For gamers, this pairing of the Olympic Games and video games makes perfect sense. Video game music isn’t anything like pop music, rather it’s mostly made to heighten the audience’s experience. Video game music tends to produce the most persistent earworms, partially because these melodies are tied to an experiential activity that requires participation. The right song can heighten a player’s actions or investment in a story.
When those first notes of “Born Anew” by Masashi Hamauzu busted open the Olympics ceremonies, I busted out laughing. I couldn’t even tell you who the final enemy of “Final Fantasy XIII,” and at this point, I’m going to associate the song more strongly with the 2021 Olympics then I would the game for which this song was made.
Music in gaming is written to motivate players all the while not distracting them from the tasks at hand. It’s why Popular Science wrote in 2018, “You should be listening to video game soundtracks at work.” As the article states, there’s little research on the effects of video game music while working, but it checks a lot of boxes when it comes to low roars of noise boosting productivity, including having no lyrics and maintaining a steady rhythm. If video games really are esports, the medium’s music has provided our brains with workout playlists for years.
But the actual opening ceremony showed how deep the Olympics organizers were willing to go to showcase the breadth of games and experiences Japan has created in the last four decades. Many of these choices are quite obscure.
Case in point: The very first musical notes of the 2021 Olympics are from “Born Anew,” the first movement of the final fight in “Final Fantasy XIII.” I played that game in 2009, and mostly didn’t enjoy it. But I recognized the song from all my years of enjoying only the music of the series.
The music playing during the entrance of the athletes pulled from a wide gamut of Japan’s greatest role-playing games (RPG) series, including “Monster Hunter,” “Kingdom Hearts,” and even the niche action game “Nier Replicant.”
You might snicker that the nation of India walked out to a song called “Frog’s Theme,” but fans of “Chrono Trigger,” often in conversation as the greatest RPG ever made, will be at home feeling envious of the experience. It’s a song that once belonged to Frog, the cursed squire knight of “Chrono Trigger” who overcame tragedy. For fans of the series, walking into a stadium while that song plays, while also representing your nation as one of its champion athletes, is probably a dream come true.
Japan is a nation that proudly showcases its contributions to video game history. The entire cast of the Super Mario games greets everyone who enters the nation through the Tokyo airport, and Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the Tokyo Olympics in 2016 by appearing out of a pipe, fully dressed as Nintendo’s famous plumber.
Video game music can transform a player’s experience. Now, fans of these games can take joy in seeing their favorite songs transform and elevate human history’s most prestigious and celebrated athletic competition.