There has been a lot of talk about the Play for Japan album, a project spearheaded by Grasshopper Manufacture’s Akira Yamaoka. The album was devised by Yamaoka to raise funds for the victims of the horrific earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan in March of this year, and to help him with this effort, he recruited many of the top game composers from within Japan and abroad.
In fact, I’d say this is the most impressive artist list ever assembled, surpassing even Otomedius and the Premium Arrange album series by far. But does the music live up to the names associated with the project?
Find out in our review after the jump.
First off, since this album has so many different artists, let’s start with a track listing:
01 “Reminiscence” by Nobuko Toda (Metal Gear Solid 4)
02 “Jump” by Laura Shigihara (Plants vs. Zombies)
03 “White Cloud” by Penka Kouneva (Prince of Persia)
04 “Greater Lights” by Tommy Tallarico (Advent Rising)
05 “Play For You” by Mitsuto Suzuki (The 3rd Birthday)
06 “Necromancer” by Jason Graves (Dead Space)
07 “Moshi Moshi” by Woody Jackson (Red Dead Redemption)
08 “Ex Animo” by Akira Yamaoka (Shadows of the Damned)
09 “The Temple Stone” by Sean Murray (Call of Duty)
10 “Pine Wind Sound” by Laura Karpman with Lisbeth Scott (Everquest II)
11 “Every New Morning” by Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy)
12 “Maverick Regeneration” by Bear McCreary (SOCOM 4)
13 “HVC-1384” by Hip Tanaka.β (Mother)
14 “Rise Up!” by Chance Thomas (Lord of the Rings Online)
15 “We Are One” by Arthur Inasi (Harmonix)
16 “Remember” by Inon Zur feat. The Lyris Quartet (Dragon Age)
17 “Super Mario Medley On Two Pianos” by Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros.)
18 “Dimension Break” by Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger)
An impressive list right from the start. Some tracks are very short. Some are heartfelt, reaching out specifically to the victims of this tragedy, while others speak of hope and more positive emotions moving forward. Some are orchestral, some are electronic. It’s hard to describe the album without delving into the individual tracks.
I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from Nobuko Toda’s contribution, “Reminiscence,” as I’m not overly familiar with her work, but as the album’s opening track, I have to say that it’s probably my favorite piece on the album. It’s a heart wrenching orchestral piece that sounds like the work of a great classical composer. It’s really up there with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” in terms of its impact. I can’t get over just how beautiful and emotional it is.
It’s then on to another favorite, Laura Shigihara’s “Jump.” The is a sweet piece using mainly piano, strings, and high-pitched vocals that I think I’d normally find annoying, but in this context and with this seemingly magical musical backing, just works so incredibly well. The melody and lyrics are insanely catchy, and will be stuck in your head for weeks. Arthur Inasi from Harmonix also offers a simple yet powerful vocal theme, “We Are One,” using the sounds of children in the background to inspire hope.
In terms of a more instrumental sound, Penka Kouneva’s short but sweet “White Cloud” is beautiful and healing, while Inon Zur’s “Remember” is one of his most powerful compositions to date, featuring a touching melody that resonates with my soul. Woody Jackson’s piano-based “Moshi Moshi” is a contemplative, lumbering piece of music that says a lot with few notes, and “Pine Wind Sound” by Laura Karpman sports a similarly reflective soundscape centering around an enchanting vocal performance.
Other tracks on the album are a lot less subtle. Mitsuto Suzuki’s “Play for You” stays true to the artist’s contemporary electronic sound, working in the computerized vocal phrase “Play for music, play for you” with heavy bass notes and percussion. Akira Yamaoka sticks to his unique musical style, bringing in his wailing electric guitar and overall grunge sound to give voice to his view of the devastation in Japan. Despite the heavier instrumentation, there’s a lot of despair contained within. Bear McCreary strikes with what sounds to be a defiant 8-bit melody before it explodes with additional orchestral and rock elements, impressively speaking to a return to form of the Japanese people with “Maverick Regeneration.” Hip Tanaka.β goes a similar route in terms of an 8-bit sound, shifting from various upbeat and cheery melodies over the course of his 6+ minute-long track.
One of the biggest surprises on the album is Chance Thomas’s “Rise Up!,” an impressive inspirational pop rock track that sounds like something off of an early ‘90s contemporary Christian rock album. The positive vocals and melody, backup gospel singers, and distinctly ‘80s guitar and synth melodies are a blast.
But note that not all of the music here is new. One of the tracks people were looking forward to the most was Nobuo Uematsu’s contribution. However, “Every New Morning” is actually from the 10 Short Stories. The distinctly Asian-flavored vocal theme that works in Celtic elements is simple yet effective, and is still one of my favorite tracks on the album. Tommy Tallarico’s contribution, “Greater Lights,” is from Advent Rising, fitting in nicely with the other tracks. Likewise, Koji Kondo’s “Super Mario Medley on Two Pianos” has been heard before, and while it is a rather straightforward interpretation of some of the most popular themes from the series, it just feels so appropriate here as one of the most iconic pieces of music from the videogame industry in Japan. The album closes with “Dimension Break” from Yasunori Mitsuda, which is actually the same sample that Mitsuda released on his website two years ago for Christmas, showing what he intends to do with the Chrono Cross arrange album. The piece is beautifully arranged and is warm and embracing, but I can’t help but associate it with Christmas now.
In all, Play for Japan is an impressive effort. I should have expected nothing less from Akira Yamaoka’s capable hands. This could have gone terribly wrong with composers offering up songs that didn’t mesh or were completely inappropriate to the cause, but I think it instead shows solidarity and mutual understanding of this tragedy. With all proceeds going to the Red Cross in Japan for disaster relief, the reasonable price tag of $9.99 on iTunes, and the quality of the music featured on this album, there’s no excuse not to pick it up. Yamaoka has already expressed the desire to create a second album, so support this project and the victims of this disaster by checking it out.
What do you think of the artist roster and the music featured on this album? Would you like to see a second volume, and if so, is there a particular composer you’d like to hear from?Tags: Akira Yamaoka, Bear McCreary, Chance Thomas, Charity, Chrono Cross, Hip Tanaka, Inon Zur, Koji Kondo, Laura Shigiyhara, Mitsuto Suzuki, Nobuko Toda, Nobuo Uematsu, Play for Japan, Reviews, Sean Murray, Super Mario Bros., Tommy Tallarico, Woody Jackson, Yasunori Mitsuda