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

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 The outdated MIDI format was recently tossed in favor of a live orchestra, and pieces have steadily become more advanced in their composition over time.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!