Kingdom Hearts 10th Anniversary Fan Selection -Melodies & Memories-
Kingdom Hearts 10th Anniversary Fan Selection -Melodies & Memories-
September 19, 2012
Buy at CDJapan
Kingdom Hearts 10th Anniversary Fan Selection -Melodies & Memories- is a 2-disc album made in commemoration of the series’ celebrated 10th anniversary, with tracks chosen by fans on the series’ official website. Released in Japan at the end of 2012, this anniversary album is essentially a compendium of the series’ tunes and themes, and a musical guide through the decade-plus adventure that is Kingdom Hearts. It was with caution that I approached this album, given the process of its creation; “too many cooks,” I worried, or however that adage goes. Who knew what kind of assemblage the voting process would produce? I need not have worried. As if united in thought, the fans compiled a great representative collection of the series’ music. Reading over the track list for the first time, I might have selected the same tracks myself. While not without some glaring omissions and shortcomings, for the most part this album is a wonderfully essential sampling of just what Kingdom Hearts music is; and in the selection, it forms a coherent, comprehensive journey indeed.
Before we tackle how well each individual game is represented, let’s look at the common thread they share: “Dearly Beloved.” There can be no doubt as to this theme’s popularity among fans, as its numerous incarnations have been included here, from every entry except Re:Coded and Re:Chain of Memories. That’s five total. While I will take issue later with repetitive track selections, in this single case, I feel it was appropriate. Aside from Utada Hikaru’s songs and “Destati,” there is without question no piece of music so entwined with and so evocative of the series’ very soul as Dearly Beloved. And with all five versions being sufficiently, creatively unique, each is a welcome presence to usher in its respective game. The original, for example, is the simple, bare bones piano motif. 358/2 Days’ features a distant-sounding piccolo and strings wallowing in the low range to reflect this game’s heavier mood. And Dream Drop Distance spins its arrangement into a waltz. All have their particular elements.
But, to this reviewer, Kingdom Hearts II’s stands above the rest. It was this one, in fact, where I first came to really love the theme. Right from that gorgeous lead-in of strings, trickling harp plucks and heart-warming cello, I was quickly moved. A reflective harmony, yet hopeful and comforting, giving life and color to the bonds that stretch across worlds and join Sora to the hearts and lives of those he has met. The piano is the heart of the hymn-like progression, slowly layered with oboe and wistful horn and then the full, sweet range of strings; my favorite version, and probably one of my favorite tracks of the entire series, this one well deserves its spot on the album. I should also give honorable mention to my second favorite, that being the one from Birth by Sleep. Spanning the greatest emotional range of them all, from the mournful violin solo at 1:14 to the glorious, swelling climax at 2:10 that hints at triumph and redemption, the effect is extremely potent.
These tracks behind us, let’s dive into the rest of the compilation, beginning with the premier outing. So, how is the selection? While some of those glaring omissions I mentioned earlier apply here, and which I will discuss in a moment, by and large it’s a good representation of the first game. Right after the first “Dearly Beloved” we open with that other most famous theme, “Hikari -KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version-,” a masterful orchestral arrangement by Kaoru Wada of Utada’s J-Pop song “Hikari.” This remains one of the series’ finest musical endeavors, beginning (after the opening passage) quietly and ending with bombastic cadence, promising the wonder and excitement that only the unlikely but magical union of Disney and Final Fantasy can yield.
From there we move on to “Destati.” A quick note about this one: right up there with Dearly Beloved and Hikari, Destati is one of Kingdom Hearts’ most prominent recurring motifs, used for several area, battle, and event tracks. It appears here in its original incarnation, the source from which all the others derive melody and lyrics. I suppose it is fitting — it’s a great piece whose use of the Tokyo Philharmonic chorus helps it exude a sense of mystery particular to Kingdom Hearts, opening with a vibrant chanting, then dimming and slowly building its way back to that crest, bursting wide awake around 1:35. And when in doubt as to which version of something to include, why not go with the Ur example? Even so, its inclusion is a bit odd, both in itself (as it was never used in the game proper) and of itself (its placement near the very beginning, wherein it holds last place in the soundtrack for the first game). Given the positioning here, maybe a track like “Destati -Dive into the Heart-” would have been more appropriate in representing how the first game’s story unfolds. But ultimately, this is nitpicking, and hardly a major detraction.
Things progress smoothly forward with a further selection of tracks from the original Kingdom Hearts. “Traverse Town” comes next, with its sleepy alto sax, and it is a pleasant area piece, though it has nothing on its spectacular updated form from Dream Drop Distance. “Hand in Hand,” the accompanying battle theme, rounds out representation of this world. It’s a fairly linear progression, with snares and piano firmly marching on with brave purpose, the strings adding a hint of adventure and grandeur to the piece. Personally, I like it, but would not have included it, as the eponymous Traverse Town would have been sufficiently served by one track alone. From here, we move to “Kairi I,” the first (and best) version of the leitmotif of the only character in this game to receive one. Repetitive though it is, its simplicity and the way it conveys a sort of erstwhile innocence make it a must-listen, at least once. The alternating flute and piano play like two childhood friends, fitting for the significant character of Kairi and the role she plays.
The next piece is one of the album’s best. “Hollow Bastion” stood out in the first Kingdom Hearts for its potent air of haunting mystery, its 5/4 beat, and its harmony of hurried strings, grand vocals, and organ, creating an unusual duality of tension and serenity. Appropriate, given this penultimate level; hitherto visiting mainly Disney worlds, full of friendly and familiar locations and characters, Hollow Bastion put you in uncharted (often gravity-defying) waters, and you can feel in the music the dramatic escalation as Sora and friends near the climactic finale of their journey… Only, it never comes. We skip straight from the penultimate area theme, to an ending track, leapfrogging all samples from the last stage and its final battles. If you approach this soundtrack as a musical representation of the games and their stories, the climax from the first Kingdom Hearts is completely missing, as we jump from the tip of the rising action to the denouement. It is an absence sorely felt, and one of the most conspicuous flaws of the album; a track like “Forze del Male” or “Guardando nel buio” — two of the best battle themes Shimomura has produced for the series — would have been that last, perfect piece to the puzzle. Obviously, this is nobody’s fault, given the way the tracks were assembled, but it is still disappointing to have no representation of the first game’s titanic final clash in this compilation. But enough of what isn’t, let’s get back to what is.
“Always on My Mind” is the next piece, used during the game’s ending. Another recurring leitmotif used throughout the series, this track is initially reminiscent of “Kairi I” in its gentle beauty: piano and flute again carrying the harmony, supported by harp and bells, before the organ and choir stir to life as the piece swells poignantly, then lulling to a close, leaving the bells to chime sadly in the void, conveying the bittersweet conclusion of the tale, as Sora must bid farewell to those he loves, with only the hope of a reunion someday. Such a track would serve as a worthy close to this section, but, fortunately, the fans saw fit to include another; one, which, as it did for the games themselves, provides a dusk-shrouded bridge between this section and the next. “Another Side” is another major piece in the series — whose bits and motifs other tracks in Kingdom Hearts II and onward sample and borrow for themselves. Here is its debut form. And though you will hear some of these other interpretations later in this album, the original is the best. Ushering us in with a soft, rainy-day piano melody and rising vocals, the peaceful, obscure atmosphere is soon ruptured by urgent cello. This leads to the more energetic portion of the theme, and at 1:25, the percussion pauses as brass and strings crescendo gloriously through the clouds, the music’s energy leaping and diving and then again until a quiet piano and vocal coda, summoning back the turbid veil, close the track on a deeply mysterious note. All in all, a perfect theme to end this first journey and transition to the next.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories served as an interquel in the series, filling the gap between the two main numbered titles. As such, it might seem less significant in the grand scheme of things, and this sentiment is reflected in the minimal track selection it is granted. Two pieces from this adventure join us here, taken from the arranged for Re:Chain of Memories. While I can probably think of at least two or three more that would have further bolstered Chain of Memories’ portrayal, these are likely the first that should have been chosen anyway. “Namine” is another short but sweet character theme: a gentle piano melody of wavering mood, some rolled chord figurations, and accompanied by arpeggiated harp, the lonely, peculiar witch trapped in Castle Oblivion’s crystalline halls has one of the nicest of the character themes. The following track, “Lord of the Castle,” is in contrast a dynamic final boss piece not even included in the original Game Boy Advance release, but was written for the Playstation 2 remake. It is a welcome addition, a dramatic conclusion to this underrepresented journey, with several standout features: the atmospheric prelude of ethereal choir and harp, leading into a section of swift, agile piano runs; the ominous interlude of percussion and deep vocals; the powerful, soaring climax of strings that closes out the melody. While there were other Chain of Melodies tracks I wish had made it here (“Castle Oblivion” comes to mind), this one is a great finish to this section.
Which leads us right into Kingdom Hearts II, and this title definitely doesn’t lack for representation; it is in fact the most populated of the album. Good if you like the tracks, irritating if you don’t. After all, this game’s soundtrack was pretty notorious for its poor synth back in the day, an issue perhaps due to the technical limitations of the PlayStation 2 or perhaps due to the implementation by Takeharu Ishimoto, who replaced synthesizer operator Ryo Yamazaki from the first game. Whatever else you might say about them, the dip in sound quality was apparent, with some of the music sounding blatantly electronic and fake, as opposed to semblances of real instrumentation.
Not that this is an issue for the entire section, and certainly not for the pair of tracks following “Dearly Beloved.” Both “Passion -KINGDOM Orchestra Instrumental Version-” and “Passion ~opening version~” follow in the footsteps of “Hikari,” with the original J-Pop song being composed by Utada, and a stirring orchestral treatment by Wada. And, like that previous theme, “Passion” serves as an overarching motif for its respective game. The former version boasts a catchy rhythmic development accompanied by Utada’s smooth, ethereal vocal dynamics. The latter guides us through four main movements: a powerful crescendo of an introduction; a softer, pensive lull of simmering strings, bells and oboe; and gradually the melody builds, growing in confidence, until it explodes into a section dominated by the original song’s percussive rhythm and determined brass, before poignantly wailing strings take over for the epic finish. Overall, “Passion” well reflects the changed tone and spirit of the sequel from that of its predecessor, one slightly darker, moodier, shorn of the original’s eager optimism and replaced with a more mature resolve. How does it compare to “Hikari”? Well, they play at the same high level, and one’s favorite could probably be determined by aesthetic tastes. Regarding the vocal songs, I think “Passion” is the victor, but for the Wada renditions, the beauty and majesty of “Hikari” are unsurpassed.
These superb samples behind, the adventure begins in earnest with the next grouping of tracks. “Lazy Afternoons” is the theme for Twilight Town, the home of new character Roxas and his school friends. The boy’s life and relationships are reflected well in this piece, a simple bit of acoustic bass layered with tuned percussion, emotive strings and a wistful flute melody. Together they create a sense of melancholy, and it’s a theme I’ve always found more enjoyable than the first game’s ‘Town.’ Following this, however, is a track less crucial to the album, one that perhaps has less business being included. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with “Missing You.” Upon first listen, in fact, people unfamiliar with the series might well question my misgivings here. It’s a fine little piano piece, and aptly named – I ascribed melancholy to the previous track: well, double that, and you get the gist. That said, it doesn’t really offer anything new, and doesn’t represent any major events, themes or characters of the game that other tracks do not.
“The 13th Struggle,” the original battle theme for select members of Organization XIII, makes its welcome appearance next. While I slightly prefer the more subtly percussive incarnation from Chain of Memories, the differences are not vast. You have the same rolling drums, the same wild melody of organ, violin and piano for the mysterious black-cloaked figures who now confront you. The biggest alteration comes around 0:35, with a more dramatic, fleshed out section of piano and synth strings that echo part of the “Another Side” motif. Personally, I don’t think the two themes mesh together all that well, but it’s still a good track, both in and out of context. The same cannot be said for the next pair of character themes, which are effective enough when used in the game, but don’t stand as firmly on their own. “Roxas” is the better of the two: a short, sad melody for piano and flute that tells the story of the eponymous amnesiac boy, lost and confused, and struggling to come to grips with his fate. By contrast, “Sora” is bold and bombastic, reeking of unwavering heroism. It might seem odd, to suggest that the leitmotif of the series’ main protagonist is perhaps not worthy of inclusion here, but it’s a fairly unremarkable theme with whiny synth textures. Speaking of tracks that have little business being here and add nothing to the overall experience: “Organization XIII.” This track’s inclusion is the height of redundancy. All it comprises is the first half of the “Another Side” theme, done with poor quality synth, resulting in a noticeably inferior sound. Given that we already heard the spectacular original piece earlier in the album, there is just no reason for this pale imitation to be here.
Not so with “The 13th Reflection,” another piece that livens up the battles against the Organization’s members, and my favorite of the bunch. The charm of this one, I believe, lies in the contrast between its frenetic rhythm and its slower, more graceful interplay of synth strings and piano. Together with the section at 1:17, where the percussion slows and the choir and harp are given room to breathe, this contrast exudes a sense of wild mystery appropriate for the black-cloaked enemies. Another Organization battle theme follows — a special one, however, unique to one showdown in the Final Mix version of this game: “The Other Promise.” An arrangement of “Roxas,” it proceeds in much the same way, beginning slowly, and gradually building in tempo until the album’s trademark synth ‘orchestra’ booms out in ardent, pleading surge, before ebbing back into its familiar piano bass line. I’ve always liked this piece — a substantial enhancement to the original theme — and thought its sound wonderfully represents the desperate struggle between Sora and Roxas, two halves vying to assert their existence and confirm the worth of his own life, with the void of oblivion waiting, watching for the outcome of the battle, which inescapable fate has already decided can have but one victor. Definitely worth a listen, though we have been spoiled by the sublime Drammatica version, not included in this album.
With Kingdom Hearts II popping the lid on character themes, it is fitting we have the last one included here, and one of the best. “Riku” is a contemplative piece for strings, piano and cello, and serves this conflicted character well, as he hesitates on the boundary of light and dark. Riku eventually wins his fight, confronting and conquering his inner darkness and returning to his friends’ side, but their fight is not over. The real villain remains, and the next track, “Darkness of the Unknown,” is his final stand. This is probably the most substantial final battle theme of the entire series. Considering neither “Guardando nel buio” nor “Disappeared” made it into this collection, it’s a relief that this one did. “Darkness” is a multifaceted beast, divided into three movements: the first, calm and steady, only hinting at the enemy’s power; the second kicks into high-gear, giving a full, menacing body to the skeleton introduced before. The final movement is the true gem, as the tempo is reigned in, and the vocals and strings glide along in solemn lament before steadily mounting to a passionate apogee. This finale is a stunning contrast to the usual final battle fare, which are typically fast-paced and action-pumped. For this, it stands out.
Speaking of fast-paced battle themes, “Rage Awakened.” It’s the next piece, taken from an optional showdown with the Lingering Sentiment in the Final Mix version of Kingdom Hearts II. One of the toughest fights in the series, this armored sucker brought with him a new theme that portends significance beyond its brief first appearance here. An intense synth bass ostinato and light organ, contrasted with solo violin gliding smoothly along, characterize this track. A dynamic section starting near the one minute mark, where these elements are joined by supporting vocal samples, is the best part. I do prefer the Birth by Sleep version for its better sounding synth, but this one is still satisfactory. Rounding out the Kingdom Hearts II tracks is “Fate of the Unknown,” a Kaoru Wada arrangement that serves as a great closing piece and tease. The enigmatic soldier from the previous fight, along with his two compatriots, is also the subject of the secret video which hosts this track, accompanying them as they brawl ferociously with a pair of shadowy foes amid a desert wasteland. The opening chorals intimate ominous mystery, and the strings and brass fittings that surge in their wake introduce a new rising-and-falling pattern, one that will come into play again in the album. Overall, this section gives the impression of the desperate whirlwind of battle. Night falls as the music calms, soft vocals chanting yet another new theme, this one a sorrowful dirge for piano and strings, before a brief reprise of the previous motif. Then a glorious orchestral eruption of sound, the chorus holding a single F tone, brings the piece, and the game, to a piano-climbing, thunderous end.
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, a side story that follows the character Roxas and his experiences over the course of the year that Sora sleeps, has a reduced but excellent sampling of tracks, beginning with the best character theme of the entire franchise, “Musique pour la tristesse de Xion.” It’s definitely the most developed, fully fleshed in that category, swaying through a profoundly touching melodic line that is, as the title implies, utterly heartwrenching. The primary phrase carried throughout, first a repeated three tone pattern that rises a whole step then skips, followed by an up-and-back major sixth figure, contrasts beautifully with the descending arc of the violin. Clear strains of Kairi’s theme chant out in the chorus at 1:29, rising from F in a stepwise manner before falling back upon itself. Among the most tragic characters in Kingdom Hearts, Xion’s theme is unforgettable. Also included is “At Dusk, I Will Think of You.” Compared to what precedes it, this otherwise melancholy track feels light as a feather, with soothing woodwind and chimes inclining ever upward, carrying all the simplicity of a sunset view with one’s friends, and the anticipation of the dawn. There’s even an accordion for extra flair.
Ultimately, however, that tender innocence is not long for this world, and “Vector to the Heavens” makes sure we get the message. A no-brainer for inclusion, this track, as Roxas and Xion’s story comes to its inevitable climax, is a beautiful arrangement of the latter’s theme, featuring strings and some of Shimomura’s most elegant, dynamic piano work. Carrying equally heavy sentiment as “Musique,” in a way, the quickened pace and embellished grandeur of the progression add to the original’s pure sadness a sort of grim resolution. An intensity that attempts at menace to disguise the palpable emotional wreckage beneath. A dampened strain of the familiar “Dearly Beloved” motif brings us to the loop, lending its thematic weight to Roxas and Xion’s final, futile struggle. Although this has all the makings of Days’ final boss music, it is not; technically, that honor goes to the last track, “Another Side: -Battle Ver.-,” which is exactly what it sounds — the uptempo second half of that original track. Of course, this means that like “Organization XIII,” it is somewhat superfluous. Neither adds anything substantial to the original piece that justifies them taking up precious slots in the album… Although, this one does color the brisk string and piano interlude with ethereal vocals. But the alterations effectively end there.
As does the game, bringing us to the next installment, Birth by Sleep. After “Dearly Beloved,” we begin with a trio of new character themes, two of which borrow from the earlier “Fate of the Unknown.” “Terra” is first, and, while the liveliest, is also the least remarkable. This track in particular borrows that aforementioned rising-and-falling progression from “Fate,” brass sighing ponderously with leaping perfect fourths and stepwise crawls, trying to muster the same stalwart vigor and heroic energy the strings display, while the solo violin likewise presses determinedly ahead. There is one notable feature: the tail end of the latter’s section spins off portentously into a brief refrain of “Darkness of the Unknown.”
“Ventus” in my view is the closest to Xion’s for the best character theme. A richly emotional piece, its borrowings come rather from Roxas and Sora’s motifs, but with unique variations. Concerning the former: while the primary nine note progression of “Roxas” casts downward forlornly, here there’s a greater emphasis on its ascending steps, thus maintaining the sadness while trying to retain a sense of optimism and bright hope, weaving both together with piano and oboe. Passionate solo violin leads to the “Sora” section; and yet there is no bombastic boldness to be found here. Instead, a slowed pace, the oboe straining for that bright, brave heroism that “Ventus” can never quite claim for itself. It’s actually much lovelier than the original “Sora.”
Honestly, even with the myriad melancholy character tracks in this series, “Aqua” might just be the darkest, the most somber. Another sampling from “Fate of the Unknown,” this tune borrows that sorrowful dirge for piano and strings, its harmonies wandering through a heavy air, the instruments feeling like a burden. Shades of both Roxas and Xion’s theme occasionally whisper across the melodic gloom—perplexing, as Aqua has no tangible connection to either. Anyway, it’s a nice track, but not quite on the level of some of the others. I certainly would not recommend listening to in sequence with “Ventus” without a box of tissues or anti-depressants (for a real emotional challenge, throw Xion’s theme in there as well!)
From threefold character themes, now to battle. “Enter the Darkness” is essentially a high octane remix of “Ventus,” but shorn of any of the delicate mood or sentimentality of that track. Vanitas ain’t got time for that. Forget melancholy or hope, this is pure, adrenalized battle chaos, the kind that gets his crazy eyes a-dancin’. Roxas’ motif arrives with a high-test clash, while Sora’s subsequently starkly inverts the original’s pompous energy, infusing it with a grim martial purpose. It’s an exciting blend.
“Dismiss” is this game’s final battle music, and, in my opinion, one of the most underrated of the series, given the way Shimomura weaves together the “Destati” motif with both Terra and Aqua’s themes to create an awesome remix. In this climactic duel between Aqua and Terra-Xehanort, the Anakin vs. Obi-Wan of the story, the instruments sing the tale. The pulse pounding rhythm, chorals and organ building a sense of menace, leading into Destati as Xehanort takes control of his new host, and battles both internal and external are engaged. Amidst the rising darkness of Destati, solo violin cries out Aqua and Terra’s themes in counterpoint, trying to fight back the shadow, contending irrepressibly with the overpowering vocals of Xehanort’s evil, each vying for dominance, intertwined in conflict. The clamor swells, climbs, peaks… and subsides, leaving in its wake the haunting organ; the violin rears its head once more, weakly gasping out the notes of Terra’s theme in a final, pitiful refrain, before being plunged into oblivion as the track loops, and the drama begins anew.
Closing out this section is “Dark Impetus,” an optional boss track Shimomura confesses to composing when she was in a depression of sorts. “But, when I began writing this song, for some reason it filled me with incredible strength,” she explains. It’s nice that a track so meaningful to her got voted in here. Anyway, if I had to sum this piece in one word, it would be ‘chaotic.’ That violin, my god, it just batters through the composition like a maelstrom, energized even more by the relentlessly hyper synth bass line. At 1:15, a toe-tapping, catchy as hell violin solo sweeps aside the storm, for a moment, before the frenzy returns and the poor violinist’s fingers are utterly destroyed. In all, Birth By Sleep is excellently represented here; although totaling only seven tracks, they are without question the best suited for the album, portraying both the main actors of the story and the explosive conflict.
Which leaves the last game in the series, Dream Drop Distance. The selection, which includes five pieces (including “Dearly Beloved”), is fairly sufficient. “TWISTER -KINGDOM MIX-”, a remix of a song from The World Ends With You by Takeharu Ishimoto, is probably one I’d have omitted. From the catchy acoustic introduction, to the swinging trumpets, to the vocals, it certainly captures the crazy streets of Shibuya. But it would have been better to omit this in favour of the much more representative “L’Eminenza Oscura,” a battle theme for Ansem — particularly as that character has been completely neglected musically in the album. Speaking of battle themes, a pair follow: “L’Oscurità dell’Ignoto” and “L’Impeto Oscuro,” remixes of “Darkness of the Unknown” and “Dark Impetus,” respectively. Worthy inclusions here, especially as, for better or worse, much of the plot of this game does occur around these final showdowns. And on top of that, they’re just good tracks so it’s win-win. Then there’s “Link to All,” a stellar addition and one of my new personal favorites that beautifully exudes that charming mirth that Shimomura does so well. The battles are done, the darkness has passed, and a ray of light has pierced through the veil to guide our heroes home. It’s an endearing track, short but sweet, overcoming its lack of development through sheer, heartfelt loveliness. And with that, the story is told….
But wait! We’re not done yet. A few bonus tracks remain. “Hikari,” first, the original J-Pop song from which was derived the earlier grand orchestral arrangement. Better known to international audiences, perhaps, as “Simple and Clean,” this song is an overarching anthem to the series. It’s gentle, it’s catchy, and it features Utada’s strong melodic vocals. I generally don’t go for most ‘pop’ music, but this had me hooked at the first. The opening version of “Passion,” as discussed earlier in the review, is featured in the Kingdom Hearts II section on the first disc.
What comes next, however, is the crown jewel of the album — of the entire musical world of Kingdom Hearts. The kind of piece that when people ask you, “Video game music? What’s that like?” you hold up as a shining pinnacle, perhaps worthy of inclusion among such Grammy-nominated (and winning) pieces as Journey’s soundtrack and Civilization IV’s “Baba Yetu.” Bold words, I know. Well, it’s just my opinion, but “Fantasia alla marcia for piano, chorus, and orchestra,” a Kaoru Wada arrangement from Kingdom Hearts II utilizing the Tokyo Philharmonic, is just that damn sublime. My words won’t even do it justice. Weaving together the most eminent themes of the series in peerless manner, “Fantasia alla marcia” embodies the story of Kingdom Hearts within its notes and its harmonies, a microcosm of the album itself. One after the other, its themes progress: A gentle fluttering introduction that bursts into the exuberant giddiness of Sora’s theme—much more pleasing here thanks to the live instrumentation; the return of the noble “March Caprice for Piano and Orchestra,” which itself was one of the best pieces of the first game and expresses so nicely the heart and soul of this strange but wonderful collaborative franchise; piano and choir slow the music down, drifting into a beautiful rendition of “Dearly Beloved” that gradually swells with the full breadth of the orchestra’s grandeur…
…But a harsh cue of blaring bass and martial percussion intrudes ominously, a prelude to the return of “Destati.” The chorus calls out in menacing harmony, and, as the main trumpet soon subsides, the Philharmonic choir and orchestra metamorphizes into a dramatic version of “Another Side.” Joined together, these two themes depict the conflicts in the series; Ansem and the gathering dark of the Heartless, Xemnas and the liminal Nobodies lurking in silent shadow. And in shining reflection, the intertwined destinies of Sora and Roxas, and all who stand with them. Their struggles are what these conjoined themes represent to me. “Another Side” calms as the piano transitions back to “Dearly Beloved.” Only this time, the theme is allowed to flow uninterrupted to its full triumph, lifting at 4:50 to a glorious, almost angelic finale; the symphony then lulls, and a final, hushed refrain murmurs warmly on solo horn as the arrangement falls into temporary silence. Once the orchestra slowly stirs back to waking, one last rendition of the March Caprice theme builds steadily and leads into the piece’s final flourishes, closing a track that should easily be included if there is ever some sort of Top 20 or so Pieces of Video Game Music collection. Not just an amalgam of great themes expertly compiled (which it is), not just a random hodgepodge of area themes or character themes or battle themes thrown together; what also makes “Fantasia” special is how it tells the story of Kingdom Hearts, its structure — almost palindromal — taking the listener on one hell of a journey to there and back again, showing off the full spectrum of Shimomura and Wada’s vision. Whew. That was a long one. But it was unavoidable; that track is just too good.
Good thing there’s only one left, though, because I’m more drained than after a fight with the Mysterious Figure. “Twinkle Twinkle Holidays,” originally from the album Drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura- is a little bonus track, combining the battle theme from Christmas Town (A Nightmare Before Christmas) in Kingdom Hearts II, with Neverland’s Clock Tower theme from the first game. I have to wonder if this piece was also a fan selection or just a cherry on top that Shimomura picked herself. Either way, be careful of overlooking it, as I almost did. It’s actually quite nice, the symphony at times dashing and stumbling over each other in a hectic Yuletide tumble of strings and woodwinds and percussive elements, at others lifting off and soaring majestically with those long, graceful string glides that might bring to mind a Super Mario Galaxy. It’s no “Fantasia,” but it works well as the album’s closing flourish.
And so, there you have it. Kingdom Hearts 10th Anniversary Fan Selection -Melodies & Memories-. In a nutshell, other series wish they could have such a musically celebratory gift for their tenth anniversaries. Really, it turned out better than could be expected. From expressive character motifs to dramatic melodic backdrops for boss battles, this soundtrack presents the best of the best of the franchise’s scores for fans and the unfamiliar alike, and in so doing, conveys the story, the essence, of Kingdom Hearts through its well-selected music. A few instances of absent themes that would have been welcome, and a few repetitive inclusions, don’t detract too much from the overall experience. With Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix fast approaching, to catch players up on what has transpired so far before the eventual Kingdom Hearts III, what better time to do the same with the music, to explore the contributions of Shimomura, Wada, and everyone else involved? This album is a great compilation and a worthwhile journey for those who decide to embark upon it.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on September 6, 2014 by Jon Weicher. Last modified on September 11, 2014.