Bomber’s Notebook #027 – The Early Music of Zelda

Majora's CatNovember 6th, 2012 by Majora's Cat

Rocking outUndoubtedly one of the most memorable things about The Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time among others are their soundtracks. The brilliant works spearheaded by Koji Kondo and the rest of the sound team throughout the years have become lodged in our heads months, years, maybe even decades after their releases. The influence of Zelda’s music is clearly universal, as the “Open Treasure Chest” theme is profoundly well known among adults and children. In fact, the music of Zelda and Mario may be the most popular in gaming, extending far beyond the realm of gamers.

Like the franchise itself, Zelda’s music has evolved in many ways. The outdated MIDI format was recently tossed in favor of a live orchestra, and pieces have steadily become more advanced in their composition over time. From the class tunes of The Legend of Zelda to the somber music of Twilight Princess to the orchestrated goodness of Skyward Sword, Nintendo’s composers have yet to disappoint. Make the jump to take a trip through time and relive some of the greatest musical moments in Zelda!

Behold the 8-bit glory that is the sound of the NES era! Yes, The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link are the two oldest titles in the franchise but their music is timeless. The number of times these songs have been remixed is a true testament to their endurance and lasting power. The sound may not have been orchestrated, nor did it use different instruments, yet the melodies are endearing even to this day. The original “Overworld” theme grew to become the most recognizable tune in Zelda, while the “Temple” theme from The Adventure of Link became a fan favorite in the soundtrack of Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

More importantly, the music from these two games laid down the groundwork for future compositions. A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening and then Ocarina of Time after that would follow the precedents set by the first two games. While the perceived quality of sound may have been primitive, the work of Zelda’s early music team was not only incredibly influential but also mixed together notes normally played on major and minor scales to create the blend of upbeat and devious sounds the franchise is known for.

A Link to the Past tried to break free of the NES mold and attempted to imitate the sounds of instruments using computer technology. Instead of two overlapping ideas like its NES cohorts, this SNES game would sometimes layer three or more musical ideas on top of each other. These harmonies were executed successfully and almost made it seem like the soundtrack was produced by an ensemble.

The game goes for a grand, intimidating sound. Rarely are songs slow and heartfelt like those of the 3D games. These are songs that you could march to or performed by a band. Even the dungeon themes contain a considerable amount of grandiose compared to those of its two predecessors. The “Dark World” background theme is meant to be the dark, twisted sister of the “Overworld” theme but actually ends up touting an epic vibe.

Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask didn’t just bring the visuals into the third dimension, but the music was fleshed out in a way it never was before. The canned virtual sounds from yesteryear was tossed in favor of more realistic musical instruments produced electronically. Sounds were created to mimic different instruments in real life, most of the time very exotic ones at that.

Ocarina of Time‘s soundtrack does not encompass the persistent level of grandiosity that A Link to the Past‘s does, but introduces slower, sadder and more diverse songs as a result of its new technology. Vocal ballads, instrumental solos and the like were all made possible by the authentic replication of orchestral instruments. It should be noted that several of Zelda’s most beloved tracks can be traced right back to this game, among them staples such as “Zelda’s Lullaby”, “Saria’s Song”, “Lost Woods” and the legendary “Final Battle Against Ganon”. I brought up a few potent points in a previous Bomber’s Notebook regarding the subject:

The key to this game’s music lies within the simplicity of the composition. They main theme is often repeated, but what makes these songs so endearing is that they embody the nature of the areas or events that correspond with them so well. Not to mention that they’re all incredible memorable and easy to learn, which makes Ocarina of Time‘s themes popular candidates to be remixed.

Majora’s Mask‘s music shares many of the same technical qualities as its prequel’s does. However, music is composed in an entirely different manner that aims to embody the sadness of the game. Similarly, the “Song of Healing”, much like “Zelda’s Lullaby”, is an incredibly simple song that utilizes only one instrument. The game takes advantage of the diversity of different computerized instruments and combines these sounds to create a distinct musical feeling for each background song in order to suit its corresponding area.

Majora’s Mask remixes a few of Ocarina of Time‘s tunes, but most of them are completely fresh and encompass an ominous, unearthly feel. Many of the themes are slow, played in minor scales and fluctuate between more upbeat melodies and wicked ones. I guess that this is all to emphasize that Termina is a twisted, alternate version of Hyrule.

The beautiful, happy music of Ocarina of Time has been tossed out the window and is replaced by an unnerving, somber and unforgettable soundtrack. A dominant theme in Majora’s Mask‘s music is progression and change. Over the course of the three days, the Moon will draw nearer and nearer to Termina. The townspeople became more and more disheartened and lose faith, also increasing the sense of urgency for Link to hurry up. Clock Town’s theme changes everyday, and by the Third Day the song has become rapid and carries a hint of a devilish, off-key tone that is subtle but potent in setting the mood. Once the Third Day draws to a close, the “Final Day” song plays. It’s slow, is comprised only of complex chords and brings with it the idea that Termina’s despair is inevitable. It is simplistic yet meaningful.

Be sure to tune in next week for the follow-up to this editorial, where I’m going to cover the newer music of the Zelda franchise. So what do you think? Do you believe Zelda has made marked progress in the music department? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

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  • Linkfan99

    I am a fan for those 8-bit tunes. They will always have a special place in my heart. They bring back good memories.

    • linkypete

      They give me a headache.

      • Linkfan99

        aww, i like them.


    I enjoyed the early themes. A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask feature some of my all time favorite videogame music. The first sets an epic tone for lack of a better word; the second is so calming; the third displays the hopelessness of Termina from the get-go.

    With the obvious exception of Spirit Tracks, recent installments haven’t featured as catchy music but hopefully Nintendo is able to reverse this trend.

  • Error

    I think Adventure of Link has the best music both in the Overworld and in the palaces. It does lack a bit of variation though.

  • toofelttil

    woah…. i played all of them at the same time…. whoops

    • linkypete

      I just tried that. it sounds weird, but cool. especially just the 8-bit songs.

      • Zelda4Life

        I just tried it to, and it does sound pretty awesome.

    • Majora’s Cat

      Oh god I just tried it… it’s so demonic. Kind of reminds me of Majora’s Mask’s music, except ten times more disturbing.

  • WindFish

    Why u not include Ballad of the Wind-Fish!? that song is effing beautifull!! People don’t like Link’s Awakening or whaa?

    • Ryan

      The Ballad of the Wind-Fish, as it plays over the end credits always brings a tear to my eye.

  • JuicieJ

    I’ve always liked Zelda’s music, but I can’t say I prefer the classic songs over the ones from Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword. They each added layers of emotion and feeling that past games just didn’t produce in their soundtracks, and it was a change in style that I had been waiting for since playing Zelda for the first time (Ocarina of Time, 1999).

    • The Hylian Monolith

      Thank you! SS and ST had the best sondtracks evr…but I can’t agree with you on the “OoT ans MM songs” were worse thing you implied. Have you ever heard teh Song of Storms? How abouut the Oath to Order? Or the Stoe Tower Temple? Or the Serenade of Water? Or the… You get the idea.

      But by the sound of it, you’ve also heard Fi’s Theme, Grooseland, and the Skyloft Theme, as well as the Tower of Spirits Theme, the ST Overworld Theme, and the ever-looming exactly once Lost Woods theme.

      Maybe I’m just less picky, but no matter the game, Zelda songs alwasy blow me away. Music is a huge part of my life, and I never cease to be amazed at what Koji Kondo and the other Zelda composers bring to us. The music style hasn’t improved as much as it’s just changed, and it will continue to change as new stories and art styled are introduced to the franchise. I believe that as as long as people still have faith in in the power of the Triforce, in the sword that they wield, in the hero that they become as they guide Hyrule from the darkness and into another age of peace. With a great score besides.
      But this is so off-topic. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s digressing.

      • JuicieJ

        When did I say that OoT and MM had bad songs? When did I even mention MM in the first place? All I said was ST and SS had the kind of music I thought would fit best with the series since playing OoT for the first time.

  • Zelda4Life

    Zelda music has always been some of my favorite songs of all time. Because of the Legend of Zelda, I can play over 20 Zelda songs and melodies on the piano. I really love the unique style of many of the songs in many of the games, and I especially love the classics like the Song of Storms, the Lost Woods, and the Gerudo Valley Theme.

    • groosinator

      Please, tell us more about yourself….

  • Darkgreyfire

    I love the 8-bit tunes, and more recent orchestrated ones from twilight and skyward. But, their is something about the songs from ocarina and majora that just stand out more to me. I think it’s how they are continuously tied in with the gameplay of those two games by using the ocarina of time.

    • Mother Groose

      The music was always great in the series, but OOT and MM brought it to the forefront, and shoved it in your face. What else would you expect from games with the Link known as the true “hero of time”.

  • Uhhh…. Zelda

    That Link II song reminds me a lot of Super Smash Bros

    • Michael Philliber

      smash bros borrowed it for some things.

    • Rob

      In Melee they used it for a Zelda themed stage.

  • DA LAWLZ >:3

    i think that the Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time songs were best, especially Ocarina of Time songs. They just seem more … flavorful :D nut all Zelda music is amazing so.

    ( ‘v’)
    ( w )

  • Darkstar

    Some of the best themes I’ve heard are the Hyrule Field songs from OoT and TP. Both of those songs scream adventure and are by far the most epic music I’ve ever heard and experienced. A link to the past also had a bunch of great songs as well, and let’s not forget about the beloved Wind Waker songs!

  • Ninty

    I love the Dark World theme. Some parts of it remind me of one of the Star Wars music from the original trilogy. :D

    A Link to the Past was also definitely the first Zelda game I really enjoyed. I played OoT first but it didn’t grab me as much as ALttP. I guess it’s because it’s in 2D that I liked it so much; it’s the closest thing to cartoons/animation, which I love watching.

  • Captain Falcon

    Zelda music is so good! When my friends listen to so called “real music” I listen to Zelda. They think I’m weird but I don’t really care. I bet they think it’s just all blip-blop sounds, and that I’m really nerdy but I don’t listen to Zelda music just because it’s Zelda. I listen to it because it’s beautiful! Btw Zelda’s Lullaby isn’t from Ocarina of Time, it’s from A Link To the Past.

  • Gaseous Snake

    Koji Kondo easily deserved to be recognized along Bach and Mozart.

  • zeldafreak

    My favorite zelda tune is the adventures of link temple