It’s almost time to bid farewell to the PlayStation 2 era of the Atelier series — but not before we’ve spent some time celebrating the music of the game that ended this distinctive part of the series’ history.
Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy features some magnificent tunes to accompany the action, building on the good work that Gust’s sound team did in Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm and Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis while bringing a few of its own distinctive stylistic aspects to the table, too.
Without further ado then, crank up that volume (or plug in some good headphones) and let’s get listening!
My Silly Days
We begin, as always, with the main opening theme. In this case, the music here is a pretty representative example of what to expect from much of Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy’s soundtrack: a distinct rock inspiration, with electric bass, drums and wailing but highly melodic electric guitar lines.
The lyrics have a somewhat nostalgic feel to them, with the singer talking about wanting to “stay by your side a little longer”. This is presumably intended to reflect several things: this particular era of Atelier coming to a close, along with the inevitable feelings of nostalgia and perhaps regret that one feels when one is coming to the end of one’s school days. As we’ve previously seen, this latter aspect in particular is something that is specifically explored in the Extra scenario that unlocks after beating both Ulrika and Raze’s routes through the game.
The Wind That Reveals Hope
This delightful tune, first heard during the introduction of both main characters, is clearly intended to be something of a “school song”. The idea of a school song is not really something that gets much attention any more, but it’s very much associated with private education in the mid-20th century, particularly in England.
This is noteworthy because of the two Mana Khemia games’ obvious resemblance to popular fiction involving private education — such as the Harry Potter series, which the first game in particular is often compared to.
Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy also brings an instrumental version of this song back as the main theme for a good third of the story, so it becomes a piece of music you’re very familiar with by the end of your time with the game!
This song, heard in Raze’s workshop, is one of the most memorable tracks from the entire score — as the “workshop” themes often tend to be in Atelier games. In this instance, it might initially seem like a bit of a strange fit for Raze, who seems like a rather taciturn sort of individual who wouldn’t have a lot of time for this sort of cheery music — but then you consider his varied companions, and it all starts to make a bit more sense.
The title, Cinderella Honeymoon, is presumably a reference to Lily (the “Cinderella” in question, at least in her own eyes), who believes that dragging Raze along to Al-Revis with her will provide the push needed to get the pair of them together. Things are, of course, not that simple.
And here’s Ulrika’s workshop theme, which has a rather different feel to Raze’s. It’s distinctly more laid-back in tone, giving something of a relaxed feel to life in her workshop. This fits well with Ulrika’s somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards her studies, and is also a nice contrast with the relentlessly chaotic energy created by her other workshop members — particularly the irrepressible Pepperoni and Goto.
The title, Romantic Dud, is perhaps a reference to the fact that in contrast to Raze’s route, Ulrika’s path through the game features no romantic interests whatsoever. Ulrika shows absolutely no interest in anyone whatsoever, and is clearly perfectly happy being her own person. She’s the polar opposite of Lily in many ways — which perhaps explains why the pair of them are at each other’s throats pretty much from the moment they first meet.
Gotta get at least one battle theme in there, huh? This is the first one you hear in the game, and it’s a great example of what we talked about with the opening theme: driving rock rhythms in the bass and drums, with melodic electric guitar lines layered atop — and one hell of a solo in the middle.
Tracks like this are a great example of what a good decision it was for Gust’s sound team to shift from sequenced to streamed music in Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm. While a composition that is structured like this would certainly be possible with sequenced music — Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana has a boss theme along those lines, as it happens — nothing can quite match the raw fury one gets from real musicians playing real instruments and really letting loose.
The Ineducable Bunch in the Workshop
This is one of the most “Atelier” pieces of music on the whole soundtrack. In fact, it bears a distinct resemblance to some of the tracks heard in the subsequent Atelier Arland games, such as the event themes Encounter with Alchemy and Shopkeeper’s Disposition from Atelier Rorona.
The melody line on the clarinet has a distinctly playful yet gentle feel, which is a perfect accompaniment to the kind of scenes this music tends to accompany. They’re not the absolute wackiest comedy scenes the game has to offer, but rather scenes that provide a rather pleasant, comfy feeling of light-heartedness and friendship — something the Atelier series as a whole has always been very good at.
Sublime Maiden’s Love
Each character has their own distinct musical theme in Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy. This is Lily’s, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the exclusive use of instrumentation associated with art music coupled with the waltz-like triple-time rhythms provide a good sense of her affluence and refinement. This sort of thing is a musical cliché for a reason, after all.
Digging a little deeper, we can contemplate the use of waltz rhythms as being a reflection of Lily daydreaming about being with Raze. Surely there’s nothing the poor girl would love more than to dance closely with her beau?
I’ll Teach You
This is a personal favourite of mine from the soundtrack as a whole, and it’s typically heard whenever you’ve finished something noteworthy but relatively mundane in the game, such a class assignment.
This piece works so well because its cheery rhythms and oompah bass line provide a wonderful sense of “release” from the tension that has inevitably come before. It’s a stark contrast to the heavy rock themes you’d have heard in battle, for example — so if completing an assignment required a bunch of fighting, as it often does on Raze’s route in particular, finally getting to hear this theme is blessed relief.
This track, typically heard during scenes where a teacher is briefing their class on what they’ll be expected to do in their next assignment, is the other side of I’ll Teach You above. It’s the calm before the storm; you’re being cheerfully told what is expected of you, and you don’t really have any idea what to expect. Yet.
The use of a recorder ensemble for a significant part of the melody partway through the track also provides a really lovely reflection of the school setting, since recorder is an instrument often associated with one’s school days — and it’s also one frequently heard in Atelier soundtracks, too, giving it a pleasant double meaning.
Here’s another character song, this time for the girl who thinks she’s a Puni, Puniyo. This track beautifully reflects everything about her: the use of synthesised sounds with slow attack give a real sense of “squishiness” to the music, while the happy tune reflects her innocence in ways of the world.
And yet there’s a sort of nobility in there, too; Puniyo is proud of who she is, and likewise her “brothers” are proud to stand alongside her. We could probably all learn a lot from Puniyo.
A Precious Place
This track, heard in the final “term” of the game, really encapsulates the sense of melancholy we talked about earlier. Your school days are coming to an end, and you know you’re going to have to leave many of your friends behind to start a new life somewhere. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself in the moment, of course, but that impending “ending” is always on your mind.
Once again, this track demonstrates Ken Nakagawa and Daisuke Achiwa making effective use of what some regard to be musical clichés — in this case, the I-V-VI chord progression so beloved of pop song writers over the years — by combining them with memorable melodic lines and a good choice of instrumentation.
This is the final boss theme for both Raze and Ulrika, and it’s the natural conclusion of how the battle themes gradually build in intensity with each passing “term” of the game’s story. Here we go full-on prog rock, with some lovely interplay between the lead guitar and synth lines, giving the whole track a very melodic feel.
Meanwhile, the rock backing, courtesy of electric bass, drums and rhythm guitar, is absolutely relentless. This is absolutely wonderful battle music.
And here’s the real final boss theme, for those willing to put in the time required to see the whole game through to its true conclusion. Here we lean even harder into the prog rock angle, beginning with a distinctly Gothic intro that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Michiru Yamane-era Castlevania title before moving into some face-melting rock rhythms — and some vocals this time, too. (There’s also a hint of Bach’s famous Toccata in D Minor towards the end of the track; see if you can spot it.)
The lyrics themselves reflect the experience you’ve just been through. They talk about a “road forking in two”, reflecting the two routes through the game, and how those paths “merge into one” in the Extra scenario. And they talk about an honest desire: a “wish for a new world, a future where we live together”. That’s exactly what Raze and Ulrika are ultimately fighting for in the game’s finale — and what the Light Mana wishes to prevent: a world where human and Mana alike can live alongside one another.
A fitting conclusion, no?
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