The music of Kingdom Hearts is known for being both beautiful and emotionally destructive. With the brilliant minds of people like Yoko Shimomura, Kaoru Wad, and Utada, the most poignant moments of the series are made far more impactful by the gorgeous soundtracks cradling them.
Naturally, Kingdom Hearts' dedicated fanbase has spent a good portion of the past decade learning, covering, and sharing these iconic numbers. Here are 13 fan-made arrangements to bring you back into the raw emotions of the series and break your heart all over again.
Warning: this slideshow contains major spoilers for the series.
Since the original Kingdom Hearts dropped back in 2002, "Dearly Beloved" has been used as the backdrop of the title screen, setting the tone for the series before you even press "New Game." With each new game in the series, "Dearly Beloved" returns, usually having evolved in complexity, not unlike the central plot.
Popular YouTuber and pianist Kyle Landry has done covers of countless video game songs, but "Dearly Beloved" has fittingly captured his attention to warrant a revised arrangement every year. Counting his first cover of "Dearly Beloved" back in 2008, and his most recent rendition this year, Landry has released seven versions of this iconic opening number.
Rather than a specific scene from the series, Kyle Landry's "Dearly Beloved" takes us back to our first Kingdom Hearts game, whichever title that might have been. Sitting there, controller in hand, we were welcomed by some spiky-haired character and this sweet, simple melody, suggesting that there would be more to this quirky amalgamation of Disney and Square Enix than first meets the eye.
In-game, the song seems to represent a simpler time that has since been lost. Usual spots where friends could meet and share thoughts or feelings - a crooked palm tree, a clock tower, the edge of a fortress wall - now empty. "Dearly Beloved" is the music of a self-made home.
Combining classics like "Simple and Clean"/"Hikari," "Dearly Beloved," and "Hollow Bastion," "Dear to My Heart" is an eight-minute ride through Sora's first adventure in the original Kingdom Hearts.
Obviously, this arrangement is an homage to the first game, and it seems to be pulling us right into the climax. The scene it most directly embodies is Sora's confrontation with (the then Ansem-possessed) Riku before the Princesses of Heart are used to unlock the Final Keyhole. After spending the whole game scattered across the worlds, Sora, Riku, and Kairi are physically reunited, but still hopelessly disconnected.
"Simple and Clean" itself is a song about falling apart. This relationship that was once complete and nurturing is now filled with uncertainty, miscommunication, and fear. "Don't get me wrong I love you, but . . ." is an accurate summary of Sora, Riku, and Kairi's friendship in the first game. What was whole is now crumbling. And so Sora reaches this place, this Hollow Bastion, a twisted imitation of something that was once beautiful, and finds his friends - one lifeless and missing her heart, the other estranged and jealous - both so far gone from their time together on the islands.
But Sora, being the optimistic little scamp we've grown to love, knows that his friends are still somewhere in his heart (quite literally, in Kairi's case). After all: "Regardless of warnings, the future doesn't scare me at all. Nothing's like before."
While they admit that coining titles isn't their strong suit, dreadjoker10 has certainly found their niche at the piano. Combining Twilight Town favorites "At Dusk, I Will Think of You" and "Lazy Afternoons," they've created a bittersweet lullaby that's equal parts heartwarming and breaking.
"Day 352: Us and the Sunset
Me and Xion and Axel had ice cream. The sunset was beautiful.
I don't have to write anything else down, because I'll never forget this day."
That was one of the last excerpts from the diary Roxas kept throughout 358/2 Days. This piece feels specifically connected to that last sunset they were able to share together. While nostalgia for the old days was enough to briefly bring Roxas, Axel, and Xion back to the clock tower amidst the Organization's foreboding plots, their time together was increasingly tainted with sadness, mistrust, and anguish.
"'Twas a Sunset of Marmalade" is their time together. It may have been twisted by secrets and impossible decisions, but it still pulled at emotions they didn't know they could even experience. This arrangement beautifully orchestrates the deep sadness permeating Roxas's time with Organization XIII.
HypochondriacPiano brings us back to Sora, Riku, and Kairi's home on Destiny Islands, taking the soothing tropical number and easing down its tempo. About two minutes into "Destiny Islands," the key and the listeners drop somberly into "Missing You." The transition is seamless and chilling.
The arrangement arguably puts us in Kairi's shoes between the events of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. She has returned to Destiny Islands, her home, and everything's been left unchanged...except for her. The Kairi that finds the paopu fruit addition to the drawing in the secret place is not the one that drew Sora in the first place. She's back, but it feels like an empty homecoming. The choice to slow down "Destiny Islands" represents Kairi's reflections on these feelings.
And then, of course, there's the question of whether or not Destiny Islands even feels like home to her anymore without Sora and Riku. "Missing You" is full of her longing to be with them again.
Piano powerhouse Lara6688 and incredibly gifted violinist Taylor Davis team up to weave together a masterful rendition of Roxas's theme, as featured in Kingdom Hearts II.
When it comes to sad moments, Roxas has an endless supply. It's hard to choose just one when his theme seems to capture the full range of his experiences throughout the series. For this reason, Taylor and Lara's performance reminds me most of the end of Roxas' seven days in the simulated Twilight Town.
As Roxas returns to Sora and realizes his "summer vacation is...over," his theme undercuts the brutal heartbreak of gaining some semblance of a normal independent life before losing it all to those who consider him to only be a "a tool," at best.
Autumn Raine brilliantly uses pedal-operated recordings of himself playing every part to pull together Terra's theme from Birth by Sleep.
Terra kind of gets the shaft within the fandom. Yes, he's pretty gullible. Yes, he made a ton of bad decisions. That doesn't make his path into the darkness any less tragic.
There's no doubt that Terra reaches his lowest point while fighting his father figure, Master Eraqus, in the Land of Departure. While he fought to protect his friend Ventus, Terra was also being manipulated by Master Xehanort, who struck Eraqus down after Terra gave into the darkness and won the match.
Terra's theme builds in parallel to his rising feelings of guilt, envy, and anger that eventually overtake his heart.
Project Destati takes Kairi's short, sweet refrain and elevates it into a masterpiece. Each movement artfully pulls the listener through all the emotions that Kairi hasn't been allowed to fully express in-game.
Not that I'm salty, but Kairi hasn't exactly been the poster child of positive female representation in the series. She's constantly pushed to the side, captured, or forgotten. This song reminds me of all of her best moments, like when she dives right into Axel's corridor of darkness, or when she shows Riku's true form to Sora, or even back in the original game when she shoves her way through a group of Heartless to save Sora after he turns into a Shadow.
It also gives me hope for Kairi's future. If her theme can express complex emotions, or just be active and engaged in general, maybe Kairi can too.
While this number only appears in the Vanitas Remant battle of Birth by Sleep Final Mix, "Enter the Void" has quickly surged in popularity among the fandom. HypochondriacPiano returns to bring the piece to life, and her performance is anything but "Unversed" with our ears.
While "Enter the Void" is technically one of Vanitas's themes, its energy and direction follow the unraveling of the Wayfinder Trio (Terra, Aqua, and Ventus). Throughout Birth by Sleep, these three find themselves manipulated as pieces in an ancient game of light against darkness. In many ways, Vanitas fares no better, being created and valued specifically because of his potential to forge the X-Blade. While Master Xehanort may have been playing Terra when he described Vanitas as an "abomination beyond hope of salvation," its pretty clear that the old man thinks of Vanitas as no more than a tool.
The paths of the these young people converge at a crossroads in the Keyblade Graveyard. "Enter the Void," a song encapsulating the process of losing oneself completely, is particularly apt for this moment. Ventus' words still give me goosebumps every time I hear them.
"I'm asking you, as a friend. Just . . . put an end to me."
Backer Ruth fills out Riku's theme beautifully with a driving beat and a variety of additional instruments. Its steady and persistent style is perfectly suited for Riku's journey towards self-redemption.
Riku's theme is utilized particularly effectively during 358/2 Days, in which Riku works behind the scenes, trying to orchestrate Sora's awakening in collaboration with DiZ and Naminé. Most prominently, it appears as Riku defeats Xion outside of Beast's Castle midway through the game.
Riku's story arc runs on his tenacity. He's willing to do whatever it takes to make things right again. Along the way, he's forced to make several sacrifices to save Sora. Xion's very existence becomes a major moral conflict, as her absorption of Sora's memories makes it impossible for him to awaken. In this early scene, Riku, dressed in an Organization cloak, remarks that Xion's keyblade is a sham. When Xion asks him who he is, he answers that he "is the biggest nobody of them all." Cue spine-chilling Xion scream of frustration.
This scene, and the accompanying track, are so important to Riku's character because it isn't just Roxas and Xion's existences that he has to contend with. Riku essentially gives up his own life and future to fix what's been broken. Whatever it takes "to make sure [his] best friend sleeps in peace."
What's better than one piano playing Utada's smash hit "Hikari"? How about two? With an extra eighty-eight keys to capture every nuance of the original song, Project Destati's cover is just as clean as its one-piano counterparts, but it's anything but simple.
We've already talked about how "Simple and Clean" is a song of separation, but "Hikari"'s translated lyrics have a slightly different meaning. Check out these translated lyrics and ask yourself: who are you reminded you of? "I'm just alone / Destiny forgotten"? I think of Naminé, Sora being the "light" that awakens her, and her guardians, the abusive Marluxia and Larxene, being the "family," with which she sarcastically hopes Sora gets along. "And about the recent promises, is it just that I'm so anxious? / A wish that's wanting to be said, but shall be repressed"? This is literally the plot of Chain of Memories. I could go on, but let's get to the scene.
Throughout CoM, Naminé is forced to manipulate Sora, who she secretly hopes will be her salvation from the Organization. In the end, she turns against her captors to help him, but the damage is already done. Sora is given the choice to either keep the false memories of Naminé or allow her to repair his memories, thereby forgetting her and his time in Castle Oblivion. You can see her heart (that, according to Xemnas, doesn't exist) break as he chooses the latter. As "Hikari" plays over the credits, we're reminded that Naminé gave up what she perceived as her one shot at happiness to set things right. In this way, she has a lot in common with her eventual ally, Riku.
"Darkness of the Unknown," the song that plays during part of the climactic battle with Xemnas at the end of Kingdom Hearts II, is also known as "Duet of the Keyblade Masters," so-named for the perfect harmony exercised by Sora and Riku during the fight.
Despite how easy it would be to attach Sora and Riku's tender moment on the Dark Margin to a title like "Duet of the Keyblade Masters", "Darkness of the Unknown" feels like its significance remains firmly tied to those deemed unworthy of existence. Xemnas's boss music is highly reminiscent of the "13th" series ("Struggle"/"Dilemma"/"Reflection") that is used for the other members of the Organization. Xemnas manipulated them all, using them like the emotionless tools he led them to believe they had become. It seems fitting that his theme, only heard after every other member had been finished off in one way or another, is the culmination of all their final dirges.
Throughout the series, the effects of these manipulations are shown on a variety of characters, particularly Roxas, Axel, and Xion. Several scenes show the trio grappling with orders given to them by the Superior. In one such instance, Axel has to retrieve Xion, who is about to go rogue. As he agonizes over the situation, he is forced to deal with three different ideas of what is "right," coming from Xemnas, Xion, and of course, Axel himself. In the end, he fights Xion and brings her back to the castle, not knowing if he had undone the friendships he had managed to build.
Also known as "Sanctuary" by English-speaking fans, "Passion" is Utada's second gift to the series, notably replacing "Simple and Clean" as the main theme for Kingdom Hearts II. Kyle Landry's arrangement, first released in 2003, has become a fan-favorite among his uploads and reappears as the finale in his Kingdom Hearts medley.
"Passion" and "Sanctuary" are both love songs, be it romantic, platonic, or both.
"In you and I, there's a new land . . . Where fears and lies melt away."
When you're with this person (or these people), you're safe. You're home. They are your sanctuary.
This is illustrated perfectly by KH2's ending, one of the only happy ones of the series, in which Sora, Riku, and Kairi are finally reunited on Destiny Islands. A new version of the song, subtitled "After the Battle," plays as they feel secure and complete for the first time since their journey began, back before keyblades, and heartless, and the darkness. Nothing is the same. They've changed. The worlds have changed. But they still have each other, and that's all they've ever needed.
"Dearly Beloved" is no doubt returning as the title theme for Kingdom Hearts III. It's even appeared in the most recent trailer. Prior to that, however, we had no idea how composer Yoko Shimomura would top herself. Sam Yung took it upon himself to arrange a potential version for the long-awaited finale to the Dark Seeker Saga, incorporating several well-known character themes into this classic KH number.
Nothing. Yet. But it definitely gets us hyped for the destined clash between the 13 Seekers of Darkness and the 7 Guardians of Light by reminding us of how far we've come.
Midway through the song, Xion and Roxas's themes hit us hard. While Sora, Riku, and Kairi may have made it home relatively unscathed, many other characters didn't fare quite as well. As illustrated in the secret movie "Blank Points," several people with whom Sora's heart connected are still waiting, lost in pain and darkness. A major part of KH3's plot is going to be finding a way to save them.
And that concludes our- Wait, what? Isn't this thing only supposed to have 13 arrangements?
Well, just like the enigmatic Organization, this set of 13 contains a surprising 14th member. Xion's theme, also known as "Musique pour la tristesse de Xion" ("Music for the sadness of Xion"), is one of the most popular character themes of the series, quickly garnering the attention of fan-arrangers everywhere even before the English release of 358/2 Days.
This song plays during what is arguably the most heart-breaking scene of the series: Xion's death. After spending the entirety of the game grappling with the question of her existence, Xion decides to do what she believes is right and return to Sora. Knowing that she and Roxas cannot coexist, Xion engages him in battle, forcing him to absorb her.
As a memory-based replica, Xion's destruction means erasing every memory of her. Though Roxas immediately begins to forget Xion after the battle, he pulls his memories together long enough to cradle her dying body. Needless to say, Roxas wasn't the only one crying as Xion's form iced over and dissolved into the sunset.
Do you have any fan-made arrangements to add to the list? Or maybe these pieces reminded you of a different classic Kingdom Hearts moment. Tell us about it in the comments below!