While the move to the PlayStation 3 marked significant changes in both gameplay and visual presentation for the Atelier series, one area in which it remained comfortably consistent was the musical accompaniment to the action.
Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland once again saw Ken Nakagawa in charge of the majority of the soundtrack, with some guest vocalists on a number of tracks. This time around, Nakagawa stepped back a little from the howling guitars and thrashing beats of Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy in favour of something a little closer to what we heard in Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm and Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis.
It’s definitely got that distinctive “Atelier sound” about it, thanks to Nakagawa’s love of traditional instrumentation and composition using an electronic wind instrument, but Atelier Rorona’s soundtrack also has a few elements that make it stand out as its own, immediately recognisable thing, too. So crank up that volume and let’s have a listen to some select tracks!
Falling, The Star Light
As usual, we kick off with the game’s main opening theme. This is fairly recognisable as a Gust song thanks to its heavily processed backing vocals. This distinctive sound became a bit of a trademark of Gust’s sound team in general; Nakagawa and his peers (particularly Daisuke Achiwa) made heavy use of it in both the earlier Atelier games and the Ar Tonelico series — the latter of which is the series with which this vocal style is most readily associated.
There’s a pleasantly gentle feeling to the track as a whole, and the triple-time “waltz”-like rhythm adds to the somewhat Germanic feel that the Atelier series as a whole — and particularly some of its subseries, such as the original Salburg trilogy and the Arland games — tends to go for in its audio-visual aesthetic.
And of course, no exploration of an Atelier soundtrack would be complete without a look at the “working” theme, would it? Atelier Rorona’s is one of the most distinctive and memorable in the series — and even put in a guest appearance in a few spin-off games over the years.
The playful nature of the recorder lead and its harmonica counterpoint give a real feeling of Rorona’s carefree nature, and a sense of her remaining consistently and relentlessly positive under increasingly challenging circumstances. It’s hard not to smile when you hear this tune — even when deadlines are looming!
This track is noteworthy for not being a completely original track. In fact, it’s a substantial but recognisable rearrangement of the track DO-TA from Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana. This was presumably a track that Nakagawa had some fondness for and wished to revisit.
You may recall that between the publication of Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana and Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, Nakagawa switched from using synthesised, sequenced music to pre-recorded, streamed music, and thus would have the opportunity to recreate some of his earlier tracks in greater fidelity if he so desired. He resisted doing this too much — most Atelier games have a completely unique soundtrack, albeit with occasional callbacks to earlier titles in their same subseries on occasion — but apparently the opportunity to turn DO-TA into a joyfully silly trombone piece was too much temptation to resist.
I feel him.
Encounter with Alchemy
This is one of the most frequently heard tracks in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, and tends to accompany scenes in which Rorona is having a pleasant conversation with someone. Interestingly, the track eschews the somewhat Celtic-cum-Germanic nature of a lot of the soundtrack in favour of the use of a steel drum sound for the main melody.
You might think that this would be completely incongruous, since steel drums are typically associated with music from the tropics — and particularly the Caribbean — but something about this really works, emphasising the pleasantly gentle, carefree and comfortable nature of the game as a whole.
The Young Lady is a Tomboy
And how! This is Cordelia von Feuerbach’s theme, and is absolutely perfect for her. It beautifully captures her energy, her occasional childishness, and her adventurous spirit. The distinctly “oompah” nature of the backing also gives the whole thing a pleasantly Germanic feel, too, which is, of course, thoroughly in keeping with the Arland setting.
To further emphasise this side of things, this lovely piano rearrangement of the tune from the Atelier Rorona Arrange Album sounds like something that would have been composed in the late Classical to early Romantic era — a period in musical history where a lot of German and Austrian composers were plying their trade to great success. Mozart would be proud of those ostinato passages.
When You Are Troubled, Talk
This track is a good example of Nakagawa’s love of leitmotiv, where a particular piece of music is associated with a particular person, place or idea. There are a number of different “character themes” throughout Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland — and indeed throughout the Atelier series as a whole — but this is always one that’s stood out to me personally.
It’s the theme for Esty, who in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland acts as something of a surrogate older sister for our heroine. The gentleness of the acoustic backing and the sweet melody on a breathy whistle puts one at ease, much as Esty’s mere presence is often enough to make Rorona feel comfortable and relaxed. Except, perhaps, when Esty has had a drink or two. That’s when you play Noisy instead.
A Little Evildoer’s March
It’s hard to express quite how much I love this track. It’s the absolute perfect theme for Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland’s bumbling “villain” of sorts, the government minister Meredith Alcock. Throughout the story, Alcock shows himself to not be particularly good at the whole “villain” thing on a micro scale, even if his ambitions might be particularly grand. And this track reflects that incompetence perfectly.
That said, if you follow Gio’s narrative path through to its conclusion you can see that the man does have some teeth; for the most part, though, he lives the life of a politician, sheltered from the things that are really going on out on the streets of the kingdom he supposedly helps to keep running smoothly.
A Mysterious Recipe
And let’s wrap up with the ending theme, which I defy anyone who has beaten Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland to listen to and not see a thoroughly happy-looking Rorona bobbing along in the corner of their vision.
This track is the perfect ending to the game as a whole. While Rorona has faced numerous challenges throughout the three years in which the story has unfolded, unless you made a real mess of things (which is surprisingly hard to do) the conclusion of the narrative is a time for great celebration, and for everyone to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labours.
The joyful choral “la la las” at the end are just the icing on the cake. Though if you’re going for all the endings, I do hope you’re ready to hear this theme a lot…
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