Ar Tonelico’s Music Chants Discordantly, Whispers Seductively

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morning music kotaku

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we’re going to attempt to look past how blatantly horny the Ar Tonelico series is so we can focus on how good its music is. I wish us all luck.

Created by Gust, the Japanese developer behind many cute but also mildly pervy role-playing games, Ar Tonelico is a series that’s all about music. There’s an artificial female race called Reyvateils, members of which can convert sound into magical power. Each Reyvateil has a special port somewhere on their body where each game’s male protagonist can insert crystals, generally accompanied by lots of moaning and unsubtle innuendo. Think “it’s so big, how will it fit?” and “don’t look at me there.” The protagonist can also enter the consciousness of a Reyvateil, increasing their power by basically psychoanalyzing them in visual novel form.

Long stories short, the Ar Tonelico series has a lot of problematic elements, but it’s also got amazing music, as one would expect from a series powered by song magic. Though many different genres are represented throughout the series, the Gust sound team (Akira Tsuchiya, Ken Nakagawa, and Daisuke Achiwa) along with Japanese singers/composers Haruka Shimotsuki and Akiko Shikata, forged a unique sound for the series by combining choral hymns, tribal beats, and lyrical whispers. It all comes together in the opening music from the first game, 2006’s PS2 RPG Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia (playlist / longplay / VGMdb).

Let’s listen:

Gust / NIS America / DAGRAN KETHER (YouTube)

Utau Oka (Singing Hills)” opens with a wall of harmonic voices. There’s something wonderfully off about them. Like they’re on the verge of breaking. Like there’s so much energy in those voices it can barely be contained. Imagine buying this game and bringing it home, no idea what to expect, and being hit by that wall right off the bat. Then the beats come in (0:28), untamed and wild, a strange companion to the structured (if barely) choral vocals. Strings kick in, tempering the vocals. At around 1:06 there’s a vocal solo, the closest “Utau Oka” comes to a standard Japanese role-playing game track. Then the whispers come.

My goodness, those whispers. All of these loud voices, the strings, what sounds like an accordion, all subverted by this beautiful, quiet voice. I can feel those whispers when I listen to the track, snaking their way around me. Passing through me. It’s magical. When the other sounds fade around 1:48 and all we hear is the whispered “Ar Tonelico?” Shivers, every damn time. There’s something otherworldly about this music. As an opening theme, “Utau Oka” tells the player that once they press start, they’re going to a magical place that’s far removed from reality, where music is passion and power.

Time to pull myself out of Ar Tonelico before I get too deep. Feel free to continue talking about it and anything else you desire in the comments below. It won’t hurt. We’ll be gentle.

Comments

  • Despite the problems they have the Ar Tonelico games really are a triumph of music, character development and worldbuilding. The world of the towers are this wonderful mix of wistful sci-fi fantasy and melancholic post-apocalypse wherein it becomes clearer and clearer that the continued existence of humans, Reyvateils and the planet itself is shockingly fragile.
    The music itself is all sung in a constructed language (hymmnos) specifically geared towards conveying emotion through song and are intricately tied into the plot and the characters singing them when translated.
    Each game has at least a few truly fantastic Hymmnos songs (“Chronicle Key”, “Replekia” and “Arphage” are the first that come to mind for each game for me) without even getting into great tracks the general soundtrack has like II’s “The Second Tower”
    I always Felt Ar Tonelico got too much flack for what are essentially 5-10 minutes of innuendo laden conversation in 60 Hour+ games, Especially the first two games. 3 had that whole “remove clothing to power up magic” mechanic that makes it harder to defend.

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