Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass 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).
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.