FBM – Overworld Themes Part 5: N64 Days

Picking up where we left off, today I will be finishing the first main set of Overworld Themes for this series: the Exploration themes. Previously in this series, I covered The Legend of Zelda, Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, Link’s Awakening, and the Oracle games. Out of my list of games with “exploration” overworlds this leaves just two remaining: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask.

Now, by all matters of logic I should have included Majora’s Mask‘s overworld theme when I discussed songs that borrowed from and reused the original Zelda theme. Still, there remains some method to my madness; I intentionally held onto it until this week so I could look at it alongside Ocarina of Time. With that said, read on to see what I have to say about these two excellent games’s overworld themes!

Track: Hyrule Field
Game: Ocarina of Time (N64)

You’ve probably heard more than enough times from more than enough sources that Ocarina of Time was groundbreaking when it released. The game introduced so many things to both Zelda and to gaming as a whole that it is still hailed as a landmark for the gaming industry today. The game’s trademark innovation holds true for its music as well.

In “Hyrule Field” we see a new step forward for Zelda overworld themes. While we already saw the results of this change in our look at Twilight Princess a couple weeks ago, everything I praised about that game’s music actually saw its debut right here. Just what kind of changes did this song bring to the table, though?

Most notably, in previous Zelda games we didn’t often see a lot of deviation in the tune. Adventure of Link‘s overworld theme meandered into a nice change from its usual course, but otherwise the tunes didn’t go for more than a minute or so before they looped. And therein is another key point: looping. When Ocarina of Time introduced Hyrule Field, it also introduced the player to the day-and-night cycle of the game. In other words, you couldn’t stand in Hyrule Field for an hour and experience the same tune in an endless loop. The field saw changes over time, and so too did its music.

I find “Hyrule Field” to be an excellent example of Zelda themes that have a sort of progression to them. It begins when night-time ends; the cucco crows, you hear the bright chirping of a flute that signifies day time (in an accelerated version of the Sun’s Song, by the way) and morning have come. Then, a snare drum picks up a steady rhythm. Brass fanfare takes up the march and plays a low tune that builds until you’re surrounded by a rousing adventurous tune that brings a new relief from the oft-recycled original Zelda theme.

The tune has a feeling of constant motion. You truly feel that you’re moving onward, not in circles like a repeating theme might imply. This song gets steadily more intense as it goes along up to the point that, as twilight approaches, you feel the tension of encroaching nightfall and the dangers within. This all takes place over the course of a whole five minutes. That may seem just above average for most music, but in Zelda and video games as a whole that’s a pretty extensive length for a background theme.

All in all, the main thing this song brought to the Zelda series was a feeling of progression and continuity within a single theme. You don’t just feel like you’re setting out on an adventure . . . you also progress on that adventure, see the ongoing motions of a passing day, and experience the coming of nightfall and danger. It’s every facet of a journey expressed in the passing of a day.

Track: Termina Field
Game: Majora’s Mask (N64)

On the other hand, there’s Majora’s Mask and “Termina Field.” While Majora borrowed a lot from Ocarina of Time, its music mostly followed a much different pattern . . . and with good reason. While the innovations made with Ocarina of Time remain, there were some things that just had to be different here.

For one thing, this song is, of course, a remix of the original Zelda overworld theme. However, there is a lot more to it than that. For one thing, it is only a minute and a half long prior to its loop. As if to make up for that, the song also feels a lot more rushed and mobile than even “Hyrule Field” did. “Termina Field” takes the tension that marks the later parts of “Hyrule Field” and spreads it through the rest of the song. The end result is a mixture of both old and new, plus something a bit more strange and exotic.

That’s basically Majora’s Mask in a nutshell: old and new, strange and exotic. Combining iconic mainstays of the series with newer N64 innovation made something of a trademark for this game. Finally, there was one more facet of Majora’s Mask that made the game unique: its three-day cycle. I would say that this is still a factor in the overworld music. Not only does “Termina Field” carry the same urgency as the rest of the game, but the time limit and repeating cycle can also be considered explanations for the song’s return to the older looping format of music.

Just as the game carries your through a repeating three-day cycle, so too does its overworld theme carry a repeating loop in its tune. There isn’t as much progression as there was in “Hyrule Field” because there isn’t as much progression in time for Link himself; he’s not traveling forward, he’s traveling through, and then traveling through again.

And with that, we are now through all of the exploration overworlds in the series. Sure, an argument can be made that Wind Waker also deserved a spot in this section, but then the Transport Overworlds would be lacking one of their strongest hitters! Be sure to check back next week to see how Wind Waker led the pack and defined the kind of music players can travel to.

Also, when this series is finished I’ll be returning to my usual “random” song choices each week. That means I’ll be needing your suggestions! Be sure to let me know your favorite overworld themes in the comments, and don’t forget to recommend what other songs you’d like to see me cover in the future. As always, you can also click the “Flute Boy’s Meadow” category at the bottom of the post to see all of my previous features. See you next week!