Posted By Robert H. about 10 months, 3 weeks ago
After discussing the groundwork music of Kingdom Hearts and showing the payoff in the first two sequels to the original, it’s about time I finish off writing about the Kingdom Hearts series with all the other games in the series so far. After all, even if Kingdom Hearts Re:COM and II were a showcase of how the music could be expanded, they also laid down new musical tracks to be referenced even further down the line alongside the newly-made songs. We have four games to showcase and limited space to do it, so let’s not waste any more time. Join me as we look at how far Kingdom Hearts music has come since its not-so-humble beginnings.
Luckily, two of the games can be summed up relatively quickly due to their reliance on older worlds: Re:coded and 358/2 Days. Both games contained the now standard minor remixes of well-known themes, such as the songs associated with Hollow Bastion and Olympus Coliseum. However, they both also contained a few original songs that deserve to be recognized. For example, “No More Bugs!” from Re:coded has a great energy and computerized sound to it that fits very well with the overall tone of the game. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the theme of Xion and the above-shown “Vector to the Heavens” from 358/2 Days, a beautifully sad piano piece for a tragic character that mixes Kairi’s theme and a great remix of Sora, Kairi, and Xion’s themes that fits the boss in question perfectly with its somber mood and off-sounding tones. There aren’t too many new songs in these two smaller entries in the Kingdom Hearts series, but the songs that were added are impressive and worthy of notice.
The other two games, Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance, have an almost completely opposite situation. The vast majority of both soundtracks are original, although many of the songs either have the expected references to related themes or are significantly changed remixes of previous songs. Even considering the mostly new set of tunes, the games clearly have the most influence from previous entries and, in my opinion, present the strongest soundtracks in the entire series because of it.
Birth by Sleep is a prequel to the rest of the Kingdom Hearts games and, as such, sets up numerous connections between the events of the game and the events of chronologically later entries. Naturally, those connections lead to many songs taking hints off other themes, such as the somber theme for playable character “Ventus” having clear sections of both Sora and Roxas’ themes within to hint at his relation to the two as well as convey his sad situation. “Unbreakable Chains” the music for Ven’s final boss battle, is another good example, using Ventus’ Theme, the boss’ standard battle theme, and pieces of Sora’s theme to make a truly epic piece that befits such an emotionally-charged battle. However, the best instance of musical connections in Birth by Sleep are the boss themes “Dismiss” and “Forze dell’ Oscurita.” The first is the final boss theme and takes sections from character theme “Terra,” the previously-mentioned “Fate of the Unknown,” and the old-standard “Destati” due to the importance the boss has to not only Birth by Sleep, but the entire series. The second is the toughest extra boss’ theme that combines “Darkness of the Unknown” and “Forze del Male” considering his relations to both of the previous main antagonists. Both end up as epic tracks that fit their respective bosses perfectly and make excellent usage of ominous chanting alongside other instruments to make something truly amazing.
Those referential songs aren’t the only tracks that stand out however. Just like every other main series game, Birth by Sleep adds its own impressive set of completely original songs that impress in exactly the same way. “The Silent Forest” and “The Rustling Forest,” the standard and battle themes for the Sleeping Beauty world of Enchanted Dominion, use their relatively simple instrumentation to great effect, creating a very somber level theme and an orchestral-sounding battle theme with a strong base respectively. Meanwhile, “Night of the Dark Dream” goes for a very different mood, with an off-sounding instrumentation and melody that showcases the odd location in question. “Unforgettable” presents a rather different sort of battle theme that uses a strong violin to give each battle in which it plays significant weight. Each new song leaves a distinct impression nearly as strong as the more traditional themes for the series and rounds out an already awesome soundtrack.
Dream Drop Distance is very similar in theming to Birth by Sleep, with a good portion of the tracks having clear references from previous songs and the rest mostly being great new music to fit the new locales and overall feelings of the game. Old favorites like “Traverse Town” and “Hand in Hand” get calmer and even better remixes in “Traverse in Trance” and “Hand-to-Hand.” Many of the final boss themes, based on repeat performances from previous villains, are remixes of the many boss themes I’ve mentioned already in previous articles, like “L’Eminenza Oscura I and II” and “L’Oscurita dell’Ignoto” being updated versions of “Guardando nel Buio” and “Darkness of the Unknown” respectively. New level and boss themes abound as well, with songs like “Majestic Wings” granting every boss battle with the Dream Eaters a real sense of adventure with a triumphant horn section and level, battle and otherwise, themes like “Digital Domination,” “All for One,” and “La Cloche” providing both a perfect fit to their respective levels and significantly different song types that still maintain a strong cohesion to one another.
This is where I’m going to have to stop. I could talk about how “The Eye of Darkness” provides a great final battle song for Dream Drop Distance because it remixes “Destati” into an intimidating battle theme. I could mention how “Mystic Moon” manages to make an already mournful song have even more emotion and weight behind it to perfectly fit the momentus occasion when it plays. I could even gush about the fact that they actually brought in Fantasia songs for the world based off the movie, including the iconic “Night on Bald Mountain.” However, there is only so much that can be said about the best kinds of music. In the end, the only way to truly appreciate such music is to listen to it personally. Kingdom Hearts, throughout its many years, has proved to contain some of the best music and musical theming in all of gaming and I have no reason to believe that will stop anytime soon. I’ve spent three articles now doing the best I can to convey exactly why I feel that way and I can only hope that I’ve succeeded in some sense. If you ever find the time, listen through the various soundtracks for the Kingdom Hearts series for yourselves. I may have said it twice previously, but I believe it bears repeating one last time: you will not be disappointed by the experience.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.