Allow me to breathe a sigh of relief… there, that’s better.
After a string of less-than-stellar albums from Gust Sound Team, I had lost faith that they would ever again reach the heights we found in, say, Atelier Viorate and the first Atelier Iris. But the score for Atelier Totori, the second in the “Arland Alchemist” series (and thus a direct sequel to Atelier Rorona), is a delightful, much-needed return to form.
Let’s start with the vocal tracks. The opening theme, “Pilgrimage,” follows the now-expected formula of a folksy, rhythmic 6/8 piece with lots of harmonic backup during the chorus. Melodically, it’s as catchy and memorable as White Night Illusion from the first Atelier Iris. Mega points for bringing back the classic Atelier vocal style. The ending track, “Dia,” will be remembered by this reviewer less for the vocal performance and more for the incredible string section recording in the opening minute. The piece itself is more than sufficient in length: six minutes, and featuring a tempo switch from 4/4 to 6/8 about halfway through. It’s a lot to sit through, but the cello part kept me listening.
Looking for the next generation of Atelier themes? The same excellent composition of five years ago, but with slightly better samples in the sound bank? You’ll find it all over the first half of disc one. “The Waves Call My Name” is simply beautiful. The composition is as strong as some of the strongest themes from past Atelier games, and the audio quality is superb.
The standard battle theme, “Yellow Zone,” is extremely catchy. The instruments that carry the melody (tin whistle, xylophone, accordion, in that order) are excellent, and the rhythmic breaks are perfect. This may not be a song that would translate well to an SSH arranged album, but it works just fine in its original form. It will stick with you, I promise. It rivals some of the better battle themes from accomplished composers such as Yoko Shimomura, Noriyuki Iwadare, and Nobuo Uematsu. Do I have your attention now? This is good stuff!
There are a few dungeon exploration tracks that are part of the “Following the Footsteps” series. Each one of these tracks has left a distinct impression on me. They are all great in their own right. We have sampled one of them for you to check out (“The Forest”), though they’re all great.
The shopping tracks are really good too. I was pleasantly surprised by the bebop-style jazz piece, “Fruit Tomato” – and I was reassured and calmed by the simplicity of “Storekeeper in a Small Village.”
On the second disc, we find some very interesting, refined pieces of music. Among the battle themes, “GO GO TOTORI” (which I can only assume is combat-related) and “TARGET” stand out as two chief tracks that simply cannot be forgotten. And “One Last Point” has that epic sound with the cascading piano chords and larger-than-life choirs. You know pieces like these if you’ve followed the Gust Sound Team. And, again, this is a glorious return to form. I love it.
What’s so shocking about all this, however, is that we’re working with a fairly different team compared to past works. Akira Tsuchiya and Daisuke Achiwa are totally out of the picture (as they have been, generally, for a few games now). Ken Nakagawa worked solo on the previous Atelier entry (Rorona), and while that was a unique soundtrack, it lacked the appeal of the best soundtracks in the series (again: Viorate, Iris). For this soundtrack, Ken Nakagawa teamed up with Kazuki Yanagawa. Recognize that name? You probably don’t, but Yanagawa-san was a contributor to the underwhelming Ar tonelico III soundtrack. When I first read that Yanagawa would be helping Nakagawa on the Totori soundtrack, I thought “this is it. This is the final nail in the coffin.” I really thought this series was done for, musically. I cannot tell you how happy I am to report that I’m wrong. I made the comparison to Iwadare earlier, and I would argue that this soundtrack does, at times, have a sound that is reminiscent of Lunar and Grandia. In other words, it’s simultaneously light and epic, subtle and overwhelming.
Maybe we won’t get another superior Gust soundtrack for another five years. If that’s necessary, well, so be it. This is my third time saying it, but the Atelier Totori soundtrack is a return to form for the Atelier series, and it should please fans old and new alike. I highly recommend importing the soundtrack. It’s absolutely worth it.