Dungeon Music: Has It Gotten Better?

The first four Zelda games have largely similar, and mostly iconic, dungeon music. It’s generally energetic, mysterious, and indicative of danger. The Legend of Zelda’s dungeon music could even be called sad; but for the most part, what followed was a host of very similar themes, to set up similar atmospheres and a unified feeling for the dungeons of these games.

Ocarina of Time’s themed dungeons were notably different. Perhaps due in part to the 3D, but also building on some of the ingenious dungeon ideas in Link’s Awakening, each one had its own set of puzzles and overall tone. It called for different music, and that’s precisely what we got.

The Child Link dungeon themes are atmospheric–the music is so subtle and unobtrusive that at times it’s barely noticeable. I’m still not sure if the background noise in Dodongo’s Cavern is even supposed to be music. In any case, it’s all effective, if significantly less interesting than what preceded it.

Things get interesting with the adult Link dungeons. The first four games had dungeon themes that weren’t unlike most Nintendo music–it was hummable, wrapped tightly around memorable melodies that drove the action forward. The child Link dungeons obviously eschewed this idea. The adult Link dungeon themes are in no way hummable, but with fragments of interesting melodies throughout, they’re catchy in their own way. The Forest Temple is our first introduction to this approach. It’s chilling, intimidating, and perfectly captures the haunted mansion feel of the dungeon. Subsequent themes follow in a similar vein. My personal favorites are the Water Temple and the Spirit Temple themes–the former is quiet and contemplative, lending itself well to the Temple’s notoriously difficult puzzles, while the latter is grandiose and epic, pushing the basic idea behind these dungeon themes as far as it can go.

Majora’s Mask was similar to Ocarina of Time in this respect, with the Stone Tower Temple of course taking the cake for best theme but the first three dungeons perhaps echoing the child Link dungeon themes a bit more. I didn’t feel like the music was always successful, but the Stone Tower Temple made up for it. However, the console games that followed have been either hit-or-miss. I’ve played The Wind Waker almost as much as Ocarina of Time, but the only dungeon theme I remember is the Tower of the Gods–largely because it’s grandiose like the Spirit Temple theme. Twilight Princess captured the tone of the dungeons, perhaps, but features few truly memorable themes. In stark contrast to Ocarina of Time’s Forest Temple, it’s hard to remember how the Arbiter’s Grounds music progresses.

One of the most pleasant surprises Skyward Sword held, in my opinion, was a return to the melody-driven dungeon music. The Earth Temple is as catchy as something from one of the four games, but sacrifices none of the atmosphere. Lanayru Mines feels a bit like the Forest Temple theme combined with the Spirit Temple them from Ocarina of Time. Skyward Sword may be a return to form with dungeon music, and then some. I look forward to hearing the next game–with the help of some good themes, dungeons may yet be more energetic and simultaneously atmospheric than ever before.

What was your favorite dungeon theme? What do you think about the direction the themes have taken since Ocarina of Time? Is Skyward Sword a return to form, or was that even necessary? Post your thoughts below.