Posted By Robert H. about 8 months, 1 week ago
Two weeks ago, I talked about the original Kingdom Hearts and explained how the game not only provided a great soundtrack, but also laid the basis for the strongest musical theming I’ve ever seen in gaming. As such, it’s only natural that I talk about the payoff for that groundwork through the many sequels the Kingdom Hearts series has spawned. However, there are honestly too many songs that would go unmentioned if I tried to cover all of them in this one article. So, this time, I’ll limit myself to talking about the two direct sequels to the original game: the PS2 remake of the original Chain of Memories on the GBA, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, and the only true numbered sequel in the franchise, Kingdom Hearts II.
It would be best to start with Re: Chain of Memories as, due to the storyline consisting of going back through the majority of the first game’s worlds under the pretext of exploring Sora’s memories, much of the game’s soundtrack consists of songs repeated from the original outing. Granted, there are still some minor variations to many of the tracks to fit with the overall theme of the game, the most noticeable for me being the changes made to “To Our Surprise” and “Monstrous Monstro,” the battle themes for Wonderland and, shockingly enough, Monstro respectively. While other songs were changed more significantly, the game also introduced many new themes that became series mainstays, such as the very calming “Lazy Afternoons” theme for the new Twilight Town world and “Namine,” a theme for a character of the same name that distinctly borrows from Kairi’s themes due to the relation of the characters.
However, the most notable trend among the new music is the clear influences from “Another Side,” the song I discussed last previously as the main basis for the theme of the villains of KHII, Organization XIII. Considering the prominent presence of the group in this title as well, nearly all the themes that play when they are involved reference “Another Side” in one form or another. For example, the standard boss theme for the Organization members, “The 13th Struggle,” aside from being an energetic and fitting battle theme in its own right, takes a few musical progressions from the basic track that can be heard if listened to closely. Still, the clearest references can be heard in the three final boss themes, most notably “Graceful Assassin,” which amounts to a more piano-heavy remix of the original song, although “Lord of the Castle” is probably my favorite of the three. While Chain of Memories didn’t contribute too many new songs in the grand scheme of the series, it used the groundwork well and I can’t think of a new song on the soundtrack that I disliked.
Kingdom Hearts II, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. Being a full sequel unlike the more side-story inclined Chain of Memories, many new things were added into the series, least of which being a whole slew of new musical tracks to enjoy. Due to returning worlds and themes, some songs returned once again, albeit heavily remixed to match the new feelings of many of the worlds. For instance, the once darkness-ridden Hollow Bastion returns with new level and battle themes “Reviving Hollow Bastion” and “Scherzo di Notte,” that both present more triumphant and happier-lilted variations on their original themes to coincide with the light that’s now shining through the darkness present. Alongside the more classic tracks are many new songs built with the more energetic tone of KHII compared to the original. Most of the new boss themes evoke that feeling especially well, such as “Vim and Vigor” and “The Encounter,” two of the most common battle themes that both grant a real sense of … vigor to the fights in question. Another prime set of candidates for impressing energy on the game are the new Gummi Ship level themes, particularly the rock-influenced “Hazardous Highway.”
Of course, the strong theming Kingdom Hearts started and Chain of Memories continued is presented stronger than ever here. Many newly-created tracks lay more groundwork for even later games in the series, most notably the themes for Sora and new character Roxas, alongside the incredibly important and suitably epic “Fate of the Unknown” that plays over the secret ending, in a very similar situation to “Another Side.” Roxas even gets a remix of his own theme for a battle late in the game, creating the stunning sad and beautiful “The Other Promise.” “Another Side” once again plays a prominent role as well, contributing to the creation of the main “Organization XIII” theme and the new Organization battle themes “The 13th Dilemma” and “The 13th Reflection,” among others. However, the best example of the theming at work in KHII is the final boss theme “Darkness of the Unknown.” Considering the boss in question and his numerous relations to important series mainstays, his theme manages to mix “Another Side,” the series main theme of “Destati,” and his own previous battle themes into an original song that both progresses through different segments beautifully and fits the battle where it plays perfectly.
As with last time, there are some songs that don’t quite fit into a previously-discussed category that I need to mention for just how good they are. “Forgotten Challenge” from Re:CoM is probably my favorite song in the game besides the aforementioned “Lord of the Castle” for its perfect remix of the standard Castle Oblivion theme and the great usage of choir to set a very unsettling mood. In the same vein, I have always had a great love for “Sacred Moon,” the final level theme of KHII, for keeping a constant creepy choir that fit the nature of the area perfectly. Another song I have a fondness is “He’s a Pirate,” a cheery, but well-done little remix of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme used for standard fighting in Port Royal. However, the above-shown “Rage Awakened” is probably my favorite of the entire soundtrack. The slow buildup at the beginning introduces the sorrowful song beautifully and the entire track is effective at evoking an epic, yet mournful feel that is especially effective when it mixes in the previously mentioned “Fate of the Unknown.”
In the end, both Re:CoM and KHII built the groundwork laid down by the original game even higher, while still making great usage of what was already introduced. Many of my favorite songs in the entire series come from these two entries and although I wouldn’t say that either holds as the best in the series from my perspective, they both come incredibly close. Just as I said with the original Kingdom Hearts, you all owe it to yourselves to give the soundtrack a thorough listen to when the time presents itself. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Now then, despite two articles dealing with the subject matter, there is still more to be said about the music for Kingdom Hearts. However, I can imagine that some of you may be tired of hearing me gush about some of my favorite soundtracks for two straight articles now. As such, please tell me in the comments below if you would prefer I keep going with my current course and write the third, and probably final, Music Mondays discussing Kingdom Hearts, or I take a break next time and discuss another game. I am more than open to either option, so be sure to tell me which would be preferred. Until then, I bid you all adieu.
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.