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Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack :: Forum Review

Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack Album Title Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Toshiba EMI
Catalog No.: TOCT-25871/2
Release Date: January 25, 2006
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Written by Chris

Released at the start of 2006, the Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack brought with it anticipation, satisfaction, and disappointment. It was largely continuous with its predecessor, featuring similar styles and many reprises of old themes like 'Destati', 'Kairi', and 'Dearly Beloved'. In many ways, it was bigger and better than its predecessor, however. Most felt Shimomura's soundtrack worked impeccably within the game to represent the various magical worlds, battle scenes, and the emotions of the game. The soundtrack's success relied considerably on a bunch of highlights. Among them, Utada Hikaru's vocal theme "Passion", Kaoru Wada's eight orchestrations, and a mini musical. As well as all that, expect 'laughter and merriment', 'sinister shadows', 'magical mystery', 'a fight to the death', some 'byte bashing', and, above all, plenty of deep driving.

What brought the disappointment? Many felt the soundtrack wasn't as consistent as its predecessor and featured many recycled ideas — be it a sometimes transparent formula for battle themes or minimal arrangements of reprises. Another source of criticism was the synth. Takeharu Ishimoto of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories replaced Ryo Yamazaki of Kingdom Hearts as the synthesizer operator and showed considerably less ability in the area. Among the worst offenders was his choral and violin synth. The consequence was Shimomura's more powerful themes sounded weaker, her more emotional themes relatively artificial.

A final area of disappointment was compensated by the release of the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack Complete Box in 2007. The original release crammed 89 tracks into two discs meaning pieces couldn't loop and a few unimportant were discluded from the soundtrack. The aforementioned box set extended the release to four discs and included a few extra tracks with it with it — "Road to a Hero", "Beneath the Ground", "Bounce-O-Rama", "Agrabah Daydream", "Any Time Any Place", and "Byte Striking". As well as all that, it included the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack, the new soundtrack to the PlayStation 2 remake Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, and the additional tracks for the 'Final Mix' versions of Kingdom Hearts I & II, but of course... at a price.

Track-by-Track Reviews

Disc Three

1) Dearly Beloved (Written by Don)

"Dearly Beloved" is a reprise from the first game, but the effect is much more pronounced in this version, in my opinion. The arrangement by Kaoru Wada is a beauty to hear and despite its simplicity, this track always manages to amaze me. The subtle piano and string melody, in conjunction with the beautiful placed woodwind passages, works together to create a very magical and enduring piece, despite its repetition, and is one that shouldn't be missed. This piece proves that sometimes simplicity is the most beautiful thing to consider when writing a piece of music. (9/10)

2) Passion - KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version (Written by Chris)

The orchestral version of the vocal theme "Passion" is simply incredibly. Orchestrated by Kaoru Wada, it captures all the beauty, sadness, magic, colour, and, above all, passion of the original theme and often even intensifies the drama. Thanks to Wada's genius, Utada Hikaru's original melody transitions effectively across but is treated completely different as a romantic orchestration rather than a pop song. I believe this excels even the orchestral version of "Hikari" and is undoubtedly one of my top five pieces on the soundtrack.

After a massive crescendo and ascending chord progression in the introduction, the theme subsides to become quiet and reflective like "Hikari" before it. With a fragile ethereal timbre created by soft strings, tuned percussion, and church bells, the oboe presents the melody wistfully. At 1:55, however, the theme suddenly becomes more dramatic as a powerful harmonic line is added and several build-ups occur. The theme exudes the percussive exoticism that the original piece provided and continues with dramatic intent right to its fulfilling end. (10/10)

3) Passion ~opening version~ (Written by Don)

After we are introduced to the melody of "Passion" in the orchestrated version, we are officially treated to the first vocal performance of it. The tone of this song is much slower in pace than the opening version of "Hikari" from the previous game, and I think this does wonders for the track. While the song demonstrates Utada Hikaru's strength in the J-pop scene, having composed this herself, some might find it interesting to know that she wrote the English version of this song first, and had trouble writing the lyrics for this version.

Onto the song itself, Utada Hikaru's voice lends itself well to the melody. It's both strong and subtle and was really a good choice for this game. The rhythmic development and that of the accompaniment is simply amazing. The percussion lends itself well to create a motivating and inspiring track while the remainder of the accompaniment uses synth in order a very easy-listening effect. This combined with her voice makes for an excellent combination.

My only gripe with this track is the section where the pace quickens, and the "My heart is a battleground" line, along with the reversed lyrics, heard in the very beginning of the song, are introduced. To me, it wasn't needed and detracted from the overall feel of the song. This is another fantastic track, which is better than "Hikari" in my opinion, and I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of J-pop or Utada Hikaru. (10/10)

4) Lazy Afternoons (Written by Sophia)

This gentle horn and string combo is a bit on the melancholy side, but it's a beautiful piece that complements the scenes in the game where Roxas and his friends are hanging around on a lazy afternoon. It's subtle enough that, even if you had to listen to it on a loop, it never really becomes irritating. It's different than the usual upbeat town themes and sets the mood for the game. The only downside is that it's a bit short. (8/10)

5) Sinister Sundown (Written by Chris)

The battle theme to complement "Lazy Afternoons". It is pretty light and bouncy due to the use of a vibraphone for the melody, but is otherwise very similar to the typical Kingdom Hearts battle theme. Probably its biggest asset is its dynamism — it always seems to be pushing forward and thickens in the second section to add to the drama. My main criticism is the string use to answer the vibraphone. Nothing wrong with Shimomura's composition, but Ishimoto's synth just seem feeble and cringe-worthy here. Overall, a little unoriginal, but the mix of new and old was just what was needed for the first battle theme. (7/10)

6) The Escapade (Written by Baltimoore)

This synth-oriented piece, created in the often despised style of 'Happy! Cutesy! Bouncy!' is used for many of the small mini-games found throughout Kingdom Hearts II. Just the very image of this being classified as the always so dreadful "mini-game music" will turn off many, and it should, because even if this was not mini-game music, it is still quite a bad piece of music, terrifically displaying 'Irritation! Annoyance! Cringe-worthy Moments!' at the same time. It is centered around a jolly little jingle that repeats without much development for two minutes and three seconds. Listen and cry... (4/10)

7) Dive into the Heart -Destati- (Written by Chris)

The well-known choral theme from Kingdom Hearts makes a return here. Shimomura doesn't change the composition at all but it is resynthed by Takeharu Ishimoto. The consequence is the theme sounding less dramatic than the original due to some pathetic-sounding choir synth. Still, the dark and mysterious aspect of the theme is retained and remains certainly an enjoyable, if slow-developing, track. Some will find it disappointing that this theme wasn't arranged or that a new composition wasn't made for its purpose. I don't mind, but I would have preferred a direct port rather than a poor resynth. (7/10)

8) Fragments of Sorrow (Written by Don)

This piece is essentially a battle theme version of "Destati." Unfortunately, it too suffers from the horrible choral synth of Ishimoto. Despite this, the remainder of the track is pretty good. The battle theme itself is another Kingdom Hearts-esque one, but it's extremely motivating through it's use of percussion and does have a sense of sinisterness through the use of the chorals, despite their sound quality. Overall, this is a decent track. (7/10)

9) Tension Rising (Written by Muzza)

One of my favourite boss battle themes on the soundtrack, "Tension Rising" is a very impressive addition to a somewhat lackluster score when it comes to boss battle themes. The organ and mad percussion nicely symbolize the implied tension, and the bridge between loops, which showcases some light-hearted albeit very fitting instrumentation, lives up to the previous section's standards. Also of note is the sporadic piano samples, which add a welcome variation to the potentially monotonous primary part of the track. Overall, a nice track that conveys the necessary chaos and tension extremely well, with pleasant instrumental elements and a rhythmic melody. (9/10)

10) Kairi (Written by Chris)

The first character theme on the soundtrack and, once again, a Kingdom Hearts reprise. The piece isn't elaborated on much, retaining its emphasis on a brief but sweet melody. However, the instrumentation has changed beyond simple resynthing giving a more mature sound to the theme to represent how Kairi has grown up and is now perhaps more than just a childhood friend to Sora. I find it less aesthetic compared to the other versions of the theme because of the more jarring synth use. However, it was a necessary inclusion that fits the game well and is enjoyable nevertheless. (7/10)

11) Missing You (Written by Baltimoore)

If I didn't know which came it came from, I would have guessed the melody here — a sweet, emotional, and somewhat somber one — would have been from Kingdom Hearts. It really does contains the sound created from other pieces of Kingdom Hearts, such as "Dearly Beloved" and "Kairi". Simple and beautiful. While it doesn't expand much from its uncomplicated pianowork and light-weight string accompaniment, it works. (8/10)

12) The 13th Struggle (Written by Muzza)

By using the organ, violin and piano, Yôko Shimomura has created a very intense piece in "The 13th Struggle". The tension, suggested by the powerful bass and foreboding melodic piano and organ sections, makes a perfect battle theme (used when fighting Organisation XIII), and would work well even as a hurry theme. As with the rest of the score, the synth quality is below-average, but that doesn't act as a major hindrance here; this track is a very solid solid addition to the soundtrack. (8/10)

13) Roxas (Written by Sophia)

One of the more beautiful pieces from this soundtrack, "Roxas" is a haunting yet sad flute melody with a piano accompaniment. It's just unfortunate that the main tune is rather short and it doesn't develop into something more substantial. It is a character theme however, and it fits into the storyline very well and is easy on the ears. (9/10)

14) Sora (Written by Scherzo)

At last, after a lengthy introduction, the adventure is underway! This track marks the entrance of the hero Sora into the story, and does it with vigor and flair. It's a reprise of a familiar melody from the original Kingdom Hearts and that familiarity gives it an added kick. The actual music is fine enough, with the substandard synth adding a bit more whine to the triumphant melody than is desirable. (6/10)

15) The Afternoon Street (Written by Muzza)

The second BGM to Twilight Town, "The Afternoon Street" plays when Sora, Donald and Goofy roam the cozy, amicable town. This enriching amicability is presented some very light-hearted and whimsical instrumentation. The melody gradually grows, and a violin is introduced to add a more mature tone to the track. A very nice piece, and given that it bears similar traits to its 'predecessor' "Lazy Afternoons", the enjoyment factor is enhanced here, due to the accessible lazy and cordial tone both tracks possess. (8/10)

16) Working Together (Written by Muzza)

"Working Together" comes across as a light-hearted tune, even flagrantly so; this is somewhat perplexing as this is a battle theme. This is suggested by the upbeat, face-paced melodic progression, which is adequate if a tad irksome. Admittedly, I find this track extremely melodious, and as such it is one of my favourites on the first disc. However, considering that this track is used in a game where Disney characters make appearances, the wacky, goofy (I had to say it) mood is acceptable, and even pleasing in a way. Thankfully, there is a limited amount of happy-go-lucky battle themes on this soundtrack, so you can enjoy this one without feeling guilty of supporting something widely considered a condemnable act (i.e. composing frivolous battle themes: an oxymoron, in a sense). (9/10)

17) Friends in My Heart (Written by Sophia)

"Friends in my Heart" is a slightly more upbeat and delightful variation of "Dearly Beloved" on the piano. As the core theme of Kingdom Hearts, generally all the different versions of "Dearly Beloved" are pleasant to listen to. I am particularly fond of this one because it's uplifting and hopeful, a welcomed contrast to some of the other tracks. (9/10)

18) Magical Mystery (Written by Chris)

For a track with such a colourful title, "Magical Mystery" is disappointingly boring. I didn't think magic or mystery was conveyed in anything but the most functional yet uninspired way. It's a very plain ambient piece that contrasts a fluid piano line and dissonant suspended stings. Moderately interesting is the way the piano intersynchs with a dynamic tuned percussion line to create a unique timbre in the treble portion of the piece. Unfortunately, no aspect of the track is emotional or interesting, even if it is decent scene-setting music in context. (5/10)

19) A Twinkle in the Sky (Written by Chris)

A laid-back rendition of the Gummi Ship theme. The piece conveys a much better magical atmosphere than the previous track, mostly through creating a resonant soundscape and the use of tuned percussion. The violin leads the piece, playing the enchanting exploratitive melody, while cello provides the highlight of the piece with a brief countermelody before the 0:40 loop. The track sounds a bit sappy, even ugly, in places due to the especially artificial violin synth used here. However, the arrangement itself is quite charming and the piece is pleasant to revisit. (7/10)

20) Reviving Hollow Bastion (Written by Chris)

"Hollow Bastion" was one of its most popular pieces. It depicted one of the game's final and darkest dungeons with briskly paced repetition of a single string motif and some fantastical layering on top. Unlike most reprises, Shimomura chose to significantly arrange "Hollow Bastion" for Kingdom Hearts II so it had a bit more variety. Was the choice a wise one? In my opinion, the arrangement is inspired but unpolished.

It opens with a jovial and magical ostinato very loosely based on the original. Soon a prominent but badly synthesized violin plays a solo; its dark resonant tones create a metamorphosis in atmosphere leading to a jarring transition into the main body of the piece. The body lacks the flair of the original due to its sluggish pace, awkward instrument choices, and occasional awkward chromatic shifts. The transition back to the original segment is sudden and unappealing.

Overall, the arrangement gives a different atmosphere to Hollow Bastion to represent its revival. However, it isn't satisfying on a stand-alone basis since it lacks coherency or finesse. (6/10)

21) Scherzo di Notte (Written by Scherzo)

A simple re-synthing of the same piece from the first Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack. It's much less effective than the original, as on the whole the voicing is very muddy and distant. The violin in particular sounds as it were being played in a particularly large cavern. It's a fine piece, compositionally, but there are too many small turns in the melody that are lost here. (3/10)

22) Laughter and Merriment (Written by Scherzo)

A fun filler track, complete with bouncy bass line and a perky marimba melody. The long string chords that come in later serve well to complement the upbeat mood. The harmony is quite simple and gets stale after a bit, but the merits of the instrumentation and character of the track manage to overcome that potentially ruining flaw. (7/10)

23) Desire for All That is Lost (Written by Don)

This piece is quite motivating and I love the mood it conveys. Hints of sinisterness and sadness, this track is definitely one of my favorites on the first disc. The piano line is something that I love and, while it may be a bit repetitive, once it fleshes out a bit, it really adds the sense of sinisterness to the piece. The strings produce a fantastic melody helping to convey the sadness in the piece. Overall, I like this effort by Shimomura. (9/10)

24) Organization XIII (Written by Don)

This theme is used to represent the main antagonist group in the game. The piano produces a nice haunting melody with hints of evilness. Unfortunately, the synthesized choral work is extremely detrimental to this piece. The shoddiness of these vocals make the entire track a bit less enjoyable. Personally I would have preferred a solo piano piece as opposed to the addition of the chorals, but I do see that if properly synthed, the chorals would add to the atmosphere of this piece quite well. (7/10)

25) Gearing Up (Written by Scherzo)

There is a general disconnect here between the bright quirky melody and the strangely gloomy orchestration. Though the track still succeeds at achieving a happy motivational feel, I'm somewhat confused by the dark omnipresent string bass and the scoring of the melody in the pipe organ, of all instruments. These elements are at odds with the title and general mood of the piece, and add little overall. But given the short length of the piece and the low number of compositional ideas contained within, such minor quibbles can be overlooked in favor of the general mood, which I'm happy to say survives intact. A humorous melody and a nifty drumkit carry this track through. (6/10)

26) Shipmeister's Shanty (Written by Don)

This track is played when you are in your garage building or editing your gummi ship. It's quite a bouncy track and boasts an enjoyable melody. The shift in pace for the melody is an interesting addition, however, I feel that this track is extremely repetitive. It's enjoyable to a point, but this track is entirely too long, even before the loop. I still like the idea here, but it seems to lack the charm that I'm looking for. (6/10)

27) Blast Off! (Written by Don)

This piece also incorporates the motif found in "Shipmeister's Shanty" but the main melody is different. It's heroic sounding and bouncy in nature once again, but it's very short and serves it's purpose as a "launch gummi ship" piece. (4/10)

28) Asteroids Away! (Written by Don)

This is one of the first gummi ship stage themes. It's motivating, has a nice melody, and some nice development as well. The incorporation of the "Dearly Beloved" theme is a nice addition to the track and I think gives it a nice flair overall. While a bit repetitive, I think it is a decent track; however, I think there are better gummi ship themes on the soundtrack. (7/10)

29) Crossing the Finish Line (Written by Scherzo)

A simple triumphant piece used to indicate a successful voyage. There's nothing too exceptional about it: in fact, it's quite boring after a couple of listens. But at 47 seconds, there's not much to complain about. A filler track, through and through. (4/10)

30) Waltz of the Damned (Written by Scherzo)

After all of the gummi ship-themed tracks, this quiet waltz serves as a welcome respite. The melody is charming enough, if not overly catchy. But what makes this piece interesting is the emphasis on the second beat of each measure, which is traditionally the weakest. This gives the piece a bit of added syncopation. Overall, quite an enjoyable track. (7/10)

31) Dance of the Death (Written by Chris

The waltz ups the pace in "Dance of the Daring", the battle theme for Beast's castle. This piece excellently maintains thematic and stylistic continuity of its predecessor while establishing an appealing dynamism and crispness of its own. From the gothic harpsichord accompaniment, the flute leads with the main falling phrase of "Dance of the Daring" except with some agitating rhythmical twists. The secondary melody is more rhythmically settled but maintains the tempo of the piece while adding a somewhat wistful character to the piece. Overall, though short, it's easily one of the best pieces on the soundtrack. (9/10)

32) Hesitation (Written by Don)

"Hesitation" is one of the very few extremely dark pieces you'll find on this album. The elements that create this darkness, mainly strings and a small harp motif, are fantastic. However, the overall quality of this piece is a bit lacking. While I can understand it's mainly an ambient piece, a bit of melody would have made this a stronger track. It's still enjoyable and serves its purpose in game, but out of context, it's a bit weaker. (5/10)

33) Dance to the Death (Written by Jared)

Though this piece is rather short, and very repetitive, it is incredibly effective as a battle theme. The constant low bass line, and the ominous mallet percussion rolls that last throughout the duration of the piece add a huge feeling of tension. The melody is very haunting and dangerous, and the jarring piano and string motifs even further contribute to the tension. When all parts come together, this battle theme can actually be quite unsettling and, in game, is one of the most potent battle themes I have yet heard from Shimomura. (10/10)

34) Beauty and the Beast (Written by Don)

This is an arrangement of the "Beauty and the Beast" song from the Disney movie of the same name. It's quite poignant and sticks true to the original, but it's too short to garner much of a score. (5/10)

35) The Home of Dragons (Written by Don)

This piece is used for the setting of China from Mulan. It definitely conveys that Asian flair that one would expect from ancient China. The percussion rhythm is rather strong, albeit repetitive, and it really helps to bring the main melody to life. The piece conveys a sense of honor and exploration and is one that shouldn't be missed. (8/10)

36) Fields of Honor (Written by Don)

This piece essentially takes the music found in "The Home of Dragons" and adds some more intense rhythm, a bit of melodic development, and Shimomura's style for Kingdom Hearts battles. The percussion this time around is quite intense and really helps to convey battle. I'm glad the feeling of honor is kept because it really helps to tie the idea of Chinese tradition, like that found in Mulan, and battling to keep your honor. While I prefer "Home of the Dragons," this piece itself isn't too bad overall because it does offer a lot to the listener. (7/10)

37) Apprehension (Written by Bryan)

As the name implies, this piece is meant to build tension. It holds its own on that front, but fails to go anywhere beyond that. A repeated piano melody randomly comes in with Shimomura's staple percussion following in the backround. This basically repeats throughout the entire piece. The piece is great in context, but fails outside of the game in my opinion. (5/10)

38) Vim and Vigor (Written by Bryan)

Now here is where this soundtrack gets tricky. I usually love most of Shimomura's battle tracks, but this entire soundtrack is hit or miss with me. Let's take this track for example. The same quick percussion thats heard in all the battle tracks on here is back again, with a piano carrying the lead. Strings take up the harmony, giving the track a sense of danger. While I said this was a hit or miss for me, that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. It just doesn't do for me what some of her older works did. A decent addition to the soundtrack nonetheless. (7/10)

39) Cloudchasers (Written by Don)

"Cloudchasers" is another gummi ship stage theme. As such, it's very prominent in the use of electronica. Unfortunately for this track, it's extremely repetitive and once some development comes in, it's rather boring still. I can see that you would want a motivating force to keep you along and it surely fits the action on the screen, but it's probably one of the weakest gummi ship themes. Overall, this is probably one of my least favorites on the album. (1/10)

40) Olympic Coliseum (Written by Chris)

Another minimalistic arrangement, "Olympus Coliseum" returns from the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack and is as divisive as ever. Many, myself included, found the original's opening brass fanfares to be pompous and overbearing. They're just the same here, unaffected by Ishimoto's synthesizer operating, but at least fitting of the environment. The development has moments of sweeping beauty as the motif that constituted the fanfare is explored. Unfortunately, the quiet middle section of the piece — in my opinion, the most accomplished part in the original — has undergone some changes that makes it sound awkward. As opposed to the conventional but fulfilling accompaniment of the original, some very thin-sounding and badly synthesized drums are used. Overall, this piece struggles to maintain moderate ground, going from an obnoxious introduction through a brief development section to an empty middle. (6/10)

41) The Underworld (Written by Don)

"The Underworld" is a track that just seems to be a bit underwhelming. While the elements and technique employed seems to be rather promising, we are treated with a track that seems to just plod along and becomes extremely repetitive very quickly. The problem with this track is that the xylophone sections are extremely repetitive and offer very little melodic development, despite being catchy. There are a few redeeming factors though. The use of piano, even if only as an accent chord, at times helps to convey the sense of sinisterness one would expect in the Underworld. In addition, the use of organ and haunting chorals help to accentuate this feeling. Unfortunately, these small additions can't help a rather lackluster piece. (4/10)

42) What Lies Beneath (Written by Don)

This piece is the battle theme for the Underworld. As such, it employs some of the same motifs as the area theme track. You'll notice the distinct repetitive xylophone in the accompaniment, but fortunately, the track is much more melodically developed. The melody itself, played by a mixture of low brass and strings, almost has an Arabian texture to it. The addition of chorals also helps to tie this piece in with the respective area. Overall, this track is satisfying, compared to the former, but still lacks something. (7/10)

43) Villains of a Sort (Written by Bryan)

OK, by the name of this track you think it would have a sinister and dark feeling right? Well, it does to an extent. This is one of the most repetitive tracks I have ever heard and it kind of destroys any emotion that you should have felt with the purpose of this track. The piece is mostly all strings, with some quick flute chimes. Other than that though, its a 13 second piece that repeats too many times. (3/10)

44) Rowdy Rumble (Written by Baltimoore)

Unfortunately I can't for the life of me remember where this excellent battle theme is played, even though I recognize it well. As stated, this is basically the epitome of a great Shimomura battle theme, being rhythmic, dynamic, well-orchestrated, melodic, well-developed, and powerful. It typically conveys something whimsical and witty, and at the same time something harsh and quite deadly. I mean, really, this is just... swell. (10/10)

45) Mickey Mouse Club March (Written by Baltimoore)

The theme for Disney Castle, is, perhaps not suprisingly so, the old March from the Mickey Mouse Club. But instead of a Disney arrangement I really look upon this as a reprise from the first Kingdom Hearts, as that is exactly what it is, in reality. Difference is, then it was a cutscene theme, and it worked much better as that instead of a area theme, which it is now, with its distinct opening and really quite underdeveloped melody. It works. In one minute, that is. (5/10)

46) A Walk in Andante (Written by Jared)

This track is extremely short, and rather underwhelming. It holds to its title well, but isn't much to listen to. A repetitive bass line, typical harmonies, and a simple melody are the main components to this track. (3/10)

47) Monochrome Dreams (Written by Don)

"Monochrome Dreams" is used as the area theme for the Timeless River, a homage of old to the black-and-white cartoons which Disney first started producing. The music itself is very playful, which can be attributed to the use of the woodwinds, and the use of a tuba adds a bit of humor to the piece. However, I feel that the track is a bit on the weaker side. It doesn't really develop too much, but still remains enjoyable. (7/10)

48) Old Friends, Old Rivals (Written by Don)

This is the battle theme for Timeless River and it essentially ups the tempo from its area theme counterpart. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it does come off rather nicely, the extremely repetitive bass line really detracts from the piece as a whole. Melodically though, I really enjoy this piece. It's not my favorite battle theme, but it isn't bad either. (7/10)

49) Floating in Bliss (Written by Don)

I believe that this is another gummi stage theme. Unlike its counterparts, this one seems to have a very mellow feel to it. Unfortunately, it has a bit of a repetition to it as well. While I'm not a fan of the xylophone sound, the violin melody, although rather drowned out by the aforementioned instrument, is quite nice. The inclusion of "Dearly Beloved" is also a nice development, but sadly, it's a very short motif. (5/10)

50) Winnie the Pooh (Written by Chris)

This uses the same arrangement as Kingdom Hearts but, of course, resynths it. The drop in quality is large, meaning the introductory fragments of the main theme drag rather than entice. Nevertheless, the body of the piece remains moderately enjoyable thanks to the solid arranging of the original. An inferior, obligatory, but listenable rehash. (6/10)

51) Bounce-O-Rama (Speed Up Version) (Written by Don)

This piece is the exact same melody as the "Bounce-O-Rama", featured in Kingdom Hearts and the box set version of Kingdom Hearts II. As such, the playfulness of the track is kept. In addition, the track is sped up considerably. While I don't think this really helps or hurts the track, it does make it, ever so slightly, more enjoyable. (6/10)

Disc Two

1) Isn't It Lovely? (Written by Don)

This track is used in the underwater world of Atlantis from The Little Mermaid. As such, it has a very aquatic feel to it, but sadly, it really doesn't work too well overall. The beginning, while sporting a very nice rhythmic pattern, seems to drown out the violin at times. The violin is the best part of the piece though and really helps to draw attention to the melody and the solo in the middle really helps to accentuate the piece as a whole. (7/10)

2) Let's Sing and Dance (Written by Don)

This small little tune includes a small motif of the next track and helps to serve the purpose of the singing mini-game that ensues. It's fun, but very short. (5/10)

3) Swim This Way (Written by Don)

Before I even start reviewing any of these, let me just say that Japanese vocalized Disney songs freak the hell out of me! As for this piece, the melody is quite fun. It adopts a very calypso like atmosphere, but it really doesn't do much for me. The Japanese vocals aren't the best in this song, but they aren't too bad either. The melody itself is rather wishywashy, but at the same time, it is a bit catchy so it doesn't entirely make me want to skip the track. Overall, this isn't a bad piece, but it's far from perfect. (6/10)

4) Part of Your World (Written by Don)

In time around, we are treated to a Japanese version of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. The arrangement is fairly nice. The use of the xylophone and violin really help bring the track to life while blending old and new aspects of the track together. Overall, I don't feel the vocals really hurt this track one bit and I find this a wonderful listen, despite the initial freak-out that it was in Japanese. (9/10)

5) Under the Sea (Written by Don)

Wow, talk about freaky! The instrumentation is essentially verbatim to the original music. The calypso feel that the track adopts is extremely fitting and quite fun to listen. Unfortunately, the vocals destroy the song. Sora's voice and Sebastian's voice just really irk me. They seem too harsh for the track as a whole. It's not a bad listen, since the music is fantastic, but the vocals really hamper this track for me. (7/10)

6) Ursula's Revenge (Written by Nirvana69)

This track brings back rather bitter memories. This is the song that plays during the "battle" with Ursula. While it's not that enjoyable, it's also not that bad. It does well at holding the Disney villain theme and even if you can't understand the lyrics, you know something sinister is taking place. It's bad enough that you're probably better off skipping it, yet good enough that if you were forced to listen to it, you wouldn't need a shotgun to end your misery. Bonus points to the Japanese vocals for making this track creepier than the English version. (7/10)

7) A New Day is Dawning (Written by Nirvana69)

I have to admit, I actually like this one. The best Little Mermaid track off the soundtrack as far as I'm concerned. It's not really a whole lot different than the other ones, but it has a certain little charm to it that makes it special. Besidse, hearing a Japanese Donald Duck "sing" is always good for a chuckle. (8/10)

8) Night of the Cursed (Written by Nirvana69)

With so many melodically driven area themes on this soundtrack, it's nice to hear Shimomura try something ambient. This actually reminds me of Nakano's work in its use of suspended strings and focus on percussion. However, it also reminds me of Nakano's work in the sense that it has very little development and is rather uneventful. Nonetheless, Shimomura does a good job at creating a dark, tense atmosphere and this is one of my favorite area themes. (9/10)

9) He's a Pirate (Written by Don)

Double double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! That's the recipe for disaster, or at least in this case. Take one part excellent film theme, one part arrangement (well, more like transcription), and one part Ishimoto synth, and you get this track. While the melody and overall feel is a timeless classic, Ishimoto's synth just ruins this track. It's still listenable, since most of the original instrumentation is kept intact, albeit at lower quality, so the entire track isn't a waste. I find the percussion the strongest part, but since that isn't the focus, the melody just doesn't live up to any semblance of the original. (6/10)

10) The Corrupted (Written by Muzza)

This is another one of Shimomura's boss battle themes, and as such you can expect some more mediocrity here. What's eccentric about this one is the peculiar use of a trumpet; unfortunately, while this may sound harsh, this brass aspect comes across as extremely forced and uncomfortable. I guess that's tolerable given this track is used in anxiety-filled boss battles. The melody is very underwhelming and awfully generic, and the melodic progression is limited and tedious. I do like the tone this piece exudes, however, so I guess that trumpet was effective, after all! Somewhat, at least. (6/10)

11) Hazardous Highway (Written by Don)

What's this? A good gummi ship stage theme! I know, I'm shocked too. I really like the rock arrangement that Shimomura took here. While it does boast a stronger melody and instrumentation than some of its counterparts, it still does suffer from a bit of repetition. Fortunately, the motivating pace and the strong melody helps keep this gummi ship in the air. It's not a bad piece, and probably one of the better gummi ship stage themes. (8/10)

12) A Day in Agrabah (Written by Muzza)

To be honest, I actually think that this track improves on the original! I know, it's shocking, considering the appalling attempts at arrangements shown on this soundtrack. The original "A Day in Agrabah" was a very effective and sensuous track, which presented a decent melody by using some Arabic instrumentation. This arrangement focuses less on the melody and more on atmospheric qualities, meaning the aforementioned sensuousness is drastically improved here, due to a downplay in pace and tempo. The instrumentation is now much more subtle and lush, making it much easier to wander the streets of Agrabah and picture yourself walking alongside Sora. (9/10)

13) Arabian Dream (Written by Don)

This is the battle theme for the world of Agrabah. As such, it contains what one would expect in an Arabian piece. Full of exotic instrumentation, the battle theme really shines, as opposed to others. As opposed to the same rhythmic drumming, it's replaced with a more exotic rhythm and percussion. Overall, this track is one of the better battle themes to grace this album. The Arabian flavor is in full force and I love the violin solo in it. It really brings an air of mystery to the piece and contrasts nicely to the hectic accompaniment. (9/10)

14) This is Halloween (Written by Baltimoore)

Well, well. You all know what this is, I'm sure. Which also means I don't have to say very much about the piece. Mad with props given to Mr. Elfman for the chillingly macabre and dreadfully entertaining melody, perfectly representing such a humorously twisted place that is Tim Burton's Halloween Town. Shimomura's arrangement of the piece differs very little from the Kingdom Hearts version of the town theme, I can't actually find any difference at all, and in a strange event, Ryo Yamazaki's past synth-operating compared to Takeharu Ishimoto's current makes very little difference as well, so I can't really state which version of them is the better. The arrangement itself is highly enjoyable, and keeps itself dark but colourful throughout the piece. One might argue there's some overuse of strings, but there's really nothing wrong with the piece at all. (9/10)

15) Spooks of Halloween Town (Written by Nirvana69)

Well, the battle theme for Halloween Town doesn't seem to have changed much at all, which some might consider as a good thing but I personally thought this was one of the weaker battle themes in the first game. And as such, this seems to be one of the weaker and less exciting battle themes on this soundtrack as well. Plus, we are treated to yet some more of Ishimoto's low quality synth work. (6/10)

16) Adventures in the Savannah (Written by Nirvana69)

After the somewhat surprising and out of place synth drone opening, this turns into a great area theme. Shimomura depicts the Savanah almost perfectly in this piece with it's combination of horns, tribal sound percussion, and woodwinds. Definitely one of the better area themes in the game. (9/10)

17) Savannah Pride (Written by Don)

"Savannah Pride" serves as the battle theme for the Pridelands area. I really like the tribal feel that the track itself gives off, but I'm not really a big fan of the percussion. It's decent, but it could be so much more. The melody itself is quite epic in nature, and the use of brass in this track, as opposed to the others, seems a bit more refined. While it still isn't the strongest battle track on the album, this one has more listenability than others on the soundtrack. (7/10)

18) The Encounter (Written by Don)

If I'm not mistaken, this is the boss theme for the Pridelands area. I personally really enjoy this one. The use of chorals and brass really help to make a gripping melody, while the string work helps to accentuate the overall feeling and bring out the melody even more. The percussion work is still a bit on the annoying side, but it's more enjoyable than in "Savannah Pride." This is one of the boss themes that I do go back to, mainly for the use of the various instruments. (8/10)

19) Space Paranoids (Written by Chris)

The musical accompaniment to the world of Tron is one of the most experimental and effective on the score. The enticing introduction contrasts a dynamic and colourful synth line with haunting synth vocals and dissonant chord progressions. The main section of the piece features rapid discords from forces that sound partly synthesized and alien despite having qualities of some tuned percussion. The result is an excellent accompaniment to the confusing and mesmerising journey Sora and co. embark on in this world. (9/10)

20) Byte Bashing (Written by Don)

I'll give Shimomura one thing. She really captured the spirit of the music of Tron with the themes related to that movie. Unfortunately, the tracks themselves don't really do much for me. "Byte Bashing" serves as the battle theme for the land of Tron and it really doesn't give off that battle like atmosphere. The use of electronica, rather than standard fare orchestration, works to its advantage here, but I find the melody rather unmemorable. (6/10)

21) Sinister Shadows (Written by Hengun)

A rhythmic ostinato with the piano leads throughout this piece, making it sound quite exciting. The battle melody performed by brass and string instruments is really captivating. One minus: The track is quite repetitive and lacks diversity. (7/10)

22) The 13th Dilemma (Written by Hengun)

Now that's a track! It builds up dramatically, like a boss battle theme is supposed to. A piano alternates with strings to perform the main melody of this piece, which is in a contrast with the undercurrent percussion / brass section. What is likeable about this track is that it's quite creative and diversified. One of the better boss-battle themes by Shimomura. (9/10)

23) Showdown at Hollow Bastion (Written by Chris)

The start of the final portion of the soundtrack is marked by 48 second piece of music to accompany a cut scene. Doesn't sound great, does it? Except it's orchestrated by Kaoru Wada and features full orchestra and choir. This results in a dramatic and emotional piece of music that nicely culminates the "Other Side" motif previously exposed in Final Mix. Sadly brief but it's not long to wait for something even more impressive... (9/10)

24) One Winged Angel (Written by Chris)

And this isn't it. A resynthing of the abrupt arrangement of "One Winged Angel" fortunately using the same choir as Kingdom Hearts. The instruments are poorly synthesized, detracting from the drama of the piece and making it often seem cumbersome. Still, it's good to see that "One Winged Angel" actually made the soundtrack this time after it was relegated to Kingdom Hearts' Final Mix album in its previous version. Still a fan pleaser for sure. (6/10)

25) Battleship Bravery (Written by Don)

I believe this piece serves as the final gummi ship stage. As the stage itself is quite epic, some of that atmosphere is transferred over to this piece, while at the same time, producing a very calming effect. To me, this stage theme is worlds above some of the others out there. It actually has some development. While I think that the epicness seems to be overpowered by the calming harp, the greater sense of adventure is always present. It adds a nice touch to the track and distinguishes it from other gummi ship stage themes in my opinion. (9/10)

26) Sacred Moon (Written by Don)

"Sacred Moon" is a very rhythmic choral piece. In some ways, this is a beneficial thing, but at other times, it's a bit of a downer. In terms of benefits, the chorals add a nice contrast to the piano and percussion, but at the same time, their lack of variation makes them seem like more of an add-on for atmospheric purposes rather than for compositional purposes. That being said, I rather enjoy the entire piece as a whole. The rhythm is extremely catchy and the instrumental contrasts are duly welcomed. (8/10)

27) Deep Drive (Written by Don)

I assume this is another battle theme. As usual, the bass line percussion is rather repetitive, but in this case, I can forgive it because I actually think it works well with the melody. The piano, the strings, and the chorals all work together to create an engaging melody and are a strong suit to this theme. Granted, it's not the best battle theme Shimomura has done, but it's one of the better ones on this soundtrack. (8/10)

28) Riku (Written by Nirvana69)

Character themes are certainly not a strong point on this album. That being said, Riku has probably the most enjoyable and representative character theme of them all. Riku is the subject of much ambiguity in this game and his character theme showcases that ambiguity very well. The suspended strings, choppy piano chords, and rapid synth ostinato all contribute to this feeling of mystery. This would have been an easy 10 if not for two major problems. For one, it is rather short and undeveloped. And for two, the string sound used simply gets on my nerves. Sound quality has never been a very big issue with me, but in this case it simply irritates me. It's a shame such a trivial thing had to spoil what is otherwise a solid 9 piece. (8/10)

29) Courage (Written by Don)

This is a short track utilizing heavy woodwind instruments to move the melody along. String synth helps to accentuate the melody. Interestingly enough, the brass sections in this track are used mainly as an accompaniment alongside some percussion. It's not the weakest track on the album, but it's rather generic, repetitive, and rather stale. (4/10)

30) Disappeared (Written by Don)

While there is nothing truly remarkable about this track, I have to give it points for dramatic build up and an overall implementation of suspenseful elements. The use of the chorals, piano, and strings over a very fast paced percussion bass line really make for an enjoyable listen. It's a shame that there really isn't too much melodic development. (7/10)

31) A Fight to the Death (Written by Don)

Ah, my favorite battle theme on this album. While it may be a bit repetitive at times, I feel that it works amazingly. The rhythmic brass bass line, the brass melody, the addition of chorals, the implementation of piano arpeggios, the strings, and the inclusion of the "Dearly Beloved" motif shows Shimomura's true strength in creating battle themes based around the piano. It's a truly remarkable feat and this is one of the Kingdom Hearts II pieces that I frequently revisit. (10/10)

32) Darkness of the Unknown (Written by Mac Tear)

Ah, finally here it is, the final battle theme for Kingdom Hearts II. Compared to its predecessor "Guardando nel buio" from the first Kingdom Hearts, this one uses a more direct way of combining rhythmnic, melodic, and harmonic elements, but the style is nearly the same. The first part from 0:00-1:12 uses an repetitive piano/harp motif with choir and dominant percussion in the background. It reminds me a little of "The Extreme" from Final Fantasy VIII. After this long introduction, the snare drums settle in and other instruments like organ or violin are added.

From 2:03-2:42 the track reaches its climax with strings and horns in the background playing tender melodies to each other. After that the violins take the lead role again and the organ/choir combo shows up again like before. At 4:20 the percussion holds on and we hear an slow interlude of the main melody. Breath out and collect your forces for the final blow! From 4:45 the harp motif from the very beginning plays again, accompanied by violins and choir and this combo plays until the track fades out. A great track by Shimomura; it may be a bit repetitive compared to "Guardando nel buio" and has got a lesser power, but all in all it's a worthy final battle theme! Good job, Ms. Shimomura. (10/10)

33) Passion ~after the battle~ (Written by Don)

For the ending cinematic, we are treated to a slower version of the opening version of "Passion," similar to the treatment of "Hikari" in the first Kingdom Hearts. Unfortunately, I find this the weaker of the two pieces. While I appreciate the focus on the piano, I find that the life and vigor found in the opening version is subdued in this version. It's still a pleasant listen, but it seems to drag on. It fits the cinematic well though. As the track ends, the vigor that was once found in the opening version makes a reprise. While it's a bit too late in the song to make any real impact, the instrumental treatment is rather pleasant. (8/10)

34) Fantasia alla Marcia for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra (Written by Baltimoore)

One point has been made clear throughout a number of pieces on all three Kingdom Hearts albums released over the years: live orchestral arrangement plus Kingdom Hearts equals love. And while Shimomura's compositions and melodies often present a virtually flawless picture describing all the light and darkness that is the universe of Kingdom Hearts, it is masterful symphonist and orchestral arranger Kaoru Wada that really makes the pieces shine. You've heard their successful companionship glimmer earlier in Kingdom Hearts ("Hikari - KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version" and "March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra"), earlier on this soundtrack ("Passion - KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version" and "Dearly Beloved"), the remakes Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix ("Memories in Pieces" and "Fate of the Unknown" respectively), and more. While all of those were remarkable masterpieces, "Fantasia ala Marcia for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra" is probably their strongest achievement yet.

I realize a lot of people have been disappointed with this soundtrack (myself included), but this track makes all the pain go away. Problems with Ishimoto's synth-operating? Trouble with Shimomuras repetition of old Kingdom Hearts themes in a lamer form? Think the composition standards weren't up to date alltogether? Don't fret! Here comes absolute musical beauty, and the without a doubt best piece on this soundtrack in my honest opinion, so hold on while a try to review this monster of a work. I'll do my best, and that, unfortunately, is all I can give you.

The piece begins with arpeggios of a clarinet and the faintest glimmer of tremolo strings, while some deep brass underneath builds itself up, and anticipation begins to stir within you. And when the trumpets ring out their joyous fanfare, you know the time for celebration has come, for you have saved the universe from a cosmic dark catastrophe — again. The fanfare rings out for a moment longer, until you can hear a fully orchestrated (and much better) version of "Sora", which signals the Keyblade Master's triumphant return through the door of light. This theme soon swells away from its jollyness and brings forth an old classic — the "March Caprice" theme is upon us, in all its glory once again. It marches on, through great emotions, only to make room for Shinko Ogatas passionate piano, singing the all to familiar "Dearly Beloved" theme. This section, and the one after, in a samey style playing "Always on my Mind", particularly showcases Wada's fantastic sense of texture, with the constant piano arpeggios, the holy choir, the mighty brass, the light woodwinds, and the lovely strings.

Also worth noticing is how Wada seamlessly intergrates all these contrasting moods and different harmonic styles under one emotional setting; the one which I would call hope, and how extremely natural the transitions between the different themes feels because of it. He seriously is awesome at this, I tell you.

But through all this victory, passion, beauty and hope one can't forget the suffering that has been endured, the friends lost and the pain caused, and that is exactly what is coming. After the agonizingly beautiful "Always on my Mind" passage, a mysterious horn suddenly gives a feeling of further anticipation, and with a smash of cymbals (which still feels very natural) a section of darkness and brutality comes along. You guessed it — "Destati" is here, fully orchestrated. The rich chorus contrasts greatly with the rhythmic thundering of timpani and the piano, and the power of the theme easily leaves one feeling a bit overwelmed. The bit goes on, and through a fantastic development section of further might and power, the piece (oh so naturally) transists into "Another Side". Though it's short, the driving strings and the mysterious piano chords feels just so right and fitting. And in an even more stunning move, "Dearly Beloved" and "Always on my Mind" are back again, feeling more passionate than ever.

And after a further swell of musicality, the piece calms down, and thinks of the breathtaking story it has just told, looking with both sadness and strength towards a hopeful future. And what a future it is. The strings, calmly and full of compassion, start humming an encore of the "March Caprice" tune, and the warmth it gives away is just so comforting after the extremeness of all the music played up till now. But, not suprisingly, it soon gains new wings, and lifts again, further and further up in the sky, and for a breathtaking finale the whole orchestra and the choir join together in the glorious companionship that is Shimomura and Wada. One long final coda, and the game ends.

A complete and utter masterpiece, "Fantasia..." will forever be ingraved in many a video game music fans hearts, and the partnership of Yoko and Kaoru gets stronger and stronger for every piece, easily holding up with classics from other splendid teams such as Uematsu/Hamaguchi and Sakimoto/Matsuo. The soundtrack's highlight, for sure. (10/10)

35) Destiny Islands (Written by Chris)

It's been a long time since Kingdom Hearts gamers heard the youthful theme for the original Kingdom Hearts' outset islands. What better way to commemorate a return here with an arrangement from Kaoru Wada. The arrangement is brief and simple, but entirely effective. Led by the piano, its interpretations of the happy-go-lucky melody is accompanied by its own jazz harmonies, gorgeous strings and woodwinds, and, to add the tropical edge, an acoustic guitar. It ends after 1:11, but still makes a big impact. (8/10)

36) Hand in Hand (Written by Chris)

In Kingdom Hearts tradition, "Hand in Hand" is briefly reprised here. Kaoru Wada offers a bombastic orchestration that makes the triumphant utterings of the main melody all the more heart warming. At 0:28, piano chords hinting at "Dearly Beloved" are offered before the theme fades into nothingness. Exciting if brief. (7/10)

37) Sunset Horizons (Written by Don)

"Sunset Horizons" is a track that portrays a very dark time. The pounding percussion, the suspenseful strings, and the mysterious piano all come together to create a very short, but powerful track. (8/10)

38) Dearly Beloved ~ Reprise (Written by Don)

In this piece, Shinko Ogata lends her graceful hands to play this theme. While simplicity is my weak point, I rather enjoy the Wada arranged version a bit more. The piano definitely has the range of notes and emotions, but the orchestrated version felt more dynamic and contrasting. This is still a good piece by any standard though. (8/10)


Written by Chris

The Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack is a fine accompaniment to the game. However, it isn't as good as its predecessor, mostly due to recycling of old themes, an abundance of filler tracks, and, worse of all, Takeharu Ishimoto's poor samples for strings and choir. To compensate, there are some great new tracks, including Kaoru Wada's arrangements, the mini-musical, and Utada Hikaru's "Passion", in my opinion vastly superior to "Hikari". The box set version eliminates the problem of no looping and adds a few new tracks, so I'd recommend it above the original version. Overall, this is a soundtrack where I'd recommend playing the game first, listening to it later. It's entertaining if disappointing on a stand-alone basis. In context, it's wonderful. (7/10)

Written by Don

Kingdom Hearts II is definitely weaker than its predecessor, however, it still manages to impress at times. While I found most of the gummi ship stage themes to be rather bland, there were a few that were rather enjoyable. In addition, a lot of the battle themes fit their respected environs well, but out of context lost a lot. Perhaps the biggest reason for disappoint is Ishimoto's synth. At times, he does well, but at others, he utterly destroys the piece, whether it be a reprise from the first game, or an entirely new piece, such as "We Are Pirates." Either way, this album can still be enjoyed, but if you aren't familiar with the game, it may not impress you as much. (7/10)

Average of Summary Scores: 7/10