Zelda fans and music lovers. I’ve received some thoughtful feedback about this article series on the music of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (TP), and I am quite grateful for the discussion it has generated. This installment focuses on one theme and its myriad iterations, the Hyrule Field theme, so I will keep the introduction to the standard disclaimers:
I discuss the music with regard to the various contexts under which it exists in and outside the series. This endeavor assumes discourse about the music divorced from the gameplay experience. I only turn to gameplay contexts only if it is absolutely necessary to understand what is happening musically. I realize that this approach may be naive, as the music and gameplay are so intertwined, but it is possible to examine the music through ways other than through the gameplay, as I hope I’ve shown in the first two articles.
For example, I observed in Part 1 how TP borrowed from five previous games, more than any other Zelda game. Because of that fact, the composers have imbued into the game historical awareness and continuity, which lends degrees of meaning, complexity, and potential for sustained discussion. Yet dissenters typically dismiss this point as mere recycling of older themes or that the game is a boring hack that can never stand in the company of its predecessors. I hope that readers of this four-part series will take it as an invitation to reconsider some music previously assessed as weakness and begin to see it as a strength. Part 2 selected some of the game’s themes and demonstrated how they appeared and varied throughout the game
This article series demonstrates how the music of
TP is among the most sophisticated and intelligent of the Zelda franchise; it possesses to a high degree narrative and associative powers through Western art-music (“classical”) techniques, more so than any other Zelda game. Here again is the breakdown of the series:
Part 1, Self-Reference:
The music of
TP balances old and new music impressively; it is the game whose music refers to more past games than any other, even The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In that sense, the music of TP shows most clearly its indebtedness to the past without sacrificing original, memorable themes.
Part 2, Re-Appropriation and Variation:
By referring to a selection of themes discussed in Part 1, I demonstrate that the music of
TP takes themes of the past and recontexualizes them in ways that distinguish them from the way fans recognize them from previous games. In other words, TP takes familiar themes and turns them on their ear, often varying them in completely new ways from what came before.
Part 3, Thematic Unity:
This part focuses primarily on the Hyrule Field theme as it saturates the game and appears in varied guises, contexts, narrative points, and locations. In many ways, this theme and its versatility distinguishes TP from most, if not all, of the previous Zelda games.
Part 4, Innovation:
The final part functions more or less like a miscellaneous section. I observe some uses of music in
TP with regard to new themes and where they appear in the game. This article is inspired by and serves as a companion piece to Benjamin Lamoreux’s The Building Blocks of Twilight Princess and Nathaniel Rumphol-Janc’s Why Twilight Princess is the Best Zelda Ever. Important note: I restrict this article to music and themes rather than the sound effects. I refer to themes as they appear on three main Cutscenes (provided by Youtube User SliceCreamSundae), regular Youtube links, and Wiki links. Finally, if there are any inaccuracies, then please let me know in the comment section; I admit that this research is a work in progress. Onto Part 3!
Part 3: Thematic Unity – The Hyrule Field Theme
The Hyrule Field theme, or the Overworld theme, is the glue of the soundtrack. It’s the home base for the music once Link sets foot onto the field. Just as the field connects the disparate parts of Hyrule, the music functions similarly. It is its own theme and connects with others; it appears differently throughout the game, sometimes as referential, sometimes as a main theme varied from its original setting. It is the primary theme of TP.
I also maintain that this theme is a re-envisioning of Link’s theme, or at least a companion of the main melody because of its versatility and relationship to the character. That is not to say that the Hyrule Field theme supplants the original theme. Far from it. It’s the greatest complement of the original theme, I believe. As I demonstrate below, parts of the theme belong to Link and signify his character.
To that end, the title “Hyrule Field” is a bit of a misnomer in that it implies a stationary, geographic association. When I hear the title, “Hyrule Field,” I think of a specific location. Yet, in terms of geography, the theme accompanies areas beyond Hyrule Field proper. The theme therefore interacts with but is not dependent on Hyrule field as we understand it.
The theme also accompanies key moments in the narrative, unconcerned with or irrespective of location. In addition, the theme accompanies Link at key moments in his quest, which contributes all the more to the notion that the theme is a potential re-envisioning of the Hero’s theme.
Part 3 accounts for how the Hyrule Field theme interacts with characters, plot narratives, contexts, environments, and so forth. The bulk of the analyses demonstrates how versatile the theme is and contributes to the overall sophistication of the
TP soundtrack. With the possible exception of the original LoZ theme, no other theme has appeared and reappeared so varied in the Zelda franchise; I do not know whether it eclipses the amount of times the original theme has appeared throughout all the other games. I believe, however, no Overworld theme appears as varied within a single game as TP’s Hyrule Field.
The Theme at a Glance: Structure and Organization
Hyrule Field Theme
The Hyrule Field theme has a number of components to it, the most important being an interaction of three melodies: a main melody and two secondary melodies. For the reduction below, I’ve labeled them as
Main Melody, Secondary Melody 1, and Secondary Melody 2. The second component of the Hyrule Field theme is that the musical soundscape adapts to the context of the gameplay. In other words, when Link encounters specific enemies or areas, the three themes become secondary to other musical material. Or there will be no discernible melody and only the background accompaniment. These areas I have labeled Enemy Encounter 1 and 2. These phrases, however, do not figure into the discussion after this formal analysis.
For those of you who are, like me, fond of seeing things compartmentalized, I’ve partitioned the entrances of each theme with letter numbers (a, b, c, etc.) and with track times. It’s not vital to know the structure of this piece so much as it is important to distinguish the themes from each other; I therefore advise a hearing of this track to be able to differentiate the three main themes above all else.
If you wish to follow along the phrase structure of Hyrule Field theme, the Main Melody is
a, and its variations are labeled as a’. Similarly, the Secondary Melody 1 gets b, while the Secondary Melody 2 gets b’. Finally, the Enemy Encounter themes get c and c’, respectively.
a. 0:00—Reference to LoZ main theme
Main Melody First Phrase
0:20—Main Melody Second Phrase with variation
b. 0:44—Secondary Melody 1
0:50—Secondary Melody 1, Second Phrase
0:57—Secondary Melody in counterpoint with Main Melody.
c. 1:10—Enemy Encounter; Main Melody adapts to environment/context.
1:48—Main Melody accompaniment only.
b. 2:15—Repeat of Secondary Melody 1; literal restatement of b with different instrumentation.
2:22—Secondary Melody 1, Second Phrase
2:28—Secondary Melody in counterpoint with Main Melody.
a’. 2:41—Main Melody
2:55—Main Melody Second Phrase with variation
b’. 3:19—Secondary Melody 2
3:33—Variation of Main Melody
3:38—LoZ main theme reference
c’. 3:46—Enemy Encounter 2. Theme further adapts to environment/context.
c. 4:27—Secondary Melody 1 and return to Main Melody, which is the loop that repeats the track.
I designate three melodies because all tracks that incorporate the Hyrule theme sample any one or combination of all three. I therefore focus on the appearances of these three melodies throughout this discussion. Remember, the most important part of the preceding analysis is to know the differences among the Main Melody, and the two Secondary Melodies.
Hyrule Field by Night
There’s one component of the theme that needs attention before anything else. Although I will treat the significance of this particular theme in Part 4, the first thematic variation of this discussion HAS to be “Hyrule Field at Night.” How could it not? It is the other side of the proverbial coin . . . or rupee . . . of the Hyrule Field theme. Whereas the original theme has a lot going on in terms of instrumental colors, secondary themes, thematic adaptation to gameplay, the night theme is comparatively sparse. That’s not to say it’s less good than the original, however.
Hyrule Field by Night
The distant vocal melody combined with rhythmic patterns of the strings give the theme a hypnotic quality, which is counterbalanced by the periodic bass and percussion patterns. Although every component of the night theme has discernable rhythm, the strings and melody are predictable; but the percussion, for example, occurs on weak beats few and far between, which obscures the predictability. The piece consequently is neither stale nor boring; rather, it is as restless as it is hypnotic.
The way the Hyrule Field theme appears is quite organic and subtle. The vocal melody begins at 0:22 with phrases at 0:22, 0:34, 0:57, and 1:08. Each vocal phrase gets slightly longer, and the earliest statements are particular to the night theme. Those early statements, however, have a melodic shape that maps easily onto the Hyrule Field Main Melody. The third and fourth phrases, however, sneak in the Main Melody as if it grew out of the previous phrases (0:57 and 1:08). Perhaps these nuances contribute to the Hyrule Field by Night theme’s immense popularity.
Hyrule Field Theme throughout the Game
Before I demonstrate the main Hyrule Field theme’s adaptability in context of the game’s music, I need to do a little backpedaling. I left out discussion of this theme from previous parts of this article series, namely Self-Reference and Re-appropriation/Variation. Here, again, is the Hyrule Field theme for ease of access.
Hyrule Field Theme
Like most Overworld themes,
TP’s Hyrule Field theme owes a debt to the original Legend of Zelda theme. There are two subtle references to the iconic theme, and they both recall the rising-note motive so characteristic of the original game theme. The first occurs at the beginning within the first three seconds, while the second one occurs at the tail end of the Secondary Melody 2 section, at 3:38. Both references employ the signature five-note upward gesture and give just a taste of Link’s original theme.
TP Hyrule Field theme draws from the original LoZ, it also draws from Ocarina of Time, in that both Overworld (Hyrule Field) themes adapt to the contexts that Link faces. Areas c and c’ (1:10 – 2:14 and 3:46 – 4:26) present variations of the theme, which occur when Link faces enemies or hostile environments. OoT was the first game in the Zelda franchise to have an adaptable Overworld theme, and TP draws from this precedent.
While the Hyrule Field theme is by and large particular to
TP, the rest of this article extends the approach from Part 2, Re-appropriation and Variation. This theme, as players know, is pervasive throughout the game as soon as Link leaves Ordon and steps into the great wide open. Therefore, I will trace the theme’s appearances as far as I am able throughout the chronology of the game.
Cutscenes, Part 1
We don’t actually hear the Hyrule Field theme proper until after Link leaves Ordon, gets pulled into the Twilight, turned into a wolf, meets both Midna and Princess Zelda, clears the Twilight from Faron woods, and turns back into human form by the spirit Faron. We get a taste of the theme, however, the first time Link learns the first sword skill from the Hero’s Shade on his way to the Forest Temple. Every time Link learns a new skill from the mysterious being, a brief statement of the theme appears.
Other than that, there’s quite a bit of gameplay and plot development before the Overworld theme makes its exposition. Link enters Hyrule Field for the first time, and the player hears the theme as it is outlined in the formal analysis above.
Once Link enters the Twilight a second time and goes into Kakariko Village, the cut scene leads to the children of Ordon Village (Beth, Colin,
Malo, and Talo), Barnes, and Renado hiding in Renado’s house from the Shadow Beasts. As Beth cries, she mentions the name of Link coming to save them, and a melancholy, slowed theme on piano queues at 45:27.
After Link clears the Twilight from Kakariko, the Hyrule Field theme occurs a few times. We get a taste of it when he reunites with Epona at 52:04 after taming the horse (and then goes to learn how to Sumo wrestle). We also hear a snippet of the theme in a particularly cinematic scene when the Bulbin King, after having trampled Colin, sees Link appear from around the bend charging forward with Epona. There’s a close-up of Link at 55:02—and queue the Hyrule Field theme—and the scene cuts to the Bulbin King holding Colin’s lifeless body to taunt the Hero before fleeing to the field.
The horseback battle between Link and the Bulbin King, the first of many in the game, employs a variation of the Secondary Melody 1 at 56:17. The contour of the theme, a circular pattern of descending and then ascending pitches, occurs a number of times, increasing the tension of the action. At 57:40, Fragments of the melody appear as Link stands victorious on the bridge after having knocked the Bulbin King off Eldin Bridge . . . which he manages to survive . . . multiple times.
After the battle, Colin momentarily awakens, and one of the more tender settings of the theme occurs at 58:00, often titled “Return of Calmness” The bulk of the material here comes from the Secondary Melody 2 and with an accompaniment figure as well as instrumentation (harp in the background) that recalls “Zelda’s Lullaby.” We don’t hear a new variation of the Hyrule Field theme for a while, but the original is still ever present, as Link has to travel the area quite often.
As Link nears the end of the Goron Mines, he has to face the imposing Fyrus, and the battle music excerpts the Secondary Melody 1 at 1:06:00. There’s a lot of fragmentation and varying of the melody, and the music is much more intense compared to the original statement of the Secondary Melody 1. In addition, at 1:08:15, a fragment of the Secondary Melody 1 appears at the tail end of Link’s victory fanfare after he defeats Fyrus.
Link returns from the Goron Mines to Kakariko village and reunites with the Ordon Children, Renado, and Barnes. Colin, still healing from the Bulbin encounter, implores Link to save Ilia. After a brief statement of Illia’s theme, the Secondary Melody 2 also appears at 1:11:28 (similar to the statement at 58:00).
Later in the game, when Wolf Link is forced to jump off the fiery Great Bridge of Hylia into Lake Hylia, he encounters the Twilit Kargarok that Midna eventually tames. The Kargarok flies Wolf Link and Midna through a dangerous path to Upper Zora’s River. There is a rhythmically propelling and intense variation of the Hyrule theme during the Flight up the River, which sounds almost as if the player is running (or flying in this case) against the clock.
Cutscenes, Part 2
After Link and Midna melt the frozen Zora’s River, they encounter Queen Rutela, who asks them to save her son, Prince Ralis. When Link reaches the prince in Telma’s Bar, he and Telma resolve to transport Ralis along with Ilia to Kakariko Village. At 2:49, there occurs a march-like rendition of the Hyrule Field theme, often titled “Planning the Trip to Kakariko.” This imaginative setting of the theme displays the group’s strategy and their preparations to face the dangerous road ahead. After the harrowing transport, Renado informs Link and Colin that the Zora Prince will survive, accompanied by the Secondary Melody 2, titled “Calm and Hope” at 4:22.
Since we have reached the area of the game that deals with water—Queen Rutela, Prince Ralis, Zora’s Domain, Zora’s River, Lake Hylia, and the approaching Lakebed Temple—now would be a good time to mention the Fishing Hole theme. Commonly, Link first arrives here after receiving the Zora Armor from the spirit of Queen Rutela in Kakariko Village, but his first time here, like that of many areas in the game, can vary. Anyway, when Link goes fishing, the background music is a relaxed, almost vacation-like setting of Hyrule Field theme, which is a good example of how the theme can adapt to its surroundings. It does not need to be heroic, action-packed, and so forth. While Link fishes, the theme can be as peaceful as the Fishing Hole itself.
We don’t hear a new variation of the Hyrule Field theme for a while. Yet the music of the Lakebed Temple Boss recalls that of the battle with Fyrus in the Goron Mines. Link’s fight with Morpheel employs an excerpt from the Secondary Melody 1 at 11:20.
The next setting of the Hyrule Field theme happens to be one of most popular musical excerpts from
TP, which is Midna’s Desperation/Lament.
After Zant nearly kills her and permanently transforms Link into a Wolf, Link has to get Midna to Princess Zelda in Hyrule Castle. The quest to the castle is accompanied by a new variation of the Hyrule Field theme.
Midna’s Lament has quite a few areas of interest. The first is the bottom part of the piano with “singing” bass line in a steady, repeating rhythm. The second is the Hyrule Field theme itself. For the first time in the game, the theme is cast in an unambiguous minor mode, which substitutes the heroic character of the theme with sadness and melancholy. The third is the interaction of the theme with another important theme in the music, Midna’s theme, the discussion for which I will save for Part 4.
The combination of several elements in this music make for a sort of centerpiece. Midna’s Lament occurs around the half-way mark, and it combines two of the most important musical themes of the game. It also happens right around the point when we either start to care about or are already invested in what happens to Midna. In many ways, this piece reflects the character of
TP itself—it encapsulates a heroic journey, but, like this particular game, it has a fair amount of melancholy and sadness.
Gerudo Desert Theme
Here is the theme so you don’t have to sift through the cutscenes. The music of this region is characterized by a heavy percussion element and a main theme in the guitar/strings. The Hyrule Field theme now adapts to being a secondary melody set to a male-vocal sound. More importantly, the Field theme is secondary to the guitar/string theme.
The relegation of the Hyrule Field theme to accompaniment demonstrates the composers’ sensitivity to the geographic context of the desert, which isn’t easily accessible. According to Auru, the road leading to it is impassable, and the desert is “at world’s end” where the worst criminals were imprisoned. Link literally has to be launched past the boundaries of Lake Hylia to access it (until he can warp, that is).
In this sense, Gerudo Desert lives both inside and outside Hyrule. It is fitting that this place, so remote and avoided by the denizens of Hyrule, would have a different musical theme altogether while referring to the Main Melody of Hyrule Field in the background. The placement of the Hyrule Field theme as secondary suggests its geographic distance as well as removal from familiar contexts.
A similar analysis can apply to the Snowpeak theme, which occurs at 50:18 of the Cutscenes, Part 2 video. Link meets Ashei, a member of the resistance. She gives him some background information about the region, which, she says, is unlike any other mountain she’s encountered. We hear quite an atmospheric variation of the Hyrule Field theme at Snowpeak. Here is the theme in isolation:
The opening has one sustained pitch followed by another added pitch at 0:22, which can suggest the expansiveness of the mountain and the remoteness of the cold that the region brings. Ashei, when speaking to Link as he first enters the area, emphasizes the fact that the region is dangerous and colder than usual.
Cutting across, over, and around the sustained pitches are fragments of the Hyrule Field theme Main Melody in a cold, silvery timbre, which also can suggest the terrain. The statements of the Hyrule Field theme in this context are staggered at approximately ten-second intervals, and they get slightly longer with each successive installment. See the Snowpeak theme track 0:04, 0:14, 0:25, and 0:35 before the theme retracts again. The theme is analogous to the Hyrule Field by Night theme, but what I find noteworthy about this technique of melodic distribution is that the theme staggers and ultimately fails to fully develop because of the oppressive cold. The Snowpeak theme remains reserved, stifled, or, if you will, a little frozen.
The Hyrule theme doesn’t become as secondary for the Snowpeak theme as it did with the Gerudo Desert theme. Much like the Desert theme, however, the geography and context of Snowpeak inform the character of the original theme. With regard to the Hyrule Field theme and the environment of Snowpeak itself, Ashei continues with some ominous forebodings that the place is inhabited by a beast . . . who turns out to be pretty hospitable, but his wife gets a little frightening at times. Link has to access the place with commensurate difficulty as the Desert in that he has to contend with terrible weather, which could very well kill him. All the qualities of the theme and the staggered entrances of the Hyrule Field theme contribute to the context in which Link is now pitted.
Cutscenes, Part 3
Midna’s Lament and the themes for Gerudo Desert and Snowpeak are significant ones in demonstrating how the Hyrule theme adapts itself to context, geography, and narrative. Yet there’s one final theme that can share in the company of themes like these. At the beginning of this third cutscene video, Link discovers the Hidden Village, the theme for which begins at 1:50. Much like the Gerudo Desert and Snowpeak themes, the Hidden Village theme adapts to several contexts.
Hidden Village Theme
The first context is Link’s task. With bow and arrow and in stealth mode, the Hero has to take out a bunch of Bulbins, who have overrun the small village. The second context is setting. The scene is right out of an archetypical western film: barrels, carriages, and rows of wood-based establishments separated by a main thoroughfare. The third context is geography in relation to Hyrule itself. The village is hidden, but it still is a part of Hyrule proper, and it would only make sense that the Main Melody appears in some way.
The music follows all of these conditions. The dactylic rhythm of the string accompaniment and signature guitar sound immediately suggests a country-western film score. Compound the rhythmic drive with a whistling of the Main Melody followed by trumpets, and you might think that you’re watching the movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!” This theme remains one of the more popular tracks in
TP precisely because of how the music maps onto the “shoot-‘em-up” gameplay.
Once Link clears the Hidden Village of enemies, he meets Impaz, who, it is implied, is a Sheikah, the legendary race of guardians of the Royal Family. As Impaz speaks to Link and reveals her stories and memories, the accompanying music is the Secondary Melody 2 at 2:51.
Finally, there’s one more reference to the original Hyrule Field theme in the Hidden Village. It is also the last new variation during gameplay, and it occurs during the last Wolf Howl: Ballad of Twilight. As Wolf Link approaches the last Howling Stone, he performs an unfamiliar melody. Once the music accompaniment fills out the howling, the howling becomes secondary (really accompaniment), and the Hyrule Field theme takes over. I return to the howling themes in more detail in Part 4.
The last two times players hear appearances of Hyrule theme in new contexts is when Link battles Argorok at 19:30 and, importantly, the last sword fight with Ganondorf at 1:00:25. Both battles employ the Secondary Melody 1.
Of course, no
Zelda game since OoT would be complete without a big, cathartic denouement where everything gets resolved, although not everything ends happily ever after in TP). Throughout the 10+ minute credits and end scenes (beginning at 1:04:37), the Hyrule Field theme appears everywhere and often in relation to other melodies. It is the first main theme of the credits, and it’s also important to note that the credits mainly focus on the Main Melody and the Secondary Melody 2, and only a brief, varied statement of the Secondary Melody 1 at 1:07:10, a point to which I will return below.
In terms of themes that are either juxtaposed or in counterpoint with the theme, the first is the original The Legend of Zelda theme. The Hyrule Field and LoZ themes are juxtaposed in this case, beginning at 1:06:20. The second theme is that of “Zelda’s Lullaby,” and it occurs in counterpoint with the Hyrule Field theme at 1:08:28. Finally, at 1:08:54, the Hyrule Field theme has its grand finale and last statement in the game.
The Takeaway and Concluding Thoughts
After all of these statements, themes, variations, and such, I have noted a few things about the Hyrule theme. The first is that the Main Melody belongs to both the land of Hyrule but also Link. It really is his theme. Each time he accomplishes something significant or swoops in to save someone from immanent danger, we hear the Main Melody. That is why I maintain that this theme is almost a reinvention or re-imagining of the original theme. It is yoked to the character of Link and appears almost everywhere he goes in Hyrule. The melody conforms to his contexts and environment, but it remains his theme.
The Secondary Melody 1 most often appears against the backdrop of significant battles, especially those of Bosses. It happens with Fyrus, Morpheel, Argorok, and most significantly, Ganondorf. The significance of this observation lies in the boundary-crossing property the theme has. While I do not know this for certain, the majority of
Zelda games do not mix Overworld and Dungeon music; yet the Secondary Melody 1 does so. In this regard, TP is a trailblazer for yet another musical innovation.
Finally, the Secondary Melody 2 appears most often with the development of the plot or with some sort of narrative, especially after Link has overcome some obstacle and the characters have time to reflect. I believe that this component of the theme counterbalances the qualities of the Main Melody, even though the Main Melody appears in the Secondary Melody 2. The Main Melody is by and large heroic, purposeful, driven, and aggressive. The Secondary Melody 2 is cast in contexts that make it more reflective and tender.
All of these qualities contribute to why the Hyrule Field theme writ large is among the most sophisticated and versatile themes in all of the
Zelda games. It encapsulates binaries of light and dark—as in the case of the differences between the Primary and Secondary themes themselves, as well as the settings of Hyrule Field by day and by night. It runs the gamut of scenarios and contexts that Link and Midna face on their journey together, and I am not sure if any other theme is so varied and so adapted as this one.
Well, I think I have taken enough of your time for now. It’s just as well, too; my nieces Emma and Ava are just waiting to resume their first Wind Waker campaign. Thank you, once again, for your attention in this long journey through Hyrule Field. Be on the lookout within the next few weeks for the final installment of this article series on the music of Twilight Princess. I look forward to your constructive comments below, especially if I have missed anything.