Ladies and gentlemen, behold: the very first Atelier soundtrack to ever be released.
You’re not surprised to find that it is, indeed, a soundtrack for Atelier Marie, the first in the (currently) seven-part series. What you may be surprised to discover, however, is that this is no original soundtrack. No, “Atelier Marie” is an arranged soundtrack, and the arrangements are outstanding.
We’re talking live instruments, lots of beautiful strings, some breathtaking piano, and a few other surprises. Styles range from bluegrass/country to jazz, from new age piano ballad to bouncy marches. I sampled some of my favorite tracks on the album: let’s talk about them.
Track 2, a classic Atelier piece that appears in many of the Atelier games, was once one of my least favorite songs ever. It annoyed me to the point of sheer violence. However, this arrangement has a certain charm to it that really gets me into the feel of the song. I think it’s the presence of real violins carrying the melody that really does it for me.
Next up is track 5: what better way to classify a bar owner than by giving him his own catchy 5/4 jazz theme song?! Yes, of course you agree. They were my thoughts exactly. Honestly, this jazz trumpet is spectacular, and the rest of the group keeps up nicely: the drums are smooth, the piano is bouncy and syncopated, and the whirlwind-like strings section makes the song that much better.
Next I sampled “Magic of the Chrysalis”, which is a piano solo. The OST version of this song, which would be printed years later, is only a shadow of the genius we find here. The song starts off simple, and then builds, and builds, and at about three quarters through the song, we reach a climax where upward scales and unique arpeggiated chords take the stage. Things calm down from there, and the end sounds as soft as the beginning, but much less ominous.
Moving right into the next song, “Ancient Footsteps” picks up with a remarkable stride. The refrain to this song runs in a complex time signature of 11/8 (5/8 and 6/8 pairs), and the breakdown goes into a straight 5/8 with a 6/8 to bring things back to the refrain. The instrument carrying the melody is a flute, but a latin-jazz finger-plucked guitar also gets the chance to solo during this song. The piano pulls out some impressive work as well, and all in all this song shines in a way that few other songs can. I didn’t expect something this impressive on the album, but here it is. Wow.
If you were looking for some smooth jazz, the kind of thing you’d hear on the Weather Channel, incorporating some light hand percussion and an alto saxophone (or is that a soprano saxophone?), track 11 is the song for you. The melody is uplifting, even inspirational. Again, the OST version of this song is bland, but Tatsuchika Murayama took something bland and made it enjoyable for casual listeners and trained musicians alike.
There are plenty of other good tracks on this album; many incorporate the same sort of styles: be it jazz, country, or piano solo. The good news for you is that, while this album is out of print and unable to be found in stores, as of the time that I am writing this review, Yahoo! Japan Auctions has a surplus of these things floating around for anywhere between $5 and $15. That’s outrageous. This arranged album reminds me of the Mitsumete Knight Concerto, only one step better. You do yourself a disservice by not getting it, even if it sounds nothing like other Atelier soundtracks. The fact is that it’s very well made, and that’s something I admire when there are a lot of ho-hum subpar arranged albums out there.