Lately, I’ve been chatting a lot with folks about music, especially given how often it plays a beneficial role in our lives. I love music. I played clarinet in school for years before realizing that I enjoyed singing and moving over to that. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to classical compositions alongside top 40 pop and rock and enjoying different styles of independent music through various means and recommendations from friends. My past addictions to rhythm video games and studying up on different styles of dance music are also known to folks I talk with.
Of course, I’ve also listened to plenty of video game music. Like- a lot of it.
Now more than ever, I feel like I need to outline that this Top 5 is not what I think is the best or most well-composed video game soundtracks. There are a ton of great soundtracks out there that didn’t get attention here for the sake of brevity and because of criteria I set for myself to actually pare the list down enough for a post. I’d love to hear your own contributions and feelings on what your top soundtracks are, of course, but so that you have any idea of what went through my head while I was putting this together:
The soundtracks below are pieces that I’ve gone back to a number of times. When I open my audio files, I find myself gravitating toward them for whatever reason- memories, nostalgia, inspiration; these mean something to me and have followed me for years. They are soundtracks that I can listen through from one end to another nearly every time I engage with them and stylistically, they just hit all of the right spots for me.
Ready to dive into my little corner of the video game aural skies? Then let’s go!
Nearly the entire Atelier series is broken down into trilogies of games taking place in the same world with recurring characters and events. Only two of the series’ groupings were duologies: the Japan-only Gramnad Saga and the Mana Khemia games. Both of these pairs featured on the now-obsolete Playstation 2. Where the Gramnad Saga followed the naming conventions from previous titles with Atelier Judie and Atelier Violette, Mana Khemia took a step away from the usual trappings, at least externally.
Featuring the ninth and tenth games in the Atelier series, both games still exercise the mechanics of the series. Synthesis is still vital to progress throughout the games though there is a bit more emphasis on strategic combat through abilities rather than item-slinging. There are a couple of other adjustments that find their way into the formula of the series and stick, creating a foundation for the next generation of Atelier offerings to build off of and improve upon as the series grows.
As a whole, the Dusk Trilogy of the Atelier series concerns the world of Dusk and its inhabitants. The world itself seems to be dying in a number of ways- seas are drying up, lands are becoming barren, and there appear to be new dangers every day. If this sounds dismal- it kind of is. The world of Dusk is probably the darkest of the Atelier worlds. The art direction and stories of this trilogy feel grittier, despite still dealing in a lot of anime-flavored tropes and styles.
On a personal note, this trilogy is my favorite of the Atelier series that I have gotten to experience. As a horror and drama fan, this game appealed to my tastes in a strong way (despite nothing involved to actually be considered “horror”). While I have my qualms with how it was handled overall, each entry felt strong in this trilogy and the mechanics were sound. The art direction- now in the hands of an artist named Hidari- also veers toward the more ethereal feeling that the games have been sticking with since.
While the Dusk trilogy is not quite as lauded as the Arland trilogy or as current as the Mysterious trilogy, it weaves an intriguing tale that stands apart from the usual fare of the series while retaining most of the elements that make the Atelier games so unique and engaging.
I’ve made no secret of my love for the Atelier series. The next entry, Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists, is slated to hit the Nintendo Switch on North American shores in the Winter. Much like another favorite series of mine, Fire Emblem, they decided to take an approach involving the past of the Atelier series. With Nelke, it’s a bit more heavy-handed than with Awakening as the game has you utilizing a swarm of the series’ protagonists to proceed through the plot.
As a quick plot rundown (and here is the obvious spoiler warning in case you want to play the game and go in completely blind for your enjoyment), you play as Nelke von Lestamm, a government official in training who has shown no talent for alchemy, despite her appreciation of it. She has grown up with a fascination regarding a legendary tree that can grant power and wishes to those who discover it. Of course shortly after she is set to graduate from her academy, she hears that the tree is rumored to be within her father’s lands. As she sets her sights on finding the tree, her father agrees to help her so long as she takes over a nearby town as its governor. With the task of helping the town flourish, she cooperates with the many alchemists who are drawn to her new city to find the mysterious tree and learn the mysteries surrounding it.
At the Tokyo Game Show, a new trailer was shown which appeared to be an opening movie for the game (or at the very least, an entertaining promotional piece). While there was a separate gameplay trailer, I wanted to do a quick breakdown on some of the titles that would be involved and some of the observations I made while looking through a few times.
So you can check it out yourself, here’s the trailer:
This will mostly involve references back to the old games and some conclusions I’ve come to through some quick peripheral research. Hopefully, this is pretty accurate and up to date, but with more information coming along every few days, it will be interesting to see what’s released before the game arrives!
A Brief History of the Atelier Series
If you count yourself among those that find JRPGs interesting, you very well may have heard of the Atelier series. Established in Japan with the original title, Atelier Marie: Alchemist of Salburg, the series has just recently reached its nineteenth entry with Atelier Lydie and Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings. While the early entries of the series didn’t make it over to US shores, the majority of the series has found localization in on our shores.
In 2005, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana on the Playstation 2 was placed in the hands of NIS America and since then, each entry of the series on home consoles has been translated and made available across various regions. While the gameplay and format have changed and evolved throughout the series, the central concept remains the same.
Playing as an ‘alchemist’- someone who engages in the practice of acquiring and combining items to create other items with the magical process of ‘alchemy’- you are faced with an objective that requires you to expand upon your abilities to be met. As the game progresses, more recipes for items are unlocked, as well as locales to acquire items that are rarer or of better quality. Nearly all of the items your party will use are created through these items- healing items, offensive items, weapons, armor; all of it becomes the product of items that you collect throughout your adventure. Each game has a different twist on this and later entries find deeper methods of alchemy to give the player more customization in their creations, but at its base, this concept is what the Atelier series revolves around.
Throughout this overview, I’ll be explaining each grouping of games in the Atelier series. Much like the Fire Emblem overview I’ve been working on, there may be some glances of opinion and theory here and there, but for the most part, this is meant to be informational for those interested in learning about the Atelier series or possibly for those already familiar with the series who would like to take a trip down memory lane.
Whatever your reasons may be, I hope you enjoy this look at the Atelier series overall. As usual, please be aware that I make an effort not to spoil anything plot related that you wouldn’t read within the packaging of the game, but there is the occasional slip so if you want to avoid spoilers, you’ve been warned that they may exist here however minor. If you have any comments to add, questions to ask, or just want to discuss the games in each entry, feel free to leave a comment.
In this entry, I’ll be writing about the Arland trilogy, comprised of Atelier Rorona, Atelier Totori, and Atelier Meruru. While not the first games to be localized, they appeared to be the first that many had heard of the series. As some of the more easily obtainable entries to the series, they seem like the best jumping off point to explore the series from!