Atelier Firis: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Journey is out, and that means another fanciful soundtrack to go along with your obsession for RPG crafting systems. Asaco Nasu, Tatsuya Yano, Daisuke Achiwa, Kazuki Yanagawa, and Ryudai Abe come together as the Gust Sound Team for this latest entry into the Atelier Series. Daisuke has been present from the Atelier’s founding and lends much of the unique sound that has come to define the series’ musical stylings. Kazuki, Asaco, and Ryudai are more recent additions to the series and have contributed heavily since the Twilight trilogy, helping bring a new blend of styles and techniques that helped differentiate the Ateler series sound from that of the Ar series. Tatsuya is the most recent addition to the team, debuting with Gust of the Atelier Sophie OST.
When the core and senior Gust composers started composing for the Ar Tonelico games, it was inevitable that techniques and themes from those games would feed back into their work with the Atelier series. However, this led to a loss of distinction where much of the Arland series music could not be distinguished from the Ar soundtracks. Expanding the team for the Twilight series helped with this greatly, but the quality varied heavily. Fortunately, by the release of Atelier Shallie, the team had achieved a high level of synergy and excellent results. Now, in the Mysterious line, we have a new, more lighthearted setting and theme and a new sound to go with it.
Helping differentiate the Mysterious trilogy’s sound is the newest addition to the team, Tatsuya Yano. His works are robust and do the best job among the team of blending live and synthetic instruments for new and rich sounds that don’t leave one wanting for depth. His soft melodies tend to be heavy, with trill woodwinds or deep base and plenty of rhythm. However, where he really shines is when he brings in a heavier rock sound. He presents several tracks comparable to the best dramatic pieces by Yasunori Mitsuda and Yuki Kajiura, blending guitars, rock rhythms and drums with violins and trumpets pushing Old World melodies laden with strong Spanish and Latin-American influences. “Let Me Cut Some Meat…” is a great example of this.
4 discs with 4 hours of music makes this the longest Atelier OST yet. This is augmented by the fact that the number of very short soundbite tracks is about the same. The album’s added length is due to full length songs, most of them being for the many scenes through which Firis will travel. On the other hand, many of the tracks have both a day and night version, and the night versions tend to be a lackluster and stripped down variation on the day version of the same song. This does somewhat weigh against the value of the additional length, but overall this album is both longer and contains more music worth listening to than any Atelier soundtrack before it. This fits well, as Firis is expected to be one of the longer (perhaps longest for the main plot) Atelier games to date, and will cover the greatest variety of terrain and settings. The creators seem to aim for a soundtrack to match, which should hopefully reduce redundancy during gameplay
The traveling music certainly does seem to carry one from place to place, creating a musical journey to accompany Firis’ literal one. The melodies are rich and performed with complex instrumentation and catchy rhythms. Strongly reflective of the sound team’s world-music-ish approach, Firis leans heavily on melodic themes from Meiji-era Japan and 20th century Europe and south America, with a healthy dose of the Celtic. Many samples are provided here, so please explore them and see what you think. These form the bulk of the album and, as a set, are the theme.
There is also a tendency towards “café” music; a blend of contemporary styles played on older and acoustic instruments. An example that blends all of these elements together is “A Tender Twilight”, where a simple but modern melody is played with an old fashioned fiddle duet and a woodwind. The song’s percussion and rhythm are Japanese in style and instrumentation. Its melody is pastoral and ultimately forgettable, but the song could easily fit the background to a relaxing evening.
For the more adventure- and action-oriented tracks, it seems that the team has taken the best of earlier Atelier works and lessons learned in the Twilight series, and moved in a somewhat new direction. “The Path of Ordeal”, one of the terrain tracks, blends Japanese percussion with military brass and modern military rhythms for a stirring piece that would fit well in an adventure movie. “Determination in a Single Strike” is clearly a combat piece and opens with a more Latin American melody and rhythm, switching halfway through to a violin garishly hammering out chords for a pop melody backed by a drum kit and acoustic guitars. It all works well and is a lot of high energy fun.
The album features several pieces for short events screens and things like finding treasures. These fanfare and shortened melodies are sub par in both instrumentation and melodic inspiration when compared to the rest of the album. Similarly, and as expected with any Gust soundtrack, there are silly and comedic tracks that do not deviate much from the earliest Atelier games. Unfortunately, the rest of the album’s tone and quality are such that these pieces really do not fit when listening to the soundtrack, giving the feeling of suddenly being thrown into a children’s comedy routine. Perhaps in game everything fits together nicely, and it would certainly be uncharacteristic of the GST to not include these tracks in the published OST.
The vocal tracks on this album are Anime style pop songs. They are all OK, and would do fine with an animated sequence as filler. However, except for the ensemble piece, “Into the Journey”, they do not fit the album very well, and only “Trails of Light” might be worth hunting down the single for.
The Atelier Firis OST is good. There are very few tracks in this album that will make one stop in awe, but there is plenty to enjoy with its thoughtful melodies and high production values. Save a small number of throw away tracks, Firis is consistently above average and altogether mild in tone, leaving roughly 3 hours of the soundtrack as solid casual listening that could accompany a day of work or study and appeal to an audience that may not enjoy prior GST works or game music in general. On the other hand, for the budget conscious collector, the Firis OST may be skippable. It has been a good year for soundtracks, and a collection of pleasant melodies to live life by to may not be a competitive use of your hard earned ducats.