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It’s time once again to enjoy the wonderful work that Gust’s sound team puts into its flagship series — this time with the excellent music from Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book.
Atelier Sophie’s soundtrack is a pretty substantial one, consisting of 94 tracks in total — and as such, there were a fair few people working on it. Series mainstays Kazuki Yanagawa and Daisuke Achiwa return as always, as does Hayato Asano, who had gradually been becoming more prominent not just in the Atelier games, but in Gust’s work in general up until this point.
They’re joined by contributions from Ryudai Abe, Yu Shimoda, Miyoko Kobayashi and RURUTIA. So let’s take a moment to go through some favourite tracks — and if you picked up the physical release of the complete Mysterious Trilogy from Play-Asia, don’t forget you can download the full soundtracks with your serial codes until April 21, 2024!
Of course, we begin with the game’s main opening theme, heard during the introductory video. This is a very obviously “Atelier” theme, featuring plenty of lilting, folky rhythms as well as the iconic vocal work heard in a lot of other Gust titles.
The word “Phronesis” is a Greek word that doesn’t have a direct translation, but it is usually interpreted as prudence, practical virtue, a general sense of wisdom and sometimes mindfulness. This concept describes something that you would expect a stereotypical image of an “alchemist” to have — and it’s something that Sophie learns from Plachta over the course of the narrative.
Plachta learns plenty from Sophie too, of course; being practical and wise isn’t the only way to get by in the world!
Campanella of Sun Through Trees
Yep, we’ve got a “Working!” theme already, and this one is a near perfect example of the auditory trope the series has spent a long time establishing by this point. It’s got the driving yet gentle rhythms supporting the whole thing, the sweet melody over the top, and a slight sense of “adventure” to it all.
While the majority of the instrumentation used is rather folk-inspired, like many other Atelier tracks, the use of fiddle melodies also provides a sense of being on the “frontier” thanks to tropes often used in music for Westerns. Atelier Sophie isn’t really a “Western” as such, but the town of Kirchen Bell could reasonably be argued to be on a frontier — there don’t seem to be all that many other settlements around, at least!
Scenery of the Town
It wouldn’t be a modern Atelier game without at least one tune that came in several different varieties according to various conditions. So let’s have a listen to the music that accompanies your time in the game’s main setting of Kirchen Bell.
This version is heard first thing in the morning, from dawn up until the time most reasonable people would be getting up. Not Sophie, though! She’s a dedicated and committed alchemist… or more likely, someone whose sleep schedule is absolutely ballsed up beyond all hope of recovery thanks to her daily activities.
This version, regarded as being for “noon” but actually heard from mid-morning onwards, presents a delightfully lively atmosphere for the town, making it feel like a bustling settlement where lots is going on. It’s not a big town by any means, but there’s certainly always something happening — particularly as Sophie’s story unfolds.
The atmosphere of the town is particularly emphasised by the sound of church bells — as the town’s name suggests, the church is a central feature and tourist attraction of Kirchen Bell — as well as European instrumentation taking in Spanish, French and German influences. Truly a delightfully multicultural sort of place to hang out — and a great way of getting across the sense of it being a “travellers’ rest” of sorts.
This version, heard as the sun is going down and evening is drawing in, emphasises the melody on fiddle and trombone, and complements it with some driving percussion, giving something of a party atmosphere to the town.
Again, while Kirchen Bell isn’t necessarily the most crowded or hip, happenin’ sort of place, it certainly is lively — and one gets the impression everyone might enjoy a drink or two of an evening.
Finally, we wrap up the variations on the town theme with the predictable but nonetheless effective use of solo piano — accompanied by occasional “nocturnal” sounds such as owls hooting. Since there’s not actually all that much you can do in town at night — the only place that’s open is the café — this track provides a good sense that it might be a good time to head to bed… or out for an adventure!
Dreams of a Book
Plachta’s theme is one of the most memorable themes in Atelier Sophie, and it fits her character absolutely perfectly. The very slight sense of discord to the piano and tuned percussion backing gives a feeling of things never quite being resolved, which is a nice way of emphasising Plachta’s unfolding story of not quite being able to remember everything about her past.
At the same time, the gentle, cheerful rhythm and an overall sense of “sparkliness” makes it clear that Plachta is someone who is pleasant to have around; she is certainly mysterious, sure, but she’s also a good friend — and quite the beauty once she gets a body, of course.
Corneria’s theme is immediately catchy, but something was also bugging me from the moment I first heard it — haven’t I heard this somewhere before? Try for the life of me, I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d heard it before — but I was absolutely and completely convinced that I had.
I was right. It can also be heard in a slightly different form as the track “Handball” from Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, where it accompanies any scenes involving the engineer and imbuing alchemy specialist Miruca.
Why reuse the theme? Well, in some ways, Corneria and Miruca can be looked upon as having similar personality traits. They both err somewhat on the kuudere side of things with their habitually expressionless faces and small mouths — though Corneria gradually reveals herself to have a deadpan sense of light-heartedness, while Miruca is more serious and determined.
If you want to really stretch things, Miruca’s name is almost the pronunciation of the English word “milk” (miruku) and Corneria really, really likes milk. But that’s just a theory.
Bookworm Glasses Girl
Bookshop owner Elise has another reimagined theme, though this one was a little easier to identify. It’s very similar to Esty’s theme, known as “When You Are Troubled, Talk”, from the Atelier Arland games.
The connections between the two characters will be fairly obvious to anyone who has played both games: both Esty and Elise adopt the role of “older sister” for the Arland series protagonists and Sophie respectively, despite there not being a particularly huge age gap between the latter pairing. We don’t talk about the increasingly large age gap between Esty and Rorona, then Totori, then Meruru.
Both Elise and Esty have a somewhat graceful, gentle nature to them that puts one immediately at ease — and this is emphasised by the pleasant, lilting nature of their respective themes. They are their own individual people, though; Elise is a quiet, bookish type — though she possesses plenty of knowledge and wisdom — while Esty has somewhat more hotheaded, passionate tendencies. These differences are brought across by how the theme develops in a different way across the two different variations.
Ghost Girl for Sophie
And speaking of recurring themes, it wouldn’t do to omit Pamela from the mix, now, would it? After being absent for the Dusk trilogy, Pamela returns in Atelier Sophie as Kirchen Bell’s resident nun, wearing another take on her iconic, old-school “lady” big poofy dress (which conveniently obscures her feet, because ghosts don’t have feet).
Pamela is actually handled rather nicely in Atelier Sophie; at the outset, no-one seems to have any idea that she is a ghost, though those who played the earlier Atelier games in which she featured will be very much aware. As the game progresses, if you follow through Pamela’s story thread, more and more peculiar things start to happen, until there’s only one inevitable conclusion.
A personal favourite from the soundtrack, this theme, heard any time you’re interacting with Tess the bunnygirl from Kirchen Bell’s café/pub, is a perfect example of how a piece of music can really complement a character nicely.
Tess is a character who is sort of understatedly sexy. She’s flirtatious, but not overly so; her outfit is mildly provocative, but not excessively so; and dear Lord does she have everyone in the town wrapped around her little finger. Even Sophie isn’t completely immune to her charms — I defy you to go through the whole game without being at least a little bit curious as to what might happen if you can finally afford her “date ticket”.
As for her theme, the jazz-inspired rhythm section is what makes this for me. It puts across the idea of her being a hostess in a popular drinking establishment — though the rising and falling melodies in the middle section indicate that a relationship with Tess would be more complex that one might think. Follow her questline and Sophie gets an understanding of this firsthand.
Here we’ve got quite an old-school Atelier final boss theme — although the heavy use of cembalo melody throughout makes it abundantly clear that Hayato Asano took the reins on this one. This is a track that wouldn’t sound out of place in the rockin’ gothic opera that is Nights of Azure.
Although there are moments of intensity throughout Atelier Sophie’s soundtrack, the nature of the narrative for the majority of the game’s runtime means that Sophie and her company aren’t really subject to a sense of overwhelming “threat” until the finale sequence starts. This track emphasises this beautifully — while everything Sophie’s done up until this point has been to help others in her own simple, personal sort of way, what she’s doing now is fighting not only for her life, but for the safety of the world, too.
Little in My Little
And to wrap things up nicely, this track, heard as part of the credits sequence, highlights the somewhat bittersweet nature of the conclusion to Atelier Sophie’s narrative. While both Sophie and Plachta are absolutely fine when all is said and done, the same can’t be said for antagonist Luard, who is doomed to spend eternity trapped in artificial bodies he had spent centuries trying to break free of.
This might not sound like too bad an end for a villain — until you realise that Plachta (and Sophie for that matter) really wanted to find a way to save him from himself rather than dooming him to this life of misery. Luard was once Plachta’s closest friend, after all, and even after everything he’d done, she wanted to forgive him and see him redeemed. But unfortunately that never happened.
Ah well. At least Plachta has Sophie now — and one could argue that Luard being split into Meklet and Atomina means that he always has “himself” for company from hereon, if nothing else…
This post is one chapter of a MegaFeature!
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