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InnerLight13

The Top 50 Songs in Kingdom Hearts (40-31)

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With the release of Melody of Memory somewhere on the 2020 horizon, I got to thinking about the sensational music of the Kingdom Hearts series once again. Yoko Shimomura is one of the great video game composers of our time, and I would like to honor her work through a list: The Top 50 Songs in Kingdom Hearts. Full disclosure, I am far from a music scholar, as you will probably be able to tell from the writing that will follow. However, I do listen to a lot of different styles and have some perspective on when a composition is working … I hope. No matter, here is my list of the very best Kingdom Hearts music.

Note: Until the OST is released, titles that originated in Kingdom Hearts III will be given placeholder titles. I will edit the list to match the actual track titles when that information becomes available.

40. “Riku” (Kingdom Hearts II)

Riku is a conflicted fella. That’s why we love him. His theme, like so many others, brings on a nice mix of emotions. There’s a hopeful wave of piano and strings offset by an equally sad backing track that seems to suggest that underneath Riku’s determined attitude is a teenager wrestling with his demons and past. Again, Shimomura’s understanding of the characters is exceptionally nuanced, and truthfully is the perfect complement to Nomura’s unpredictable writing. We know that, no matter what, these themes are the constant that clearly mark a distinct identity.

39. Flags of Fury (Kingdom Hearts III)

Any time a Kingdom Hearts song employs a chorus, you know these are getting serious. That immediate call and response is incredibly powerful and appropriately sets the tone for an epic track that sounds like it could fit as a final boss theme. There’s a great weight to the song because of this, and it makes a harmless trip on the high seas feel like a battle for the soul of the universe. I also really appreciate that it keeps you guessing on where the song will go next. Just as you expect the loop to restart, Shimomura switches up the sound and breaks things down with a stripped down version of the larger song. Extremely creative stuff on a song that is way more ambitious than it has any right to be.

38. “Fragments of Sorrow” (Kingdom Hearts)

This is the evil half of “Dive into the Heart,” a track you’ll hear more about a little later down the list. When set to the imagery of the fleshy End of the World, the terror hits an all-time high. There’s the solo horn bits that add a little extra quirkiness to the song. It’s an incredibly mystical, ominous sound that is sure to strike up some Linked Worlds PTSD in any fan. I dare you to play through End of the World standing up and not to march along to the song. Far from a simple tune, there’s a rush of noise coming from each layer of “Fragments of Sorrow” and each one adds a little something to the piece. By the way, how cool is the title?

37. Aqua -Dark Dive- (Kingdom Hearts III)

I always thought that, out of the main characters, Aqua got the short end of the stick in the theme music category. The poor girl had to fall to darkness in order to make my list. The fate of the world and Aqua’s life are crashing together in a seminal moment from Kingdom Hearts III, and this is the result of that lofty plot point. This may be the greatest use of the infamous “one woman wail” trope. Generally I get immediately turned off by the hamminess of a lady essentially crying out for my help, but in this case … It’s kind of perfect, isn’t it?

36. “PIrate’s Gigue” (Kingdom Hearts)

I don’t care what anyone says; Sora learning to fly is some extremely cool stuff. There’s an awesome adrenaline rush that hits me in every playthrough when I get to soar above Captain Hook’s pirate ship with this little jig playing in the background. You just know the guy who got to slam the cymbals in the studio was just loving his life when they laid this one down. It’s a little menacing, but there’s an element of fun that pervades the song on a grander scale. Hanging out with pirates? Flying? Mr. Smee impressions? Man, Neverland is such a grand ole time. It’s like this little spark of Disney magic right before things get really serious, all wrapped up into this one song.

35. “The Encounter” (Kingdom Hearts II)

“That’s right, away ya go!” “Is that the best a user can do?” I love knowing exactly what battle quotes go along with a boss theme. “The Encounter” takes that pure hype sound from “Vim and Vigor” and leans even further into epic territory. I think what really gets me is the funky little riff that stays intact through the whole song, other than during the breakdown. In that case, there’s a double fake-out that gives the song just a moment to breathe before it goes back into fury mode. This is like a Nirvana song that found its way into Kingdom Hearts. A little bit a softness to keep things steady and interesting, but the heavy stuff is what we all remember and anticipate.

34. “Link to All” (Dream Drop Distance)

Kind of a second Sora theme song, “Link to All” stands on its own as a charming piece worthy of recognition. Though it appears near the end of Dream Drop Distance, it gets me in the mood to go on a brand new adventure. That’s probably the point. DDD leads into Kingdom Hearts III, so in some way the end of the story does indeed serve as a new beginning. I don’t believe there is anything so incredible musically in this one. The impact of the track lies in what it represents: a larger universe and the folks who bind it together.

33. “Fate of the Unknown” (Kingdom Hearts II)

Another great title. It is only right that the fate of the unknown (at that time, Terra, Aqua and Ventus) is partially revealed during the song’s first appearance. This is film score level stuff in that it is inherently tied to the imagery that it complements. Again, Shimomura is to thank for making this happen. Finding just the right spot for every single note is essential in a cinematic sequence such as the Kingdom Hearts II Secret Ending, and Shimomura knocked it out of the park with this one. I would be remiss to not mention the unreal blast of sound that closes this one out. It’s incredibly powerful in or out of context.

32. “Kairi” (Kingdom Hearts)

It is rather odd that Kairi gets the first character theme in the series, but it is a great start and it’s filled with emotion. Each reprise of this gem gives us a little bit of insight into Kairi’s playfulness (trying to hop on the raft without Riku) or past (her grandmother’s story). It served as the first time we were introduced to the technique of having the characters being tied closely to their theme. In any case, “Kairi” is a sweet sounding ballad that is unmistakably bright. It’s a song that suits a princess.

31. “Terra” (Birth by Sleep)

Sticking with character themes that play into the mental state of the character that they share a name with, this is a manic expression of the tragic hero Terra. So aggressive. It’s there when he turns Ventus away. It’s there when he strikes down his Master, Eraqus. It’s there when he gets his redemption. No character’s arc is more inseparable from their theme. The strings stand out, of course, as both the thrashing riff and the streaking overtone. “Terra” is a feisty track that is much darker than the other themes of its kind.

 

For 50-41: https://www.kh13.com/forums/topic/123504-the-top-50-songs-in-kingdom-hearts-50-41/

For 30-21: https://www.kh13.com/forums/topic/123521-the-top-50-songs-in-kingdom-hearts-30-21/

 

Edited by InnerLight13

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