Kingdom Hearts has always held a special place in my heart, which is why I made piano arrangements of it for so long. The series has received its fair share of original soundtracks and arrange albums in recent years, thanks to its immense popularity. As I wait for Kingdom Hearts III, I have been surprised by the quality of the series' portable spinoffs, for example Birth By Sleep, both in music and otherwise. Yoko Shimomura has remainded the main composer for the series, however, and that still brings me comfort. For the 3DS' Dream Drop Distance, she once again returned to lead a score featuring both classic arrangements and new compositions. Once again, brought two other composers with her: Tsuyoshi Sekito and Takeharu Ishimoto. As lavish as the music for the main console instalments, its three disc soundtrack is worthy of the attention of series' fans.
While the soundtrack is dominated by new compositions, there is a tasteful number of arrangements of the series' classics. The album starts off conservatively with another Kaoru Wada orchestration of "Dearly Beloved". It starts off with a minimalist approach, but develops into a beautiful, yet playful waltz. It fits surprisingly well with the composition and is a refreshing take on a classic. "Traverse in Trance" is another great variation even though the title had me worried that this would be an electronica mix. I'm glad that was not true! Featuring the melody of "Traverse Town" with a live saxophone as well live flute, cello, and oboe, this variation is just sublime! It is so relaxing and reminds me of a dreamy and quiet town with the starlight above me. It is nostalgic but it still sounds brand new! "Hand in Hand" also gets an arrangement. I will be honest that I did not like this version at first, since the tempo increase makes the composition rushed. However, after a few listens, I got used to it and find that the frantic pace works as a battle theme. Variation is a key ingredient to this score because I am hearing many older melodies returning disguised as something entirely new.
Tsuyoshi Sekito, a former Black Mage member, contributes a good amount of compositions and even a couple of arrangements to the Dream Drop score. He starts off rather strong with "Storm Diver". It is our first synthesized orchestra piece and it is lively, upbeat, with a catchy brass melody. With fluttering woodwinds and quick paced string work, this piece fits perfectly within the style of Kingdom Hearts without completely emulating Yoko Shimomura. "Untamable" is quite bombastic and almost has a Sakimoto flavor to it in some spots. Initially it gives a sense of panic with the frantic woodwinds and strings. If you listen really close, you can hear hints of "Olympus Coliseum" by Yoko Shimomura. "Majestic Wings" is another worthy mention. This composition really sounds uplifting with its interesting chord structure at the beginning. Very heroic and, well, majestic! Again, I must mention that Sekito does such an excellent job of producing a Kingdom Hearts sound without actually copying Shimomura. It shows how far he has come as a composer since we first heard him.
Now not all of Sekito's compositions are orchestral. In fact, he has some electronic sounding works as well such as "GigaByte Mantis" and "Dream Matchup". The first starts off with quieter textures, but the music builds into a heart pumping track. It sounds like it could accompany the gummy ship sequences from the first two Kingdom Hearts games. The second piece, "Dream Matchup" brings this style to mind as well as it sounds hopeful with the prospect of exploration. I find it a catchy tune, even though the melody isn't too strong. Sekito's two arrangements on the album are also very well done. The first "My Heart's Descent" is an arrangement of "Dive into the Heart", which would be recognizable to any fan of the series' music. It is a lush arrangement featuring ominous strings, haunting choir, and even glockenspiel. Sekito really brings out the enchanting sound from the original and takes it to a whole new level. The second is of the same tune, but in a different style that is most likely a battle sequence. It works very well and sounds epic in its context, although I wish the "Destati" portion was used instead as the piece gets a little repetitive for its track length.
Takeharu Ishimoto is another name familiar to Square Enix titles. Some of his Final Fantasy music is not my cup of tea, but when he writes some catchy music like in The World Ends with You, I find his music accessible. In Dream Drop Distance, he ventures completely outside of the style consistently laid out in this whole score. I'm not saying his compositions are bad by any means, but they are not Kingdom Hearts. They stick out like a thorn in my side and I find myself unable to appreciate them due to the fact they aren't consistent with the score. Ishimoto's compositions include electronic ambience like "Access the Grid" and "Digital Domination", used in the The Grid segments. While clearly inspired by Daft Punk's music, they're nowhere near as beautifully produced.
Ishimoto also offers three vocal selections based on The World Ends With You, and these are the best of his offerings. "Twister" features some great guitar rhythms and the vocals are solid. "Calling" is an average electronic arrangement, but listenable. Its saving grace is the vocalist for she is excellent. The last vocal track is "Someday" and it features some guitar and electronic textures, but I love the intro for its chords! The song is the best out of the vocal pieces, but again it isn't Kingdom Hearts. In fact, it sounds more like Silent Hill than Kingdom Hearts. There is one track that sound more akin to Kingdom Hearts and that is "The Flick Finalist". It goes with the style of the gummy ship that I talked about earlier. There is a light-hearted sound to this, but the melody isn't as fleshed out as it could have been and isn't [articularly memorable.
Last, but not least we have Yoko Shimomura's contributions which consists of thirty tracks, leaving her with the larger selection of music. It is comforting that her role isn't diminished like Hamauzu's role in Final Fantasy XIII-2. One impressive feature is that Shimomura puts forth the usage of live instruments in this score more than her past entries in the series. The compositions "Ever After", "The Dream", "Distant from You", and "Link to All" are wonderfully crafted compositions and are among my personal favorites on the entire album. The violin solos for the first three are just heart wrenching performances, and "Link to All" features a variation of "Organization XIII" along with a really playful oboe part. I love it! After the poor synthesis of Kingdom Hearts II, it's fantastic that Shimomura has a chance to demonstrate the full potential of her compositions. Tracks like these clearly demonstrate the expanded sound cartridge of the 3DS.
The battle themes in this score are of the quality a fan of Shimomura's work would expect. They are epic, fast-paced, and melodic. "Le Sanctuaire" is one such piece that is driving and grandiose. The timpani and snare drum keep the beat going and the blaring brass pack one heck of a punch. "Rinzier Recompiled" is a surprise as it isn't as melodic, but it is a good composition nonetheless with its use of drums and furious strings. When listening to the battle themes and some of the area themes I find myself noticing that this soundtrack presents darker and mysterious elements than in previous entries. "The World of Dream Drops" is a perfect example of how she delves into the mysterious aspect with electronic textures and strings. The best battle tracks are featured on the final disc which include "L'Oscurità dell'Ignot", "The Dread of Night", "L'Eminenza Oscura I & II", and "L'Impeto Oscuro". These themes really benefit from the use of a live violin soloist, who adds so much more to the compositions. "L'Eminenza Oscura", in particular, sounds very fast, epic, but beautiful with its use of both violin and cello. It even includes the "Destati" theme enough said!
"La Cloche" is another example of dark composition. The sinister sound of the violin, bassoon, and oboe solos, combined with organ and harpsichord, make for a chilling composition. "La Cloche" seems to contain some of the melody from "Organization XIII" from Kingdom Hearts II. Speaking of that motif, "Xigbar" is an arrangement of it but at a faster tempo. Because of the change in tempo, the piece sounds more like a waltz a stark contrast with the brooding and melancholy feel of the original. +Closing the album is another orchestrated ending by Kaoru Wada titled "Dream Drop Distance - The Next Awakening". Although the dance-like flourishes are nice, it doesn't manage to grasp me like "Fantasia alla Marcia" or "March Caprice". It is nevertheless impressive orchestrated and performed, and still manages to close out Shimomura's music well. The final tracks after those are just arrangements of famous classical works by Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, and Paul Abraham Dukas. They do not stray from their originals and are mainly edited for the use in the game, but they are still fine classical works that any fan of beautiful or epic orchestra music should hear. I highly recommend "Pastoral" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", but the other two are just as good.
Kingdom Hearts 3D equals, and sometimes exceeds, its main console predecessors in terms of length. It also exceeds them in terms of quality. The production values are simply the best I have heard in the Kingdom Hearts series to date, even after Birth By Sleep. Yoko Shimomura presented something new while still reprising older themes and motives in a refreshing way. That shows her skill as a composer and one can only hope she will continue to be the main composer for the series. Tsuyoshi Sekito managed to bring some great compositions that not only retain his identity but keeps within the sound of Kingdom Hearts. Takeharu Ishimoto, on the other hand, failed to present something that complemented the other two composers and, although a couple of his compositions sounded phenomenal, the rest weren't memorable. Luckily that won't keep you from enjoying the soundtrack as a whole, due to the flawless efforts of the other two composers. Overall, a blast to listen to.