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InnerLight13

The Top 50 Songs in Kingdom Hearts (10-1)

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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.

10. “Hand in Hand” (Kingdom Hearts)

I’ve referenced a lot of really interesting drum beats that have happened in Kingdom Hearts songs throughout this list, but they all pale in comparison to what happens on “Hand in Hand.” And the horns! On musical merits alone, this is some of the absolute best work. This might be a good time to give it up to the amazing musicians who really lay this stuff down. “Night of Fate” being the temporary battle music in Traverse Town is incredibly eerie, but I don’t know if it would have worked in that position on a permanent basis. Traverse Town is a weird Victorian community that is more suited for a goofy romp than an apocalyptic one.

9. “Dark Impetus” (Birth by Sleep)

I haven’t heard classical themes mix with new age instruments this well since the first Vampire Weekend album. The synth and impossibly quick tempo are where most of the action is, but the real star of the show is that violin. When people talk about “Dark Impetus,” they’re talking about the violin solo about 75 seconds into the song. Go ahead and find it and then come on back… … … … Dude, isn’t that awesome? It’s violent and menacing and perfect. It’s a shame no one can get 75 seconds into the Mysterious Figure fight to hear it all live. The cool factor is extremely high with this one and it serves as a showcase for some impressive technical skills. 

8. “Lazy Afternoons” (Kingdom Hearts II)

Have you ever had a summer day where you wake up at one in the afternoon, slowly get into the groove of the day and meet up with your friends to do some mindless activity? This is that. Poor Roxas was under the impression that his life was under that format as well, but it was all an illusion. Those 1 p.m. wake up days have the tendency to feel more like distant daydreams upon some recollection, but at least we know they were genuine. Roxas’s story is so steeped in tragedy that even the Twilight Town music is in on it. For what it’s worth, the real acoustic guitar opening in the 2.5 Remix that was absent from the original release of Kingdom Hearts II is a very welcome addition.

7. “The 13th Struggle” (Chain of Memories)

It’s wild that in a series that literally has a song called “Organization XIII” that another track would more aptly capture the group’s essence. They’re a chaotic band of brothers (plus one sister and a puppet) that can’t be tamed. “The 13th Struggle” is all of those things and more, featuring an iconic riff that I predict will be sampled in a trap song at some point in 2020s. If we want to get even more particular about things, I think a lot of fans associate the song with Axel, and it really does fit. It is in a fight against him in Chain of Memories that it makes its first appearance. In a later fight against Axel, in the basement of the Old Mansion, the song gets busted out again to thrilling effect as the battlefield catches fire and “Two?!” 

6. “The Other Promise” (Kingdom Hearts II)

Though it is heavily inspired by Roxas’s theme, “The Other Promise” has a separate, distinguished identity in its instrumentation and in-game use. The piano that is used on “Roxas” is replaced with an army of strings that hit a triple crescendo by the end of the first loop. The piano is instead relegated to intro duty, perfectly setting up the aforementioned build. The song can’t be discussed without pointing out the internal Roxas fight in “The World That Never Was.” As a battle theme, “The Other Promise” taps into a completely different set of emotions. You almost want to lose that battle. “The 13th Struggle” or “The 13th Dilemma” wouldn’t work in a fight against Roxas. He deserves something a little closer to the heart to play him out.

5. “Dive into the Heart” (Kingdom Hearts)

This is Kingdom Hearts. When a snot-nosed little five-year-old throws that Disney game into the PS2 for the first time, this is not what they expect to hear. Before the beach and Donald and Goofy, there was an unseen choir chanting and saying “Destati” like a band of 6th century monks. What the hell is going on here? The first half of “Dive into the Heart” is more or less an a cappella performance, but we get small hints of a more driving second half. When that second half does come, it is riveting. At this moment, Kingdom Hearts expresses itself as more than just the Disney branding. This is something completely different than what the packaging would lead you to believe. A great overture can set the tone for everything that comes next. “Dive into the Heart” did that for 18 years worth of material and counting.

4. “Dearly Beloved” (Kingdom Hearts)

What else can I say? “Dearly Beloved” does everything right. It’s a simple piece that can probably be used to teach a piano student, yet it delivers a full range of feels. Over the years, it has been the constant. Through floaty combat and clunky dialogue; epic battles and heartwarming character reunions. The series has grown larger and more expansive (and more convoluted), but those simple notes are still there waiting for you every time you hit “New Game” or get ready to jump back in where you left things off. You literally can’t play a Kingdom Hearts game without first settling in with “Dearly Beloved.”

3. “Passion” (Kingdom Hearts II)

It’s hard to get any better than “Dearly Beloved,” so you already know these top three are special. “Passion” is pretty perfect, but it also doesn’t feature as prominently as the two songs higher than it. That is how the distinction was made. Regardless, the song also known as “Sanctuary” is a triumphant companion piece to the series’ second main installment. When the beat drops after an extended build, Shimomura really gets a chance to show off her ability to adapt a pop song into an orchestral arrangement. In particular, the march techniques she uses during some exit music compilations throughout the series have never been more defined and satisfying as they are here. It’s an artist at the top of her craft owning a song and really making it her own. “Passion” is classic Shimomura and immediately evokes images of the game it is meant to represent.

2. “Don’t Think Twice” (Kingdom Hearts III)

When Kingdom Hearts III finally was a real product, the first thing heard on that disc was “Don’t Think Twice,” another Shimomura arrangement of a Utada Hikaru theme. All due respect to Utada, who always does amazing work on this series, but I believe “Don’t Think Twice” is more powerful as an instrumental. It is the relief of a lifted weight and the death of an annoying meme (lol games nevre coming out fanboi lol) all wrapped up in a perfect package. Musically it stays true to the original song but appropriately adds a ton of new sounds to fill out the experience. Again, it’s a crowning achievement that couldn’t have been more perfect. The bar was set so high by the themes that were presented before, but Shimomura still knocked it out of the park.

1. “Hikari” (Kingdom Hearts)

Simple and clean, baby. I’m not sure it could ever be truly knocked from this perch. I think that Yoko Shimomura’s rearrangement of Utada’s “Hikari,” the theme song of the original Kingdom Hearts, is the best song in the series’ history. It never stops adding another layer of depth. It never stops building. It works on its own and whenever it shows up in the games. It is an amalgamation of everything I love about the previous 49 tracks listed here. It has never not been one of my favorite melodies. As a kid I would purposely stay on the title screen so that the cinematic that used this version of “Hikari” would play. I can’t be the only person who has done that. It is iconic and is so grand and I’m not sure how to describe the feeling of listening to it now that the original game is a 2020 high school graduate. You can only write about a piece of music for so long. At some point, you have to feel it for yourself and let the magic of sound take you over.

 

Songs by Game:

14 - Kingdom Hearts

13 - Kingdom Hearts II

8 - Birth by Sleep + 0.2, Kingdom Hearts III

3 - Chain of Memories

2 - Dream Drop Distance

1 - 358/2 Days, Union χ [Cross]

 

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

For 40-31: https://www.kh13.com/forums/topic/123516-the-top-50-songs-in-kingdom-hearts-40-31/

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

For 20-11: https://www.kh13.com/forums/topic/123532-the-top-50-songs-in-kingdom-hearts-20-11/

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Though I haven't gotten the chance to reply to them, I've been following along with your previous threads as well. Thanks for sharing your analysis on all the different songs we encounter throughout the various games! :D 

You really did save the best ones for last xD  I especially like your takes on Lazy Afternoons because that's exactly what it reminds me of, and Dive into the Heart, personally I like the calmer first half of that one. 

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Oh, thanks for following along! I’m glad you enjoyed the list. It was a fun one to think about and piece together!

Lazy Afternoons is such a distinct mood. Takes me back to summer days during simpler times. And Dive into the Heart is quite the experience. I think I actually like the first half a bit more as well. So eerie, and it gets me pumped for the mysteries ahead!

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16 hours ago, InnerLight13 said:

Oh, thanks for following along! I’m glad you enjoyed the list. It was a fun one to think about and piece together!

Lazy Afternoons is such a distinct mood. Takes me back to summer days during simpler times. And Dive into the Heart is quite the experience. I think I actually like the first half a bit more as well. So eerie, and it gets me pumped for the mysteries ahead!

On Lazy Afternoons, same! I think it's because I have fond memories of starting up new KH2 files over multiple summer vacations, usually during the mid afternoon hours myself haha. Funny how music can trigger memories like that. xD 

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