After the rather melancholy tone of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland’s soundtrack, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland returns to a rather more joyful feel.
There’s a sense of adventure to the music, for sure, since Meruru’s quest takes her quite far afield from her home town, but there’s also a sense of triumph; of overcoming odds. Meruru’s story, particularly in its latter hours, is one of triumph over adversity, and of growth. Not just personal growth, either; also the literal, measurable growth of the kingdom of Arls as a direct result of Meruru’s efforts.
This time around, Ken Nakagawa is joined by frequent collaborators Kazuki Yanagawa and Daisuke Achiwa for a solid and diverse soundtrack that is one of the catchiest in the series. Turn up the volume and let’s listen to some selected highlights.
As usual, we kick off with the game’s opening animation theme. The sense of triumph is there right from the beginning, and the pleasant feeling of joyful happiness is complemented by the animation playing at the time, which features a distinctly party-like atmosphere in and around Arls.
As the piece progresses, the solo vocals come in with a distinctive, memorable tune that we hear a few times throughout the game. The lyrics concern the desire to reach a far-off dream, and how everyone can come together to make this happen. This theme is also reflected by the title “Cadena”, which is Spanish for “chain”. The chain imagery is used not only to reflect the bonds between people, but also the fact that Atelier Meruru acts as a story that ties the whole Arland trilogy up neatly. At least until Lulua came along, anyway!
You’ll hear numerous Spanish influences throughout the Atelier Meruru soundtrack, so the choice of language for the title is very deliberate. An emphasis on Spain also draws us away from the Germanic style much of Atelier is based on, reflecting that Arls is a different sort of place to Arland.
Atelier Meruru has a lot more songs than its predecessors in the series. Cloudy is first heard towards the start of the game, once the initial preamble is over and done with and the sassy princess’ quest has begun in earnest. This piece accompanies a pleasant montage of her walking through Arls, surveying the situation and considering exactly what it means to take her first steps on this five-year journey.
The piece, composed and performed in a distinctly modern style, has a certain movie-like quality to it; the direction of this scene marks some of Gust’s first steps in the excellent direction, editing and cinematography that characterises some of their later games such as Blue Reflection.
Alchemist Girl Meruru’s Song
If you come away from your time with Atelier Meruru without this delightfully cheerful song stuck in your head, I have to admire your willpower. This absolutely joyful composition captures Meruru’s personality perfectly; her cheerfulness, her determination, her desire to do the right thing — and the fact that everyone knows who she is. Rather delightfully, you hear this theme any time you encounter a powerful enemy; it gives the whole situation a distinctly anime-esque feel as Meruru battles her foes to her own theme tune.
The song’s lyrics imply that it is being sung by Meruru herself, and the seemingly gibberish sections actually incorporate several Japanese onomatopoeia: “mera-mera” is a sound effect that suggests burning (like the fire beneath her cauldron); “meri-meri” can either act as an English loan word to suggest merriment, or a sound effect for groaning, cracking or splitting, particularly that heard when a tree is falling (like when forests are felled to develop the kingdom); and “mero-mero” suggests that distinctive sort of heart-shaped pupils, drunk on love feeling (like Keina feels towards Meruru, or Mimi feels towards Totori, or any number of other pairings in the series).
You knew it was coming: it’s the “Working” song! The song for Meruru’s workshop is, like many of the other pieces on the soundtrack, a joyous little ditty that it’s hard to come away from without wanting to sing it over and over and over again until everyone around you either wants to join in or punch you right in the face.
The use of recorder as a primary instrument in the opening parts of the melody gives the theme a somewhat rustic, traditional feel, and the relentless energy of the backing reflects how Meruru is always on the go, always getting things done. It’s one of my personal favourite workshop themes in the whole series.
What My Sight Can See
This is one of several themes in Atelier Meruru that changes its sound and arrangement according to your progress in the game. Specifically, this one is the main world map theme, and you’ll hear across the three versions above how it develops from a rather rustic-sounding theme in its initial incarnation to gradually more triumphant versions as the kingdom of Arls grows under Meruru’s supervision.
Like Atelier Totori’s “Following the Footsteps” theme, there are also several alternative mixes of this piece according to the places that Meruru is visiting. Here’s a foresty version:
And a version for hanging out by the lake:
A really weird one for exploring caves, possibly reflecting the fact that there tend to be ghosts in caves in Atelier games:
And finally a theme for wide open spaces:
The consistency of the main theme in all these tracks provides a pleasant sense of coherence to the game world while still making different types of terrain feel unique from one another. Plus the main melody is, like so many other themes in this game, inordinately catchy.
It’s not all about mixes of the same theme, though. Certain specific locations have their own unique pieces of music, and this starts right at the beginning of the game; the otherwise unremarkable Moyori Forest area that is the first location Meruru visits after leaving town features this rather charming little piece.
Again, there’s a distinctly rustic feel to it all thanks to the instrumentation — and while there are dangers in the forest for those who are unprepared, it’s also a thoroughly pleasant place that one could picture oneself relaxing in for hours at a time. Once all that damned Plain Grass is cut, anyway.
Hinatabokko for meruru
This is my absolute favourite version of Rorona’s theme in the whole Arland series. It’s absolutely perfect for Rorona’s character — particularly when you consider that Astrid’s meddling caused the poor girl to revert back to being a little kid. There’s a childlike charm to the piece — particularly once those wonderful “sha-la-la-laas” come in — but also a hint of melancholy; while Rorona doesn’t seem to mind being a kid, she did lose all her memories in the process, which naturally makes those who were close to her feel a bit bad about the whole situation.
Don’t worry, you can fix her. Although you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Astrid will thank you.
The Spanish influences on Atelier Meruru are most readily apparent in the main battle theme for the game, whose distinctive use of Spanish guitar as its primary instrument gives the whole thing an immediately recognisable feel. Once again, the sheer energy of this piece reflects Meruru’s energy — and the enthusiasm she inspires in those around her, who are keen to protect her as she goes about her business.
It’s a battle theme of hope and courage rather than struggling against all odds; it makes you want to do your best, because Meruru and her friends certainly are.
Just to remind us that Gust’s sound team hasn’t forgotten how to deliver some face-melting rock — as heard to great effect in Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy in particular — most of the “final boss” themes that conclude the major narrative paths in Atelier Meruru’s latter half deliver a fine line in howling electric guitars and thrashing drum beats.
This track, which accompanies the major story boss “Airshatter”, incorporates elements of a number of other themes from the game, while ratcheting the intensity up to a high level to convey the urgency of the situation. While much of Atelier Meruru’s narrative is relatively sedate, if you choose to pursue the story path that features the Airshatter battle, you’re fighting for the very survival of Arls — and of all Meruru’s hard work. And this music certainly makes you believe it!
Let’s wrap up, then, with the last song you hear in the game. This is performed by prolific vocalist mao, who has worked on a number of video games and anime over the years. It’s appropriate, then, that this song sounds like it’s right out of an anime opening or ending animation. Catchy, distinctive and incorporating a number of themes from earlier in the game, it ties things up nicely and helps to release the tension built up by some of the possible finale sequences in the game.
It’s a great ending theme. And until 2019 rolled around, it was one of the last things you heard in the Arland series. But then something rather strange and unexpected happened…
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