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Shining Hearts Original Soundtrack :: Review by Don

Shining Hearts Original Soundtrack Album Title: Shining Hearts Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Pony Canyon
Catalog No.: PCCG-90060
Release Date: February 2, 2011
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Shining Hearts, the next game in Sega's Shining series, marks the return of Hiroki Kikuta to the composer's chair for an RPG. Recently, he has been doing a lot of independent albums and bishoujo soundtracks off his Nostrilia label, so it's nice to see him back composing for a major gaming company. Featuring a variety of styles, Shining Hearts manages to show a diverse musicality from Kikuta. However, does it succeed in providing a satisfying listen outside the game?


The album opens and closes with two songs sung by Lia. Composed by Noriyasu Agematsu, "A Song Reaching the Heart (Type A)" features Elements Gardens normal vocal theme approach and manages to combine elements of worldly features with more pop and electronic influences. Lia's voice is quite powerful and really fits well with the music. There is also a Type-B version that opens up the second disc that is a bit softer in approach and features some jazzy elements, such as saxophone, but the worldly elements are still in place and the beats aren't as prominent. The album closes with "White and Shadow ~Dance in the Dreams~ (Short Version)" by Hiroki Kikuta. Unlike the opening theme, this theme is a ballad that features some Asian influences. However, for the most part, it's light pop with some mystical elements and fits the overall soundscape of the soundtrack.

I remember when the game was first announced and the website featured its first musical sample. It turns out that this theme was called "Moonbow Maiden", and it is another example of Kikuta's ability to craft an extremely intoxicating atmosphere full of simple ideas and make it sound quite complex. The diverse acoustic and percussive forces all come together to provide a very rich soundscape that definitely is reminiscent of his early RPG works. Among other themes that evoke memories of Secret of Mana, "Chirps of Little Birds" features a very magical and mystifying atmosphere, but also one that is reminiscent of nature. It suffers a bit in terms of melodic development, but makes up for it with atmosphere. "Flour, Eggs, and Milk", in contrast, is a very playful theme with a strong melody. The combination drum pads, xylophone, and pizzicato strings ensure this is a classic expression of Kikuta's personality.

"Field Song," presumably a world map theme of some sort, has an Asian influence in its soundscape.I really enjoy the atmosphere and instrumentation of this theme; however, like "Chirps of Little Birds," it suffers a bit in terms of melodic development. Continuing the regional presence, "Going to the Vast Ocean" is one of my favorite themes on the soundtrack. It features a wonderful, serene atmosphere that really casts an aura of relaxation on the listener. The woodwinds and pizzicato strings help give it a delicate touch and a very subdued presence, but in the end, there is a sense of adventure hidden deep within this theme. "A Lane in Bloom" also features a sort of Asian presence, although it's more in terms of musical ideas, rather than instrumentation. The strings work is deep and powerful, albeit intermittent in the piece, while the piano and xylophone help create more mystical and mysterious tones within the piece. "Scorching Ground" meanwhile has a very Arabian sound that fits a desert environment. I really like the sitar usage and the exotic percussion samples as they really help create a nice fascinating rhythm. The B section is more atmospheric and less focused on melody, but it complements the more melodically focused A section quite well.

Quite a few of the themes are also focused around the concept of wind. "Seashore Wind" has a very carefree atmosphere, although I think that the acoustic guitar gives it more of a rustic, countryside sound, rather than one of a beach. However, I really like the playful combination of piano, xylophone, and acoustic guitar as they really help bring a very unique presence to the album. The subsequent theme, "Windy Path," also features the use of guitar, but in a Spanish influenced flamenco capacity. It's a fast-paced theme with some Asian influence, especially in terms of woodwinds, and the overall combination is both unique and thrilling. "Sprouting Wind" features a more relaxing atmosphere compared to some of the other wind related themes, with its delicate piano and woodwinds, while "Platinum Wind" is even more appealing with its simultaneous relaxing, mystical, and adventurous qualities. My absolute favorite of the wind related themes is "Dry Wind." The delicate strings accompaniment goes quite well with the acoustic guitar melody. However, unlike "Seashore Wind," it's not a rustic sound. It's hard to describe its effect, but it manages to come off as slightly Asian inspired.

Among other RPG staples, "Angel's Castle" has a very regal tone to it, but it's not overbearing. In fact, there really isn't any brass featured like many royal themes seem to include. Rather, the use of harpsichord provides an equally compelling, softer approach to creating that air of regality. "Rural Scenery" is a very simple village theme that features a focus on percussion, strings, and woodwinds. The woodwind melody help creates a nice sense of openness while the strings and percussion help create a playful, village atmosphere. Interestingly enough, "Village of the Moonlight" is a slower, more enchanting version of "Chirps of Little Birds". I really enjoy the soundscape of this more than the more vibrant original theme. Another delight in context, "Sorrowful," as the name implies, is a very sad tune. I really like how despairing the woodwinds, strings, and acoustic guitar make the melody sound and, while it's not the most complex tune, it doesn't need to be either. Much the same applies to "Loving Heart", which has a somewhat warmer sound.

Of course, you can't have an RPG without some action based themes. "Brave Fight," the normal battle theme, has a major Mana influence. It's definitely unique in terms of battle themes, though, as I find the acoustic guitar focus and playful piano and woodwind work together to provide a very vibrant atmosphere that goes well with the fantastic usage of drumpad. This is easily one of the most successful themes on the album. "The Roar of the Evil Beast," presumably a boss battle theme, features a very intense militaristic sound. I really like the intense and chaotic runs of the piano in conjunction with the snare drums and strings. However, what I appreciate the most is how Kikuta adds some off rhythm using a drumpad to create a very unique effect at times. "Like a Storm" features a similar soundscape as "The Roar of the Evil Beast." There is a strong focus on frenetic and suspenseful strings, foreboding brass, and some powerful percussion. It's not as creative as the former, but it does manage to provide an extremely tense atmosphere.

One of the intriguing gems on the album "A Leader's Capacity." It blends a classic rock combination of drums, keyboard, and guitars with foreboding piano accompaniment and powerful orchestration. I find that the elements all come together effectively to create a very inviting piece. Other impressive rockfests include "Mechanical Pulsation", with its heroic B section, and "Armored Pirate", my favourite of the themes related to the pirates. That said, the biggest highlight of the action oriented themes is "Confrontation of Fate." Powerful brass notes, militaristic orchestration, and electric guitar all come together to create an extremely pleasing theme. There is definitely a fateful presence heard in the atmosphere of the entire track, yet an encouraging and heroic feel predominates. Another favorite of mine, "From Beyond the Limits," may or may not be the final battle theme. It's an uplifting, heroic theme that features some wonderful guitar work that goes nicely with the inspiring strings and rhythmic drums. Some sections sound like a jam session, where others once again reminisce on the Mana series.

"Shining Hearts" is one of the most beautiful pieces on the entire soundtrack. It features a very heartfelt and warm atmosphere with touching strings and piano work. The B section, comprised of piano, manages to help give it a very magical atmosphere as well. This theme is also arranged in a couple of other tracks as well. "Hymn of Happiness" features ethereal chorus to help create a very poignant rendition of the original, while "A Bell Tolls in the Heat" features glockenspiel and music box to create a simple but playful atmosphere. The album's in-game music ends with "World of Happiness (Ending)", which packs in the various influences from across the soundtrack with a succession of contrasting themes. Though some parts overly long, it does successfully create a feeling of closure.


The Shining Hearts Original Soundtrack is sure to please the fans of Hiroki Kikuta. It features themes that reminisce towards works spanning across his career, including plenty of tracks reminiscent of the score that got him started. That said, I find the soundtrack lacks focus at times. The action oriented themes are all quite strong, as are his more heartfelt passages, but some of the more atmosphere-centric themes do take a while to get used to. Although Kikuta hasn't composed for a console RPG in quite some time, I think this was a very good gateway into future RPG scores.

Overall Score: 8/10