KINGDOM HEARTS: Memories of Dearly Beloved with Yoko ShimomuraTo celebrate the launch of KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory, Yoko Shimomura takes you on a tour through one of the most Dearly Beloved songs in the series - and how it's evolved.
What would the KINGDOM HEARTS series be without Yoko Shimomura? From battle themes that raise the pulse, to emotional tracks that stir the heart, the composer’s incredible music has come to define the series.
It’s worth celebrating - and that’s what KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory is all about. This new rhythm action game takes you on a harmonious tour through the entire series to date, and lets you interact with their incredible soundtracks like never before. You can get a taste of it right now in the free demo:
If there’s one song in particular that exemplifies the series, it’s Dearly Beloved. As the title track for almost every KINGDOM HEARTS game, it’s changed and evolved over the years, taking on different sounds, arrangements and even styles.
We had an opportunity to chat with Shimomura, and we thought it would be fascinating to chart the evolution of this classic theme. After all, KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory is all about revisiting musical memories of the past, and who better to do it with than the person who made them in the first place?
Our conversation started where the new game does: the original KINGDOM HEARTS adventure.
KINGDOM HEARTS (PS2, 2002)
From its genesis, music has had a vital role in KINGDOM HEARTS series. A strong soundtrack is always one of the pillars of a great RPG, but this particular game came with an additional challenge for the music team: live up to Disney’s impeccable musical legacy.
A daunting task, but the team picked out the perfect woman for the job in Yoko Shimomura… although to this day, how she ended up on the project remains a bit of a mystery. “I don’t really know why I was selected,” she laughs. “Maybe it was because my schedule just happened to be free at the time!”
Whatever the reason, Shimomura immediately got to work by looking at the themes and content of the early part of the game. While doing so, she was struck by a ‘wave’ of inspiration - and Dearly Beloved was born.
She recalls: “I was playing the beginning of the game, set in the Destiny Islands, and I was struck by a lot of imagery about the sea. Dearly Beloved just came to my mind one day, while I was thinking about that - picturing the sea and the waves.”
Although her vision for the track was clear, implementing it into the game proved tricky due to the technical limitations of the PlayStation 2 console:
“In terms of technology, the sound came from hardware - tone generators, synths, samplers, and so on. We were only able to record two songs in the studio - the majority of the sound was generated internally by the PS2 and I really struggled to improve the sound quality of the instruments using the hardware.”
Dearly Beloved was completed within six months of Shimomura joining development, and she moved on to other tasks. But did the composer know what a signature of the series it was to become?
“No!” she says. “That happened later. At the time, I just thought it would be nice if it was used as an event track!”
But as it turned out, it would be much more impactful than that. What’s more, she’d get a chance to revisit the track sooner rather than later…
KINGDOM HEARTS Chain of Memories (GBA, 2004)
KINGDOM HEARTS Chain of Memories saw series lead Sora continue his journey in a whole new setting… and on an entirely new platform: the Game Boy Advance. Shimomura returned to compose new tracks for the game.
Dearly Beloved had been used as the title track for the original game, so it made sense for the theme to return, albeit in a different form. As before, Shimomura thought carefully about the themes of the game, and how the title track could convey them:
“From the title of the game, I used the imagery of connected memories as inspiration to use a chorus and celesta. I wanted to create a hazy, somewhat ephemeral feeling in this track.”
There was another element to consider in KINGDOM HEARTS Chain of Memories too - its relationship to the original game. The two titles are inextricably linked, and so too are their versions of Dearly Beloved.
As Shimomura says: “It’s a theme that would run through later instalments, but the story of Chain of Memoires was more about ‘time’ than the previous game. I included the melody from the ending and credits from KINGDOM HEARTS 1 as a nod to this idea of a mixed timeline.”
With the track written, there was one more challenge to confront: the Game Boy Advance itself. The audio limitations of the PS2 were nothing compared to the handheld, so was it difficult for Shimomura to hear her work on the system?
“I think it was harder for the people who had to manipulate and adjust the songs I had composed and get them onto the GBA!” she laughs.
KINGDOM HEARTS II (PS2, 2005)
The first full sequel to KINGDOM HEARTS was an exciting prospect to fans, and an even more exciting one for Shimomura, who leapt at the chance to dive back into the worlds of Disney and Square Enix.
“Until KINGDOM HEARTS II, I’d never really had the opportunity to work on the continuation of a series - that is to say, the next numbered installment,” she says. “I remember being thrilled about it!”
This excitement made her throw herself into her work more than ever before - and she wanted this version of Dearly Beloved to be just right.
“I was quite emotionally invested and put a lot of myself into it. I’ve mentioned this in interviews before, but I was so keen that for the title screen arrangement of Dearly Beloved, I went directly to the programmers to confirm the exact timing!”
KINGDOM HEARTS Re:Chain of Memories (PS2, 2007)
In 2007, a remake of the GBA game released for PS2: KINGDOM HEARTS Re:Chain of Memories. For Shimomura, this was a fantastic opportunity to improve the sound of Dearly Beloved.
“The track was remade completely using the PS2 sound,” she says. “The GBA had so little memory, I think the sound quality is massively improved compared to the first version.
As I said before, I was going for a hazy and ephemeral sound for this track. However, with the sound quality becoming clearer in the PS2 version, I think it came out rather dreamy in the end.”
KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days (Nintendo DS, 2009)
The next installment of the KINGDOM HEARTS saga went back in the timeline to focus on the powerful friendship between three members of Organization XIII: Roxas, Xion, and Axel (got it memorized?).
It’s a powerful tale full of shocking secrets and interpersonal drama, and Shimomura was eager for the next version of Dearly Beloved to capture that unsettling feel.
She says: “I wanted the track to have a kind of nostalgia, a longing for home, and a slightly anxious feel to it, that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s quite difficult to put into words.”
It’s effective - and some fans consider this a particularly emotional version of Dearly Beloved, something that’s a surprise to Shimomura.
“I didn’t intentionally set out to make this version particularly emotional. But hearing this, I wonder if perhaps it’s because the arrangement reflects the characters themselves.”
KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep (PSP, 2010)
KINGDOM HEARTS Birth By Sleep went even further back in the series timeline and shifted the spotlight onto three entirely new Keyblade wielders: Aqua, Terra and Ventus. It’s a heartfelt and tragic tale, and it affected how Shimomura approached writing Dearly Beloved for the game.
“Compared to the original version, ‘the past’ was the main theme for this particular arrangement,” she says. I also thought about the strong bonds between the three main characters, and their tragic destiny.”
“No matter how hard you wish for something, you can’t always make it come true. Being swallowed up by an unavoidable destiny, but still wanting to keep your heart, never wanting to give up….
“I used the sorrowful violin in the middle of the track and the lively piano at the end to portray these themes and emotions.”
KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 ReMIX (PS3, 2013) / KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.5 ReMIX (PS3, 2014) / KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX (PS4, 2017)
The news that the original KINGDOM HEARTS adventures were being remastered - and reorchestrated - for modern hardware was extremely exciting for Shimomura, who saw an opportunity to have her vision for these soundtracks fully realized.
She remembers when she first learned about the project: “Right away, I thought what a great chance it was to improve the sound quality of the original versions!”
Exciting as the project was, the composer was slightly apprehensive about the task of revisiting her earlier versions of Dearly Beloved - particularly since they’d lived with fans for so long.
“I took great care not to let down or disappoint fans who had played the originals a lot. I didn’t want them to say that the sound quality may have improved, but the original was still better!”
Fortunately, she didn’t let them down - the release won plaudits from fans and critics for their reworked soundtracks, including the redone Dearly Beloved.
KINGDOM HEARTS III (PS4, Xbox One, 2019)
2019 saw the much-anticipated release of KINGDOM HEARTS III, which featured an entirely new, and rather wonderful, arrangement of Dearly Beloved.
As a signature track of the series, you might think that it would be getting harder for Shimomura to find new ways to approach it, but that’s not the case:
“I think the key is to incorporate the new emotions that the changes to the game, and the new features bring to the series,” she says.
For KINGDOM HEARTS III specifically, she wanted to do something a little different with Dearly Beloved, and capture the feelings that come with the culmination of the Dark Seeker Saga.
“I began by working with the director, Tetsuya Nomura, to make sure that his vision and what I wanted to convey in the track were correctly aligned,” she says.
“In the introduction, I wanted to create a little bit of doubt, to make something seem a bit different and strange - then follow it up with the familiar refrain, to make the listener feel as though they’ve come home.
“I included a lot of different emotions in this track. I hope everyone who listens to it can interpret it in their own way.”
The KINGDOM HEARTS - III, II.8, Unchained χ & Union χ [Cross] - soundtrack is now available through streaming services - and naturally this version of Dearly Beloved is included.
KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, 2020)
Which brings us to the most recent KINGDOM HEARTS game: Melody of Memory. When Shimomura found they were making an entire game based largely on her work, she was… surprised.
“Actually, I was, like, ‘Wait, really!? That’s great!!’,” she laughs. She was particularly pleased because it gave her an opportunity for something she’d wanted to do for years - approach Dearly Beloved from a whole new angle:
“I’d wanted to make a swing version of Dearly Beloved for a while,” she says. “I even made one for a previous installment, but at the time, it didn’t quite fit and we scrapped it.
“A version was also performed for the encore of KINGDOM HEARTS Concert -First Breath- (a concert band performance), but until now, I’d never been able to use style officially in a game.
“So this time, I wanted to take another go at it and make something really fun!”
The final track is indeed fun - upbeat, witty, and perfectly captures the feeling of celebration that Melody of Memory represents. So how does the composer feel about it?
“Of course, I’m very satisfied! Apparently, one member of the team really likes this version, and they listened to it over 100 times before the game was even released!
“I was delighted when I heard that,” she adds with a chuckle.
Dearly Beloved captures the soul of KINGDOM HEARTS. Over the course of many games, this signature track has evolved and changed, but it’s never lost that core that makes it instantly recognizable.
It’s an impressive musical feat, and many fans will have their preferred version… but not Shimomura. Despite our best efforts, she refuses to be drawn into playing favorites with her work.
“I’m just no good at choosing my number one!” she says. “What’s more, as a composer, I don’t think there are any tracks I would like to change. That would be like denying all the effort I put into making the song and how I felt at the time, as well as all the people who like the song as it is.
“Well, there were some tracks where I would have liked to improve the sound quality, but I’ve already had that opportunity with KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX.”
What she does have a strong opinion about, however, are the fans of the KINGDOM HEARTS series and her work on the series. She has a message for them:
“I’m very happy that so many people love the music from KINGDOM HEARTS so much, including Dearly Beloved. From the very first time I set my hands on the keyboard to work on this series right up until today, I’ve been supported by so many people. That means each and every one of you.
“Everyone’s emotions, everyone’s hearts – they touched me, and in turn, became part of new KINGDOM HEARTS songs. Thank you all so much!”
KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory is out now, and makes it easy to appreciate Shimomura’s amazing work on the series. With more than 140 tracks, and that version of Dearly Beloved, it’s an unmissable experience for KINGDOM HEARTS fans, rhythm action fans, or anyone who just appreciates amazing music.
Try KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory now via the free demo:
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