My Favourite Game
Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast, on the divinity of Switch
Michelle Zauner is a musician who writes and performs under the name Japanese Breakfast. With two albums under her belt, she’s now turning her talents to videogames, producing the soundtrack for forthcoming indie adventure Sable, which was announced on Microsoft’s stage at E3 in June. How did you first get into videogames? My dad had a Super Nintendo. It was a thing we did together, playing games in our den. I got really into Secret Of Mana; it’s still one of the only RPGs that’s twoplayer, and it was a big part of my relationship with my dad. It took months. After my dad got off work and I got off school, we’d play it for an hour or two. As I grew older and my dad got busier at work, I eventually graduated to a PlayStation and started playing the Final Fantasy games. I got really into FFVIII when I was in middle school. My cousin in Korea, an older boy, introduced me to the series. I grew up going to Korea every other summer, and it was a big thing to go to arcades with my cousin. What draws you to RPGs in particular? It’s a great way of storytelling. And I was a big anime fan, so I really loved the art. I also liked strategy guides [laughs]. They had so much more art and information that you didn’t get in the game – all the character bios where it shows blood type and stuff like that. I was really into that as a kid. I loved Chrono Cross, even though I never played Chrono Trigger. You could make certain decisions that would unlock characters, but mean you could never meet others. I liked that element of it. You’re scoring Sable at the moment. How do you have to change your process when writing music for games? I’ve been writing pop songs ever since I was 16. They have a familiar structure – verses, choruses, repeating parts. Game music doesn’t work that way. I’ve been creating really long, meandering ambient loops, with no lyrics. That’s such a huge part of my [writing] process for Japanese Breakfast; it starts with a vocal melody and lyrics, and everything else serves that. Instead of going into a song with a lyric idea and expanding on it, it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m in a desert. What does that sound like?’ What kind of direction do the developers give you? In the beginning Greg [Kythreotis, designer] gave me this amazing glossary of landscapes to think about. I have this spreadsheet of different landscapes and keywords, and I just attack one of them for a day. It’s fun to play them for my friends, give them that list and say, ‘Okay, where do you think you are?’ It’s a really fun way to write, and they’ve been really easy to work for. Do you find much time to play games these days, given your busy schedule? I do actually, because I have a Nintendo Switch, which is God’s greatest gift to the touring musician [laughs]. I love it. Last year we had tour after tour, and we had two days off before leaving the US for Europe. I’d just bought Stardew Valley for PS4, which is another genre I really love. Growing up I was a big fan of Harvest Moon – I guess my busy brain enjoys menial tasks like digital farming. I got so into it, and was really sad when I went to Europe: ‘Ugh, I’m leaving behind my farm’. My bass player, Devin, had just got a Switch and was playing Stardew and I was so jealous. Whenever he was going to sleep on the bus, I’d ask if I could play it. I fell in love. The console is just perfect. It’s so cosy. As soon as I got back from Europe I got a Switch with Stardew and Breath Of The Wild – and on our Asia tour, I fell in love with that. Okay then: what’s your all-time favourite? It just has to be Secret Of Mana. The story and music are fantastic, the characters are great, and it’s such a special, underrated game. It’s the one that’s closest to my heart.
“I was a big fan of Harvest Moon – I guess my busy brain enjoys menial tasks like digital farming”
Have you played it recently? Does it still hold up? This is very sad, but all my Super Nintendo games were in my in-laws’ attic, and they just, like, fried. My entire childhood, gone. There was a Secret Of Mana remake for PS4 that I was so excited about, and I just hated it. It was so bad! I thought they were just going to make the art better, but it plays like those old CD-ROMs you had in third grade with learning games on them. It looks like one and plays like it too. It was so horrible. A huge waste of money, and so upsetting. They should have just re-released it as is on a new console.