Prior to the release of the massive "Kurt hymneth" box set of Ar tonelico vocal/hymmnos albums, Gust took it upon themselves to open a poll on their "Ar Portal" website. The poll would determine which singers, and which in-game characters (represented by each singer), would have special songs written exclusively for the Kurt hymneth box.
The fans voted, and the results were as follows:
METHOD_ALTERNATION/. performed by Akiko Shikata (as Cloche Leythal Pastalia of Ar tonelico II)
EXEC_VISINDANCE_PLUGINs/. performed by Haruka Shimotsuki (as Luca Trulyworth of Ar tonelico II)
EXEC_DISHADOW_includes.Ex_VANISLAND/. performed by Noriko Mitose (as Jacqli of Ar tonelico II)
Apparently, the Japanese fans have a strong preference for Ar tonelico II!
Now, what's really interesting about these songs is that they came with a whole booklet explaining each song's purpose in the overarching story. In other words, the word "Apocrypha" isn't just a cash-in to make the music sound fancy. These are short stories left out of the games themselves that are now recognized as songs and events that happened in the world of Ar tonelico.
For example, in "METHOD_ALTERNATION/.," Cloche sings back and forth with Infel about whether or not Cloche could ascend as the next queen of Metafalss (the tower and accompanying continent in Ar tonelico II). In another instance, Jacqli (I'll not include the spoiler as to her true identity) works with Shurelia to craft the hymmnos EXEC_DISHADOW just after the events of Ar tonelico II, with the purpose of purging negative emotions/feelings from the place where Jacqli was once held captive. Ultimately, with the inclusion of Ex_VANISLAND/., the conflicted singer finds a way to balance the light and darkness within herself.
(All of the details surrounding each song's purpose can be found in a 10-page booklet included as one of three separate books in the Kurt hymneth box set. Should you want to learn more for yourself about these songs, the Ar tonelico wikia will be your best friend in that endeavor.)
These three songs are, honestly, some of the best songs I've heard in the entire franchise. It is painfully obvious that the musicians put their all into this and that the accompanying lore would make for songs that had their own sense of action, as the sort of exotic sci-fi opera pieces that any good hymmnos song has the potential to be. I am especially pleased by the final track, but each of the three songs is fantastic!
What's extra fantastic is that this digital release even exists. Prior to its publication (strangely, with a "GUSTCD" catalog number despite being a digital-only release), this music could only be found in a locked-down USB "PLAYBUTTON" Badge that was included with the Kurt hymneth box set. The process to access the audio from the badge is its own adventure: the little device comes with its own connector that is USB on one side, 1/8" audio on the other. First, the user must plug the 1/8" cord into the PLAYBUTTON, then plug the USB side into any device that allows power transfer, whether a wall plug with a USB outlet or a PC. Again, because this device was "locked," a PC not only fails to detect the device ... it fails to even notice it! You don't get an "unknown device" error. Nothing comes up, at all. You have to write custom firmware just to get it to be noticed, and from there, breaking the encryption is a whole other ordeal. I've heard that at the time Kurt hymneth was first released, someone did do just that, only to find the device had low-quality 192kbps mp3s written on it.
So, short of jail-breaking it, the next step is to await the device being fully charged (a small LED light blinks while charging and turns solid once charge is at 100%). Then you remove the cord provided and replace it with any 1/8" cord you own that can get you access to the audio (usually, headphones ... though I personally used an 1/8"-to-cassette adapter that I usually use in my car for my iPod, so I could hear the USB Badge through my car speakers!). For all that added effort, the music can feel even more enjoyable. But the lossy audio quality was a real blow to audiophiles worldwide, which is why I'm glad this digital release exists.
However, much like the digital version of Hymmnos Concert side Mori, "Lost Songs" has only been released through online stores that check both your IP address and your credit card's billing address to confirm that you're a Japanese citizen. There are workarounds involving middleman services, prepaid cards, and/or Amazon Pay via "mora." However, considering your only other option is finding the full "Kurt hymneth" box set and then listening to these three songs on a dinky "USB Badge" as 192kbps mp3s that are nearly impossible to pull from the device onto a PC, the workaround for a "digital import" is probably your best shot at adding these lovely songs to your Ar tonelico music collection.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann