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Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack :: Review by Totz

Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack Album Title: Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Toshiba EMI
Catalog Number: TOCT-24768/9
Release Date: March 27, 2002
Content: 2 CD Set - 76 Tracks
Purchase: Buy at Square Enix Music Archive Music Store


Throughout the generations, there have been many partnerships that have worked: Abbott and Costello, Ratchet and Clank, Bill and Ted, Regis and Kathie Lee, Ben and Jerry, the list is endless. But none has been as successful as the one between Disney and Squaresoft. "Why?," you ask? Simple: Kingdom Hearts. What makes the game so great is a combination of excellent plot + superb gameplay + outstanding pieces. I'm here to address the last aspect of the "great game combo pack".

The person chosen to do the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack was veteran composer Yôko Shimomura, widely known for her work on the Parasite Eve and Legend of Mana. And what a great choice it was! Shimomura showed us once again she is the master of battle themes and simple enjoyable melodies. And the ever present vocal theme isn't short of amazing either. J-Pop star Utada Hikaru gives us the wonderful "Hikari" ("Simple and Clean" outside of Japan), which is one of the few vocal tracks that doesn't suffer when re-written in another language.


The soundtrack opens with a beautiful piano solo called "Dearly Beloved," which goes to show that a) Shimomura does wonders with a piano and that b) piano in VGM = good. The melody couldn't be simpler, and the result couldn't be better. There is an arrangement (it's more like the same piece in a different instrumentation actually) at the end of the soundtrack, entitled "Dearly Beloved - Reprise" and it's more for closure than anything; it's very similar to what Mitsuda did in the Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack. The piano appears on several other tracks, but I'll discuss that later.

One of the great things about this soundtrack is how diverse the same theme can be. You can see an example of this right on the second and third tracks, "HIKARI - KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version" and "Hikari - PLANITb Remix," respectively. While the first takes the basic "Hikari" melody and arranges it into one of the most astounding orchestral pieces I have ever heard, the second is something I would expect to hear in Final Fantasy X-2, i.e. something completely different than what you would expect to listen in this Original Soundtrack.

It's funny how I discuss a lot of different "Hikari" versions, yet gave the original not a proper evaluation. Written and performed by Utada Hikaru, it is straight-out J-Pop, but please hear this out before you complain about how everyone adores the Japanese and yada yada yada. I'm not a fan of anything with a "Pop" in its name, but I really like the piece. And if you've played the game, you'll know that it fits perfectly the scene it's played in.

If you consider "Hikari" as the love theme, then you might as well consider "Destati" as the evil theme, or something to that effect, because everything associated with it is bad: "End of the World" and "Dive into the Heart," most notably. All great pieces on their own, but even better when taken into context. I won't spoil as to when each track is played, but be sure to think about it if you play the game.

As you probably know, the universe of Kingdom Hearts is divided into several worlds, and, obviously, Shimomura had to compose two pieces for each: the world's theme and the world's battle theme. And it's not easy to write two pieces that can fit each place and can bounce off each other, because there is a seamless transition between the aforementioned pieces in the game, but she did it. Let's look at Wonderland, for example. There's the world's theme, "Welcome to Wonderland," and the world's battle theme, "To Our Surprise." You can easily see both retain the same style, which features a bouncy "happy" melody. The exact same thing happens on Tarzan's world, the Deep Jungle. The world's theme and the battle theme work perfectly together, and I want to emphasize 'perfectly'. Truth be told, this happens in every world, from "Traverse Town" and "Hand in Hand" all the way to "End of the World" and "Fragments of Sorrow."

Being a piano player myself, I really like Shimomura's constant use of it throughout the soundtrack. You may remember the piano in such tracks as "Traverse Town," a laid-back track with a jazzy feel, and "Scherzo Di Notte," a powerful battle theme that accompanies you while you fight your way through the heartless-infested Hollow Bastion. Yep, you heard me right, a battle theme. Shimomura goes way out with the piano, and it's not there to serve as a support instrument; it's carrying the melody. You can also hear the piano in another battle theme, "Night of Fate," this time taking a less prominent role.

We can't forget about Disney, can we? Shimomura also had to arrange some famous pieces for the game, those being The Little Mermaid's "Under the Sea," The Nightmare Before Christmas's "This is Halloween," and Fantasia's "Mickey Mouse Club March." But what can you say about those? All are excellent tracks, especially "This is Halloween," composed by Danny Elfman. I was also hoping to find an arrangement of Genie's theme from Aladdin, but it's not there. Oh well, life goes on, I guess.

Unfortunately, this album is not perfect. A problem I see with recent soundtracks is the overabundance of arrangements of the same theme. There are 3 very very similar renditions of Kairi's Theme (aptly named "Kairi I," "Kairi II," and "Kairi III"), and the theme from "Friends in my Heart" also appears a good number of times. I really don't like this kind of thing, because it clutters the soundtrack, as you end up having numerous versions of the exact same theme. Final Fantasy X showed us this with their eleventy billion different "Song of Prayer" themes. But that's not the only problem. There are also some filler tracks that add nothing but bad taste to the album; pieces such as "The Heartless Has Come" and "Miracle" are just, well, horrible. They fail their purpose, whatever it was, because they're dull.

Enough about bad pieces. I wanted to save the best for last: orchestras. There are two orchestral tracks on the Original Soundtrack: the already mentioned "HIKARI - KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version" and "March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra." Even though I would have liked some more orchestral tracks, it wouldn't be fair to say these tracks don't make up for it, because they do. I just think it's not good that these pieces are played in relativetely unimportant places. The former is played if you don't touch the controller for a few minutes in the main menu, and the latter is played during the credits. Someone should release a "Kingdom Hearts Orchestral Album," but that's not important here.


What's important is that this soundtrack is a must-have. I had never heard of Shimomura before playing the game (even though I had played Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars way back when), but now she's one of my favorite composers. If you're a fan of the Seiken Densetsu / Legend of Mana Original Soundtrack, there's a good chance you'll like this one too. There are some tracks that really remind you of Legend of Mana, like "Destiny Islands," for example. Listen to it and tell it doesn't sound similar to "Pastoral," I dare you. Anyway, the words "Composed by Yôko Shimomura" should be enough to warrant a purchase. Just like her previous works, this album is fantastic, and you will be missing out on a lot if you don't give it a listen. You'll like it, trust me. And if you don't, well, you're wrong then.

Percentage Overall Score: 95%

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