Koji Kondo still has one instrument he wants to use in a video game

Image via the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.

If you ask Koji Kondo what instrument he hasn’t played in a video game, he’ll need a minute to answer. “Is there one I haven’t used? I think I’ve used most of them” he responded, when we spoke to him at the 2024 DICE Awards. Kondo had just received a Hall of Fame award recognizing his accomplishments scoring and creating sound effects for games from Punch-Out!, to The Legend of Zelda, and all the way to Super Mario Wonder .

Through a translator, Kondo mused over the many instruments he’d added to his repertoire. The answer took even his own colleagues off guard: The Taishōgoto, also known as the Nagoya harp. It’s a specific type of Koto (a category of Japanese string instruments) invented in 1912 by musician Gorō Morita.

According to the Hartenberger World Musical Instrument Collection, Morita created the Taishōgoto after traveling to Europe and the United States to study Western instruments. He was inspired by the mechanics of the typewriter, and created an instrument that is played by pressing one’s fingers on the typewriter keys with one hand, and strumming the strings on the other.

So why this instrument? Kondo said it’s one he remembers from growing up in 1960s Japan. “When I was a child, my aunt would practice on that instrument,” he explained. The idea of playing on the keys on one hand while strumming with the other seemed “engaging and interesting” to the veteran composer.

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It’s not what you’d call a “rare” instrument, but it doesn’t appear widely in video game scores or pop culture. The Arctic Monkeys song ” Big Ideas ” features a Taishōgoto solo played by producer James Ford. Manufacturers like Suzuki and Yamaha are still producing electric versions of the device to this day. YouTubers like Andrew Huang and JAde Wii have showcased it on their channels. Huang echoed Kondo’s enthusiasm for pressing on the heavy keys, while Wii praised the device for its ability to produce a Koto-like sound with with a smaller form factor.

Onstage at the awards, Kondo spoke about how his role at Nintendo has always been not just to be a musician creating music, but as a member of the development team using music to reinforce gameplay. In this work he would pick melodies and instruments in the name of making better games.

“Going forward, I want to continue taking on new challenges in the areas of music, sound design, and sound production, with the goal of delivering fun games,” he said in his speech. With Kondo’s experience picking precisely the right instruments and sounds to complement game design, it’s fair to say by the time he finally picks up a Taishōgoto, it will be for a score as fresh and inventive as the game it will be paired with.

About the Author(s)

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios’ upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio’s 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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