Call me a bad person, but I’ve never been much of a fan of the Kingdom Hearts series or the soundtracks (in fact, you can hear Josh and I badmouth the franchise on episode 5 of our podcast). Sure, I’ve checked out the Kingdom Hearts Piano Collections albums on this very site, and enjoyed them thoroughly, but they were admittedly very short and featured only the best that the series has to offer. With all of this in the back of my head, I was skeptical about Birth by Sleep & 358/2 Days.
For those who don’t know exactly what this collection is, this 3-disc set contains the soundtracks for the PlayStation Portable title Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (discs 1 and 2) as well as the Nintendo DS titles Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days and Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, then finally some bonus tracks from Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Final Mix, making this quite the compilation.
Does the Birth by Sleep & 358/2 Days Original Soundtrack change my impression of the series and its music by Yoko Shimomura? Hit the jump and read our review to find out.
The first two discs of the album are devoted entirely to Birth by Sleep. I’ll say right out that I’m impressed by the scale and maturity of some of the tracks here, encompassing all the epic wonder and emotion that I’d expect from, say, a Final Fantasy title. My memories from some of the early Kingdom Hearts soundtracks are of poor quality sample libraries and upbeat, almost kid-like melodies, so I immediately found what’s here quite refreshing.
If you’re a fan, I’m sure you can guess the first track on the album. “Dearly Beloved,” which is essentially the franchise’s main theme, appears here in a beautiful and majestic form, featuring some amazing instrumentation that would make it perfect for a live performance exactly as is.
Other highlights include “The Key of Light” and “Tears of the Light,” with the former coming as serene and angelic with church organs, choir, and pizzicato strings, and the latter being a highly emotional string and piano ballad. They contrast quite nicely, and both sound great. “The Worlds” also comes to mind as an unexpected new age track that creates an otherworldly “world,” which is right up my alley. Later, “Eternal Memories” is Shimomura’s take on a love ballad, but without vocals. I thought I was listening to “Unchained Melody” during several points in this track.
Other surprises include the “Unforgettable,” which is a crazy-intense trance track that sounds like something soundTeMP would write, featuring a driving 4/4 beat, grinding bass, and laser-like synth lines. The final battle theme, “Rage Awakened –The Origin-,“ makes an impression with its thunderous bass and percussion, although the steady organ and piano concerto-esque performance add an element of regality. It’s really a fantastic track.
My favorite track on the album, however, is easily “The Silent Forest.” It features a strange sense of time with its back-and-forth harp notes, and the violin work drips with emotion and intrigue. The harpsichord that comes in during the chorus section adds a rustic quality, and simply put, this is probably my favorite piece of music that Shimomura has even written. Beautiful, direct, and mysterious. I actually had the opportunity to ask Yoko Shimomura about this particular track, to which she noted it was one of her favorite pieces as well, and that the fact that it accompanies the Sleeping Beauty portion of the game brought images of both beauty and darkness to mind, which she used as inspiration for the piece.
The 358/2 Days portion starting on disc 3 is considerably less impressive in terms of sound quality, but the rhythmic and guttural “Mystic Moon” as well as the beautiful “Sacred Moon” are both great listens. Or maybe I just like tracks with “Moon” in the title (this is often true, now that I think about it). A non-moon track, “Vector to the Heavens,” is a swelling string and piano ballad that caps off the 358/2 Days portion on a good note.
Re:coded features only 7 tracks, all of which are “gamey” electro tunes, going for that retro game music vibe that’s pretty interesting to hear Shimomura tackle. The trancey “On the Debug!!” is probably my favorite of the bunch. Seven additional tracks from the Birth by Sleep Final Mix are tucked away at the tail end of the third disc, covering a variety of different styles.
With all this talk of “mature” and “darker” themes, it’s easy to forget that this is, after all, a Disney and Square Enix collaboration. There are, in fact, many playful themes here as well, including some of those “kiddie” melodies I mentioned before (“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” I’m looking at you; but you’re okay, “It’s a Small World.”). While I find myself skipping most of these (there are admittedly a lot of them), I can say the other material on the album which I’ve noted above is incredibly good, opening my eyes and ears to some of what the series has to offer. My dislike of some of the music has nothing to do with Shimomura’s shortcomings as a composer; in fact, it speaks to her strength in being able to create and arrange perfect melodies to suit the naturally “playful” world of the game.
The album comes packaged in a single case with a nice slipcase over the front. You may be wondering why these soundtracks were bundled together in the first place, but Shimomura has a pretty simple explanation: none of the individual soundtracks here were large enough to warrant their own stand-alone release, so they were waiting until they had enough material to release at once. The album is available from CD Japan and Play-Asia if you’re interested. You could do it for “The Silent Forest” alone and it’d still be worth it!
What do you think of Shimomura’s work on the Kingdom Hearts series? Are you happy to see these soundtracks bundled together and released at last?Tags: Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Reviews, Square Enix, Videogame, Yoko Shimomura