FBM – Overworld Themes Part 2: The Beginning

Welcome to another Flute Boy’s Meadow, Zelda Dungeoners – now coming every Friday morning!

What has become known as the “Theme Song” of the Zelda franchise originally began as its first overworld theme. Since those days of 8-Bit music the song has seen great advancements, as well as revisions for newer titles. Overall it has served as the primary overworld theme for four different Zelda games and as a “secondary” theme in even more.

Since the primary purpose of this series is to focus on each game’s overworld theme, I will only be featuring the three primary instances of this song that served as such, plus a point of transition in the games’ early days. Those are the overworld themes of The Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, and The Minish Cap. Additionally, it should be noted that one of those games actually has two overworld themes; I would be remiss if I were to leave that one out.

Also, I would also like to note that Majora’s Mask, Link’s Awakening, and the Oracle games also use overworld themes very similar to this one – even more so than Zelda II. Those themes, however, will be getting their due later on since they would make this post way too large, plus I want to look at them in a slightly different light.

Jump in to read more!

First thing’s first, I’m going to nail down the purpose of an Exploration Overworld’s theme right now so I don’t have to repeat myself for all ten or so games that use one. As I stated last week, an Exploration Overworld is one which gives the player free reign to search every nook and cranny of its map at their own pace. Without any self-propelled transportation like a boat or bird to push them forward, players can stop anywhere and look around to their heart’s content.

This means Link is almost always on foot, marching across Hyrule in his grand quest as he lives out his adventure. Every rock and tree has the potential to yield a new dungeon, new enemies, and/or strange men lying in caves distributing swords. These are all influential in what makes an overworld, and therefore should be influential in its music.

The Music

Title: Overworld
Game: The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Composer: Koji Kondo

This is actually the third time this track has been featured in a Flute Boy’s Meadow post, but only the first time I’m going to be talking specifically about it. We’re starting from the beginning, at the very foundation of Zelda’s music: the original Overworld theme.

Though restricted to its 8-Bit hardware, this song still manages to convey its point. In its beat and rhythmic pace it manages to create a feeling akin to a march theme; one could set an army’s marching pace to this song and keep them marching through the day. Okay, so maybe it’s a bit brisk for a march tune . . . but that just makes it work all the better here, if you ask me. The march you are a part of is not some forced march to war. It’s much more exciting than that.

The “trumpeting” also helps lend to this spirit of adventure in the song, but it is not quite developed yet. Even with the limited hardware one can still glean feelings of adventure and, to some degree, a bit of mystery about what’s around the next bend. This basic formula is the foundation and groundwork for most Zelda overworld themes to follow.

Title: Above Ground
Game: The Adventure of Link (NES)
Composer: Akito Nakatsuka

Taking the main tune of the original theme and switching it up a bit, Zelda II brought a few newer things to the table with its overworld theme. For one, its intro is faster paced and a bit lower in pitch until it rises. After that, it really begins to shine as its own beast; the theme takes on a brighter tune than before, one that I find reminiscent of medieval minstrels.

I like the cheerier tones this song adds, and especially enjoy the medieval carnival tone it brings with it. These work pretty well considering Zelda II takes place in a less-desolate Hyrule than its predecessor. Plus, any sense of danger that the song should hold is shared with the battle theme that plays when Link encounters enemies in the overworld, so the cheerier tone isn’t detracting from that too much.

While still an excellent piece, “Above Ground” is not quite the best among Zelda’s overworld tunes . . . although I will give it props for being better than Minish Cap‘s, which we will get to later. It suits its game well but lacks the same “oomph” its predecessor held.

Title: Hyrule Field
Game: A Link to the Past (SNES)
Composer: Koji Kondo

Will everyone please rise for the playing of the Hyrule National Anthem.

. . . Okay, all joking aside, this really is what I believe to be the definitive in-game version of this theme. With newer hardware and Koji Kondo at the musical reins again, A Link to the Past took the original Overworld Theme and perfected it. The 8-Bit march theme was spruced up to a soaring 16-bit MIDI ensemble of blaring trumpets and crashing cymbals that didn’t just imply adventurous tones, it threw them in your face.

This is the triumphant theme of a hero setting out upon his journey, of good vanquishing evil, of a daring quest that you are ready to be a part of. This is a song for adventuring. Everything great about the original manifestation of this tune has been made better here, so I don’t feel I can elaborate much more on how great this one is.

Title: Hyrule Field
Game: The Minish Cap (GBA)
Composer: Matsuhiko Takano

And then . . . this. Look, Minish Cap had some pretty good music and at some points it shines pretty well, but this is not one of them. Capcom pretty much just copied the Hyrule Field theme from A Link to the Past, and it didn’t survive the transition to GameBoy Advance very well. Somehow, they successfully made a song sound worse ten years later. Maybe I’m biased towards the original, but still . . . this just does not sound as good as A Link to the Past.

So, those are the four main games that use the Zelda “Theme Song” as their overworld themes. In the coming weeks, I will be looking at the GameBoy Color Zelda games (all three of which use the EXACT same overworld theme . . . go Capcom), the N64 Zelda games, and finally Twilight Princess‘s incredibly diverse use of its overworld. Be sure to check back in the coming weeks for more!

What is your favorite variation of the original overworld theme? Which game has your favorite or least favorite music? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see you again next Friday!

See Also
As many of you know, A Link to the Past has another overworld theme, The Dark World. I actually covered this song way back in October, so be sure to check that post out as well; I have updated it to better fit with my more recent features.