work as director of the landmark Zelda game Ocarina of Time, Eiji Aonuma has lent his
creative talents to every major Zelda title since, and has played a huge role
in developing every 3D Zelda game. Koji Kondo is a legend among composers, and has created some of the most iconic game
music of all time, including the main Zelda overworld theme and the Mario theme.
Together, Aonuma and Kondo are two of the biggest names responsible for making the Zelda series what it
We had the
chance to interview both of them on the day of the Zelda 25th anniversary concert in Los Angeles, and
discussed the Zelda series' past and future. People sometimes say that you
should never meet your heroes, but that’s not the case here – both Aonuma and
Kondo could not have been friendlier or more genuine when talking about the series they've devoted a good part of their lives to helping shape.
Above: Eiji Aonuma (left) and Koji Kondo
GamesRadar: When you sat down to
compose the Zelda overworld theme, did you ever think that you'd be working on
the same series 25 years later?
Koji Kondo: Not at all!
GR: How does it feel to have your
music played at an event like the 25th anniversary concert?
KK: I'm very happy and very honored.
GR: How has your experience been
composing music for Skyward Sword?
KK: Actually, I only composed one song for the game... (laughs)
GR: Oh, which one?
KK: When you first power the game on and you let it sit, and
you see the movie that tells the history and backstory of the game – it's the
song that accompanies that.
GR: So how was it working with other
composers on a series that you've worked on for so long?
KK: With each new Zelda world that we create, we always try
to add new elements to the music that we use to portray those worlds. So with
each new game, it's really nice to be able to bring in some of the younger
composers and bring new staff to each game to allow them to bring in some of
their new ideas and compose in a way that helps create a new feel for each
around in particular, because we're using a full orchestra on many of the songs,
and because we're trying to create a very grand-sounding soundtrack to match
the grandness of the sky world in the game, I think it should feel very nice
and fresh for people.
GR: Speaking of full orchestra, when
you first started, there were so many constraints on what game music could be.
Is it easier or harder for you to compose without those limitations now?
KK: I think each method – the more primitive hardware with
limitations and the newer hardware with the greater degree of freedom – each method
has its own challenges. When we were working with limited notes, the challenge
really was what can you add to the music within that limited note structure to
make it sound robust and more full, and that was the challenge back then.
when you have this ability to use any instrument, you have to be able to focus
on and look for that main pillar and main theme, and how do you then leverage
the freedom that you have in a way that will create the music you want without it
feeling like it's gone too far. How do you distill down what's available to you
in a way to create music that really suits the themes and scenes that you're
creating music for.
GR: So are there still principles you
keep in mind when composing videogame music compared to other types of music?
KK: I think one of the big differences between movies and
games is that with movies, the music is generally always trying to convey an
emotion or a feeling of the moment in the movie. With games, you have moments
like that, particularly in things like cinema scenes, but a lot of what you're
doing with game music is trying to create music for the experience that the player
is having. That can include things like the battles, and things like that, and
how you bring emotion to those moments, as well as creating the environmental
music or background music for the different areas of the game that the player
is in. I think that's one of the biggest differences.
GR: Decades later, the Zelda overworld
theme and the Mario theme are still two of the most iconic pieces of videogame
music of all time. Do you think it's harder now for game music to set itself
apart now that it's not always so different from other types of music?
KK: Back in the early days of videogames, we were limited by
the number of notes we could use in each song, and we were also limited by memory
and how many songs could be included in a single game. So as a result of that,
players would hear the same song over and over again, and I think that's perhaps
what helped people remember the song, is the frequency that they were hearing
Now as the
technology has evolved, we're seeing much more freedom with the music. We're
able to include more instruments, we're finding more melodies and themes, and
of course the arrangements are changing and there are many more songs in each
game than there were back in the NES days.
So what we've
tried to do as a way to help our music stand out and help people remember it is
look at ways to keep the same song but change the arrangement, so even though
the song is different you'll still hear the same theme within different songs
throughout the game as a way to help people remember it.
Eiji Aonuma: One of the themes in Skyward Sword
is that you'll not just explore the world, but you'll explore certain areas of
the world multiple times over the course of the game. So because you're going
back into these same areas and hearing the same themes from those areas each
time you go back, maybe in a slightly different way, it'll help the music kind
of sink in and you'll remember it a little better maybe.
Above: Koji Kondo has composed music for both the Mario and Zelda series for over 25 years, from the first Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Galaxy 2
GR: If you had to pick between the Zelda
overworld theme and the Mario theme, which is your favorite composition?
KK: I like them both! When I think about composing the
songs back then, I think the Zelda song was much more difficult to compose, so
taking that into account, maybe that would be my favorite…
course personally, I like jazz music as well as latin music, so on a personal
level I think the Mario theme is one that I enjoy more.