After two full trilogies — Dusk and Mysterious — the Atelier series returned to Arland for one (possibly) last hurrah with Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland. And naturally, that meant a return to the distinctive sound of Arland, too.
Once again, the music for this installment comes courtesy of series regulars Ken Nakagawa, Daisuke Achiwa and Kazuki Yanagawa and, much like the rest of the game, tends to blend elements of old and new to create something that is simultaneously comfortably familiar and recognisably fresh.
Turn up the volume, hit the jump and let’s listen to some selected highlights together.
As always, we begin with the song that accompanies the game’s opening animation. As is usual for the Arland series in particular, the music here is energetic and joyful, with a distinctly dance-like rhythm to it; one can imagine Lulua dancing to this, her skirt fluttering around her as she spins.
The lyrics of the song refer to a “nostalgic journey”, and a sense that the singer — presumably implied to be Lulua — is following in someone’s footsteps. This is a bit of a running theme throughout the Arland series in particular — hell, Atelier Totori’s soundtrack had a wide variety of tracks literally called “Following the Footsteps” — but in Lulua’s case, it reflects her desire to catch up with her mother Rorona, both literally and figuratively.
On the whole, it’s a very positive theme, looking forward to a brighter tomorrow. This perhaps reflects the fact that for much of Atelier Lulua, there’s no real “bad guy” as such — Lulua’s journey is one of self-discovery and joy rather than attempting to overcome a threat.
From Me to You
The theme heard on the game’s main title screen is short and simple, but very effective. It provides a pleasant sense of deep emotion that reflects the journey that is to come; while there is positivity here, there’s also a slight sense of melancholy and regret, perhaps reflecting the fact that both Rorona and Lulua wish they would have had the opportunity to spend more time with one another up until now.
Its delicate nature also continues a bit of light bait-and-switch that the game does with regard to Lulua’s character — if you were to look at the way she is presented on the box art and listen to this theme, it would be easy to assume that she would be a meek, quiet sort of girl, wandering through the world vaguely in awe of everything. The reality is very different, as Lulua is a highly energetic, outgoing sort of girl with occasionally tomboyish tendencies. She doesn’t abandon any sense of femininity, mind; few could argue that, like most Atelier girls, she is a real beauty.
Running Down a Familiar Road
The theme for Lulua’s home town of Arklys provides a lovely sense of being “welcome”. It’s a joyful theme with somewhat rustic, rural influences — particularly the use of tin whistle for the main melody, which provides a somewhat “folk music” feel to the whole thing.
It’s one of many ways in which the game strongly contrasts the quiet, sleepy village of Arklys with the much more developed areas in the game such as, of course, Arland — and even Arls after Meruru’s influence in the previous game.
Lulua Chasing Stars
Following the format of Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru before it, Atelier Lulua features a world map theme that is dynamically remixed according to where Lulua is going at any given moment. This rather triumphant, grand version of the theme accompanies the main world map screen, reflecting the fact that Lulua is about to embark on a grand journey that will change her life.
The contrast between the rather gentle theme of Arklys and this piece really helps drive home the fact that Lulua is starting a brand new chapter in her life — and she’s moving well beyond the life she has always known up until this point.
The “Forest” variation of the theme drops the lower-frequency parts of the mix in favour of a lightweight, strings-centric version of the theme. When combined with the subtle glockenspiel patterns in the background, there’s a sense of mystery and magic about this — which goes well with the representation of forests throughout the Arland series as places that, for the most part, remain relatively free of human influence.
By contrast, the “Fields” version of the theme is quite similar to the main world map theme, with a much thicker mix and a wider variety of instruments. In particular, the stronger bassline, use of percussion and guitar strumming gives a much more “populated” feel than the rather sparse “Forest” mix, reflecting the fact that said fields are cultivated by humans rather than left to nature.
The “Wetlands” version of the theme, meanwhile, marks a noticeable difference in instrumentation and arrangement, providing a much more Middle Eastern or perhaps Indian feel to the whole thing. This is another way through which the music reflects Lulua’s journey through a variety of different landscapes; while she’s still the same old Lulua, as she continues on her way, the scenery around her becomes more and more different from that to which she is accustomed.
Finally, the “Caves” version of the theme provides probably the “loneliest” feel of all. The thin texture and the sparse, percussion-centric instrumentation accompanied by a simple melody with heavy reverb helps provide the feeling that Lulua is far off the beaten track now — and that she’d better keep all her wits about her if she wants to stay safe, because with how far she is from civilisation now, she can’t necessarily count on there being readily available help if she needs it.
There are several battle themes heard throughout Atelier Lulua, depending on the particular area of the game map you’re exploring. This one, featuring intertwining whistle and fiddle melodies, provides the same sort of pleasant “folk” feel to things that we hear in the Arklys theme — only with a lot more energy about it, as you might expect.
This is a battle theme that inspires confidence. You hear this, you know that Lulua is capable of taking care of herself, and that, as she says, it’ll all work out… somehow.
This being an Atelier game, there has to be a “Working!” theme in there somewhere, right? In this case, we hear it not in the workshop that Lulua calls home back in Arklys — which she actually returns to relatively infrequently throughout the game — but rather in Piana’s wagon atelier, where Lulua has been training. The primary reason for this is that Piana joins Lulua on her journey, bringing the wagon atelier with her — so it’s simply more convenient for Lulua to get on with her alchemy studies in the wagon.
The theme itself is what you’ve probably come to expect from a “Working!” theme by this point — energetic, happy and positive, with a clear melody and use of instrumentation that we come to associate with the main character in the long term. In this case, the distinctive folk whistle sound is very much associated with Lulua whenever we hear it — and that association is primarily created through this theme.
Castle Town in a Small Land
This version of Atelier Meruru’s Arls theme is a lot gentler than the last time we heard it, helping to reflect the fact that Arls has settled down considerably since its five years of explosive growth under Meruru — and its subsequent merger with Arland. The small town has grown into a thoroughly pleasant place to be, and this rather relaxing theme helps reflect that.
The use of piano and strings as the primary instrumentation in this version of the tune give it a strong sense that Arls is a place you can truly relax and live out your days in peace — and, for music nerds, the Pachelbel’s Canon-inspired chord progression further enhances this feeling of comfortable familiarity.
Here’s another battle theme, this time heard throughout the Arls area. This time around, it sounds like things are getting a little more serious, thanks primarily to the tonality of the piece and its instrumentation. The driving guitar rhythms in the background are somewhat reminiscent of the Spanish-infused tracks in Atelier Meruru’s soundtrack, while the use of Baroque and Gothic-style instrumentation in places calls to mind another Gust work: the wonderful Nights of Azure.
Once again, though, you’ll hear Lulua’s iconic whistle sound in there; she’s still the star of the show, though she’s getting further and further from home.
Let’s Go Out
Arland’s theme has undergone some changes, too. After all, as the game points out, it’s now a full twenty years since we first started looking in on the region as we joined Rorona for the first time, so it’s only reasonable to assume that this centre of commerce and industry would have developed in various ways.
In this case, much like Arls, the new arrangement of its theme remains pleasantly familiar, but there’s a markedly different atmosphere to it. The relentless, energetic and almost chaotic sense created by the Arland theme in Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori is replaced by a feeling of refinement; the driving quadruple-time rhythms have been replaced by a gentler, more flowing, triple-time waltz rhythm. The overall atmosphere created is the sense that Arland, having survived the chaos of both an industrial revolution and political upheaval, is finally able to settle down and concentrate on being a place people might actually want to spend time in.
This is the last of the regular battle themes we’ll hear today, and this time it’s heard in the vicinity of Arland. Like how Tierra acknowledges Meruru’s background with its instrumentation, Tick Panic blends Lulua’s iconic whistle sound with the ’70s-style electronic wind instrument and synth sounds heard throughout Atelier Rorona’s soundtrack. It’s a subtle effect, but distinctly recognisable if you know what to look for — and a great way to pay homage to those who came before Lulua.
Further reflecting Lulua’s journey far from home, this is probably the most “intense” sounding of all the battle themes, which goes along with the fact that while Lulua is still “discovering” the world around her, Arland plays host to the toughest enemies.
The true meaning of this track’s title becomes apparent during the game’s finale — though you may well have your own suspicions along the way. Prior to that, it’s typically heard during emotional or reflective moments of the story — usually at the end of one of the game’s main “chapters” as what we can assume is a Lulua of the future narrates what has just happened and what she learned from the experience.
This thoroughly pleasant theme incorporates Lulua’s usual whistle sound along with a bit of fiddle, piano and guitar; there are folk undertones to this piece, in keeping with the rest of the soundtrack, but on the whole it’s more about reflecting on what has transpired — and where we can go next.
One of several major boss themes in the game, this track contrasts with its final boss counterpart in its more positive tone. The major tonality and rather triumphant sound to its melody reflects the fact that this is not a fight for survival; rather, it is a fight to prove oneself — where Lulua gets the opportunity to demonstrate the things she has learned, and how she as grown as a person throughout her journey.
It’s an inspiring piece, for sure — and Nights of Azure fans will likely appreciate the heavy use of choir combined with wailing electric guitar lines, too.
The actual final boss theme, curiously Romanised as “Flea Disaster” (which I’m not entirely convinced is correct; it’s more likely “[something] The Star”) makes it clear that things are well and truly serious now. We have very different instrumentation from the rest of the game; Lulua’s whistle is nowhere to be heard, for example, and the folk influences are completely absent. Instead, we have a strong emphasis on the more Gothic influences heard elsewhere in the soundtrack, including use of pipe organ and a much larger string ensemble.
This track shows that Lulua is well and truly out of her comfort zone now, and it’s going to take all of her knowledge, skills and wits to ensure that everything ends up with a suitably happy ending. Is she up to the challenge? Well, that’s mainly up to you, now, isn’t it?
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