Kingdom Hearts II — A Fight to the Death
My apologies for a bit of a hiatus! Real life has become doubly real in recent weeks.
The Kingdom Hearts series, in my experience, is a somewhat divisive one– not quite a “love it or hate it” scenario, but many of the gamers in my acquaintance are either tremendously enthused with the premise or exceptionally uninterested.
I’d posit that to like Kingdom Hearts, only a couple of things need to be true: You must A) be able to enjoy a simple action-RPG, and B) have some affection for the various worlds of the Disney universe. I’ve met a lot of people who possess these two criteria.
However, in order to love Kingdom Hearts, you have to have an exceptional tolerance for the usual JRPG abstract philosophical gobbledygook, with which the games are flooded. There’s so much talk of light and darkness and hearts and memories and faith and friendship that it’s quite overwhelming, especially when much of it is so abstract that it begins to make very little sense. (Riku is hindered by the darkness inside him, but also made powerful by it–and by “embracing” it, he gets to keep the power but not be manipulated by it? I think?) What do light and darkness even MEAN in this world? Are they synonymous with hope and despair, or kindness and anger? None of the characters ever seem to be able to satisfactorily explain it, especially later on in the series when light and darkness both seem to be good things? Maybe?
Whatever your feelings about the games’ narrative(s), you can’t possibly object to their scores, by Square’s talented Yoko Shimomura, responsible also for Parasite Eve and Legend of Mana, among others. I brought up “Hometown Domina” earlier, but the track I’ve provided here today is proof that Shimomura is quite adept at battle music as well. The juxtaposition of energetic piano and intense rhythm creates a superb sense of urgency, and “A Fight to the Death” is one of my favorite pieces of boss music ever. It brings in some of the leitmotifs that Shimomura establishes elsewhere in the score in a way that is very effective.
Also, it’s a very appropriate accompaniment to the absurdity that’s occurring in the game–apparently, after the release of FFVII: Advent Children, Square decided that the film’s style of “Dragon Ball meets the Matrix” action scenes would fit perfectly in the climax of Kingdom Hearts II. In fact, if you haven’t played the KH games, I’d almost say that KH2 is worth it for the final battle alone. Completely absurd, over-the-top action. Totally disconnected from reality.
I love it.