Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts has laid the groundwork for everything a good video game soundtrack should be with its mix of lighthearted and emotional scores. You’ve probably found yourself listening to the soundtrack one time or another, or if you’re like me, it’s a daily ritual.
Because there are so many great songs throughout the series’ nearly two-decade-old life, it was quite hard to narrow the list down to just 8. However, as someone who has religiously played the games for years, I think it’s safe to say that the songs picked here are worthy of the list. So here are 8 of the greatest the franchise has to offer, because sometimes we like to make ourselves cry.
1. “DEARLY BELOVED”
The year is 2002, you just get home from a long day of school/work, sit down, turn on your console and load up the very first Kingdom Hearts game to this title screen banger. For most fans, “Dearly Beloved” is the definitive Kingdom Hearts song and is recognised as one of the more emotional video game scores of the 21st century, and it’s easy to see why.
“Dearly Beloved” is a beautifully crafted score, comprised of slow piano notes and gentle violin strokes that are enough to make even the most hardcore gamers tear up. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the series or not, this song is likely to be enjoyed by everyone.
2. “TRAVERSE TOWN THEME”
Coming in as one of the first major playable worlds in the franchise, Traverse Town serves as the main hub of the first Kingdom Hearts. A lot happens in Traverse Town during the first game, such as Sora meeting his iconic companions, Donald and Goofy. However, arguably one of the more significant aspects of this map is the accompanying score.
To me, this theme just screams nostalgia with its smooth sax that makes me want to go out and watch a late-night jazz gig. Who knows, maybe the next game will have a world based around Pixar’s Soul and then we’ll finally get some more smooth relaxing jazz.
3. “LAZY AFTERNOONS” (TWILIGHT TOWN THEME)
This Kingdom Hearts II classic is my personal favourite in the entire franchise, In part due to the fact that it was the first real Kingdom Hearts song that I had ever heard. There is a lot going for this opening track.
For starters, it introduces fans who didn’t play Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories on the GameBoy Advance to the iconic map, Twilight Town, which is now a recurring map throughout the games. The song also introduces us to beloved protagonist Roxas whom the player takes control of throughout the entire first chapter of the game. “Lazy Afternoon’s” gentle flute of this song leaves me in awe every time I listen to it.
4. “SIMPLE AND CLEAN” (ORCHESTRAL)
Another theme song for the series, “Simple and Clean” first appeared in Kingdom Hearts and was written and sung by Utada Hikaru in a very over-the-top anime-style music video. And whilst the original is a great song to be appreciated, it’s the orchestral version of the song which has also appeared in titles across the series (and also in Sora’s Smash reveal) that truly creates an aura of magic and uplift.
From the very beginning, the collaboration of full orchestral instruments all working together creates a beautiful cinematic presence which to me feels enough to rival some of the big-name composers in the industry. It’s easy to understand why so many fans teared up during Sora’s Smash reveal with this tear-jerker playing.
5. “ROXAS’ THEME”
Who’s cutting the onions!?
Okay, there’s no sadder story in the entire Kingdom Hearts universe than that of Roxas, and this melancholic score represents this exceptionally well. Everyone who has fought against the mysterious hooded member of Organisation XIII in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix will have felt the true sadness and pain upon realising that the music playing is in fact the same theme song of Roxas from earlier in the game. I will always feel sad when listening to this song, simply because of how effective it is at conveying the sadness and tragedy of Roxas and his story.
6. “DESTINY ISLANDS THEME”
Probably one of the most wholesome songs in the entire franchise; this playful tropical tune perfectly captures the essence of blissful innocence and friendship which is a recurring motif throughout the series. Destiny Islands is the first world in the entire franchise and so it makes sense to start strong, and that’s exactly what Square Enix did here.
The entire point of this song is to represent a time in the main character’s life when they were free of all problems and could just treat each day as a vacation. I personally feel that they perfectly captured this to the point where I would even find myself listening to it upon a school vacation when I was younger. As a long-time fan, I generally think of nostalgia upon hearing this song and it whisks me away to a simpler time as a young boy playing away to my heart’s content.
Like “Dearly Beloved”, “Destati” is another iconic song throughout the series, having multiple variations. However, unlike “Dearly Beloved”, “Destati” takes a more choir-esque direction. Appearing at the very start of the first Kingdom Hearts, it really does a good job at creating a “chosen one” atmosphere when it plays during the “awakening”.
But most importantly, the song immediately informs the player that the game isn’t just some ordinary RPG, but an enormous and complex narrative following a young boy destined to become the savior of worlds. The song was clearly popular enough to appear in the sequels/prequels and has become a staple to the series.
8. “THE AFTERNOON STREETS”
Yet another great Twilight Town song, “The Afternoon Streets” is about as playful and fantasy-like as it gets, sounding like it was ripped straight from a child’s lullaby.
What I appreciate a lot about this song is that it is a new Twilight Town song that is played when Sora awakens from his chamber and is not the same as “Lazy Afternoons”: the song used when playing as Roxas in the town, meaning that both characters have their own unique themes for the same world. And yes, whilst it is sad that we didn’t get “Lazy Afternoons” as the main Twilight Town theme in Kingdom Hearts III, I couldn’t think of any other song better fit for a replacement.
(YouTube videos by: Gabriell Dumitru, pikachu869, Mihn, Yoda, BeginLT, BlueKunai Soundtracks, RikuDeephearts)
Agree with the list? What are your favourite Kingdom Hearts songs? Let me know in the comments!