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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Parade of nations, set to the medley of Japanese video games

The background score during the Parade of Nations might have taken some viewers back to the past, or even the present, when punching buttons to clear a level in a Japanese video game was the favourite pastime.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
July 24, 2021 12:35:24 am
As the Greek contingent led the Parade of Nations, ‘Roto’s Theme’ from the 1998 role-playing game Dragon Quest 3 began playing.

The background score during the Parade of Nations might have taken some viewers back to the past, or even the present, when punching buttons to clear a level in a Japanese video game was the favourite pastime.

The score played at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo was a medley of some of Japan’s most loved video games. From music that plays upon winning battles to Olympic-themed pieces, the orchestral versions of the compositions were worthy of an Olympics opening ceremony.

Video game music in Japan is considered a treasured art form, and it was a fitting tribute to an industry that put post-war Japan on the map.

Familiar notes

As the Greek contingent led the Parade of Nations, ‘Roto’s Theme’ from the 1998 role-playing game Dragon Quest 3 began playing. The series is notable for being the first RPG games to hit gaming consoles. The game’s popularity was highlighted when around 300 students were arrested for bunking school in order to purchase the third edition of the game, as reported by Associated Press.

The Italian contingent’s entry was accompanied by a fitting ‘Olympus theme’ from Kingdom Hearts series. Other tracks in the medley included ‘Star Light Zone’ and ‘Victory Fanfare’ from blockbuster series ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and ‘Final Fantasy’ respectively. A deep cut was the ‘Frog’s Theme’ from the 1995 RPG ‘Chrono Trigger’.

According to game review website Rock Paper Shotgun, as many as 19 video game songs were used in the mashup.

Serious business

Video game music thrived in the 1980s and 1990s mainly because Japanese companies viewed the importance of it differently compared to western nations. Major gaming companies did not hire freelance music composers but instead had full-time employees writing music, according to Forbes.

That approach created an atmosphere that led to the development of the iconic retro game music still popular today.

Composer Junko Ozawa spoke in a 2014 Red Bull documentary called ‘Diggin in the Carts’ about her time working as a composer for gaming company Namco, which gave the world Pac-Man and Donkey Konga.

“I joined Namco 30 years ago and it didn’t seem like it was a company when I joined them. It was like a club in a high school or a college… They supported employees to challenge how things were done. It was very lively.”

Nintendo goes missing

At the end of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Japan’s then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerged from a green pipe-like structure dressed as the popular video game character Mario. It represented the country’s fond association with the video games it pioneered in the 1980s.

Video game consumers in the East Asian country have increased over the years. According to data analysed by Statista, 27.4 percent Japanese citizens aged 10 and above played video games in 1996. By 2016 it rose to 35.8 percent.

Interestingly, Nintendo — arguably the biggest Japanese gaming company with a catalogue featuring popular mascots such as Mario, Pokemon and Zelda — was missing from the ceremony.

Not gaming’s first Olympic rodeo

A common hobby among several athletes at the Rio 2016 Games was Pokémon Go — the popular augmented reality mobile game.

Seven-time Olympic medallist (three golds and four silvers from the 2008 to 2016 Games) Kohei Uchimura of Japan raked up a massive USD 5,000 mobile bill while he was at Rio for playing the Pokémon Go game while using roaming data.

The International Olympic Committee also has several officially-licensed video games, including Nintendo’s popular series Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games.

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