Carl and I had a chat the other day about video game composers, with an eye towards creating a list of the best for one of our Tuesday top ten lists. We have since realised the impossibility of that task. There are simply too many outstanding soundtracks out there, in too many different styles, from the sweeping, majestic scores of Final Fantasy to the tense, discord of Dead Space. Could composers with one fantastically scored game to their name outmuscle those with a consistently strong track record, if lacking an triple-A stunner? And what of the difference in styles between East and West? Could we sub-divide by genre?
Every previous list we looked over had glaring omissions. Every time we thought we'd reached a conclusion, another name was remembered. We were utterly stumped.
But one name was always a shoe-in...
If you've ever spent time in the company of a Nintendo console, chances are you will have gotten a tune or two stuck in your head, whether it be the original theme to Super Mario Bros., the music to Starfox or the tunes that have accompanied Link on his adventures since the 1980s. I used to have the Song of Storms as my alarm tone thinking that if I was forced to listen to it more, I'd evetually grow tired of it and it would become unstuck from brain. My logic was flawed.
Kondo's story is a good one. After first playing around on the keys of an electrical organ at the age of five, he spent his formative years teaching himself how to play the thing properly - taking a few piano and synthesizer lessons along the way, before heading off to university and diversifying a little, dabbling in a number of arts. 'I was not dedicated to music' Kondo said, 'but there I was able to learn about composing and mixing music tunes, and at the same time I studied the arts in general like painting as well'.
It was around that time that Nintendo had begun to put feelers out for recruits dedicated to sound arrangement and composition, a first for the company at the time, and Kondo jumped at the opportunity having discovered LCD games and the arcade. He didn't even have to send a demo in:
'Even if I were to do that,' said Kondo, 'there would have been nobody who could evaluate that at Nintendo back then. I recall that I was tested, but it was exactly the way how designers [and] artists were treated.'
Starting off with arcade game Golf in 1984, the next year would see Kondo take on Mario for the first time and also help cement Link and The Legend of Zelda into gamers' hearts the world over, operating in an 8-bit era that allowed - and, indeed, encouraged due to the technical restrictions compared to now - for a focus on strong melody.
'The ultimate goal for me in making music, or at least one of the main goals for me, is to create memorable melodies. That goal is there regardless of the tools we have. Of course now that we have more tools and more technology to create many different sounds that is expanded, but for me it's the art of creating that one main melody that is the primary goal behind music composition.' - Koji Kondo speaking to IGN
Both rather untested entities in a way, Kondo and Nintendo would become the perfect fit. Generations of fans - myself included - will testify that music is a huge part of what gives Nintendo and it's top franchises a sense of timeless, universal whimsy that is difficult to capture anywhere else. His close collaboration throughout his career with Shigeru Miyamoto has helped elevate the stars of yesteryear into the annals of gaming lore and legend that still live on in perpetuity today.
Why we love Koji Kondo is simple. Reel off the list of the games he's worked on and anyone who has played any of them will nod sagely in understanding. They may not be the most technically accomplished or flamboyant pieces around, but Kondo's CV certainly contains some of the most memorable, most iconic video game soundtracks of all time. Nintendo's flagship titles, not mention my childhood, would have been unfathomably poorer without him.
And he often comes up with his best material in the bath! [Thanks, 1UP]