seeming abrupt.
“Another Side” is easily my favorite track on the album, in spite of a few niggling weak points. This is arguably one of the series’ most distinctive piano tracks (first appearing in Kingdom Hearts’ secret video), and it is packed full of character relevance and hints at the events that would unfold in the story. The strings backing the piano capture the sense of mystery, and the incredibly astute use of Roxas’ battle theme, “The Other Promise” around 2:30 works well not only musically, but also thematically, since this song originally accompanied the video that gave the first glimpse of Roxas in the series proper. The finale hollows things out after a great deal of build-up, reflecting the emptiness and sadness of the Nobodies, with one last hint of Roxas’ theme to really underscore the narrative impact. The piano in the battle portions of the track comes across as a bit weaker than I personally would have liked, and the major bridge also feels a bit subdued, but these performance quibbles don’t take away from the exceptional skill and nuance of the arrangement. This track is easily worth the price of admission for the album on its own.
Short of discussing every single track on the album, the best way I can think of to sum up Project Destati: Awakening is that any fan of Kingdom Hearts music should have it in their collection. Much as Yoko Shimomura herself does throughout the original soundtracks, the team has done a wonderful job telling the story through the music, and their arrangement showcases a deep and loving understanding of how it all fits together — something I don’t think would have been possible for anyone but a fan of the series. “Made for fans, by fans” would be a great tagline, but it would take away from the universal appeal of the great music packed into this brief twenty-minute album.