Review Summary: Simple and clean is the way that you're making me feel
Yoko Shimomura is arguably one of the most prevalent video game composers in the industry. Initially starting her career with Capcom in the late 80’s composing for games like Street Fighter 2, she later moved onto composing for Square for games such as the Parasite Eve series and eventually Kingdom Hearts before she became a freelance composer directly after. With her score to Kingdom Hearts she crafts one of her best musical pieces to accompany one of the most raved about action/RPGs in video game history. Much like Nobuo Uematsu on his work with Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts owes a lot of the game series success with the help of Yoko’s score.
To start off with “Dearly Beloved” (cited as Yoko’s favorite song), we’re treated to a gentle piano that in a sense captures the light-heartedness of Kingdom Hearts as a whole. It’s joyful and brings a sense of wonder and youth to the listener, and precedes the wonderful “Simple and Clean” by Utada Hikaru. These two songs would later be staples to the game series and it’s obvious why with the way the two songs are practically companion pieces in sound. Following these two songs the album turns to “Dive Into The Heart” an absolutely haunting piece with sorrowful angelic choirs, foreboding chords, and a sense of terror. Whereas the first two songs on the album capture the lightheartedness of Kingdom Hearts we’re treated to the dark side. Just with these three tracks, Yoko manages to capture the very nature of Kingdom Hearts.
In the game, the main character goes to different world’s based around Disney movies. Every world has an appropriate sounding song based around the world. In Tarzan’s world we’re treated to pounding drums and pan flutes fitting for the deep jungle setting, Hercules’ world has a triumphant sounding choir fitting for a coliseum where you must prove your strength, and Wonderland has a very whimsical sound. Some Disney world’s music are just faithful recreations of the popular songs accompanying the movies however, like Halloweentown’s “This is Halloween”. This isn’t a bad thing but it is a bit disappointing to not hear a different perspective on a unique world’s sound.
There are more songs that belong to different worlds too. There are some places in the game that belong to the Kingdom Hearts canon that follow very close to the world’s tone. In Hollow Bastion, there is a fitting ominous piano with spikes and crescendos that fit the haunting and barren castle environment the sound backs. You get to travel through space to reach new worlds in a ship, and topped alongside some electronica the sounds accompanying you through space do give off an adventurous vibe. As the game reaches the climax, the tone in music gets darker and more brooding to go along with the world’s end. “Night at Bald Mountain” accompanies the demon from Fantasia as you attack the behemoth giving an epic feeling akin to a moment from a game like Shadows of the Colossus.
As you listen to the album you can’t help but imagine all the various times in the game. From “Shrouding Dark Cloud” I remember the guard armor falling from the sky in traverse town. I remember looking at all the Disney world’s when “Precious Stars in the Sky” comes on. I remember the annoying minigames from the 100 acre woods with “Bounce-o-rama”. But because of the sense of nostalgia, I find the soundtracks biggest flaw. I couldn’t find someone listening past the key staple songs from the soundtrack. The songs in themselves are good, but the soundtrack has an overwhelming amount of tracks to listen to if you were in a single setting. Without the context of the game to back up all the songs, the songs don’t carry as much weight. There are absolutely fantastic songs like the aforementioned “Dive Into the Heart” that can stand on their own, but I can’t see anyone listening to one of the battle themes by itself.
Despite the length, few throwaway tracks, and disappointing recycles, this soundtrack was viable and well-orchestrated enough to bring Kingdom Heart’s soundtrack up to par with the works of Nobuo Uematsu, Akira Yamaoko, and Koji Kondo. Yoko Shimomura crafted the sound of Kingdom Hearts.