Yes, it’s that time again, boys and girls — the time where we celebrate the sterling work that Gust’s sound team do on their flagship series, and each installment of the series manages to have a distinct, unique sound while remaining true to the franchise’s overall atmosphere.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is a noteworthy installment in this regard, in that it placed Hayato Asano in a leading role on the soundtrack alongside series veterans Daisuke Achiwa and Kazuki Yanagawa. And anyone who is familiar with Asano’s other work on titles such as Nights of Azure and Blue Reflection will be immediately at home with the distinctive sound he brings to Atelier Shallie’s soundtrack.
So pump up the volume, sit back, relax and let’s have a listen to some particular highlights from Atelier Shallie’s substantial soundtrack!
We begin, as always, with the game’s main opening theme. In keeping with what we’ve heard elsewhere in the Dusk series, Atelier Shallie’s opening video is a somewhat contemplative, mournful affair; it highlights the fact that we’re concerned with a dying world rather than a colourful land filled with positivity and hope. And just to emphasise the importance of this theme, it returns at several important narrative junctures.
Interestingly, in contrast to a number of previous Atelier opening themes, the lyrics for this one are fully in English — which means if you’re paying attention you can easily understand how absolutely heartbreaking they are.
“We know the world slowly makes all be back to the start / All of our wounds need to heal more or to get worse / Invisible forces lead us to where we belong / We’re looking for reasons to resist or to surrender.” Sounds pretty fitting for the Dusk series as a whole, hm?
Abundant City of Water
This theme, heard whenever you’re hanging out in the game’s main city of Stellard, is a pretty representative example of what to expect from Asano’s soundtracks. Those familiar with Blue Reflection’s distinctive score will be well familiar with the combination of twinkly piano, deep bass and swirling synthesised sounds we have here; from a synaesthetic sense, it sounds very “blue” and thus is ideal for the blue skies and abundant water of Stellard.
It also makes for a nicely relaxing piece of music after time out in the field, providing a pleasant sense of coming “home” after some challenging encounters. This is something the hub-based Atelier games have always been good at — and music is always an important part of creating that feeling.
Alchemist on a Ship
The first of two “Working” themes in the game, this track is heard whenever you’re playing as Shallistera and you return to her alchemy workshop that is aboard her ship. It’s a nice reflection of both her character and her background, with the use of traditional instrumentation such as panpipes and simple percussion highlighting her people’s tribal lifestyle — a strong contrast from the rather urbanised Stellard.
Again, there’s a nice feeling of coming “home” any time you hear this; the contrast in timbre between the plucked strings and percussion in this tune and the smoother sound of Stellard’s theme music highlights the fact that Shallistera is still something of an outsider in the region — though she’s always among friends in her workshop.
Humming in the Atelier
By contrast, Shallotte’s “Working” theme has a much more energetic feel to it — firmly in keeping with Shallotte’s personality — plus it also features some distinctly “nautical”-sounding instruments such as the accordion and whistle. In this regard, it’s quite similar in timbre to Atelier Totori’s workshop theme. The reason for this, of course, is the fact that Stellard is a port town, just as Alanya is in Atelier Totori.
Okay, the sea water in the Dusk Sea may have long since dried up, necessitating the use of the game’s unusual floating ships to cross the endless sands, but it’s still a port!
Sea of Sand
Speaking of those endless sands, Atelier Shallie has another thing in common with Atelier Totori: the fact that many of the areas you explore on the world map feature a variation on the same theme. And there’s even a variation in the theme between the two main playable characters; Shallistera’s (above) features a rather mournful whistle sound as its main melodic instrument, for example, while Shallotte’s (below) features a somewhat more “bouncy” feel thanks to its syncopated rhythms; a reflection of it’s owner’s cheerful personality.
As you proceed around the game world, you’ll hear numerous remixes of this theme, including this one for desert areas, featuring Middle Eastern instrumentation as is typically associated with such settings:
Or this rather calming one, heard in forest regions, with the lack of driving rhythms and percussion in the lower end of the mix highlighting the serene atmosphere of your typical forest. The impressively substantial “thump” of the bass drum heard in this one highlights the majesty of nature; it provides an occasional reminder that an individual human is just a tiny speck on a whole planet, and however much damage they’ve done to the environment, nature will always outlive them.
Speaking of majestic, the absolutely most majestic theme from Atelier Ayesha — its heartrending final boss theme, MARIA — makes a comeback in Atelier Shallie, this time as a character theme to accompany any appearance of Keithgriff Hazeldine.
This is actually one of the most interesting musical choices in the whole soundtrack, because throughout both Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Shallie, Keithgriff is depicted as a somewhat harsh, impatient old man who many characters find rather scary and uncomfortable to deal with. This theme, meanwhile, highlights the fact that, beneath that grumpy facade, he feels great sadness at the seemingly irreversible course that human history has set the world on — and somewhat powerless to do anything about it.
At least, he feels that way until he encounters the two Shallies, of course.
Stella (Parts 1-3)
Both Shallistera and Shallotte have three “normal battle” themes that show up over the course of the game as a whole. Here’s Shallistera’s first one:
This obviously has the feel of a “battle theme” to it, but its relatively thin texture and pleasant timbre gives us the feeling that nothing is a particularly huge threat at this point of proceedings. It gives us a sense of hope — and the feeling that our heroine is going to have plenty of opportunity to grow as her adventure continues.
Part 2 of Shallistera’s suite of battle music features the same basic melody and harmony as the first part, but a markedly different feel. At this point in the narrative, Stera is starting to feel rather more accepted by the people around her in Stellard — and also quite a bit more comfortable in her own abilities. Consequently, and fittingly, her music takes on a rather more “epic” feel, featuring a thicker texture and an overall more “triumphant” sense due to the change in instrumentation.
Finally, Part 3 of Shallistera’s suite of battle themes again features the same melody and harmony, but this time a blend of acoustic and electric instruments, with notable additions to the mix including synthesisers and electric guitars. This has a couple of effects: the thrashing electric guitars and rock percussion ups the intensity of the battle theme in keeping with the raised stakes of the narrative at this point — and the use of synthesiser pads and piano further emphasises how Stera has managed to integrate herself into Stellardian society at this point.
Sweep! (Parts 1-3)
By contrast, Shallotte’s battle themes start with a lot of that intensity already present and correct — particularly in terms of the driving rhythm section and elaborate bassline. There’s still a relatively thin texture, though, so just like Shallistera’s early battle theme, we get the distinct impression that the stakes aren’t all that high at this point in proceedings.
Lotte’s second battle theme is an interesting one, as it starts off with a rather more “serious” feel to it thanks to those rather grand strings sounds. And indeed this continues throughout the piece as a whole; there’s a strong feel that this piece is performed by a full orchestra rather than a small band, giving it a rather more “epic” feel. This is likely intended to reflect the fact that at this point in the narrative, Lotte is starting to feel a sense of “belonging” and ambition for the first time in her life — and the sensation is doubtless a little overwhelming, but exciting at the same time.
As with Stera’s themes, Lotte’s third battle theme maintains the same basic melodic and harmonic structure but ups the intensity with some driving rhythms and the introduction of electronic instrumentation. In this case, the electric guitar is kept on rhythm duty and the drums are from an electronic drum machine rather than a rock kit, but that feeling of raised stakes and heightened excitement is still present and correct. The main melody being delivered by acoustic guitar gives a slightly Spanish flavour somewhat reminiscent of Atelier Meruru’s soundtrack.
Gate of Mirages
The first time you reach the Ruins of Frozen Time — which can be quite early in the game, depending on how thorough you are with exploration — will doubtless be a significant moment, as this piece of music makes it clear that there’s something important about this place.
The observant will note that this is based on the theme of Rusty Sky, and it’s also got a powerfully melancholic feel about it, giving the whole area a strangely “sacred” feel to it; the sense that you probably shouldn’t disturb anything right now. Particularly as there’s a motionless little girl kneeling silently atop a platform, and early in the game you have no idea why she’s there.
Later in the game, of course, you find out why she’s there, and indeed do something about it. The result is this song, which certainly doesn’t help with the feeling of “I probably shouldn’t be here”. But at this point in the narrative, you’re on the tail of the truth — and that potentially means disturbing some things that haven’t been disturbed for a very long time indeed.
One of those things, of course, being the final boss. And unlike Atelier Escha & Logy and Atelier Ayesha before it, Atelier Shallie’s final boss confrontation really is the grand finale — not just of the game, but of the Dusk series as a whole. So it’s fitting that this is a spectacular, powerful piece of music that highlights the importance of this encounter — while simultaneously providing a slight sense of hope that maybe, possibly everything might work out, somehow.
That’s Lulua’s line, I know, but in keeping with the Socratic paradox that is Atelier Shallie as a whole, that really is all you can say at the end of it all; all you know is that you know nothing, after all — so all that really matters is how you approach the trials that are ahead of you, and who you have standing alongside you in support and solidarity.
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