Released as the seventh game in Gust’s “Atelier” series, and the direct sequel to the first Atelier Iris, Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana 2~ features music that is nearly the same sort of music found on the previous OST. The two go together so well that one may as well consider this “discs 3 and 4” to one overarching Atelier Iris sound collection: they go that well together.
As a matter of opinion, I’ve found that all seven Atelier games share a similar musical style, fitting the series’ “old-fashioned European town” feel. However, the primary element linking the music together, Akira Tsuchiya (who composed on all of the other Atelier soundtracks, sometimes composing an entire soundtrack on his own) is nowhere to be found on Eternal Mana 2. This is a disappointment; though the novice Atelier fan may not notice the difference, I can tell that these songs are lacking Tsuchiya’s influence.
The other two composers, Nakagawa and Achiwa, worked with Tsuchiya on Atelier Viorate (the fifth Atelier, second in the “Gramnad” series) and Atelier Iris: now they are on their own for Atelier Iris 2. How did they do?
The short of it is that they did, yet again, a phenomenal job. Listeners with an acute sense of rhythm will notice the fast patterns used by various instruments, including lighter hand percussion: this is something we’ve heard in Viorate and Iris, but it sound even more refined on this OST. For a good example of this, listen to disc 1 track 5, “Go Novice Alchemist”, which features a beautiful violin solo with a boat load of percussion and synth in the background. Another song with this sort of feel is disc 2 track 1, “Spring Breeze.” The diversity of instruments on this track, similar to what one might find in many of Noriyuki Iwadare’s compositions, is what makes the song so beautiful. If you aren’t at least mildly impressed by this sort of thing, then I’m afraid you don’t know music quite well enough yet.
These 76 tracks are loaded with songs like the ones I just mentioned: but I also found some diversity on this soundtrack. The slower and softer songs on this soundtrack drew me into the music in a way that is unique to this strange and wonderful game. Listen disc 2 tracks 21 and 31 to get an idea of what I mean. The rhythmic quality is still there, just like in the faster songs (the guitar part on “Memories in Sepia” and the bass in “Sky Corridor” are what hold the songs together so well). Compared to the slower tunes of Atelier Iris 1, these songs excel in every regard, drawing out a sense of awe and mystery, yet somehow keeping calm. There are songs similar to these that also add tension into the mix, such as “Crimson Omen”, disc 2 track 24.
As much as I don’t want to, I must balance all of this praise with a slight bit of criticism. This album contains two vocal tracks (as compared to three found on the first Atelier Iris), and in my opinion, both of these are not as memorable or enjoyable as what was found on the previous game. Eternal Story has more of those fun “chant” vocals, and they sound great. I also enjoy the verses, which stick to a minor key and have a lot of techno-pop drum loops. The chorus, however, is a sugar-coated romp through the world of J-Pop, and I’ve had enough of that.
The Door to the Journey, which is the end credits music, is a very good song on the instrumental side of things. Mami Horie’s piano performance is light and simple, but her vocals seem to go against the grain: her tone is beautiful, but it sounds more classical than pop. Perhaps you will like this blend of sounds, but I couldn’t always enjoy it. What I did enjoy was the instrumental part (I almost wished they had a karaoke version on the soundtrack!). The drum loop in the background features some really interesting sounds, one of them reminding me specifically of the way-too-catchy loop found on the Alundra 2 ending vocal. There is also, I believe, an oboe that fills in during parts that Horie isn’t singing, and the short melody that it plays is truly captivating. Overall, I have a hard time enjoying this song simply because of the vocals, but it is certainly a well-written ending vocal ballad.
The other flaw, which is completely my opinion, is that the battle themes aren’t nearly as impressive as the ones used in the first Atelier Iris. I have sampled two battle tracks for you to hear: first is the standard battle theme, “Shining Sword”; the other is the last battle music, “Red Lucifer Rising.” The standard battle theme is by no means bad: I would actually say it’s on par with what’s expected from these composers. It’s not too hard-driving, and the strings sound excellent. However, Red Lucifer Rising is not nearly the pulse-pounding joy I expected it to be. It opens with a reflective piano part, and then after 35 seconds, the drums and electric guitar take the stage. Okay, that’s good, now it’s hard-rock action. Next up is a keyboard synth that plays a forgetful melodic line, while the guitar repeats the same stuff you’ve heard in a thousand other songs. It’s a good boss theme, I guess…I just expected it to be more inspired than it actually was. This was also the case on plenty of other battle themes, such as “Slasher Blue” and “Seething Fighting Spirit.” They are good battle themes, but these composers did better jobs with the battle themes on Viorate and Iris than here on Iris 2.
Since I can’t end this review on a bad note (as it’s just such a marvelous soundtrack overall!), let me point out a few more positive qualities in this two disc marvel. First of all, I felt that the amount of “filler tracks” on this soundtrack were minimal: even the shorter songs, which would be used in the game at certain moments in events/dialogue, were gems of their own to behold. The map/environment/dungeon themes, which fill the majority of this soundtrack, are spectacular. I could’ve sampled nearly any of these tracks to give you the idea, so I randomly chose tracks 28 and 32 from disc 1 to make my case. Listen to them and learn for yourself: the looped percussion, the Celtic flutes and Asian strings, the powerful ensembles of horns, they all come at you with a fury from which you simply cannot escape. Enjoy the rush.
I am also relieved to see the homage paid to the previous Atelier game when they used the “female chanting” (found on Atelier Iris 1’s opening theme and the song “Eternal Eyes”) twice on this OST. First, it is used in the song “Truth”, disc 2 track 13, which I have sampled. All I can say to this song is…wow…I love it. The song is used again as the last boss battle-prep song, “Decisive Battle in the Blue Sky.” I was limited in my choice of samples, but I wish you could hear this one too.
Oh, wait, here’s a solution to that particular problem: buy the soundtrack. Eventually, all soundtracks go out of print, but I feel like this one will stand the test of time, so get it now. If you own the Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ OST, you ought to have this to complete your Atelier Iris sound experience. If you don’t have either soundtrack, get both. In fact, I’d recommend you even hunt down the Atelier Viorate soundtrack (printed directly from Gust) if you like the work done by these composers. I only hope that they continue to work with Gust or any other company on more solid videogame music.