The music for Kingdom Hearts covers a wide spectrum of emotion and tone. It’s whimsical, charming, exuberant, forlorn, sinister, and just about everything else in between. The common factor to all of it however, is that it’s always dramatic. In each case it has a sense of grandeur and wonder that few, if any, other games have been able to match. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of the games, in that no matter what they have you doing, the experience always has a sense of magnificence to it. And unlike a game like God of War, which is also grand in its sensibilities, the feeling changes over the course of the game and I suspect it’s due in no small part to the music.
The above track from Kingdom Hearts II, titled “Sinister Shadows”, is in this gamer’s opinion the best example of the drama carried by all the Kingdom Hearts music. It’s used more than once over the course of the game, but the moment I think it is best associated with is the battle waged between Sora and a legion of Heartless. The cut-scenes preceding the battle set up the situation as almost hopeless, and that the fight to come isn’t going to be one fought in confidence, but rather desperation. It’s just Sora and a handful of others against a vast multitude of enemies, a rather dire situation indeed. It’s not the darkest moment in the game, but is perhaps the one where the weight of what’s at stake and the responsibility Sora has been shouldering is at it’s most tangible and intense. Needless to say it’s a significant point in the game, and Sinister Shadows compliments it perfectly.
Having the background of playing through this battle in the game, this piece inspires a complicated set of feelings. As the song plays, it cycles through several emotions and concepts: desperation, resignation, fatigue, even a little bit of fear and uncertainty. There is however another concept present throughout the entire piece which ties it all together and gives it perspective, that concept being unrelenting determination. For this gamer, it’s the idea of determination embedded in this theme that gives it it’s impact and staying power. With this it’s more than just background music, becoming an illustration of the emotional state of Sora and his allies. For the duration of this fight, that quality enables the player to empathize with the characters in a way that simply isn’t captured at any other point in the game. It’s the one point where the player’s and character’s strongest motivations line up almost perfectly. Yes the characters are fighting to save their home and friends, but for the duration of this battle their goal and motivation is as simple as those of the player: determination aimed at overcoming the challenge set before them. This is why the grandness inherent the music of Kingdom Hearts feels at it’s best, because for one brief period we are put at the center of it, rather than existing on the outside only able to look in.
For those of you who have played Kingdom Hearts II, do you remember this battle? What does theme bring to your mind? For those who haven’t, what does it inspire in you? Do you think playing the game would change that? (Would you want it to?)