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Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack :: Review by Aevloss

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


Kingdom Hearts II is the much-anticipated sequel to Square and Disney's famous collaborative adventure, created shortly before the merge with Enix. By combining a worthy storyline by Tetsuya Nomura with an all-star cast of Final Fantasy and Disney characters, a zany formula was forged that could have easily been a failure. However, the sheer quality of the final result, from the enjoyable action-based gameplay to the superb voice talent, resulted in positive reviews from the critics, and secured a success for the game on its own merit. It has subsequently become a fan favourite among recent Square releases, justifying the existence of the Gameboy Advance semi-sequel Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and the game to which it intended to lead up to, Kingdom Hearts II. The games have you following the story of Sora (and to a slightly lesser degree, his friend Riku) who travels to different worlds sealing up keyholes with his keyblade to foil the infection of evil in the universe; his enemy are the heartless, and anybody else behind their amassing numbers.

As ever, on the modern market, to achieve complete success games must show flair in all areas and the original release of Kingdom Hearts was particularly strong in the sound department. Yoko Shimomura composed the music score, borrowing in some instances from classic Disney melodies and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, while Utada Hikaru composed the theme song "Hikari". For the most part, the soundtrack was a very strong one, with only a few unpleasant filler-tracks to separate the great compositions. Due to its emphasis on action-based gameplay, the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack contained a large number of battle themes, as well as a successful number of colourful area tracks to represent all of the different Disney worlds Sora travels to. Once the ending credits had rolled, most would agree that Shimomura contributed considerably to the overall success of the game, leading people to hope that she would return for the sequels.

Shimomura described how she found the Original Soundtrack quite 'difficult' to compose for, since there were so many ideas to fit into the one score. This was probably part of the reason that some speculated there might be a change of composer for the proposed sequels. However, Chain of Memories was released for the Game Boy Advance with a fair amount of new material (as well as a lot of recycled old tracks), credited under Shimomura's name, easing the tension a little bit. Highlights here included the Castle Oblivion and Twilight Town area and battle themes, showing as much innovation as those pieces on the original soundtrack. Now we move forward to January 25th, the release date for the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack, and Yoko Shimomura's triumphant return. Expectations are high; how could they not be, after such a good original product? But at last now, we get to listen as the composer delves back into the world of Kingdom Hearts once more, taking us along for the ride. The question is, does her music absorb us as much as before?


I do not really think that asking whether the album is 'good or not' would produce a reliable or clear answer, simply because opinions are bound to vary immensely, and basic quality, for the most part, does not seem to be one of the main issues. As in the first soundtrack, Shimomura rarely disappoints with her melodies, especially standing out in her musical realisation of all the different 'worlds' that Sora, Goofy, and Donald visit during their quest. The album starts on a memorable note, with a new version of "Dearly Beloved" capturing our interest — anybody who has already listened to the first Kingdom Hearts soundtrack will find this a particularly touching way to begin the second adventure, though I daresay that newcomers, too, will be swept away by the lush orchestral overhaul it has been given. Credit for the arrangement goes to Kaoru Wada, the man previously responsible for "HIKARI - KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version" and "March Caprice for Piano Orchestra", who makes an even more significant impact in this second soundtrack. The emphasis on the piano work is one that fits the new game especially well, seeing as it is an instrument choice used to a fair extent this time around; funnily enough though, the overall decision to bring it back leads me onto one of my main complaints about the soundtrack itself. While the new pieces we are presented with on the album often turn out well, such as in the cases of "Adventures in the Savannah", "Space Paranoids" and the new theme for "Riku", that so many tracks on the album have simply been transferred from one game to the other with only small tweaks and different instrument samples — potential with Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas world and the "Destati" themes has been majorly wasted second time round, and fairly non-descript revivals of themes such as "Kairi", while appropriate, seem a little uncreative. I concede that some will likely disagree with me on this matter, and point out that I should really analyse the album for what it is, not by comparing it to the first; yet, my original expectations prevent me from doing that, because I made the assumption that the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack was going to be excellent — I imagined that the second game's darker more mature tone would allow Shimomura to express herself better, and create a score perhaps even better than her previous work on Legend of Mana and Parasite Eve. Others may be able to emphasise with my standpoint that rehashed forms of old tracks was not what I had in mind. I do not mean this to be a generalisation, because as you will see if you read my track reviews (see appendix), in some cases the new versions work well, and I have a particular fondness toward Wada's orchestral work at the end of the soundtrack, but more that it is not an ideal way to improve upon the previous album (though I suppose Shimomura may never have had aspirations to improve in the first place).

This brings me around to my second main complaint with the new score — thanks to the employment of Takeharu Ishimoto as a synth operator, many of Shimomura's works come across a lot weaker than they probably would have done if Ryo Yamazaki had returned for the sequel. You might not be too familiar with the different people who manipulate the synthesizers within the Square recording studios, but undeniably, sound quality is becoming more and more important as composer's works become increasingly ambitious (to fit larger, more advanced on-screen visuals). Now Ishimoto previously worked on the Vagrant Story soundtrack, and you might think, well I don't remember anything wrong with the sound on that album — to be honest, his work wasn't too bad there, though we can only really measure it by the standard of other soundtracks of the PSX era. Even so, with that being his last effort, one might have expected his skill to improve. This is clearly not the case, however, and unfortunately, rather than anything else, he seems to have been preoccupied by the prospect of not living up to the original, thus selecting to emulate Yamazaki's original sound — to ill effect. The simple, ironic fact of the matter is, the original programming was not that good either! But I feel that Yamazaki would have known what needed to be done if he was given the position again; this probably entailing the use of a whole new set of better samples. You can notice in tracks like "Arabian Dream", just as a random example, Ishimoto has tried to branch about a bit and has succeeded to an extent because of it — compare that to something like "Lazy Afternoons" however, and you'll see just how unpredictable the quality some of his work is (the latter suffering at his hand). It may seem as though I am taking the focus away for Shimomura's composing and arranging role, but it is necessarily so; transpose her version of Klaus Badelt's "He's a Pirate" into a MIDI format, and you will notice that there is nothing wrong with it at all — listen to it on the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack with Ishimoto's programming, and behold what a disaster it becomes (see my track review for more detail)! Another issue is that of short playing times and consequent lack of development — often, Shimomura's compositions sound as though they could have been a lot more successful than they actually were if they had been given time to expand and explore certain ideas; this is also not helped by the way that 89 tracks are all condensed onto two CDs.

Moving onwards, I feel I should mention some of the redeeming features of the album, to give a broader perspective and more balanced opinion on what awaits the listener. As I have specified before, the quality of Shimomura's compositions is rarely subject to doubt and there are a fair amount of tracks in which it really shines through; listeners are in for a treat if they enjoyed the world area and battle themes on the first soundtrack. The composer demonstrates her versatility by dabbling into the different cultural styles, covering the Far Eastern sound, perfect for Mulan's Ancient China and the African-influenced desert beats of Pride Rock, as well as her knowledge for creating the right music for the right setting such as in the world of Tron. To point to more specific examples, "Home of Dragons" finely encompasses the mythological interest and honour-based code one might have associated with Ancient China, bringing in all the appropriate instruments that would alert listener's to create a good image in their head with or without a visual aid. "Savannah Pride" encompasses the prowess of the lion race through its rich use of a brass melody, and the deeper, strings link back to the film's more philosophical analysis of African folklore and the 'circle of life'. "Space Paranoids" depicts a society or environment that has been influenced by technology to the point that it is used for almost everything, with the appropriate keyboard sounds bringing out the futuristic quality to the maximum. The soundtrack also contains two tracks devoted to the Timeless River stage, called "Monochrome Dreams" and "Old Friends, Old Rivals" — each of these barmy themes is successful, getting across an ideal fun atmosphere just like the Wonderland themes in the previous game. I would be foolish not to also bring up the lovely, complex depiction of Beast's Castle, which features the fine delicacy that is "Dance of the Daring", one of the finest battle themes on the soundtrack.

Shimomura also manages to entertain us with her gradual transition from a lighter tone into darkness and despair, and back again. After returning contributor Utada Hikaru's slightly frosty, solemn approach to mood-setting with the title song "Passion", Shimomura sets up a pleasant atmosphere with a collection of fairly nostalgic themes, some amusing numbers and an amount of tracks that simply seem more exploratory than condescending; interspersed between these are a series of boss themes, that seem to get progressively menacing — of these, highlights include "Vim and Vigor" and "The Encounter". Eventually, by the time we reach the second half of the second disc, the darker pieces seem to occur in an increasing frequency. We feel tension mounting and build our own expectations for the conclusive pieces that we know must be coming. "Fight to the Death" is a powerful track that is very successful, though comparisons to "Forze del Male" might leave it in a slightly less favourable light; "Darkness of the Unknown" manages to communicate the strength of the final enemy without having to sound too forceful or overbearing. The main track that deserves attention on the second disc, however, is "Fantasia alla Marcia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra", which is a thoroughly inspired tour de force, presenting not only Shimomura's talent for creating excellent themes, but also Wada's excelling ability to arrange them. With a faithful nod toward "Dearly Beloved" and "March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra", it deserves all the acclaim that it is likely to receive, being the pinnacle of the soundtrack experience, and leaves Ishimoto's programming failures in the dust with the help of the Tokyo Philharmonic's fantastic live performance. By the time the soundtrack comes to an end, I know I certainly had mixed feelings towards it — I felt disappointed at the amount of repeated tracks, the brief playing times and the loose cannon effect of the synthesizer; yet I also was left breathless from the moments of thorough satisfaction such as in the case of the ending theme and Wada's other arrangements.


The Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack, in my eyes, is one of the biggest disappointments to come out of Square Enix music recently, with the significant other being Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. I can appreciate, however, that there is likely to be a fairly large amount of people out there willing to disagree with me; from this alone, we can deduce that it is certainly an album likely to cause a divide. If you are looking for anything that will prove as stimulating and image-rich as the Drag-on Dragoon 2, Code Age Commanders, or Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ soundtracks, you will likely find yourself severely let down — Shimomura's new contributions, while mostly good, often suffer for being too short and under-nourishing. However, others, who are fond of how the music is incorporated into the game will probably deem it a worthy purchase. Having not heard a great range of opinions in regard to the soundtrack yet, I cannot be sure whether it will be a success or a source of frustration for the majority. I would recommend that anyone still wondering whether to buy it or not should try to get some second and third opinions, and listen to any samples available to get an idea for the feel of the album; I complain about Ishimoto's programming, but it is likely not to bother some, nor are the short tracks, if the popularity of the Super Mario RPG Soundtrack is anything to go by. I would also ask you to read any of the track reviews you might be interested in that I have written below, as they explore the individual pieces in a great deal more depth than the overly concise outline I have given you above.

To summarize the soundtrack, I would have to say that is a messy combination of inspired tracks, underdeveloped, enjoyable compositions and a general sense of unfulfilled potential. While maybe not up to the soaring standards many might have hoped for, you could probably still get away with calling it 'above average'; so listen at your peril!

Overall Score: 7/10

Appendix ~ Track-by-Track Reviews

Disc One

1) Dearly Beloved

Following in the stead of its namesake, the title theme from the first Kingdom Hearts, the new rendition of "Dearly Beloved" succeeds at being easily accessible in its simplicity and straightforwardness, as well as staying true to the original beauty of the melody. Kaoru Iwada, the man responsible for the orchestral arrangements on the original Kingdom Hearts soundtrack returns, with a frank approach to the arrangement of Shimomura's piece, sticking with the original piano lead while adding in some extra accompaniment in the form of strings and a horn. This helps feed a more epic sense to the generated atmosphere. The tempo comes across as being slower and more contemplative than before, allowing us to feel the emotion to a greater degree and soak up the almost melancholy tone. This wistful, nostalgic beginning to the album is a successful one, managing to foreshadow the journey on which we are about to embark as a gamer and a listener, and to capture our attention through use of keenly attractive composition. Anyone who has been eagerly anticipating this release will likely find themselves captivated after the first ten seconds. (9/10)

2) Passion (Orchestral Ver.)

Few would oppose my saying that the original "Hikari" was one of the compositions that really stuck in your head after playing Kingdom Hearts, and through use of the orchestral version in trailers and TV commercials, it was basically set up as the main theme of the game. Utada Hikaru returns to compose "Passion" on this album, and offers us three different renditions just as she previously did. However, for the orchestral version, gone is the central sense of grandeur, making way for a more moody, determined approach. The opening oozes emotion, the strings and brass making a considerably strong, classical entrance, and perfectly sets us up for a heart wrenching melody; this does not come as quickly or as powerfully as might have been expected however. After 30 seconds, the song dies down to a fairly discreet level of volume, and the theme comes out hesitantly, as if trying to maintain hold of its obvious emotional capacity. This builds up the tension, and stretches out for the video it accompanies in the game, but also leaves the listener a little taken aback after such a moving introduction. Rest assured, however, it does eventually regain its footing, and once it does it is every bit as good as its predecessor. It is a drum roll that begins this fine section, and suddenly with the aid of percussion, the piece comes to life, the chord progressions seeming to be more despairing and the overall tone more engaging. It builds to a rapid crescendo, and the passion truly does come pouring out then as the orchestra hits sign out defiance, while the horn takes over as the lead instrument. From this point onwards, the orchestra moves with purpose, heading towards an excellent conclusion of gargantuan proportions — the track finished, a flawed masterpiece.

It is clear that Hikaru, with the help of arranger Wada, wanted to establish the fact that the general light heartedness of the original game is more subdued in Kingdom Hearts II, and that much of the 'discovering' has already been done; this is more of a confrontation with the darkness and the atmosphere, and "Dearly Beloved" and the tracks that follow, reflect as such. As a standalone piece, "Passion (Orchestral Ver.)" is great, but not without its faults, ruling that it must forever live in the shadow of its equivalent, "Hikari -Orchestral Version-". (8/10)

3) Passion (Opening Ver.)

Third track into the album, and we get to hear the "Passion" theme sung out in its most thoroughly mixed rendition — many fans of the original Kingdom Hearts will have been no doubt been anticipating this ever since the announcement of the single release. If you were one those patient enough to wait for this soundtrack, this might be the first time you have heard the song; first of all, I would recommend not building up expectations for an upbeat, catchy J-pop number like "Simple and Clean -PLANITb Remix- (Short Edit)". "Passion (Opening Ver.)" has received quite different treatment, managing to sound more established and thematically balanced than its predecessor; once again, the cold, frosty synth sounds help to distinguish this soundtrack and its darker, deeper undercurrents from any prior assumptions from the previous game. Hikaru's voice blends in with the instruments as well, forming an ethereal harmony that is compelling and memorable in a completely unique way. I especially enjoyed the short bridge at 2:10, where the main instruments die away and allow a groovy synth bass to accompany the gliding vocals. Maybe this idea could have been developed a little more to add interest to the piece, but really, it is perfectly acceptable as it is. "Passion" compliments the prior two introductory tracks on the CD, carefully avoiding the love ballad cliché, and weaving in a techno/electronica style with an almost angelic one to accompany the opening FMV. Does it work? Certainly. It functions well inside and out of the game, and has done enough to secure its place as one of the more successful vocal tracks in the video game genre. (8/10)

4) Lazy Afternoons

The pleasant 'Twilight Town' theme first appeared in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and succeeded in rivalling most of the other area themes Shimomura had created for the first game. The piece was more sombre and poignant that that of parallel theme "Traverse Town", creating an atmosphere not unlike that of "Ahead on Our Way" from Final Fantasy VII. All in all, it was clear, even from the weak Game Boy Advance synth, that it was worthy of being a world theme in Kingdom Hearts II. Now, this soundtrack presents us with the theme as it was meant to be heard, under the title "Lazy Afternoons", only it somehow does not come across quite as well as I might have expected. This, I believe, has a lot to do with synth operator Ishimoto once again, as it is the instrument sounds that ultimately fail to inspire. Right from the beginning, the guitar strums out the nice, familiar chord progressions of the original, yet in a somewhat bland, two-dimensional fashion. It is especially obvious that this is not a real guitar, and after the seamless synth work of many recent video game albums, it really stands out as sounding mediocre — it strikes me as unusual that this would be treated with such negligence, since Ishimoto is actually a guitar player himself. I have no complaints with the vibraphone, or the strings, which are just about passable (though the strings sound like the set used for Final Fantasy VII — there has been better on the PlayStation 1!), but the lead flute also sounds fairly emotionless. What we get, because of this, is an excellent composition that has been relegated to one that is simply 'good' on the album, due to its portrayal. Qualms aside, it remains an enjoyable piece and nicely introduces us to Roxas, his friends and the town itself. (7/10)

5) Sinister Sundown

In the usual series fashion, every area has an accompanying battle theme, and here is the one that goes hand-in-hand with "Lazy Afternoons". Shimomura triumphs in blending light-heartedness with the compelling thrill of battle, bringing back the instruments from the previous track, but stressing their importance in a different order. The vibraphone is brought to the fore for example, and the strings take up the role of main accompaniment, giving the piece a lively, bouncy quality. The main chorus we build up to is not released as strongly as it might have been, but this does not slow down the progression of the piece; in the game, it is clear that "Sinister Sundown" will be successful, and it easily lives up to the world it was assigned. Many would argue that it loops too quickly to achieve complete success, but this is obviously a functional choice on the part of the composer, considering how quickly some of the early battles begin and end; it is probably better that each battle track is short and catchy rather than well-developed and drawn out in this case. (7/10)

6) The Escapade

"The Escapade" is the first of the album's tracks that really does not take itself at all seriously, this being a quality that seems curiously abundant throughout the CD. If it is to take such a format though, it could at least attempt to be enjoyable; or maybe this is just my biased opinion as a listener manifesting itself — as a track to accompany Roxas on a skateboard, it makes a little more sense and is slightly more forgivable, but really, even that does not provide an excuse as to why it is so repetitive and robotic. Speaking of which, the percussion and electric bass give the piece a feeling that does not sit particularly well with the previous two tracks, and appears to be a clumsy placement before the next, unless you want to argue that 'in order of appearance' is a more authentic way of structuring things. This is skippable material by Shimomura and seems to be nothing more than a filler composition. (4/10)

7) Dive into the Heart -Destati-

This is the second piece that has been 'recycled' from the original Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack. That term, however, is more befitting of this piece, seeing as barely anything has been done to the composition at all, and it is only the synthesizer that makes it sound different. The "Destati" theme was one that became synonymous with the first title, perhaps because of its ambitious chorale work, and its frequent use in context — the melody is one that captures your attention, seeming both magical and mysterious at once, and serving to bring out a curiosity in the listener. It was also one of the first proper in-game pieces heard Kingdom Hearts, where the player would first learn of their fate, and choose Sora's battle attributes. So hearing it here is nice, in a sense, further strengthening those ties to the original game; but it also seems a little lazy on Shimoura's part — perhaps this might have been a place in which a new theme could have been introduced? And Ishimoto's synth choir really does not sound very good; the core samples appear to be the same as Yamazaki's set, but the new operator seems to have been fiddling around with some effects on the computer, to ill effect. Instead of sounding more realistic, the new voices seem to have a more limited polyphony, which actually detracts from the original piece. To be honest, I would have preferred Yamazaki's interpretation to be completely reused, but apparently Square Enix did not want to have to pay him any royalties — better off letting Ishimoto have a fiddle, and change things a bit instead. "Dive into the Heart -Destati-", ultimately, falls short of being a reworked version of the original; it is the same, but for a few synth 'tweaks'. Perhaps some people will just be glad to here it on the album; it is, undeniably, a good composition after all and bears with it trickles of nostalgia — but for anyone wanting something new, or another "Dearly Beloved"-style overhaul, prepare to be disappointed. (6/10)

8) Fragments of Sorrow

With expectations eliminated after the previous piece, "Fragments of Sorrow" never had to fear receiving the brunt of the anger or the finger of blame; it is basically just more of the same, with the twist of being more upbeat — it comes across as a nice, compelling choir-centred battle piece that brings about images of fighting at the end of the world in the first game, and in the sacred dream world at the very beginning; my complaint is, I could listen to "Fragments of Dreams" on my first Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack if I simply wanted those. I understand that it is used to good effect once again in the sequel, and that gamers will probably have many other memories tied to the piece after finishing the new game, but it's nothing fresh, and fails to 'wow' me as much as it did first time around. As a standalone piece, this scores slightly higher than its predecessor for being altogether more forceful due to the strings and slightly better paced. (7/10)

9) Tension Rising

Presumably, "Tension Rising" is the spiritual successor to "Destiny's Force" from the original Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, seeing as it retains the darker mood set by the atmospheric 'Destati' themes. If nothing else, the composition is fairly interesting; the first notes we here are those of a church organ, which seems to have an emphasising echo effect working upon it, and before long the pounding drums and some frantic strings help to make your heart start pumping faster. The right ingredients are there and yet, we feel decidedly underwhelmed by the end, because the theme is simply not given enough time to develop in any particular direction, staying suspended on a fairly superficial level throughout. I think it was at this point that I really began to worry about the overall experience of the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack; before the music functioned well in-game and outside, but it was becoming increasingly apparent that might not be the case with the sequel. (6/10)

10) Kairi

"Kairi" was a character theme that was so important in the first game it received three different arrangements. It returns in Kingdom Hearts II, but sounds slightly more mature, marking Kairi's own change in age since the previous adventure. As the love interest, it was essential that Shimomura build up a distinctly feminine image for the character; although in the first game, Sora and Riku might have just appeared good friends to her, the signs were always there that something more might grow out of it, hence the choice to stress the impotance of the Paopao fruit. Kingdom Hearts ended with Sora and Kairi being separated from one another once again, but the FMV and accompanying track "Simple and Clean" definitely seemed to set up a romantic atmosphere — since time has passed, Sora thinks of her as a fond memory, and this track's laid back approach seems to reflect this quality. While not at all a standout track, it remains pleasant, and a necessary reprise. (7/10)

11) Missing You

"Missing You" is an apt follow-on from "Kairi", expressing the deep emptiness in Sora's heart. The piece is comprised mainly of a simple but poignant piano melody that pulls at the heartstrings, making Sora's separation from Kairi an affecting one — the accompanying strings that enter at different points also help to keep the track moving and add to the sorrowful effect; it is possibly the best realised new track at this point on the CD, not at all suffering from the synthesizer operation or grating repetition. It is also a very interesting way to bring Sora back into the Kingdom Hearts picture — this and the last piece show that he has matured since his prior adventures presumably having lost a great deal of his innocence after the battles with the heartless and the mysterious Marluxia at Castle Oblivion. (8/10)

12) The 13th Struggle

Talking of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, track 12 sees the return of one of the boss themes from that game. To be honest, I was not at all expecting Shimomura to re-use these from the Game Boy Advance game, but apparently she already had it's future in mind when composing it — thankfully, unlike the Twilight Town flop, "The 13th Struggle" actually benefits from it's PS2 version, and I can now see what the composer was intending with the piece, despite it's original obscurity. However, Ishimoto seems to have got his priorities wrong; after all, to me, this melody is fundamentally weaker than that of "Sinister Sundown", and a good operation would have been far more successful on that track. Nevertheless, this brings back memories of the mysterious organization in Chain of Memories, and their appearance at this early stage is one that ensures us that Sora will not be able to 'forget' them any time soon. The inclusion of a piano and organ are intriguing, though unfortunately the latter of those choices does not come off sounding as strong as I might have hoped after the fantastic "Forze del Male" from the first soundtrack. I personally like the way that Shimomura merged the "Another Side" theme from the final mix CD into this composition and the surreal section at 1:10 is lovely and mysterious; I would not at all say this is the composer at her peak, but it is still a fairly solid battle piece, worthy of some attention. (8/10)

13) Roxas

Now, we are suddenly back with Roxas' character again — this time, he has been given his own pleasant, modest theme which sounds influenced by the melody of "Missing You". At little over fifty seconds long, it is nothing to rave about, but it is good way of portraying both his seemingly pure nature and, perhaps, his more mysterious side; we are forced to ask ourselves 'who exactly is this character anyway?' As usual, Shimomura's use of piano is fine, and I admire her way of using such simple note patterns without making the final piece seem too basic or completely uninspired. You might find yourself skipping this on repeated listens, but it is not a bad addition, per se. (6/10)

14) Sora

In contrast, we are then given a character theme for Sora. Comparatively speaking, "Sora" is a lot jollier and more fun; you might even describe the tone of the piece as heroic. However, its flaws lie in the same area — that being the development. Although Kairi's theme was also fairly lacking in this area too, it managed to just about progress enough that we were left feeling satisfied, whereas here, the opposite is true, as the track starts strongly, but seems to deteriorate in effectiveness as soon as it loops for the second time. The idea was certainly there, and Shimomura made a valiant effort to transpose it, but I do not really think this is the type of piece that you will remember very well, even after playing the game. It displays a slightly more militaristic aura than Roxas' theme, almost imploring to portray Sora as a soldier, ready to face, with companions Donald and Goofy in tow, the battles that wait ahead. An interesting take on the protagonist, but not, regrettably, one that results in much musical success. (6/10)

15) The Afternoon Street

"The Afternoon Street" is a wistful number that nicely conveys the same mood as "Lazy Afteroons". While we feel at ease listening to such a piece, there is also an under current of sadness and duty, as though there is something this pleasant area seeks to hide. The bells give the track a slightly more magical feel, and Ishimoto's flute sample succeeds at being effective here, creating a surprisingly enjoyable experience. I cannot help but feel, once again, that Shimomura could have expanded upon this idea, but it is nothing that I can change, so I will evaluate it for what it is. Track 15 is nothing special, but is not a composition that deserves to have been left off of the CD by any means, and outdoes the character themes by being more 'complete' in general. (7/10)

16) Working Together

"Working Together" proves a great example of Shimomura's talent to create something really catchy with relatively little — we are introduced to the piece through some pizzicato strings and a steady percussion beat, but this grows in magnitude throughout its duration. Little after ten seconds, a stronger accompaniment comes into support the strangely addictive melody, and we soon find ourselves being strung off on a tangent to another section. In its own way, the track is oddly effective and magical, and supplies us with an enjoyable breath of fresh air after the serious compositions that it has followed. It gives me the impression of training, because it seems to be more centred on having fun, as opposed to defeating threatening enemies. (7/10)

17) Friends in my Heart

"Friends in My Heart" has not changed much from its original rendition on the first Kingdom Hearts soundtrack. It remains tolerable, but is likely a piece that you will skip on repeated listens, and is nothing compared to the much finer "Dearly Beloved", which it borrows it's melody from. Ishimoto's piano and pizzicato strings come across slightly stronger than Ryo Yamazaki's in this case, but the choir voice in the background does the sound no favours. I had hoped that Shimomura might have cut down on these shorter, less interesting pieces for this soundtrack, as they exposed one of the few faults in the original; however, this track proves that they are still very much here. Maybe I would have been a little more open-minded if it was not recycled material, but as it is, track 17 comes across as one of the weakest additions to the album so far; a pure case of simple, but not very effective. (5/10)

18) Magical Mystery

Following on from "Friends in My Heart" required little skill, and it does not sound as though the composer wished to stretch herself when creating "Magical Mystery" either — in fact, were it not for the fact that it sums up the words its name consists of in a nutshell, I would go so far as to say that it was worse than the previous piece. With a watery piano and some curious string chords, the composition appears as though it might have had potential, but making the track loop after less than forty seconds evidently wasted it. Another filler track. (5/10)

19) A Twinkle in the Sky

This is horrible. It is such a shame to see good tracks on the album held back by weak, insignificant ones such as this. I acknowledge that "A Twinkle in the Sky" might be appropriate for some its uses in the game, but otherwise, it is totally boring and uncreative. The use of a triangle and a rainstick for percussion are the only things that remotely caught my interest, with the xylophone and generic melody seeming contrived and bland. (4/10)

20) Reviving Hollow Bastion

After a run of fairly bad tracks, I was delighted to see that a new version of "Hollow Bastion" was on the tracklist; little did I know that it too had been infected by the poorness of the pieces that surrounded it, leaving us with a mess that deserves the title for one of the 'Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack's biggest disappointments'. It seems unbelievable, but the beautiful area theme for Tetsuya Nomura's original fabricated world has been tarnished, and I have yet to place my finger on whether it is Ishimoto's fault, or Shimomura's own. To make such a declaration warrants an explanation I realise, and I intend to give one, though it somehow seems difficult to put my feelings into words. Basically, the opening is promising, with the lead piano being introduced immediately to play out some jazzy notes, but when the main theme comes in everything goes wrong. The transition between 0:13 and 0:27 is, in fact, very messy in itself, and while I can see what Shimomura was trying to do, the choir voices sound muddy and almost off-key. This might have been forgivable, if the main melody had not been slaughtered afterwards in a horrible slowed-down adaptation. We even have an abrupt chromatic shift upwards after 37 seconds, in a moment that seems poarticuarly shoddy and unforgivable! Ishimoto's string samples sound fairly appalling throughout and Shimomura's arrangement perplexes and exasperates me at once; I cannot help but wonder whether I am the only person who thinks it is soulless, because how such a ghastly arrangement could have been approved by the composer is beyond me. This might seem like a harsh opinion, and maybe the new "Hollow Bastion" might grow on me, but for now, I would be prepared to call it one of the worst remakes of a good original piece in recent video game history. (5/10)

21) Scherzo Di Notte

I would love to say that "Scherzo Di Notte" does not suffer from the same problems as its predecessor, but it clearly does. Once again, I don't know whether these general problems were caused by a breakdown in communication by the composer and the synthesizer operator or are merely a personal fiction of my own creation, but for the most part this is bad, bad stuff. In this track's case, if it's any compensation, the original tempo is not compromised and the piano sounds a little closer to that of the original, but all the supporting instruments (especially the violin) are horrendously mastered. By the end, I know I felt highly dissatisfied — maybe others will feel differently? On the bright side, the original composition always was one of the best on the first soundtrack, so this might bring back some pleasant, if hideously distorted, memories. (5/10)

22) Laughter and Merriment

I feel Shimomura and Ishimoto needed to make amends at this point, or face the possibility of the soundtrack degenerating into mediocre drivel. Once again, I reiterate my distaste for conveying so scathing an attitude, since I enjoyed the original CD release a great deal when it first came out; but I think it ultimately has to be said, else others will look forward to a flawless masterpiece that does not, in actuality, exist. "Laughter and Merriment" does reprieve the last few pieces mistakes to some extent, but only at a shallow level — it sounds to me to be very similar to something from the original Kingdom Hearts soundtrack. This is not a bad trait to have, however, and at least the track develops fairly well and fades out seeming complete. I personally really like the use of the vibraphone, and the way Shimomura suspends it on some of the notes to give a nice childish feel; it's almost like a musical escapade within the adventure, expertly exploiting the sometimes juvenile aspect to Disney worlds and characters. (7/10)

23) Desire for All That is Lost

This is the first boss theme to appear on the soundtrack that was not featured in Chain of Memories, and so makes for some fairly interesting listening. The piece is built upon some militaristic drums, a repetitive bass guitar motif, and the odd piano/vibraphone hybrid sound that Takeharu Ishimoto seems to love creating. Upon this, a violin and some strings form the main melody. One good point about the piece is its unpredictable progression and its inclusion of some abnormal chord progressions. As a result, the listener is really given the time to recognize the power of the enemy, making it more successful in its context. The fluid piano solo near the end of the track is a particular highlight, and adds a nice sense of elegance about the enemy that directs us into considering it to be intelligent. If I were to point out a weaker point, it would probably be that the bass line gets a little repetitive, and that the piece does not seem to have the same flair as those featured on the Original Soundtrack for some reason. "Desire for All That is Lost" is, otherwise, a firm addition to the album. (8/10)

24) Organization XIII

It was only a matter of time before the "Another Side" theme made its proper return, and that seems to be here, in "Organization XIII". The main difference people will notice is that the fast section of the piece is not included, this being because it would not always fit the on-screen visuals otherwise; this is the melody in it's rawest form, therefore, with just the piano and choir to get across the nature of the organization. Words that spring to mind when I listen to this piece would include sinister and dark, but it also somehow perfectly represents a cowled, faceless figure, which most of the members of this group appear as, at one time or another. These feelings are simply given off by the way that the composition leads us to feel caution, not overwhelming strength; secrecy, not overt evil. For a piece to do this effectively shows that it is worth merit, and though a great chunk of the development that made the original "Another Side" might be missing, this is still a successful piece. We also feel somehow as though the soundtrack has been leading up to this; we heard the theme in the secret ending clip in the first Kingdom Hearts, heard it pre-empted somewhat in Chain of Memories, and then as an underscore of sorts for this game. Now the theme itself is here — the creeping darkness arrived at last. It was a good choice for Shimomura to introduce this track here, as it sets up some of the moodier pieces later in the soundtrack and also makes you aware that malevolence is afoot. (7/10)

25) Gearing Up

It is strange that we are reintroduced to the gummi ship minigame and its entourage of thematic material just as the tension begins to mount. Never mind — Chip and Dale are back! Luckily, instead of bringing back the annoying "Shipmeister's Humoresque" for the whole creation process, Shimomura decided to give a nice set of new themes to the gummi-loving squirrels, a welcome addition to the soundtrack indeed. The off-key introductory notes in "Gearing Up" are very unique and appetizing, making the introduction of the semi-industrial main section that much more interesting. From here onwards, we are treated to another short but enjoyable piece — this one has a childish clumsiness about it, providing the listener with colourful images as well as a sense of playful optimism. The piece made me think of 'throwing away' money to purchase more gummi blocks and preparing to blast off with little regard for anything else; the whole business is only a bit of fun, and the music bears that truth proudly. It even conjured images of Lego-hobbyists in my mind — and I love that kind of eccentricity! The rhapsodic approach really works too, and the composition is developed fairly well; this means that, ultimately, unlike the previous 'shipmeister's' piece, this entertains me more than it does annoy. (7/10)

26) Shipmeister's Shanty

The only style I could use to describe "Shipmeisters' Shanty" is light electronica — the beginning might have even been able to pass itself off as a retro gaming piece, primarily made up of unnameable synth bleeps, but just eight seconds in, the rest of the accompaniment enters. The track is actually used to accompany the gummi ship creation feature in the game, following on from "Gearing Up", and this will make a welcome change from having to listen to "Shipmeister's Humoresque" throughout all of the different menus. It also holds up quite well in its own right and makes for an above average experience, despite the overall frivolous tone that it is dressed in. It was certainly interesting to hear Shimomura exploring techno-sound a little more, since it is not usually too frequent an occurrence in her scores — anyone who particularly enjoyed it would be wise to look out for the themes to the Tron world further on in the soundtrack. (7/10)

27) Blast Off!

"Blast Off" is nothing to look forward to; it is simply a forty-second track with an overly pompous melody that manages to be very repetitive and annoying at the same time. Aurally, it combines the two different styles of "Gearing Up" and "Shipmeister's Shanty" and puts them together to depict the completed gummi ship departing for use; however, I wish Shimomura would learn that the listeners do not want or need such unimportant compositions on the soundtrack. (4/10)

28) Asteroids Away!

Many people hated the original gummi ship minigame, and some enjoyed it. But after establishing the method of travelling between worlds, Nomura could hardly discard the idea, so instead he decided to redesign the interface for Kingdom Hearts II. Rest assured, it is back in all its brash glory — "Asteroids Away!" is the first of a small series of pieces that are devoted to the minigame, and seems to be a fairly mediocre exploration of the electronica genre. The most notable feature of the track is the integration of the old "Blast Away! -Gummi Ship-" theme from the first soundtrack, which really becomes noticeable after about 37 seconds of listening time. Unfortunately, while effective in its context, it feels like a piece that would not have sounded out of place in a free Internet shooter game and does little to show Shimomura's ability — it also rates as subpar when compared to the aforementioned gummi themes from the first game. (5/10)

29) Crossing the Finish Line

You might consider "Crossing the Finish Line" to be the second incarnation of "Blast Off", since that is was it effectively is. However, instead of being an irritating and monotonous way of accompanying the gummi ship launch, it is used to show that you have reached your destination. Once again, the instrumentation is uninspired, the sound and melody melodramatic, and if you get some kind of wry enjoyment out of it, it is probably not out of technical enjoyment of the composition. Ultimately, this is a throwaway addition, which continues to lower the overall standard of the first CD. (4/10)

30) Waltz of the Damned

Welcome to Beast's castle. A vibrant new world deserves a fun composition from Shimomura, and it gets just that. "Waltz of the Damned" is a finely realised track that goes from being discreetly playful to openly mischievous in just twenty seconds, yet, all the while, something about the tone perfectly fits a gothic castle, and poses a rueful smile toward the relationship between Belle and Beast. The composer is clearly on top form here, and she has created something that has the same bubbly quality of "A Very Small Wish" from the first game. I would not go so far as to say it surpasses that piece, but it makes an admirable attempt regardless. This piece is a much-needed return to form after the run of bad tracks, but seems fairly sudden in its appearance, though obviously something had to follow them. (8/10)

31) Dance of the Daring

"Dance of the Daring" is a fantastic illustration of Shimomura's skill at composing battle themes; not only does the track seamlessly follow on from its area counterpart, but it also keeps intact this lovely sense of movement — we pass from the slower, measured waltz to the pacy dance. The harpsichord arpeggios that accompany the anxious flute seem effortless, and contrast with the speediness created by the strings. Exciting, gothic, and romantic, this is one best tracks on the CD, and we could only really want more of the same for improvement. Beast's world comes across as a very inviting one that seeks to ensnare travellers such as Sora, Goofy and Donald; I think I might have fallen under the spell too! (9/10)

32) Hesitation

"Hesitation" is a great mood setter. In the game, we can imagine the tremolo strings herald danger or backstage manipulation, quite different from the dances and waltzes past. Shimomura prevents the piece from overwhelming the listener with some really nice accompanying instruments, such as the harp and vibraphone, forcing us to feel somewhat claustrophobic, as though we are trapped in the reaches of the lurking darkness; I speculate that it is probably used, however, to show a villain trying to lure the beast toward their retched ways, and it might be subsequently implemented as an underscore for the vengeful Disney antagonists, much like "Villains of a Sort" (which incidentally also features a second time on this soundtrack). Ishimoto, surprisingly, seems to have mastered the synth work in this particular track too, showing himself to be quite unpredictable. Whenever I hear "Hesitation", I cannot help but wish Shimomura kept a standard like this constant, and I love the stormy, horrifying imagery it provokes to the fore in my mind, regardless of its relatively short progression and length. (8/10)

33) Dance to the Death

This is probably the most effective use of tension formation and release that soundtrack has seen thus far. "Dance to the Death" is the boss theme we might have expected following "Hesitation", and nicely weaves in the musical ideas present in the world, as well as labelling the enemy as a force to be reckoned with. Some Timpani beats and a suspended vibraphone get the piece moving, which are then supported by a string harmony and melody, neither of which are particularly impressive in themselves. However, that a nice set of themes have been set up and realised in this world is an achievement in itself; there is also an ephemeral moment of flair just after the one minute mark, but it's unsolved tendencies do not last long and we are lead back round to the introduction. All things considered, "Dance to the Death" is a respectable contribution to the album, if not as primarily catchy as some of the other battle tracks. (7/10)

34) Beauty and the Beast

At just over 40 seconds long, one might question whether this track could have ever had a particularly strong impact on the listener. However, despite its shortness, the original "Beauty and the Beast" theme shines through, and the track ends up, against the odds, being quite a beautiful one on principle. Credit must be given here to Alan Menken for his wonderful original melody, and I am very glad that Shimomura was allowed to add it in this time, as it provides the final touch to the emotive love story arc between Beast and Belle. This is a piece that will undoubtedly please fans of the original film who felt the couple did not get enough screen time in the first Kingdom Hearts and the synth work is spot on here. (8/10)

35) Home of Dragons

Sora, Goofy, and Donald get to go to Ancient China in their latest outing, filled with the cast of Disney's Mulan; this is the area theme for that world. Clearly, Shimomura has chosen appropriate instruments to instil the distinctive Eastern sense, achieving an ethnic feel that I always like to hear in an RPG score. The background accompaniment is centred around a koto and some drum rolls, which makes the job of the lead instrument sample that much easier. As with any piece of this nature, "The Home of Dragons" produces some fairly evocative, cultural imagery even without the on-screen aid, and somehow seems to uphold the principles of Ancient China itself. This is a very favourable trait, and even at little over a minute's length, it manages to stand out as a strong track. (8/10)

36) Fields of Honor

The battle track for the same world seems to be a simple continuation of the mood the previous piece was trying to create, only faster and more suited to a duel. "Fields of Honor" as a title gives an indicator as to what the composer was trying to do, and we get the impression from the way the instruments come to life, float effortlessly around us, and seem at ease while toting the standard of honour, that the inhabitants of the area were born to fight; Sora, Donald and Goofy respect this when fighting the heartless, and, as in the case of many of the other worlds they visit, they are forced to adapt to fit in. This is another excellent addition to the soundtrack with relatively few flaws to worry about, kindly giving the world of Kingdom Hearts a more distinctive, complete feeling. (8/10)

37) Apprehension

When I listen to "Apprehension", I get the feeling that it wants to be something better than it is. It sounds as though Shimomura was debating whether to make it a brave, epic piece or a situational theme for apprehending villainy. Don't get me wrong — it's certainly not a bad track — though I just wonder at exactly what it wants to achieve. Perhaps the inclusion of the valiant horns was to link back the honourable roots of the previous two tracks, but after thirty seconds, some unique percussion enter which do not really fit in too well with Mulan's world. I have not viewed the context in which the piece is played, so it is possible that it synchronises well, but by itself it seems wanting and appears to be indecisive about heading anywhere. (7/10)

38) Vim and Vigor

Now, if the purpose of "Apprehension" was simply to lead up to this track, I respect it more. Many will recognise the opening notes and drums of "Vim and Vigor" from the battles with organization members in Chain of Memories, but it is much better in its fuller form here and is actually one of the best boss pieces on the album. The overall tone of the composition struck me as being much more cinematic than the other boss themes, and the rapid strings around the twenty-second mark emphasise this most of all — it also moves quickly and does not lose its appeal at any point, nicely incorporating the piano sample that makes me think back to the programming work on Final Fantasy X's "The Decisive Battle". On the whole, it is one Shimomura's more inspired tracks on the first CD — a first-rate portrayal of power — and should not be overlooked. (8/10)

39) Cloudchasers

As if in response to my opinion that "Asteroids Away!" was not good enough, "Cloudchasers", the second gummi ship minigame theme, makes a point of following the Ancient China pieces. You can definitely tell that this is from the same ilk as it's predecessor, given that it has a similar repeated phrase that underscores the rest of the piece; this time, it sounds as though it is played by some kind of synth piano, upon which a little interest is eventually added, in the form of a thumping pulse bass and a generic techno drum loop. It is a shame the piano does not develop past it's repeated notes (which remind me of the kind of ambient harmony found in tracks such as "Dithyramb" from the SaGa Frontier II soundtrack), since it showed a degree of promise before it became evident that it would just loop throughout the whole track. The most appealing instrumentation here is the irregular combination of pizzicato strings and a warm synth pad, though neither come across that well in the end, because the composition they are part of is sadly as basic, repetitive, and dull as the music for the gummi ship's last outing. (5/10)

40) Olympus Coliseum

"Olympus Coliseum" returns to the album sounding just as big-headed as ever, arguably the perfect representation for the confident character of Hercules. Just like in the original, the beginning is a pretentious fanfare, which I actually find to be more obtrusive than compelling. Shimomura did make a few adjustments to the middle section of the final composition, but only by putting in some Taiko drums in place of the normal accompaniment — this makes the part of the piece sound a little more subdued, but thanks to the awfully computerised sound of the samples Ishimoto uses, credit for the arrangement is not really easy to give. People who could bear the original will probably find no problem in its second coming, but I find that the same negative traits of the piece remain, and a few more are added on top of that! (6/10)

41) The Underworld

The tone changes dramatically at this point, however, because instead of battling in the coliseum ring like in the first game, Sora, Donald and Goofy travel to Hades' lair — the Underworld. Counting as a new area, it gets its own theme, aptly named after that which it represents. We are introduced to the hellish pits by a strangely contrapunctal marimba, paired up with an organ and some scraping percussive noises; we can sense that we are small in a place that is vast in its magnitude, and there seems to be an almost mythical quality about the choir voices that enter briefly, presumably to constitute for 'development'. I certainly would not say that the composer did all she could to ensure the success of this piece, and think it would have been wise to develop it a little further, regardless of the fact the music in the game would frequently be changing into the area's battle theme. It might have also been nice to see "The Underworld" get some melodic attention, since it seems to stay peculiarly ambient throughout, even though the background notes by themselves do not entertain for long. (6/10)

42) What Lies Beneath

"What Lies Beneath" is a large improvement on the track before, injecting the character I was looking for into Hades' Lair. It also sheds some light on why "The Underworld" did not try to sound particularly menacing — Shimomura first wanted to portray the looming threat of the pits, prompt the listener to think that they can still turn back, and be spared whatever cruel fate might lurk further in the darkness. When the battle theme kicks in, Sora and his company sound as though they have been left for the amusement of the undead; it just somehow has that smarmy 'you can't go back' sense about it, and you can imagine a horde of heartless surrounding the party atop an endless sea of skulls. Ishimoto has also included some fair samples of 'old' instruments to symbolise the ancient creatures from nightmares that Hercules braved in Disney's film. It all comes together really quite well and provides one of the most interesting listens on the CD. This probably would have suited the Pirates of the Caribbean setting well too, but the theme for that world features later, on the second CD. (8/10)

43) Villains of a Sort

"Villains of a Sort" was somewhat of an iconic villain theme in the first Kingdom Hearts game, and in the sequel it gets a fifty-second slot to ring out in all its mysterious glory once again. It almost seems to serve as a reminder that the Disney villains are back as well as the new threat of the organization, leading you to wonder at a possible connection between the two. Nothing has changed here really, apart from Ishimoto's synth working the melody instead of Yamazaki, though the difference is forgettable. There's the same old threatening string chords and it's still too short to achieve any success as a standalone piece. (6/10)

44) The Encounter

It's fairly unorthodox to begin a boss theme with what sounds like a comical 'hurry' section, but that is exactly what "The Encounter" dares to do. A low-pitched recorder plays the main melody, which seems, at first, to be more of a mischievous one than anything else. It takes thirty seconds before we can be sure of its purpose in the game, and that is to mark the introduction of Pete, King Mickey's arch-nemesis. It strikes me as kind of ironic that this follows the Underworld area and battle tracks, but truthfully, it is good enough that it hovers close to the calibre of "Vim and Vigor". My complaint about most of the boss pieces on the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack is that they simply lack the charisma of old classics such as "Squirming Evil", "The Deep End", and "Forze Del Male", but "The Encounter" poses a nice alternative, given the downright menacing character it develops; the shifting dynamics give the track an unpredictable quality, perfectly befitting an enemy that can seem fairly tame one minute, and ruthless the next. Pete's arrival also heralds our foray into the next Disney world, 'Timeless River'. (8/10)

45) Mickey Mouse Club March

Since the Timeless River stage is based primarily around the King, it is only fitting that he has his anthem blasted out a second time. Jimmie Dodd's composition is a charming one, and perfectly captures the playfulness of Mickey Mouse, just as it did in the previous game. Shimomura has left the piece untouched, and any differences you might identify will be as a result of Ishimoto's work on the final sound. I noticed that it lacks the power of the original and seems a little more forced, but we must acknowledge that this was through no fault of Shimomura's own, and in a location where everything is supposed to seem dated and nostalgic, I think we can let it slide. (7/10)

46) A Walk in Andante

The comment for the "Mickey Mouse Club March" basically applies here again, as "A Walk in Andante", too, has simply been remastered for the second soundtrack. The way the track has been presented is such that we feel a kind of fondness towards King Mickey and everything he stands for in the game, and, though not as effective on the album by itself, it still yields the same kind of emotions (only they are not being directed towards anything). The piece radiates the same innocence as its former counterpart, and Shimomura seems to want to portray a cheekiness and curiosity like that of a child through the music. Though short and 'recycled', I could not help but smile at the second appearance of this theme. (6/10)

47) Monochrome Dreams

"Monochrome Dreams" is the area theme for the Timeless River, in which the 'monochrome' obviously refers to the greyscale format the world is presented to us in. Bringing back memories of Walt Disney's most famous creation, and his first appearance in "Steamboat Willie", this lively track was a perfect way to continue the development of Mickey's thematic representation, also forming links with "The Encounter" and the emergence of Pete. A flute plays the main catchy melody atop light, feathery strings, while an oboe and some brass instruments form the quirky background. These are subsequently joined by the Kingdom Hearts staple marimba sample, which takes over the tune for the brief period before the piece loops. Once again, we are left with the impression of cheeky chirpiness, and the playful nature of the piece makes it that much more accessible. (8/10)

48) Old Friends, Old Rivals

Rarely has Shimomura created a battle theme that does not fit with its area music — "Old Friends, Old Rivals" seems to be just another example of the composer's formulaic, but successful approach to giving each world two different pieces. In the case of the Timeless River stage, the sound suggests a desire to keep in tact the pert sound of "A Walk in Andante" and "Monochrome Dreams" while building in that unpredictability of "The Encounter", which foreshadows the return of Mickey's rival. This composition, despite being short, is really quite sophisticated, and I love how it develops so comfortably. It is probably the best example of how to create a puckish mood on the soundtrack, enjoying a similar success as the last game's "To Our Surprise". Like "Dance of the Daring", this is one of the few tracks on the first CD of Kingdom Hearts II you won't want to miss, and it showcases a complete understanding of effective battle mood creation and realisation of intent; I have little doubt that it will work wonders in the game. (9/10)

49) Floating in Bliss

With the past left behind, Sora, Donald and Goofy blast off in search of new worlds to a new gummi ship theme — "Floating in Bliss" happens to be, surprisingly, a fair bit better than the last two, keeping a fragment of the last set of tracks and blending it with "Asteroids Away!". It might not sound very interesting, nor is it, in the great scheme of things, but at least this piece is actually worthy of being on the soundtrack. The beginning obviously draws inspiration from the likes of "Monochrome Dreams", supporting only a piano, pizzicato strings, and a strange computer-generated background noise; this pleasant combination soon evolves to support some more techno samples and, to my surprise, a more emotional leaning with some chord progressions that do not sound unlike those near the end of Kumi Tanioka's "Awakening" on the Final Fantasy XI Original Soundtrack. I have to say, I never saw that coming! Perhaps this change in tone bears some reflection on that of the game itself by this time? (7/10)

50) Winnie the Pooh

The Shermann brothers' classic melody is back in full effect in "Winnie the Pooh". I am at a loss for words to describe the piece really, other than that it is a perfectly functional arrangement of the original tune, and adds the final, faithful touch to the setting in the game. People who enjoy, or enjoyed visiting Pooh's world in animated form on DVD and video will probably like it, whereas those who hate Milne's creation with a passion will probably brand the musical reprise irritating, since it is the signature tune, and those who are apathetic toward the whole affair will likely be indifferent to this track too. Personally, I find every inclusion of original Disney melodies to be memorable, and this is no exception. I know I have complained about bringing back virtually unaltered versions of pieces from the original soundtrack, but in cases like this I can happily make an exception. (8/10)

51) Bounce-O-Rama (Speed up ver.)

The original "Bounce-O-Rama" track surprised me by fitting into the Winnie the Pooh world incredibly well, without really borrowing any material from the Shermann brothers' melodies. In Kingdom Hearts II, the same composition is represented in a hyper 'speed up version', based around a fast-moving percussion line. Shimomura was right to think that such a remix would work, as she has not had to do much to it at all to make it as successful as the original in a more upbeat way. The main difference apart from the drums and bass would have to be the inclusion of the speedy piano notes as a harmony, which add to the compelling rhythmic quality of the piece — it is on top of this base that the original melody (and accompanying instrumentation) is layered and quickened up to keep in time with the beat. I do not think "Bounce-O-Rama (Speed up ver.)" is a track that leaves a lasting impression at the end of the first disc, but it is certainly jolly and humorous anyway, which seems to be one of the composer's highlighted strong points on this album, as also shown by the Timeless River pieces. (7/10)

Disc Two

1) Isn't it Lovely?

Disc Two opens by reintroducing us to Atlantica. Anyone who has been following the progress of Kingdom Hearts II closely will realise that the playable format of this world has changed somewhat; instead of working in the way it did before, the location sees the player conducting a wacky musical, and each piece from that is presented to us on the soundtrack over the first seven tracks of this CD. "Isn't it Lovely?" is an attractive introduction, which effectively represents the sweet character of Ariel, her purity, and also the more mature side of her character that wants to live without Triton's constant protection. The inclusion of bells is standard Kingdom Hearts instrumentation and manages to sound fairly typical of a Disney love ballad, but we also receive a beautiful harp section at around 0:55 that sounds more inspired by the Final Fantasy series — it is as though when creating this track, Shimomura has explored the marriage between the two franchises, producing something that sounds like it might have fit Final Fantasy V as well as it does the sea kingdom of the little mermaid. Developing fully, and avoiding the horrible tendency of looping too soon, "Isn't it Lovely?" is a gem of a composition that raises expectations for the tracks to follow. (8/10)

2) Let's Sing and Dance

I feel loathed to even give "Let's Sing and Dance" a review — it is basically a bunch of sequenced jingles placed next to one another, in what sounds like the answer to a music-based minigame. Why it was included is beyond me, and it is simply the worst track on the entire soundtrack. (2/10)

3) Swim This Way

Already, from the stark difference in quality between the first two tracks, one might not know what to expect from the third. "Swim This Way" is quite a surprise, because it actually includes the vocals used alongside the music in the game. In this way, we have the cast of The Little Mermaid singing the melody that was introduced in the last track alongside the unique sound of the tropical honky-tonk and an odd telephone sound effect. Although repetitive, the singing is very amusing, and the harmonising between the voices is done well. Be sure to check out the section after two minutes, where we can clearly hear (the Japanese) Donald Duck singing along to the tune — he does not get much air time, however, and the song swiftly concludes by setting up Ariel for the next part of the musical. (6/10)

4) Part of Your World

"Part of Your World" is a great attempt by Shimomura to emulate the sound of a Disney song and merge it with her own portrayal of Atlantica. For the opening minute I was not convinced that Ariel's voice was right for the piece and she appeared to have a couple of tuning problems, but the concept itself was a pleasant one, and the bells, piano, and strings were ideal choices to set up the vocalist. It is not until 1:07 that the ultimate fate of the song is decided, and the singer's sudden burst of passion thankfully proves itself to be almost poignant, giving it the boost it needed. Like "Swim This Way", this is nicely done, and works delightfully when paired up with the game; look forward to this in the localized release! (7/10)

5) Under the Sea

Now this is the way to revive a song from the original Kingdom Hearts in style! Shimomura does Alan Menken proud with her arrangement of the classic "Under the Sea", and the use of the singing from the original film piece adds a further cheerful authenticity to the mix. Sebastien's Japanese voice actor does a particularly fine job and tries valiantly to put a Jamaican intonation into his voice. To be honest, it's pretty absurd, but in a good way — "Undaa da zee" my foot. No lie, this song had me laughing out loud infectiously, and plastered my face with a fine sized grin in time for the next song. If only The Nightmare Before Christmas had been given the same treatment... Okay, maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea, but whoever decided on the whole musical format for the second game's Atlantica deserves a pat on the back. (8/10)

6) Ursula's Revenge

This time it's Ursula's turn to whack out a song. Honestly, I always enjoyed the villain's songs more than the love ballads in the Disney movies, because you were given a chance to explore their (usually) deranged psyche — added to that they often just 'talked' to the music with little regard for hitting any notes. It's funny, because "Ursula's Revenge" does not actually sound evil at first, though the tense strings communicate to us that something is afoot in the bizarre underwater palace. Things get a little clearer when the stronger section kicks in and the measured thumps of chords and drums prepare us for the entrance of the star. After a short wait, a commanding voice rings out and Ursula makes her presence known — it sounds threatening and insincere at the same time. We are forced to wonder what is going on in the game, but also realise that even the vocalist was probably trying to sound overly evil for a joke. The composition is actually a competent one too, which all helps to make it sound so funny in the end. Some people will likely think that this whole sequence in the game and the music that accompanies it is immature, but I personally really enjoy it — the show must go on! (9/10)

7) A New Day is Dawning

"A New Day is Dawning" is clearly the conclusion to our musical, and makes a point of communicating to us that the battle is over because Sora, Donald, and Goofy have saved the day. From what I can hear, I assume that the heroes are being congratulated by the inhabitants of Atlantica and are giving a fond farewell before they pass back into gummi space. A joyous and festive song, I would probably be best comparing it to "Swim This Way" and "Under The Sea", which it seems to be a cross between in terms of atmosphere and effect. The singing sections of Sora, Donald, and Goofy are each pricelessly funny, and should be excellent when translated into English. It's also nice to hear a cameo by King Triton, who seems to be as grateful as the other inhabitants of the world, and has a fitting deep voice. As with the previous pieces, Shimomura has done a very nice job with the basic composition, and visibly shines when not limiting herself to a looped one-minute creations. This whole section of the soundtrack, in fact, is bound to be one of the most popular due to its bizarre personality and near-perfect realisation, and almost makes up for the atrocious amount of bad pieces on the first disc. (9/10)

8) Nights of the Accursed

To follow the lengthy musical does not work in the favour of "Nights of the Accursed", but the fact that it is the area theme for Port Royale certainly does. Of all the new worlds to include in Kingdom Hearts II, surely the most unexpected decision was that of Pirates of the Caribbean, a live-action Disney movie. It was certainly an exciting prospect, and one of the two things that interested me most about this inclusion was that we might get to hear arrangements of some of Klaus Badelt's remarkable music score. The theme for the setting does not borrow from Badelt, which is slightly disappointing, but at two-minutes long, it cooks up a fair amount of tension. I mentioned earlier that "What Lies Beneath" might have been effective in this world, but it and "Nights of the Accursed" could not be more dissimilar. This composition is fairly ambient, with the low, brooding strings alerting us to the danger while the choir voices sing an alibi to the Pirate's curse; even the chinking sound effects and tambourine bring our attention back round to the idea of gold and treasure. Yet, despite this, there is no inkling of actual pirate-type, seafaring music; this decision by the composer provides a pointer as to the ghostly, dusty, setting. Shimomura, it would seem, felt that the whole pirate ordeal had been resolved through "Captain Hook's Pirate Ship" and "Pirates' Gigue" and that it would be much more appealing to write something for dingy caves instead. To be fair, it is successful in this endeavour, but leaves us expecting something good and satisfying to follow. (8/10)

9) He's a Pirate

This is a dream come true — Shimomura arranging Klaus Badelt's "He's a Pirate" for Port Royale's battle music. While quite a contrast to the moody area theme, the use of this composition was a perfect way to capture the unforgettable character of Jack Sparrow in the game, and the aid he provides you throughout the battles in his world. The track begins with a recurring note, and a trumpet burst heralds the arrival of the memorable melody — it remains unaltered for the most part from its film counterpart, though the opening section only plays through once before leading into the Captain's main motif. Thanks to the choice of instrument, this has the pirate-like sound "Nights of the Accursed" lacked, as well as a swashbuckling tone that helps you to feel firmly part of the adventure story. Whenever I look at the tracklist for the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack, I can't help but think how amazing it is that "He's a Pirate" was included, and it really makes the in-game experience that much truer to the original film. Another thing I cannot stop myself from thinking, or asking, in fact, is why, of all the pieces on the album, did Ishimoto have to completely ruin this one?

Unfortunately, it is true. One of the tracks that I simply did not consider could be bad has actually been made so, due to one of the biggest programming failures of all time. With talented manipulators such as Ryo Yamazaki and Yasuhiro Yamanaka on the scene, sometimes we take for granted that the synthesizer work is going to be good. I can tell you with confidence, however, that what Ishimoto has done here is worse than MIDI quality. I also don't understand exactly why it is; you might attribute the final failure to the string samples, but they seem to have been acceptable in other tracks. You might say that it was the brass instruments, then, but pieces such as "Vim and Vigor" demonstrated an acceptable set of these too. Maybe it was a failure on both fronts, but whatever it was has had a huge impact on the overall effectiveness of the piece. While the composition does contain the qualities I have already mentioned, alone on the soundtrack it is hard to find any positive comments to make in light of the ridiculousness that such potential has been squandered. This representation infuriates me, because Shimomura was careful to make sure that the original theme was only cut down and barely altered; had it been given to any other successful synthesizer operator, it might have turned out an awe-inspiring addition to the soundtrack — instead it is released a colossal flop and mockery of Badelt's original, and is a sure rival to "Hollow Bastion" for the title of 'biggest disappointment' on the album. (4/10)

10) The Corrupted

Detest toward Ishimoto's work is very fresh in the mind after "He's a Pirate", so it would not take much to inspire another colossal rant. However, "The Corrupted" seems to be conveniently acceptable, and while I don't agree with Ishimoto's grubby organ samples, the piece is for the most part tolerable. The fast-moving strings, frantic piano, and insistent trumpet give reason for us to worry about the enemy we face in the game, and fits with the area theme fairly well. It is not as good as I might have liked, though, sounding very similar to one of the duller pieces from Chain of Memories, having an almost non-existent melody. (7/10)

11) Hazardous Highway

"Hazardous Highway" is the fourth gummi ship theme, and quite possibly the best so far. Incorporating an electric guitar and an overall rock style are just two of the reasons for its success, showing off Shimomura's versatility a little more, seeing as she has composed no comparable piece for Kingdom Hearts in the past. Also, it avoids the annoyance of being overly repetitive, traits that plagued "Asteroids Away!" and "Cloudchasers". We begin to get the impression by this point that the album is leading towards something, and Sora's determination is heightening in response to the constant obstacles that the organization seem to be — this explains the harder edge to this track, and why it seems fixated on leading towards the next world; the synth here is actually fairly good too, and contributes to the success. (7/10)

12) A Day in Agrabah

"A Day in Agrabah" has not changed very much compositionally for Kingdom Hearts II, but synth operator Ishimoto gives it a noticeably different feel with his questionable interpretation. The Arabian flavour is still the core of the piece, and the chords, melody, and accompaniment continue to reflect that well. Shimomura's role in the creation of this track is of little importance, in actual fact, since we already know from the original that it is a solid composition; whether you enjoy it or not will probably depend on how you respond to the synth — whether you can stand it or not. Fans of the original might be put off by the strange instrument manipulation; people who have never heard the original might find it quite a grating listen due to some of the new samples, overlooking the attractiveness of the piece; and for those of us picky with our sound quality, "A Day in Agrabah" is certainly not one of Ishimoto's highlights. Whatever the opinion here though, it still fundamentally succeeds in creating the cultural sense of Aladdin's world, and it is nice to return there as a listener, even if the journey is an imperfect one. (7/10)

13) Arabian Dream

Of all the new track arrangements on the album, "Arabian Dream" is given one of the best treatments by Shimomura. Ishimoto's version again showcases some different samples to Yamazaki's original, helping to leave a fresher impression, and in this particular case, I think the new recruit has done a good job. Shimomura makes some adjustments to the prominence of instruments, and I noticed that the bass came across stronger in this version, though overall, most importantly the whole Arabian influence has been preserved and in some cases enhanced. Between the successful original melody and the track loop used to be a only a continuation of background harmony, but in the new version, a solo sitar has been pasted into that space, which superbly adds the finishing touches to the piece and elaborates upon the tried and tested desert 'twang'. I don't quite understand why the sitar sample in this and the electric guitar in "Hazardous Highway" are so good when the acoustic guitar in "Lazy Afternoons" was so weak, but just that it gives the original Agrabah battle composition the X-factor here is enough, so I feel no need to complain. As catchy and flawlessly representational as ever, this remains one of the best Kingdom Hearts compositions to date. (9/10)

14) This is Halloween

At this stage we seem to be hurtling through the different worlds — one of my personal favourites in the first game was that of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it was fairly exciting to hear that Christmas Town would be making the cut this time, as well as the original Halloween Town. It came as a bit of a disappointment, therefore, to find that no new tracks were added in for the world, but Danny Elfman's fantastic composition, "This is Halloween," is great fun to listen to once again. Shimomura has left the piece at it was on the first soundtrack, with only a few percussion alterations and the synth programming betraying any difference. These changes generally have a detrimental effect, and I think that to get the best of the theme would seriously require some good sample programming. I suppose including the original Elfman classic is an example of better safe than sorry, but it hardly helps to improve the listening experience of Kingdom Hearts II. (7/10)

15) Spooks of Halloween Town

It is difficult for me to know exactly how to review this track without repeating myself. The composer has made some tweaks again, but nothing that will drastically change the listener's view about the piece. The harpsichord comes across a bit stronger in the new rendition, but aside from that, it remains a composition we have already heard, and know fits well within Halloween Town. (6/10)

16)Adventures in the Savannah

The inclusion of Simba as a summon in the first game was a bit of a teaser, since Pride Rock would seem an obvious choice for a world to include in Sora's journey, especially since The Lion King is widely considered to be one of Disney's finest movies. Having a high opinion of the original film and the more recent Broadway production myself, I was certainly looking forward to hearing how Shimomura would represent the world in the second game as soon as it was announced. And here is the first of the two tracks I had looked forward to. Beginning with a surprising choice of synth instrument and a nice brass fanfare, "Adventure in the Savannah" had my attention immediately; the appropriate tribal drum beats come next, not unlike those used to represent Tarzan's world in the first game, and a well-chosen kalimba to act as further background seasoning. The horns that play the main melody and the ethnic flute selection sound very good and show Ishimoto at his peak, while Shimomura nicely builds up the image of a proud race and life in the wild, two quintessential elements of The Lion King. Alongside "Waltz of the Damned" and "Monochrome Dreams", this track is one of the best original area themes on the album. (8/10)

17) Savannah Pride

The battle theme for Pride Rock stays true to the style of "Adventures in the Savannah" but highlights the emphasis on battles in the wild in an even more powerful fashion. The final result is probably something that sounds somewhere between "Having a Wild Time" from the first Kingdom Hearts soundtrack and an action composition by Hans Zimmer — this is fairly appropriate seeing as Zimmer actually composed a fair amount of the original instrumental music for The Lion King, and the tone of his heavy brass melodies is carried over. This is really nice, because it helps the music to fit into the surrounding visuals that much better, complementing the area theme, while also defining a solid identity for itself. "Savannah Pride" is one of the best pieces on the second disc, following the success of "Dance of the Daring" and "Old Friends, Old Rivals" with equal prowess. (9/10)

18) Confrontation

I believe that "Confrontation" was trying to keep the atmosphere of the previous tracks, but depict a more threatening enemy. The addition of the piano, organ, and choir to the instrument set ensure that this is achieved. Somehow, I think that it is slightly weaker than "Savannah Pride" because it tries to balance the repeating-strings idea associated with the organization with the cultural blood-based nature of Simba's clan. It is a good boss theme, and I am sure that it will work particularly well in the game, but, compositionally, it lacks the enriching coherence of the themes it follows, leaving us feeling ever so slightly unsatisfied. (7/10)

19) Space Paranoids

We have seen glimpses of Shimomura's electronica work in previous tracks, but this is the first time that we really get to explore it in any depth. Welcome to the world of Tron, the most technologically advanced location in the Kingdom Hearts universe. The opening is one that will likely provoke your interest, with an unresolved string chord and a meaningful electric piano penetrating our ears first of all — more dissonant chords ring out and a synth lead is introduced, ultimately leading us to the main portion of the piece. Everything about Shimomura's composition is surreal and alien, giving you an idea of what it must be like to be Sora, Donald, and Goofy, who stand in awe of this vast, colourful, yet strange feast for the eyes. We are carried along amidst the chaos and find ourselves transported to a completely different world, and with a fair running time, we really feel that "Space Paranoids" is a well-realised concept. (8/10)

20) Byte Bashing

The battle theme for this mysterious world takes on a harder techno edge than its predecessor thanks to a pulsing synth bass, sounding lovely and programmatic overall. It has the same trance-like quality as "Space Paranoids" and seems to proceed quickly, daring you to keep up with the insane, futuristic barrage of images; add to that an dangerously addictive melody that might send you round the twist, and you have a perfect atmosphere for some 'Byte Bashing'. This continues the long-line of good area battle tracks, and is not one to miss. (8/10)

21) Sinister Shadows

"Sinister Shadows" is an interesting track that seems fairly vague in its intent, yet manages to sound quite good. After the opening piano and percussion set the restless mood, a marimba and some accompanying strings are drafted in for support; the centrepiece of the melody, however, is the horn, which sounds as strong and commanding as you would hope, but also lifts the track from mediocrity. The more serious side to matters seems to be making itself more apparent from this point, and I think it starts off the true road to the end of the soundtrack so to speak. This composition is implacable and gets repetitive, but is fairly innovative despite this, still achieving miles ahead than many of the tracks on the (mostly) awful first disc. (7/10)

22) The 13th Dilemma

Forget 'dilemma'; the music tells us that something very important is going on here. From the dramatic build-up by the rapid undercurrent of the strings and the apprehensive choir to the revival of the "Organization XIII" theme, this track oozes anxiety and power, and we really begin to see the villains emerge from their secrecy on the album. This also marks the return of the fast paced section of the "Another Side" theme, which seems to become a particularly important dramatic device on the album; the villains are moving, and are proceeding with their twisted plans forcing Sora and his friends to regroup for journey to the final battle. "The 13th Dilemma" has that distinctly Kingdom Hearts II feel about it, so fans of most of Shimomura's other new boss battle themes will be at home with this composition, which is possibly the most dramatic in-game piece featured so far on the soundtrack. (8/10)

23) Showdown at Hollow Bastion

Honestly, I was never expecting something like this to appear before the end of the game, but Kaoru Wada seems to have reserved the rights to a small orchestral arrangement for a crucial cutscene. Limitations of the synth gone, Wada manipulates the conclusive parts of the Another Side theme after a short suspended build-up, still fresh in mind after the previous track, and produces something that, for its whole 48 second length, is quite glorious, foreshadowing a certain track featured later on the disc. One of the most startling qualities is the utilization of the Tokyo Philharmonic choir, which adds in an excellent link with the "Destati" themes and amplifies the epic atmosphere considerably, building up huge expectations for the oncoming battle. Regardless of its length, I imagine "Showdown at Hollow Bastion" is used to great effect in the game. (7/10)

24) One Winged Angel

And what a perfect piece to follow — this track needs no introduction. I wouldn't mind hearing Takeharu Ishimoto's excuse for making it sound so poor, though. It was as though, because he had the luxury of including the same choir as in Yamazaki's representation, he decided he could go to sleep without worrying about how bad the rest of the instruments sounded. After all, no blame should be placed on Shimomura, since any comments on her fair arrangement of Uematsu's classic from Final Fantasy VII would have been discussed in regard to the Kingdom Hearts -Additional Mix- Final Mix album, on which it was originally contained. "Hollow Bastion", "He's a Pirate", and now this — poor show Ishimoto. On a slightly less relevant note, I think it's a shame that "One Winged Angel" has to be the only Final Fantasy tune arranged — perhaps, for this second fight against Sephiroth, Shimomura could have tried making an arrangement of her own using "Those Chosen by the Planet" and "Birth of a God" as a basis. I suppose that would require more copyright agreements, though. I think it is disappointing that this is such a feeble attempt, especially after hearing the authenticity of the previous piece and its real, pre-recorded choir. (5/10)

25) Battleship Bravery

"Battleship Bravery", the final gummi ship theme, actually manages to reflect the importance of the mission that lies ahead by purporting an 'into-the-unknown' style intuition. The instrumentation is sensible, supporting a harp, strings, horn, and a percussion line, but don't let this fool you, because the composition and how each of these instruments come across in the piece is very unique, and displays that Shimomura is not afraid to experiment. Despite having some positive aspects, it also has a share of negative ones, one being that it sounds quite cluttered and messy; it would appear as though the composer let her bizarre intentions run a bit too far, resulting in some sloppy sequencing, and an underwhelming complete form. Thankfully, the composition's stronger qualities ensure that the climatic atmosphere is not broken, and we are perfectly prepared to face the final area by the end ... (7/10)

26) Sacred Moon

In the same way as "The End of the World" from the first soundtrack, the climatic nature of the last area piece is made apparent very quickly. Although it doesn't feature a technically-mastered or realistic choir, its almost melodramatic presence from the start adds the ethereal, fateful touch that Shimomura obviously had in mind — the use of the harp is fairly predictable, but we do not really mind by this stage, simply because of the incredibly tense atmosphere it builds up. Personally, I found the most inspired moment in the track to be at 40 seconds, when a supporting piano comes in, and delivers an ominous enormity to the location itself, not unlike that of the original "Hollow Bastion". "Sacred Moon" is a good start to the final section of the soundtrack, and will work very well in partnership with the mysterious world it accompanies in the game. (7/10)

27) Deep Drive

This track name might deceive some people into thinking of a another resurgence of the "Another Side" theme as played in the affectionately named 'Deep Dive' trailer; while posing some relevance to that initial clip we were shown, the music composition is actually quite different, being essentially a continuation of the "Sacred Moon" theme, perfect for the battles in the final world. Instrumentation similarities are enough to convince us that the two will blend together very well in their context, and once again prepares us for the final battle that obviously waits not far ahead. The most attractive quality of this piece is its use of the piano alongside a hasty rhythm, which seems to work peculiarly well, especially for a battle scene; entirely conveying the strength of even the normal inhabitants of the area. "Deep Drive" keeps us on high alert, aware of the danger that surrounds Sora and his friends and brings us round nicely to the final character theme of the soundtrack. (7/10)

28) Riku

Riku is one of the most complex characters in Kingdom Hearts, as you are constantly forced to wonder whether he will ultimately become a friend or foe. I think his music theme very much mirrors this duality, and probes at the idea of the twilit road down which he claims he will travel in Chain of Memories. The victim of manipulation in the past, the piece also has a slight sense of regret about it, as well as communicating the more direct feeling that we are nearing the end of the quest, and that the dark machinations and impending clash between good and evil are about to collide, with Riku right in the middle as usual, forever the enigmatic figure that you want to ask so many questions. The main instruments used here are similar to those from the previous tracks, primarily comprising of a harp, strings and a piano, while the overall tone is actually reminiscent of the Legend of Mana theme, and certainly has the makings of greatness. If only it were not so short! (8/10)

29) Courage

"Courage" is the last track before the series of final battles begin, and so one might have expected something a little better than what we actually get given here. It sounds to me to be somewhat of a merge between the themes of Riku, Sora and the Organization, and is no doubt appropriate in its intent, but Shimomura did not really seem to get across the enormity of the task ahead. It might just be it's placement on the album, but honestly, I think "Riku" might have been the better bridge, having a more conclusive feel about it, as I mentioned before. (6/10)

30) Disappeared

With no further ado, the battles we have come to expect are here — "Disappeared" actually featured in the Final Mix version of the first Kingdom Hearts in Japan and so is not actually new material at all, already accompanying a battle with an organization member (or 'unknown' as they were nicknamed at that point). Having said that, its atmospheric presence is undeniably appropriate, and will likely be a hit for anyone who did not catch it first time around. It also fits surprisingly well into the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack as a boss track, since it contains that same standard use of fast-paced strings; boasting a longer track time than many other tracks of its kind, the composition also has the luxury of building up to its main section for a whole 55 seconds. The listener feels the tension and obvious power becoming increasingly evident as the choir wail out their song to the rising volume of background sound. The percussion eventually enters too, allowing us a little more time to fathom the strength of the opponent we face, before erupting into its core battlescene glory. At this point, we can imagine Sora's desperate attempt to put an end to his enemy, but cannot really resist the feeling that everything is dropping into a mass of darkness. By including this composition a second time, Shimomura has created an excellent foundation for the following battle pieces to work on, and secured a perfect fretful atmosphere for these vital events to take place to. (8/10)

31) Fight to the Death

Although it is not always appropriate to draw parallels, the similarity in approach to "Forze de Male" as in "Fight to the Death" is indisputable, despite the lack of a dominating organ. That each is used at a similar pivotal point in their respective games also means that comparisons will likely be made between the two — let me state from the outset that I personally find this track to be the weaker of the two. That does not mean that it is not good, however, as quite the contrary is true. The first sounds we hear are a choir and a short piano introduction, before the obligatory strings and brass come in to underscore the background, marking this as another boss track. However, as in "The 13th Dilemma", it becomes increasingly obvious that the piece is much more important and is another great representation of deadly power, despite being not quite as successful as "Forze..." The piano runs at 0:32-0:45 are fairly successful, but are not as strong as they might have been if the instrument continued to be the dominant choice in the rest of the piece; they serve as a nice link with the strongest and most poignant piano work which begins at 1:07 though, which ultimately communicates to us that Shimomura had something great going on here, but it was released without being as well refined as might have been hoped. It is also interesting to note that there is a brief reprisal of "Dearly Beloved" in the latter stages of the piece — the lack of force over passion implied to me, in fact, that maybe the battle in which this is played is more emotionally significant than that of the one against Ansem and Dark Riku, and it may deserve even more credit than I have given it on my first impression. (9/10)

32) Darkness of the Unknown

Before we have time to get our breath back, the final battle music arrives, and with it the ultimate evil force in Kingdom Hearts II. In a similar way to "Guardando nel Buio" on the first soundtrack, Shimomura elected to put more emphasis on the portrayal of sheer size over the overwhelming evil, playing up to the stereotype that a perfect villain is cold and free of sentiment; undoubtedly, this piece is about power, but in a more acute, finely channelled way. The opening is made up of a piano, a synth bass and a percussion beat, though the choir soon enter to provide a raw sense of supremacy for the enemy — this idea of feeling fairly light is achieved, just like in the first Kingdom Hearts, where you got to glide throughout the whole battle, the only way of allowing you to explore the enemy's enormity. A similar effect is apparent here, though it is not long before the underscoring strings arrive once again, turning the composition towards the usual kind of boss theme format featured elsewhere in the soundtrack; this got me worried, on my first listen, because I thought that the whole piece might end up just being like that, but thankfully with four and a half minutes to play with Shimomura manages to get things back on track and set herself up for something quite epic. The aforementioned boss-styled part ends at 1:35, where a fairly generic organ run hides a fairly heavy piano concoction; this grows in magnitude though over the next twenty seconds or so, but tricks us by seemingly coming to no resolution at all. Until the accompaniment drops away to let the piano and choir go solo for a while, when the heroic phrase featured before takes over again — from here on, the accompaniment is layered back on progressively and the piano melody by 3:45 becomes something quite bittersweet and beautiful. It is as if the first part of the piece was all about showing the ruthless evil of the enemy, the second Sora's determination, and finally we experience the will-to-live scenario and sense the hero's resolve and willpower coming to the fore to motivate his body to continue on with the battle. I think it is admirable that Shimomura has managed to make her most indirectly dangerous sounding theme yet through taking chances with varying tempos and moods — we really feel as though we are experiencing the battle to end all battles. Be sure to look forward to its use in the game too, as its mastery for the different forms of the final villain is very fitting and successful too. (9/10)

33) Passion (After the Battle)

"Passion (After the Battle)" actually seems surprisingly appropriate following "Darkness of the Unknown", and comes across better for doing so. I personally love the way that everything seems uncertain, and we wonder at what cost the final victory comes at; the song is less coherent than the opening version in that it can be broken down into the 'singing' half and the instrumental half, but at the same time it seems a lot more fitting and 'passionately' delivered. Utada Hikaru sounds like she knew exactly what she wanted to do with this version, incorporating her vaporous vocal talents to sum up the surrealism of the final battles and implant the lingering memories of friends in Sora's head. I might go in to more detail about the specifics of the composition, but I think that it is best hear for itself, and you will see the contrast between the "After the Battle" and "Opening" versions and likely be able to come to your own conclusions as to what the composer wants us to feel. The strings that continue to build upon the techno background sounds toward the end of the song leave us feeling hopeful, rather than elated, and clear the path for Shimomura and Wada's orchestral ending theme. Although parts of this song might seem repetitive or sparse, be sure to give it a good listen, because it does not at all deserve to be ignored, even if it's not a "Hikari" (or "Simple and Clean") beater. (7/10)

34) Fantasia alla Marcia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra

Any complaints you might have about the soundtrack, any issues you might have with Ishimoto, and any disappointed feelings you might hold in regard to Shimomura's work on the soundtrack — forget them for a time. Allow a period to immerse yourself within the orchestral grandeur of the ending theme, the defining moment of the soundtrack. Now, "March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra" was considered by many to be one of the strongest pieces on the original Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, right up there with "HIKARI - KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version" and "Hollow Bastion", boasting that it could have passed off as a good ending theme for a Disney movie. "Fantasia alla Marcia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra", in my mind, is the best composition on the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack, no questions asked. Previous tracks might have been catchy, fun, effective, and such, but this is simply the closest moment to perfection you will find on the whole album, surpassing even the lovely "Dearly Beloved". It is hard to write this without explaining every aspect of the piece and what makes it so great, because it inspires me that much.

Basically, "Passion (After the Battle)" has just ended, on a 'hopeful' note as I have already specified. The beginning of "Fantasia..." sees a woodwind instrument float on the air for a moment, slowly allowing the string and brass instruments to make themselves known; that the Tokyo Philharmonic has returned is blatantly obvious due to the sound quality, but the live performances begins to come into its own when we hit the fanfare at 0:25. At this point, the instruments all become more lively and jolly, as though celebrating a victory or making preparations for a party of some sort; it has that affable, clumsy tone that Shimomura is well known for, but Wada's arrangement for orchestra fully realises it. The remainder of this first minute of playing time actually reminds a little of Hitoshi Sakimoto's style, or something that might have been taken from the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance soundtrack in particular, which is a pleasure, of course. This style subsides after a short time to make room for the main theme from "March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra", a welcome return indeed, and asserts itself it many ways as the definitive Kingdom Hearts theme tune. The orchestral performance of this part of the composition is every bit as good as it was before, and the way it seamlessly moves into the "Dearly Beloved" theme shows Wada's first-class arrangement skill — this reprisal comes across stronger yet, as we hear a burst of the Philharmonic choir, some passionate piano work, and a fervent horn conveying the utmost heroism; an immensely rewarding experience for defeating the final boss in the game.

And yet, the end of the "Dearly Beloved" section only marks the half-way point of the track, and if we were given time to think, we might wonder exactly what Shimomura could build in next; we are not given this comfort, however, as suddenly the brass instruments seem to have a harder edge to them, and the pianist's hands leap about their instrument, imitating the runs in "Fight to the Death". The percussion in the background noticeably takes on a faster militaristic sound, an understandable progression from the previous march — for a few seconds of anticipation, we wonder exactly what Shimomura and Wada have in store for us next. The chorus return on top form, and chant in harmony with the central horn that pushes to the fray; "Destati" has returned. The threatening male voices sing with a distinct coldness, so as to pay homage to all the enemies that have threatened the Kingdom Hearts universe in the past. When the female sopranos reach the same level of prominence, the choir is singing the infamous theme in what is probably its best rendition yet, outdoing the previous soundtracks bonus track, and feeling altogether more consistent and part of a much bigger picture. "Fantasia..." seems to be summarizing the entire storyline of the game so far, and we now plunge into the fateful darkness of the mysterious dream world both Sora and Roxas visit near the beginning of each instalment in the franchise. And then, with a deft suddenness, the piece shifts yet again, into the most spine tingling rendition of the "Another Side" theme, the "Showdown at Hollow Bastion" preface making so much more sense when placed within the "...alla Marcia". With no pause to speak of, Wada brings us back round to "Dearly Beloved" again, this time with the choir supporting the full ensemble, and adding that extra touch that it can, suddenly sympathetic and the female voices in particular coming across as more 'angelic', for want of a better word.

But it does not end there, as we are treated to an encore performance of the "March..." melody, once again establishing its importance and perhaps Shimomura's desire to make it the series theme. And what a performance it is; starting off quietly after the previous section's dynamic crescendo, the march builds itself gaining momentum leading towards 6:51, and the re-emergence of the choir. It is at this point that we build up to the final, breathtaking coda, which leaves us fully content and bathing in the glory of the triumphant partnership that is Yoko Shimomura and Kaoru Wada. "Fantasia alla Marcia" is not only a masterpiece, but also a track that will likely live on in the hearts of fans for a long time to come, unless it is bettered in another sequel. At this stage, I would not hesitate to consider it among other favourite ending themes, and am convinced it would hold up well against all of them — if you buy a copy of the album, this is the track to listen to. (10/10)

35) Destiny Islands

Hot on the heels of the masterpiece "Fantasia alla Marcia...", Kaoru Wada turns his sights to the "Destiny Islands" theme, which never really got used in the sequel. Though some are likely to find it a little anti-climatic following the last track, it also deserves admiration for its pure beauty. The arrangement features some truly elegant piano and string harmonies, and the acoustic guitar has a very positive effect indeed, setting up a lovely romantic atmosphere. If only more of these orchestral renditions had been recorded — they seem to be so successful, after all, and Wada knows exactly what to do to bring out the evocative qualities in Shimomura's original compositions. Roll on a Wada arrange album, I say! (8/10)

36) Hand-in-Hand

Length not permitting, "Hand in Hand" is another great arrangement by Wada. Although not quite as strong as the dreamy new version of "Destiny Islands" it manages to cook up a fair few pleasant memories, and had it been extended further to make the use of the orchestra really worthwhile, I am sure it would have been a thoroughly enjoyable piece. Nice, anyway. (7/10)

37) Dark Horizons

The live performances continue with "Dark Horizons," another Wada arrangement. This is sinister stuff, and totally reeks of sequel material — presumably, some knots are left untied at the end of the second game, and director Nomura has once again set himself up for another instalment. Shimomura, as with "Another Side," has been forced to think ahead a little, and builds up tension with the beautifully dark strings and horn; when these instruments part for the piano and choir, things get especially interesting, and we feel as though we are witnessing an important revelation, and a sure cliff-hanger. A darkness gathers upon a black horizon, but who is it? What does it mean? You will have to play the game to find out! (8/10)

38) Dearly Beloved -Reprise-

We arrive at the last track then, which follows the trend of the original Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, by being a reprise of the classic "Dearly Beloved" theme for a single piano. The minimalist approach of Wada's arrangement is fitting and conjures feelings of nostalgia, but is unlikely to prove a definitive experience, especially not when you recall just how good the orchestral arrangement was, at the beginning of the first disc. It seems to have a 'farewell-until-next-time' tone; especially apt after the menacing "Dark Horizons" set us up for another potential sequel. Well, all imperfections considered, if Kingdom Hearts III does become an actuality, I will be very interested to see how the music turns out, especially when you ponder over the potential some of the compositions on this soundtrack have, despite their length. Here's hoping for an even better next soundtrack! (7/10)