It’s that time once again: time to celebrate the sterling work of Gust’s sound team, and the distinctive soundscape they have created over the years from the Atelier series.
As you might expect with the change in artist, overall aesthetic and tone, the sound of the Dusk series is a little different from the Arland trilogy before it — but it’s still recognisably “Atelier”.
This time around, the music is the work of Gust regulars Daisuke Achiwa and Kazuki Yanagawa as well as Yu Shimoda; the latter worked with Inti Creates on retro revival titles Mega Man 9 and 10, and joined Taito’s ZUNTATA sound team in 2017. Series mainstay Ken Nakagawa, meanwhile, stepped aside from Atelier compositions from hereon, though he returned for contributions to both Atelier Lulua and Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists’ soundtracks.
There’s an immediate contrast from what has come for with the opening theme to Atelier Ayesha, known as Hanashirube (literally, “flower mark”). Rather than the distinctly “anime-style” themes from previous games, here we have an understated, retro-style acoustic theme with some pleasing close harmonies and a rather gentle feel. This fits in nicely with Ayesha’s personality and the overall concept of the game; it’s not about saving the world, it’s about completing a personal quest.
The rather “1960s” feel to the overall mix also fits nicely with the game’s deliberately “aged” look and feel. As you’ll recall, most of Atelier Ayesha’s visuals, both 2D and 3D, feature the deliberate addition of noise, grain and desaturated colours to make them look a bit like old photographs or faded memories. Having a distinctly nostalgic-feeling main theme to the whole game feels very much in keeping with the vibe the whole game is going for.
There’s a touch of Latin America about a fair bit of Atelier Ayesha’s presentation. Certain characters are dressed in distinct styles of clothing that resemble traditional garb of the region, and tracks like this in the soundtrack most certainly provide a distinct, recognisable, regional feel through the use of instruments like the pan pipes.
That said, the use of pan pipes is quite common in a number of other Gust soundtracks — they’re heard quite often in the Ar Tonelico games, for example — so perhaps it’s just a case of someone on Gust’s sound team who particularly likes them!
Most of Atelier Ayesha’s battle themes — and there are quite a few of them — take their titles from the names 16th century alchemist Paracelsus came up with for elemental beings. Undine is the name for elemental beings associated with water — and those of you who play a lot of RPGs will doubtless have come across this name numerous times before.
This naming convention is entirely appropriate for Atelier Ayesha, since the game as a whole has a strong focus on nature, and particularly flowers. There’s the distinct sense that humanity may well be dying out — and that nature is there, ready to take its place when it finally breathes its last. But people like Ayesha prove that humanity isn’t just going to lie down and wait for death — a sentiment that comes across very clearly in this track.
Young witch Wilbell is the one character who appears in all three Dusk games, and her theme is usually a variation on this one. In this specific track, there’s a gently playful feel; even though it becomes clear quite quickly that Wilbell is actually a surprisingly powerful witch, she’s still extremely childish at heart, even as she gets older, and her theme always reflects that.
The clever use of instrumentation in this track is what makes it so appealing to listen to. The use of xylophone and glockenspiel helps provide a joyfully child-like feel to the main melody — then the fact it is echoed on the timpani, of all instruments, later in the track reminds us that there’s a bit more to Wilbell than perhaps meets the eye!
Pen and the Sword
Another recurring theme, this time for the character Linca, who remains something of a mystery over the course of Atelier Ayesha; we get to learn a little more about her in Atelier Escha & Logy, though, don’t worry. Linca puts across an air of cool refinement when we first meet her, but over time we learn that she’s just tremendously awkward about anything other than swinging a sword around, and that the “refinement” is mostly down to the elegant clothes her friend Marion (the “pen” of the title, in all likelihood, due to her predilection for paperwork) has insisted she clothe herself in!
The theme accurately reflects what most people’s first impression of Linca is likely to be — and indeed, even as you see her getting flustered about the prospect of making friends or doing things other than battering monsters around the head with a sword the size of her entire body, it’s hard to forget that side of her. She just exudes elegance and maturity, even if it’s unintentionally — and that’s part of what makes her such an appealing character.
Even Today is Still Today
This theme, usually heard when Ayesha is just hanging out doing Ayesha things, nicely reflects her overall positive personality and the fact that she rarely lets things get her down — not visibly, at least. She remains an inspiring presence to be around, and brings joy to so many people over the course of her journey. It’s hard not to get swept along by her enthusiasm for what she does — even if she would never admit her talents herself!
This is also one of those themes from the complete score that sounds the most distinctly “Atelier“; with the series’ tendency towards energetic and playful female protagonists, there’s usually a theme that sounds a bit like this somewhere in the mix, and it’s always a pleasure to hear any time it comes up.
Rather amusingly, the short jingle for any time Ayesha sleeps is called “Tomorrow is Still Tomorrow”, in reference to this track.
A Flower Blooming Nearby
This simple yet emotional track, played on a music box — you can even hear it being “wound up” again at the loop point — is heard when Ayesha is looking over her memory diary and contemplating all the things she has done that have brought her to her current situation.
There’s often a feeling of satisfaction there — reflected in game mechanic terms through stat bonuses — but there’s also a sense of melancholy. Some of the things Ayesha does over the course of her journey don’t bring her any closer to rescuing her sister Nio from her predicament, but they still brought joy to someone else. Does that make them a “lesser” achievement or something Ayesha should feel guilty about pursuing?
This track, whose title translates literally to “twilight”, is heard any time Ayesha manages to catch a glimpse of Nio — or her spirit, at least — during her journey. There’s a real feeling of sadness in this piece of music; it’s during these scenes that the seriousness of the situation that Ayesha is trying to resolve truly becomes most apparent. And it’s the time when we most strongly feel that the story as a whole is an allegory for dealing with seemingly inevitable tragedy — such as terminal illness.
Also, it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nier soundtrack, which is always a bonus.
The end credits theme for Atelier Ayesha combines feelings of both hope and melancholy — much like the game as a whole. While you’ve reached the end of Ayesha’s story, the tale of the world of Dusk will continue — and at the conclusion of Ayesha’s tale, it’s really quite hard to tell if everything is really going to be all right or not.
It’s an interesting angle for a series that is historically regarded as warm and comfy to take — but it’s undeniably effective, and doubtless a big part of why the Dusk subseries in particular is so fondly regarded by longstanding fans of the franchise.
This is it. This is the track from Atelier Ayesha’s soundtrack. If this doesn’t send shivers down your spine and bring tears to your eyes, you are a stronger man than I. I’m torn between this and the incredible Sayonara from Atelier Ayesha stablemate Blue Reflection for the title of “most emotionally devastating final boss theme”, but it’s definitely a close-run thing.
As you might expect from the nature of Atelier Ayesha’s narrative, the personal stakes for our heroine are high when it comes to this final confrontation. Will everything end happily? Well, that’s all up to you, isn’t it…?
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