In 2004, a commercial for Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories came across my TV, exposing me to the series and more importantly, to the first game’s theme song, “Simple and Clean”. An infectious track, “Simple and Clean” burrowed it’s way into my ears and stayed there for months and months, until I finally got my hands on the Game Boy Advance title by way of a friend in early 2005. For a long while, the song was my everything, as it was for most players of the early Kingdom Hearts titles; looking back, it isn’t hard to see why it’s inhabited the collective conscience of a generation since day one. Utada Hikaru’s beautiful vocals calling out with words about a simple, peaceful love, and a chorus so iconic that you could call it out in a room full of strangers and get at least one response (I don’t recommend doing this), “Simple and Clean” is so good it could have topped Pop charts for weeks when the game first dropped in 2002.
As excellent as “Simple and Clean” is, though, it is dwarfed in terms of quality by the theme song to Kingdom Hearts II, “Sanctuary”. Continuing the trend of the first game, Utada was tapped once more to lend her voice to a song about love, although in a much more complex song altogether. While it’s predecessor is fittingly simple in it’s production – it’s essentially carried by it’s melody over an R&B beat – KH II‘s theme is incredibly layered. From the bed of the song itself – an alternating drum pattern with a moving bassline over it – to the electronic elements, and the repetition of the reversed lyric “I need more affection than you know”, “Sanctuary” is a borderline masterpiece.
This isn’t to discredit the quality or cultural impact of “Simple and Clean”; there’s a reason it’s constantly being covered by fans and remixed to promote newer entries in the series. Next to series protagonist Sora, it might be the most recognizable thing about Kingdom Hearts as a franchise, and as far as theme songs go, it’s rare to come across one better. However, as good as it is, “Sanctuary” is that much better. It’s the total package, musically, and the version of it that plays at the end of Kingdom Hearts II as well as sequels 358/2 Days and Dream Drop Distance is somehow even better. It’s better not only as a theme song but as a piece of music in general — and I’ll fight anybody on that.