There was a lot of promise in Project Destati: Awakening, a relatively brief but supremely exciting five tracks of arranged Kingdom Hearts music. It gave listeners evidence that its creators were deeply ensconced in the world and music of my favorite perpetually spun-off Square Enix endeavor. It showcased careful arrangements and excellent performances, foreshadowing the music to come much in the same way the secret videos capping off each game have hinted at what would follow.
358 (but not over two) days after the release of that EP, Project Destati: LIGHT arrived, to the squealing, uncontrollable delight of people like myself. The first in what is planned to be a three-volume collection, LIGHT’s 22 tracks feature arranged music from all over the series. Much like its predecessor, these aren’t just 22 straight arrangements though — they are full of original sections, creative embellishments, and subtle references to so many songs in the series that even a fanatic like myself spent hours referencing and listening to the original songs to catch each and every one.
Most of my commentary on Awakening applies here, too, though the material is even more densely-packed than before. This is a masterwork of skillful arrangement and passion for the source material that I believe would have been utterly impossible to produce, were its creators not deeply embedded in the series. I have a few minor issues here and there with aspects of the performance, but as with the EP, they hardly impact my overall thoughts on the album. I could easily discuss every track, bursting that they are with details; instead, I’ll focus on several I found particularly interesting.
Listeners are dream-dropped into the album with “Introduction: It Began with a Letter.” With an astute understanding of how the outset of these adventures have always gone, it melds elements from “It Began with a Letter,” “Dive into the Heart,” and the quintessential Kingdom Hearts tune “Dearly Beloved.” In some ways, I’ve forgotten which song is which and remember them more as feelings than individual songs, and this arrangement has captured that “beginning of Kingdom Hearts” impression perfectly.
“Sora” captures the titular hero in all his goofy glory. The most upbeat of the main character themes, optimism abounds throughout this song. The careful embedding of Roxas’ theme deep within is narratively appropriate and well-considered. The instrument choice and progression throughout the track demonstrate the growth of the character from a giant-shoed doofus to a building-slashing, wall-jumping hero (still a doofus, though), and the powerful crescendo in the latter half that really drives home that evolution.
“Welcome to Wonderland” challenged my expectations. The violin and harp in the intro give a regal sense of order, though not without maintaining the charm of the original piece. The transition to the Wonderland battle theme is fun as well, though that section of the song does provide an example of the what I found to be only major weak point in the album: percussion. The thumping background is very subdued, and unlike the crashing, bombastic excitement of the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 version of the song, it feels very clean and neat.
Things take a turn for the dark with one of my favorite pieces from the games, “Desire for All That is Lost.” The build-up to the main action of the song is measured, and the piano performance slowly lifts you to that point. The transition at 2:10, merging deep piano with the violin captures the foreboding and drama I so enjoyed in the original. The excellent piano flourishes here give way to a chilling reference to “A Fight to the Death,” and cap off the song in a fitting way.
I have to give special credit to the musicians not only for including the hyper-exciting and oft-underappreciated Stitch battle theme “Mkaukau?” but for taking such a creative approach with it. Much like numerous other tracks, it borrows from “Dearly Beloved” for the introduction, weaving those phrases cleverly with bits of “The Silent Forest” that make the track that much more representative of Birth by Sleep. It slowly, effectively builds up to a goosebump-inspiring climax that makes use of “Simple and Clean” and then gradually gives way one final time to the title tune in such a way that I couldn’t help but listen to the last few minutes over and over again.
One of my favorite battle tunes from Kingdom Hearts II, “Working Together,” also makes an appearance. The arrangement is playful and plucky in all the right ways, though percussion is again a bit too subdued. The song more than makes up for it starting from about 2:16, with an utterly joyous breakdown that makes liberal use of piano flourishes and handclaps. Immediately following is some original material by arranger David Russell that integrates smoothly and sounds great. It marks a dramatic shift back to the original melody, building up to a “Dearly Beloved” violin and piano portion that had me giddy. The final minute hints one more time at Russell’s original phrases before erupting one final time with the main melody. I’ve always seen “Working Together” as “Sora-Donald-Goofy’s Battle Theme,” and this arrangement takes that notion and runs a marathon with it. Few bits of music anywhere in the series capture the spirit of Team SDG bludgeoning away at the forces of darkness in a better way.
I’ve gone on far too long already, but I must at least mention “Reviving Hollow Bastion.” It deftly fuses the darker “Hollow Bastion” with the more hopeful “Reviving Hollow Bastion,” utilizing flourishes of the battle theme “Scherzo di Notte,” dissonant piano, and a church organ that hone the arrangement to a sharper-than-a-keyblade edge. A bit of original material, as well as a few hints at “Destati” and “Guardando Nel Buio” are worked in towards the end of the piece, and it climaxes with a triumphant, appropriate nod to “Showdown at Hollow Bastion.”
I could easily spend hundreds and hundreds more words talking about how many ever-so-subtle touches this album adroitly weaves in, like the phrases of “Darkness of the Unknown,” “Fate of the Unknown,” “The Key of Light,” and “Dearly Beloved” that appropriately fill out “Rage Awakened,” already one of Kingdom Hearts’ most epic battle themes. I could point out every instance of “Dearly Beloved” that ties the whole thing together emotionally and narratively, or the wonderful, heartstring-tugging portion in the middle of “Hand in Hand,” or any of the other original material that melds flawlessly with Shimomura’s work.
I won’t, though. This album is an experience for any Kingdom Hearts lover to have for themselves. In fact, percussion woes aside, there is little about Project Destati: LIGHT that should discourage you from owning it. As with Awakening, this is something no music lover should be without, and that goes double for fans of Kingdom Hearts. This is not a 1:1 orchestration of the original music; it is a full-on re-envisioning in the spirit of that material, at times so smoothly-arranged that it feels as though the listener has stumbled upon lost sections of it that existed all along. These are the best Kingdom Hearts arrangements I’ve ever heard, and LIGHT is easily my favorite album of 2014.