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Friday, September 26, 2014

Koji Kondo (A Tribute)

A few months ago, I broke down the large majority of John Williams' life's work. Williams provided the soundtrack to my youth, and possibly the youth of hundreds of millions of others. So did Koji Kondo. While Williams is as household a name as a composer can be, Kondo's is a bit more obscure. His music is not.

Anyone American who breathed air in the 80's and wasn't geriatric at the time knows this music. Not to get all Synesthesia about it, but it tastes just like a summer afternoon, and I don't want to go to bed. Kondo's music for Super Mario Bros. made me beg my parents again and again and again to get me a Nintendo. Yes, Super Mario Bros.' gameplay is awesome, but that theme song... I'll never forget the greatest Christmas ever.
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As much as I couldn't wait to slam my head into question-marked bricks to grab the yummy mushrooms inside, I couldn't wait to hear Koji Kondo's music. Sorry, tetherball.
Kondo's work for Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 were also excellent, as well as his work on the Super Nintendo's Mario games. Kondo also helped usher in the era of 3-D gaming, with his work on Super Mario 64. Kondo's compositions managed to make this new dimension safe and familiar, while at the same time introducing new, exotic textures and sounds, absorbing the player into Mario's world all the more.

Perhaps Kondo's crowning achievement, though, is his work on The Legend of Zelda series. His Zelda overworld theme is just as hummable as his Mario theme. His music in the Legend of Zelda series transports the player to a fantasy land, even when that land was visually composed of only a few polygons. Kondo's final solo work, the soundtrack for the Nintendo 64's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, arguably the finest game ever created, is perfect. Kondo's expansive sonic palette for the game, even with the Nintendo 64's limited soundchip, stands the test of time as one of the most epic ever created. Finding a Gold Cartridge edition of Ocarina of Time is worth it just to play through the Tolkienesque Fire Temple with Kondo's haunting original theme billowing in the background (the theme, due to a controversy over its choral chanting, was removed in later versions of the game).

After Ocarina, Kondo took on heavier responsibilities in Nintendo's expanding sound department, and has since only contributed to game soundtracks, never again composing a complete work. This is a shame, as Kondo's genius is sorely missed in a world of repetitive, militaristic orchestrations, and quaint, whimsical fluff. Still, fans always have Kondo's masterwork, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to return to again and again. Like an eternal sunset on an ancient landscape, Kondo's work on this 21-year old Super Nintendo conjures...I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I'm just trying to say that this music stimulates the imagination like no other, and may be the most magical video game soundtrack of all time. The ending theme is so good, I'm still not sure if it's real.

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