The Atelier series has some wonderful music, and provides many examples of Gust’s sound team producing some of the most distinctive, immediately recognisable soundtracks in the business.
As the Atelier MegaFeature progresses, we’ll stop off every so often to take in some of these classic tunes — and where better to start than with the game we’ve just finished looking at in depth?
Let’s admire some of the lovely themes from the first Atelier game to come West, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana!
White Night Imagination
The opening theme is as good a place as any to start. Composed by Akira Tsuchiya and Takashige Inagaki, it’s a strong vocal track that is pretty indicative of Gust Sound Team’s work in general. Its distinctive use of heavily processed choral singing would go on to be explored in much greater detail with the Ar Tonelico series, two years after Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana first released.
The actual lyrics broadly describe Klein and company’s quest to reach the ruined alchemical city of Avenberry, making reference to believing in one’s power, following one’s dream and finding the “key” to an “unopened casket”.
It’s an inspiring theme, blending the epic with the personal through the contrast between the choral and solo vocals — pretty appropriate for the varying scope of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana’s narrative as you work your way through it!
The Forest of Meeting
This track, composed by Gust Sound Team regulars Ken Nakagawa, Daisuke Achiwa and Akira Tsuchiya, is heard in various “rural” areas around the game world — usually areas of little importance, with a few exceptions.
Despite its relatively “generic” usage, it’s a great example of how Nakagawa, Achiwa and Tsuchiya base many of their tunes on strong, memorable melodic hooks and harmonic progressions; you’ll only have to hear this once or twice before you have it well and truly stuck in your head.
The overall “circular” pattern of the chord progression it’s all based on — always, regularly returning to the tonic — helps emphasise the feeling of being on a never-ending journey, and the use of gentle instrument sounds such as flutes and strings reminds us that sometimes being outside among nature isn’t all that bad, really.
Town Where the Bells Chime
This theme, heard whenever you’re in the game’s central city of Kavoc, is another fine example of Nakagawa, Achiwa and Tsuchiya’s strong use of melodic hooks to keep the player invested in what’s going on and feeling attached to a particular location. It’s comforting to return to Kavoc and hear this music; it’s such a happy little jig that it’s hard not to feel like you’re “home”.
The use of traditional instrumentation such as the accordion reminds us that the many worlds of the Atelier series tend to be very much based on continental Europe — specifically, there are usually pretty heavy influences from Renaissance Germany in terms of architecture and fashion — though the addition of electric bass and processed drums later in the track highlights that this isn’t just a historical-style affair!
These three tracks are all based around identical melodies and harmonies, but change their instrumentation and overall “feel” considerably to reflect the location in which they’re heard. Specifically, they’re heard inside the shops in the three main settlements you visit over the course of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana’s main narrative.
Kavoc’s variant on the theme blends a harmonica main theme with the distinctive electric bass and electronic drums heard in Town Where Bells Chime; Arcose, meanwhile, brings in some of the Middle Eastern influences with regard to its backing instrumentation; and the version heard in the snowy northern village of Duran uses the sort of sparkly synth sounds we’ve come to associate with icy environments or the winter holiday season.
The jolly synth bass line in this latter version also highlights the fact that Duran is far away from the rest of the world’s troubles; it’s a settlement that looks forward to celebrating its annual festival and following its proud traditions.
Popo’s Pleasant Money Lecture
This song, heard when watching a tutorial or loading a save game from the title screen, is one of the most obviously “Atelier” tracks to me. The cheerful, syncopated Latin-inspired rhythm section, the major key, the heavy use of steel drums — these are all elements that would be heard in a lot of later Atelier games as well as here. Steel drums would go on to be particularly prominent in Atelier Rorona’s soundtrack, some five games (and five years) later.
Ah, but DO-TA! goes one better than just using similar instrumentation to other Atelier games; this exact theme is also heard elsewhere in the series — particularly in, again, Atelier Rorona, where it is delivered by some of the most joyful-sounding trombone playing I think I’ve ever heard on a game soundtrack.
This is very much the “silly” theme; whenever you hear this in Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, you know that struggles and hardships are far away, and that you can smile without fear.
This track, heard in the fairies’ workshop you gain access to quite early in the game — and which you pass through every time you use the game’s fast travel system — is another distinctively “Atelier” track in terms of instrumentation, texture, overall timbre, melodic shape and rhythmic patterns.
Specifically, it strongly resembles the “Work” themes from the PS1 Atelier games — and the workshop themes from subsequent titles, for that matter. But since Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana doesn’t really base its gameplay around a central “hub” workshop in the same way as the rest of the series, the classic-style workshop theme had to be put somewhere else. Where better than a location you’re likely to pass through more than pretty much anywhere else in the game?
It wouldn’t be a post appreciating an RPG’s music without at least one battle theme, now, would it? This one is mostly heard for major bosses, especially later in the narrative, and combines an awesome rock backing (complete with a nice bit of Hammond organ complementing the usual guitar, bass and drums) with a vibrant synth lead providing melodic interest.
It’s an inspiring theme that does a great job getting you hyped up for a major battle; while Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana isn’t an especially difficult game, major battles tend to reward careful preparation, and tracks like this provide a feeling of “importance” to the situation.
The final boss theme builds on what Horned Enigma did with a dramatic, contemplative introduction that brings back a number of themes that have been heard throughout the game as whole before launching into an energetic rock number that unfolds at a much higher tempo than anything else in the game.
The final battle is a challenging, long one — probably actually the second toughest thing in the game after the optional postgame superboss — so it’s fitting that this track is pretty long before it loops. Wouldn’t want you getting bored while you’re being elemental extracted now, would we?
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