Kingdom Hearts II: Passion - Utada Hikaru :: Review by Harry
Perhaps Squaresoft's last masterpiece before merging with the equally successful Enix was when they collaborated with Disney to create the popular Kingdom Hearts. The game was unique with its combination of hugely admired storylines and likeable characters that the famous game company was known for, and Disney's famous light-hearted characters and overall content tone. The music was composed by Yoko Shimomura, who scored games such as Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, and Legend of Mana, and presented a wide variety of amiable themes in both light and dark styles respectably. However, she wasn't responsible for creating one of the game's most important themes, as that job was left for the renowned Japanese pop princess, Utada Hikaru. Undoubtedly, the theme song, "Hikari," was one of the standout compositions on the Original Soundtrack with the singer lending and challenging her voice, singing the tune in both her native tongue and English for "Simple and Clean." With Squaresoft's (now Square Enix) success on hand, they introduced us to the idea of Kingdom Hearts II only a year later. Speculation insisted that Yoko Shimomura would return to compose for the sequel, but no news about the composing role was released until November, 2005, when Shimomura announced that she would be the leading lady once more. But months before this declaration, Square confirmed that Hikaru would, again, return to compose the theme song called "Passion." But does it truly live up to "Hikari"? This review will tell all you need to know...
For starters, one cannot simply say yes or no based on a bare comparison to Hikaru's previous venture, because it is simply completely different in every way. The album only contains one song, but it's arranged into two similar, but noticeably different, tracks "Passion ~single version~" and "Passion ~after the battle~" the former being the exclusive version to the single and the latter being the track which will be included on the Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack. But, first, let's talk about the single version, the main reason why you'd buy this two track disc. On first listen, you'd definitely recognize the composer's pop-ish technique from "Hikari,"; however, don't come to this theme expecting a happy vibe because chances are you'll be pretty disappointed. The theme is very mellow and sad, shown quite clearly from the opening synthesizer notes and Hikaru's ghostly vocals. This is good as it shows a good deal of maturity on the composer's side, which is something that we couldn't see a lot of in "Hikari." Listening to the instrumentals alone isn't a rewarding experience as it is too dull and mediocre in some places and consists of some pretty poor use of the electronica genre, but placed with Hikaru's vocals, it seems almost flawless. Lyrics-wise, there isn't a boatload to comment on, as most of the vocals are widely spread through the track. Admittedly, they aren't the most complex I've ever seen, and, at most times, standard of a pop composition. However, they aren't bad and are well-written, fitting the song in a charming way.
The second track on the album, "Passion ~after the battle~" is the version you'll find after completing Kingdom Hearts II, and so to speak, it's much more deep and meaningful than the previous theme. To be straightforward, the track is split into two different sections vocal and instrumental each unique in style. The vocal section contains the exact same lyrics by Hikaru, but she performs them with a much more dramatic effect, which means I like it more than the former track. The instrumentals are also vastly improved, though more simplistic. Again, Hikaru uses this to her advantage, mainly operating and utilizing a one-dimensional piano melody, supported eminently by the sorrowful synthesizer, but the texture is beautifully achieved. As mentioned earlier, the piano is simple, but the repetitive 'cold' notes are memorable, adding colour and depth to the vocals. There is a change in the final quarter of the piece when the perfect instrumentation dissipates, with the composition becoming more lively and less grief-stricken, while Hikaru's pop influence becomes much more noticeable. Basically, if you listened to the previous track, this is primarily a partial instrumental version of it, and as I mentioned before, the instrumentals prove to be somewhat lacking without the cosy company of the vocals. It's interesting, but, unfortunately, fails to boast the same quality as the first part.
Kingdom Hearts fans waited almost two years for this song to happen, and Hikaru delivered better than I first expected her to perform. "Passion" is a more than worthy competitor to "Hikari" and surpasses it in many ways, but may not be the most worthy purchase nonetheless. On this short single, only one of the two tracks simply stands out ("Passion ~after the battle~"), and, while it is cheap to purchase, you aren't getting your money's worth. I would suggest that you wait for the Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack, because not only will you get Hikaru's magnificent theme song, you will also receive Shimomura's score, which is almost destined to be amazing. Overall, there's a high amount of effort put forth into this album's production, and if you are a fan of well-produced vocal compositions, then don't just let your read of this review go to waste. Consider it!
Overall Score: 7/10