Music is very important when it comes to videogames. It provides a more rich and meaningful experience. With that being said, Kingdom Hearts has an excellent soundtrack, and it’s all thanks to Kingdom Hearts series music composer, Yoko Shimomura. Shimomura had her own special slot on Square Enix Presents, where she talks Kingdom Hearts and Music. Below, catch up on how Kingdom Hearts Music is made!

Summary: Yoko Shimomura talks about herself, her work on Kingdom Hearts, the driving force behind her inspiration, and the story behind “Hand in Hand” and “The Other Promise”. She and Hiroyuki Nakayama also converse on how they obtain their positions and finish by co-performing “Dearly Beloved” on the piano.

Shimomura: “Hello, I’m Yoko Shimomura. I compose music for Kingdom Hearts and various other works. I’d like to talk about Kingdom Hearts since Kingdom Hearts -HD 2.5 ReMIX- is coming. I’ve been making video game music for quite a while now, but it’s rare that I have the opportunity to work on a series continuously. Kingdom Hearts was my first series, and I continue to work on it, so it’s become a title for which I have a strong affinity. For example, when the people who have played KH1 are looking forward to KH2, I wouldn’t want them to say “the music for KH1 was better.” The last thing I want is for people to say that the previous work was better when a new title releases. Of course, there were many struggles and hardships while composing music for KH1, but I think this way because more songs are added to my repertoire with each installment. I have to make songs that surpass previous works, and I do feel the pressure, but my stance is to be conscious about not caving into that pressure. With this occupation, you never know if you can continue doing the same thing after 10 years. That’s what I’ve continued to think, year after year, as I write music. Seeing this franchise become so popular, and even after 10 years, to be able to continue writing songs for this title. I think I’m very fortunate. I’m truly surprised, in many different ways.~”Hand in Hand”~

Shimomura: When the game was being developed, this song had a tentative title of “Town Battle.” I wrote it as a battle theme for Traverse Town. It was KH1, the very first title. At the time, I wanted to write something happy yet powerful, fun and engaging. The song that rang in my mind was this piece. At first, it was suggested that we create a more somber-sounding song because there was a somber scene before the battle. But, I insisted on using this piece, which shifted the discussion so that the latter half would be more of a happy battle song. It’s rare that the tone of the first and second halves differ from one another. This doesn’t happen very often, but the first half of this town’s battle song is a bit somber, and the second half is brisk and happy. This is one of the instance where my wish, in this case, “to compose a happy song like this,” came true.

Shimomura: I’ve said this numerous times before, but I’m very fickle. I get riled up very quickly, but cool off just the same. And so, whatever I do, it never last very long. But, I was obsessed with music. I wanted to play different instruments and started this and that. I’m not that great at playing the piano, so I thought it would be tough to do something with it. But, I wanted a career in music, to attempt composing, to create songs. In the end, the only thing I stuck with was the piano. I thought, maybe I’ll give it a try. Of course, people around me,even my parents apparently thought, “she’ll probably quit right away, maybe two to three years.” I never imaged I’d keep it up for so long, so to have continued this for 25 years. I’m surprised at myself! However, the reason I’ve been able to continue is not because of my own strength but truly because of everyone who has cooperated with me, supported me, and helped me. After all, words from fans make me really happy. When I’m down, I remember the voices of the fans that encouraged me, and pick myself up. By building on that, I believe I was able to continue for 25 years. Of course, as long as I have sons I want to write, I will continue doing this and if there are people willing to listen to them, I definitely want to keep going.

~”The Other Promise”~

Shimomura: I’ve received very encouraging comments from KH fans on this piece. It’s a very poignant battle. It’s often been referred to as “the battle song unlike a battle.” Everyone may already know this, but Roxas has his own theme song. and when the Final Mix, a version of the game with addition features, was being made, I received a request “to transform it into a battle song, and to make it more intense.” The original song had few notes, with a fragile feel, so I thought long and hard about how I could “make the song more intense.” But Tetsu-san (Producer, Tetsuya Nomura) had told me he likes the piano so I thought about doing something with the piano, like a concerto. When I tried it out, it went surprisingly well. I was really on a roll once I started creating the song, and I thought it was perfect when I submitted the demo. But, Tetsu-san’s response was “I want you to make it more exciting!” I said “this is the best I can do,” but he insisted that I make it more exciting. You would’ve thought I was crying as I wrote the song. In the end, I filled my mind with sad memories. And, in that regard, my memory of this song is a bit exhausting.

Shimomura: Alright. I’d like to introduce the pianist, Hiroyuki Nakayama, who just performed “The Other Promise” and “Hand in Hand.”

Shimomura: How was it?

Nakayama: I’ve performed that piece numerous times, but the melody really drags the performer into the world, similar to getting hyped up for a battle. There’s only one piano, but it’s similar to the build-up generated with an orchestra. The performer doesn’t have to try very hard, the score is already written that way, so it’s easy to get emotionally involved. In any case, I’ve played this piece over and over again, but there’s always something new to discover. I think I was able to pour my emotions into this performance, as well, and it felt great playing the music. How many years has it been?

Shimomura: I wonder how many years it’s been. I think it was an audition. Yes, I passed the audition. Audition! That’s right. We held an audition prior to recording the first Kingdom Hearts Piano Collections, which includes “Hand in Hand.” We released two Piano Collections albums, but when we set out to create the first album, I really wanted to showcase the possibilities of the piano and how amazing the instrument is. For example, if someone who loves video game music wanted to play the piano, I wanted this piano compilation to drive them to practice every day so they can eventually play the music. So, rather than it be something that everyone can play, I wanted to create something that was more technical. In that respect, I couldn’t think of someone that has the classical training, but records in a studio, or plays the latest game music. We started talking about holding an audition, and the person who appeared was you.

Nakayama: Yeah, I can talk about that now, but I really wanted to audition and desperately wanted this opportunity, but I was overseas until a week before the audition. So, I didn’t have much time to practice. After I got back, I focused all my attention on practicing with the audition in sight, but there were certain sections that were quite difficult, and I couldn’t perform as well as I had hoped for.

Shimomura: That’s still impressive.

Nakayama: I was trying to sell myself.

Shimomura: I remember you apologizing.

Nakayama: Yeah, I was apologizing. I was really trying to sell myself, telling everyone I, too, compose music, so I’d be useful to them.

Shimomura: Was that how it went?

Nakayama: I told everyone that there may be other people who are better at playing the piano, but I’d be of more use to them.

Shimomura: Really?! Yeah, I remember you apologizing profusely. Something along the lines of “I’m so sorry it sounded like this.” Yeah, the wording may have been different, but I remember thing you were really modest, even though you played the piano so well.

Nakayama: I think I apologized because I couldn’t practice much being overseas a week before the audition, but I really wanted to be selected.

Shimomura: Why? Did you like the song after hearing it?

Nakayama: I did.

Shimomura: Yeah right.

Nakayama: I took a look at the score and I thought the piece demanded everything from the pianist, in respect to technique and musical comprehension. It’s true. At the time, I still hadn’t been given the opportunity to work on something of this caliber. I liked games when I was young and the person who composed the music for the game I played happened to be you!

Shimomura: No way!

Nakayama: I was really moved when I found out. I also heard that this person likes the piano. I had to. That audition was like a turning point for me in terms of delving into game music.

Shimomura: The first song, “Hand in Hand,” is very nostalgic.

Nakayama: Yeah, it was nostalgic. It’s already been 4-5 years or so. There were new and refreshing aspects to replaying the song. I reviewed it with a fresh mind, and contemplated about how I’d approach this song this time. It’s really good song. Like, there’s a spring to it.

Shimomura: That’s true. It is a “fun battle.”

Nakayama: It was really nostalgic.

Shimomura: And, even though both of the songs are battle songs, the direction is completely different for. “The Other Promise,” as well. You performed this song for an upcoming title, KH2.5, the other day.

Nakayama: Yes, I did.

Shimomura: This is also a memorable song. We asked you to play it for the Piano Collections as well as for the latest title, KH2.5.

Nakayama: It’s a pleasure. I played it at the concert, as well. But, during the recording session, I thought about playing that song last because I’m most attached to that song.

Shimomura: Yeah, it’s very different – the way we approached it.

Nakayama: We decided to record it last and finish together.

Shimomura: There’s one more memorable song from KH.

Nakayama: Yes, there was. The song we’ll be playing four hands today.

Shimomura: Yes, four hands! They asked me to play, too, but I wasn’t confident enough to play alone, so they suggested playing four hands on one piano. And, they asked me if the shorter version was alright because you didn’t have much time, so I told them that 1-2 pages would be perfectly fine. But, when I saw the score the following day.

Nakayama: It was 6 pages or so.

Shimomura: 7 pages! 7 pages! In my mind, I thought, “this is the same length as the piano duo we recorded and you’re telling us to practice the four hand version now?” I was so surprised. We tried playing four hands a bit during the recording session and were jokingly, saying we could do it, but that was just play. But, properly when you play the piano in this manner, rather than just casually play.

Nakayama: It’s like “you’re fingers are in the way,” “your arms are in the way,” “you’re stepping on my feet!”

Shimomura: I didn’t step on your feet!

Nakayama: You were stepping on my feet.

Shimomura: Really? I’m so sorry about that. But yeah, our hands did hit each other’s.

Nakayama: They did. But, there are benefits to having someone play next to you.

Shimomura: In terms of being on the same beat. It’s easier to sync. But this four hands, it’s probably not likely to happen again. Yeah, probably not. Because we’ll fight again. Like, when I step on your feet.

Nakayama: No, it’s all good now.

Shimomura: Like, when our hands hit one another’s.

Nakayama: No, no. It’s all good. If that happens, it happens.

Shimomura: That’s true. In any case, it goes to show that this performance is rare, our first attempt at four hands, and you never know when this will happen again. And, on that note, we’ll be performing the last song, the four hand version of “Dearly Beloved”.

~Shimomura and Nakayama play the four hand version of “Dearly Beloved”~

Shimomura: Thank you so much for performing for us today. It’s been a while since I’ve heard the songs I’ve composed being performed in a hall like this, so thank you very much.

Nakayama: I’m glad I was able to play your songs in your presence. It was a real pleasure and it’d be great if we can work together and play the piano together again.

Shimomura: Yes, again! I’ll do my best to continue composing music, so your support would be much appreciated. Thank you for watching.

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