Games have long been used for purposes other than just having fun. While having a good time is hopefully part of any game, games and play can be used as tools or vehicles for anything from social learning to training fry-cooks. Michelle Zauner, whose solo indie act Japanese Breakfast has found a dedicated audience online and on tour has recently turned her passion for Japanese roleplaying games into an extension of her band. With the release of Japanese BreakQuest Zauner has given her fans a new way to enjoy not just her music (the game features 8-bit renditions of tracks from her sophomore album Soft Sounds from Another Planet), but her personality as a member of the indie scene as well.
Zauner is originally from Eugene Oregon and formed her first band, Little Big League, in Philadelphia in 2011. After moving home to tend to a family illness in 2013, Zauner began to record solo tracks as a method of coping with her grief. The samples and demos provided her with an immediate avenue of expression, something that wasn’t possible with Little Big League: “I felt like I had so much more to say after Tropical Jinx so I started this side project so I could release music immediately … and get that instant gratification without over-thinking things or planning a PR cycle and all that shit.” Those tracks were eventually released in 2016 as the album Psychopomp under the name Japanese Breakfast. Now a year later, Zauner has toured extensively and recently put out her second album, the aforementioned Soft Sounds from Another Planet.
Zauner mentions in an interview with Polygon’s Allegra Frank that growing up she would spend endless hours with her dad chipping away at games like Secrete of Mana. To help promote Soft Sounds, Zauner is flexing her design muscles and has created, alongside developer Elaine Fath, a delightful JRPG based on the music video for the song “Machinist”. The game is only about 30 minutes long, but it’s jam-packed with references to Zauner’s peers; indie artists like Cherry Glazerr, LVL UP, and Frankie Cosmos all get nods in the form of equippable band march and weapons. This is by no means a rhythm game, but you do fight with instruments, ripping solos, cracking rim-shots, and occasionally slipping in abrown note… However, the alien enemies that threaten to take over your ship can only be defeated by assembling what’s cryptically described as “the Machinist” in a vision the protagonist has after chugging some rocket fuel.
The consistent ties to Japanese Breakfast’s work, weather it’s gaining “Philly Indie Cred” or linking out to the band’s actual merch site from the in-game shop, never wear-out their welcome, and in fact created a sense of curiosity in me as I played, wondering what the next call-back or tie-in would be. While you could maybe call this an “ad game” Japanese BreakQuest feels much more like a love letter to time spent playing games and music than it does a money-making venture. For the curious, and I do recommend giving it a shot, the game is free to play here, and beating it rewards you with a little something special…