Kingdom Hearts III: The Theme Song Dilemma and the Utada Hikaru Controversy

23 Jun

 

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Kingdom Hearts 3 has already been high in anticipation, but it has really been the talk of fans lately since the E3 gameplay trailer was released several days ago. Many speculations, rumors, and desires have been spreading around fiercer than before.

One of those speculations and desires involve the theme song vocalist Utada Hikaru…

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If most of you haven’t heard, Utada Hikaru has been on hiatus since 2011, four years now. Utada Hikaru also stated in a 2009 interview that she wasn’t “paid enough” by the developers of Kingdom Hearts, considering the fact she created the melodies and wrote the songs in both Japanese and English. This was why she never sang new songs for the other Kingdom Hearts versions.

But it seems Utada plans to come out of hiatus soon (YAY!). http://www.khinsider.com/news/Hikaru-Utada-working-on-new-album-5684

Still, we don’t know if she’s willing to work with Square again.

This leaves many to question whether the iconic Japanese pop singer would return as the main theme songstress for Kingdom Hearts 3.

Okay, I know some of you might think that it’s pretty petty for some fans to whine and complain about Utada not being able to sing for the game. Some of you may feel bitter-sweet about her demanding more money to sing for Kingdom Hearts. It does sound kind of selfish, and some of you may wish to move on because of this news.

However, we all know that Utada Hikaru has come to be the staple singer for the series. Without her, it seems that the series isn’t complete. It’s almost like a character is missing. It’s like Kingdom Hearts without Dearly Beloved, the song that introduces Kingdom Hearts.

And sure, let’s not take it as far as to say the game will be awful without her because I’m certain the game will be awesome with or without Utada Hikaru. Whatever new singer, the game may still deliver.

But music has its purpose in any movie or game: It tells a story all its own. A good song and story add to the appeal of a game. This is why game developers work hard to choose the right music for each game. Without the right song, it is hard to advertise the game to appeal to the right demographic. It is hard to grasp the feelings of the characters without the music. The opening theme shapes the tone of the story. It is hard to remind “lost fans” of the games through commercials that remind them of the old days. And let’s face it people: the longevity of the series depends on the sales of the games out now and games coming out. If anyone expects this series to continue, Square-Enix needs to know that the game series isn’t disappointing. And they will know that through sales from hard-core fans, new consumers, and consumers who fell from the series but may want to return. New consumers need to be appealed to.

I remember, if you want the honest truth, that Utada Hikaru’s Simple and Clean was the exact song that really got me into the series. Yes, I would listen to that song on the commercials so much back in 2002, it got stuck in my head. I wanted to buy it. It was also the visuals, the Disney worlds we would fight in, and the foreign appeal. But the song sealed the deal. I mean, why do commercials have songs? To make the product more effective, right? When I bought it, I was fascinated to find the song to be the actual opening theme song! And there were lyrics in the back of the booklet that came with the game. The music drew me into the series. Who knows how many other people were drawn into the series because of the song! What a turn-off it could be for those fans! Some of you may think those fans are immature, but everyone is entitled to their preferences in a game. Is it immature to ask for anything in a game you are paying for? That’s like saying it’s immature to ask for worlds, keyblades, or expect the game to have excellent gameplay. They are all demands. There is no demand that is too immature if you are expected to buy the product. If someone complains, it’s because that’s what they expect from the product. And sure, they can just not buy the series. But think about the bigger picture. If that person doesn’t buy it, that’s one consumer who will not purchase the series. That’s one loss for Square-enix. There could be others who follow suit.

When Kingdom Hears II first came out, I had been waiting for the trailer. I was busy doing chores when I heard a familiar wistful voice on the t.v. I knew it was the same singer from Kingdom Hearts. It reminded me of the game. It was familiar to me. Therefore, I was able to notice Kingdom Hearts II had come out. Had the song been completely different, it would never have caught my ears the same way. So, it is not far-removed for fans to be concerned about the theme song.

The music has always been one of the most iconic things about Kingdom Hearts, and whatever songs they choose will set the mood.

So, this leaves us with two questions: what will be done and what could be done?

If fans want a new song from Utada and no one or nothing else, this could prove to be a challenge, even a legal one. Though Kingdom Hearts 3 is still in development, the release of a game-play trailer shows that development may be winding down. If we want Utada as the theme songstress, with a brand new song, we are going to have to act fast.

A petition will NOT work. The only way Utada will sing for the series is if she is paid to do so. This means Square-Enix has to pay her more than what they have been paying if they expect her to sing in Japanese and English. As fans, there are several things we can do to maneuver this situation in our favor if we really want this.

1) We can urge Square-Enix to loosen their demands and just ask Utada for a Japanese song, just one song, and put it on both games. In this case, they can pay her for less work. Lately, localized ( Dubbed) animes have been adapting the Japanese theme songs straight from the original Japanese animes. Why can’t this be done for Kingdom Hearts? We could still get Utada as the theme songstress and the game could even feel more authentic.

It may sound weird to other regions and it may have a hard time relating to new consumers….But at least the feeling of Kingdom Hearts will not have changed.

We can equally urge them to just ask Utada to make just one song in English, considering it’s a global language. But Nomura is Japanese and his main demographic is Japanese. It just wouldn’t be right.

So perhaps they can have Utada sing the Japanese version and get another artist to sing the English version… But just like with the Final Mixes, you’ll have people who will feel cheated because we weren’t “treated fairly”. And People, it’s very important that everyone feels satisfied with the series. This will increase the game’s popularity and sales.

The only overall conclusion to this solution is for Square to ask Utada to sing one Japanese song and apply it to both games, risking the judgment of those overseas who do not understand the language. There are more pros. Old-time fans will get to hear Utada and the Japanese will be happy. And who knows what new fans may like it better because of the authenticity…It may be an effective risk.

2) We can raise money towards the Utada Project. I’ve thought of this little idea where I could donate some money every month towards the project of Kingdom Hearts III to speed up development. Considering Utada is looking for money, (And who can blame her! Think about how much work it is to make two songs) we, as fans, could donate money towards the theme song. We could organize a plan between Square-Enix and Utada. We could talk to both parties. Somehow, we could pitch in to keep Utada as the theme songstress, at least for one last game in this saga.

If you are not willing to put time and energy into getting anything, then it is not worth fighting for. How many of you would like to organize this sort of project? Leave me a comment and select an option in my poll below if you do. Then we can discuss further.

But if you are not willing to do all of this… Then there’s always option number 1….If you really want Utada back….And you really want a new song from Utada….

If you want Utada but don’t mind using an old song, this would probably be the easiest option for Square, but not the most creative. I mean, come on, this is our LAST GAME for this saga. We need to reminisce on the series through the music. We have to feel this series is coming to an end. We have to feel completely whole by the end of this series. We have to feel we have gone through this journey. Kingdom Hearts II managed to feel like Kingdom Hearts but it also felt like a major leap forward in the story because the song was so different. And let’s face it, using the same song over and over can get boring. We want KHIII to be epic, right? Maybe you don’t care. But we do want this game to appeal to everyone. This will decide sales. Music can influence sales, believe it or not.

I think in order to appeal to everyone the best idea would be to use an orchestrated version of Utada’s songs. That could make it feel new but also give an old feeling. The orchestrated version could be re-mastered in some way.

If you want a completely new song, with Utada or not, there are several things to consider here.

1) If they choose a completely new artist, the artist would have to “feel” like the game. Choosing any random anime Jpop/Jrock artist could completely take away the story-telling tone of the music. It would sound unfamiliar in commercials. Some people learn of the game’s arrival through commercials if they haven’t been following the series closely. Music really connects others to advertisements. Would they really take notice if the song had a completely different feeling? Some may, some may not. It may not feel like the final KH game, but more like we’ve already started on a new game entirely. It wouldn’t feel like a “wrap-up”. The game could lose its identity. Theme songs, characters, worlds, game-play-they all cater to a game’s identity. We want a game that has everything well-presented, especially if we are the ones spending money, correct?

They would really have to choose an artist that can match Utada’s melancholy, yet wistful, voice. She had a distinct voice. She also spoke excellent English and Japanese. Keep this in mind. Choosing the right artist is very important.

2) They don’t have to actually have a singer. Perhaps they can have an epic orchestrated song as the opening to show that this is the finale. It doesn’t have to be a Utada song, but they don’t have to screw up the “feeling of nostalgia” signing some other singer into the series at the very end of one of its most anticipated sagas. When we anticipate a saga, we anticipate how everything will fit, including the music. This solution might be the best one.

3) They could use one of Utada’s other songs even if it isn’t specifically written for KHIII. They could buy a song from her. Perhaps they could use a song she never got to release or something…

Even though Utada has showed disinterest when it comes to being involved with Kingdom Hearts, she doesn’t seem to be on bad terms with Tetsuya Nomura. Last year, Tetsuya Nomura made a beautiful design of Utada in Kingdom Hearts style for her 15th Anniversary album. It seems to be a sign that the two are on good terms…

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Overall, this theme song mess really tells me that KHIII still has a lot of kinks to iron out before anything is released. Tell me, readers, Which solution appeals to you? Leave me a comment in the comments’ section and tell me what you think!

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