Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack

Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack Album Title:
Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack
Record Label:
Toshiba EMI
Catalog No.:
Release Date:
January 25, 2006
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 Hikaru Utada 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 Hikaru Utada’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 Fantay 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!

Kingdom Hearts II Original Soundtrack Ross Cooper

Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!


Posted on August 1, 2012 by Ross Cooper. Last modified on August 1, 2012.

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