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- "The arrangements of a number of different artists have made the songs stand out more, and I myself have learned a lot about music from the arrangements."
- — Kōji Kondō
Kōji Kondō was born in Nagoya, Japan. In the 1980s, Kondō learned that Nintendo was seeking musicians to compose music for its new video game system, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Kondō had never considered writing video game music before, but he decided to give the company a chance. He was hired in 1983.
Kondō found himself in a totally different environment at Nintendo. Suddenly, he was limited to only four "instruments", two monophonic pulse channels, a monophonic triangle wave channel that could be used as a bass, and a noise channel used for percussion, due to limitations of the system's sound chip. Though he and Nintendo's technicians eventually discovered a way to add a fifth channel, normally reserved for sound effects, his music was still severely limited on the system.
Kondō has stayed with Nintendo through various consoles, including the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Nintendo 64, the Nintendo GameCube, the Nintendo DS, and most recently the Wii. These latter systems have vastly improved Nintendo's audio capabilities, and Kondō today composes music with CD quality sound.
Kōji Kondō attended the world-premiere of Play! A Video Game Symphony at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, Illinois, in May of 2006. His music from the Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda series was performed by a full symphony orchestra. This event drew nearly four thousand attendees.
Musical style and influences
Kōji Kondō is widely acclaimed due to his unique and recognizable themes and soundtracks with Nintendo along with a creatively fluent partnership with Shigeru Miyamoto. Fans and critics alike cite his greatest talent being his ability to craft melodies that while catchy and pleasant upon first listen, remain enjoyable even when looped over long periods of time and played through inferior sound equipment. His songs are certainly memorable; the title theme song to Super Mario Bros. retains its iconic status two decades after its initial release. Not unknown in the musical community, Kondō can count talent such as Paul McCartney among his admirers. Kondō's music has been cited as being as integral to the Nintendo style as the game design of Shigeru Miyamoto.
Conversely, this familiarity is also the cause of most criticism of Kondō's work. Over nearly two decades in video game music, his style has changed very little. The themes of Super Mario Bros. in 1985 are little different from those of Super Mario Sunshine in 2002, although the earlier game sounds more primitive due to technological constraints. This need for sameness over the years is something of a double-edged sword for Kondō; when he did try something different, as in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), some criticized him for abandoning the themes and styles they have grown to enjoy.
Kōji Kondō's work shows at least three major influences: Latin music; jazz music; and classical music, mainly ragtime and march music, often with a strong cinematic flair. Latin is particularly evident in his bouncy themes throughout the Super Mario Bros. series. The happy main theme has a slow, samba-like rhythm. The second theme offers a more up-beat, ragtime-like style. The Bowser theme would not sound out of place being played by a Mexican mariachi band. This influence also shows up in his more recent works, such as the Gerudo Valley theme from Ocarina of Time, a song with a certain stereotypical Andalusian flair. Kondō also has been influenced by classic rock, as the Deep Purple instrumental "April" bears a striking resemblance to the main title theme of The Legend of Zelda. Kondō even uses a riff from the song as the looping end section of the underworld/dungeon theme from the same game.
Kondō's more jazz-influenced pieces also come from a wide variety of projects. One of the earliest examples of this is his minimalist underground theme from the first Super Mario Bros. "Saria's Song" from Ocarina of Time sounds almost Dixieland in places. All of this is hardly surprising; Kondō lists the late Henry Mancini as one of his most admired influences.
Kondō's work is also highly influenced by Eastern Asian music. His songs are predominantly melody-based with little supporting harmony, which is in keeping with the Asian tradition. This makes him unique among the most popular video game composers, as his counterparts such as Nobuo Uematsu and Koichi Sugiyama produce more Western-sounding compositions for their games.
Legend of Zelda compositions
- The Legend of Zelda (1986)
- A Link to the Past (1992)
- Link's Awakening (1993)
- Ocarina of Time (1998)
- Majora's Mask (with Toru Minegishi) (2000)
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (2001)
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (2001)
- The Wind Waker (with Kenta Nagata, Hajime Wakai, and Toru Minegishi) (2003)
- Twilight Princess (with Toru Minegishi and Asuka Ohta) (2006)
- Spirit Tracks (with Toru Minegishi, Manaka Tominaga, and Asuka Ohta) (2009)