Lush. Upbeat. Delightful. These are the words typically used to describe developer Gust’s soundtracks in their Atelier series of RPGs. The latest game in the series, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, has a soundtrack that totally lives up to that expectation. This lush, upbeat, and thoroughly delightful soundtrack is an absolute pleasure to listen to, even if it doesn’t deviate far from the successful hallmarks that have defined Gust soundtracks so far.
Fans love Gust’s soundtracks because, as a whole, they and the Atelier games they accompany flip the script on typical JRPG expectations. The proverbial JRPG is high adventure interspersed with slice-of-life moments, so it follows that the lion’s share of its soundtrack has a certain intensity to it; a foreboding sense of urgency, if you will. Atelier games, on the other hand, are slice-of-life games peppered with adventure elements and generally flow at a more relaxed pace than your average RPG. This sentiment is reflected in my overall impression of this soundtrack.
The majority of the compositions are clearly inspired by classical and folk music of old-world Europe with some smooth bossa nova jazz sounds. They lend a sense of warmth and homey-ness that Atelier fans definitely look for. But because of this, the more intense, fast-paced, rock-oriented pieces come as grin-worthy jolts that really wake up the senses. The soundtrack also has plenty of pieces that are less busy and more introspective, because sometimes you need to step away from the hustle and bustle of life and just reflect and hear yourself think.
Disk 1’s selections wonderfully set up that feeling of home. The hub town you, the player, first enter in any given Atelier game is what develops into the protagonist’s home. The music plays a huge part in instilling that feeling of charm; that this will be a nice place to live in for a little while and go about my daily business. Home is a friendly community of people, plenty of activity, and some quiet respite after a long day. Although the melodies, harmonies, and countermelodies in the multilayered compositions didn’t get stuck in my head, just listening to them with my eyes closed while lying down on the sofa painted lovely pictures of a charming anime version of picturesque old-world European storybook towns in Belgium or Germany. Each piece evoked some aspect of the community, be it person or place, and my imagination wove a delightfully bustling setting with inhabitants I would definitely want to know better.
Idyllic existences are fleeting, though. Although Atelier games are more relaxed than the average JRPG, there are still battles to fight and sinister tidings to keep wary of. Disk 2 is where many compositions take on that sense of foreboding and intense, fast-paced pieces rear their heads. And let me tell you, the rock pieces in this game rock pretty hard with overdriven guitars and pounding drums that make me want to headbang. Outside of the driving rock pieces, I heard more emotionally charged melodies often using minor chord progressions in the more atmospheric pieces and even some pieces that employed creative use of sound effects. One piece, for example, used the sounds of clocks winding and ticking as its percussion element. I felt that throughout disk 2, the percussion was more interesting than in disk 1 and I often found my ear drawn to those pieces whose beats were slightly off-kilter.
Life is pretty busy in an Atelier game and the music from the game has reflected that greatly so far. This is why the standout tracks for me in disk 3 are the tracks that feature fewer instruments, fewer layers, and more space. It’s as if these tracks breathing is like catching your breath after a busy task and giving yourself space with your thoughts. It is clear that much care was taken in composing these “simpler” tracks because each note has to be carefully selected to evoke the right emotion. Speaking as a musician, songs like this are intimidating to play because the arrangements leave no room for error. One sour note, and everything crashes. Disk 3 is a lot more than that, though. It has its share of loudly intense pieces that crescendo from disk 2’s driving tunes and its share of “hometown happenings” pieces that build from disk 1’s atmosphere. A clear example of this is how the bar theme in disk 3 is a bit more “happenin'” than the bar theme in disk 1, as if the town’s grown a bit, but still retains the charm that drew you in in the first place.
To put it simply, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book has a gorgeous soundtrack. Of course, that’s to be expected from Gust and they continue to live up to those lofty sonic heights. The music may not have big pop hooks, but it’s very evocative and even outside the context of the game paints a very clear picture of the setting and happenings. Granted, the picture is clear to me because I have prior experience with Atelier games. And that’s a notable thing. The music does not deviate much from the established Gust formula, but when music is this good, why fix what isn’t broken? Fans of the Atelier games will absolutely love this soundtrack and I’m pretty sure they’ll absolutely love the game as well.