A few days ago, I read the 2014 Zelda Fan Survey, an impressive undertaking by Max Nichols. As far as I could tell, he did not leave many stones unturned, or, to make an apropos metaphor, he did not leave many pots unsmashed. Some of the results did not surprise me; some of them did.
Naturally, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT) reigns supreme. It is what made the Zelda franchise what we know and love today. It is the yardstick by which all other Zelda games—before or after it, it seems—are measured. I was 18 years old when OoT was released, and I have very fond memories of playing that game with my best friends. It made me fall in love with Hyrule and all that is in it, as it surely has done for many fans.
Being fairly new to articles about The Legend of Zelda series, however, I did not realize just how highly fans regard The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (MM). That was surprising to me, and it shows me just how much I have to learn about the game. I tried about three times since its release to play MM, and I could never enjoy it, sadly. Of course, that will not stop me from trying again!
What left me sort of lukewarm were the ratings for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (TP). The ratings were not bad, to be sure; they were consistently in the top five. Admittedly, they just did not reflect my experience of the game. TP reignited my love for Zelda after having lost interest in the games for a number of years after the year 2000. I even introduced TP to my two nieces, Emma and Ava, in 2010. Our pastime for a number of years was and continues to be to set aside a few hours each week and play Zelda together. My nieces are now 13 and 10, and, after four years of bonding over TP, they since have become big fans of the Zelda series in general. Nonetheless, I acknowledge my bias towards TP; I love it, and I suppose that is why, as far as the “major” Zelda releases go, TP’s ratings left me dissatisfied (except in the “favorite world” poll!).
I do not wish to persuade fans to “like” Twilight Princess more or less than they already do. Rather, I wish to illustrate why I believe the game is among the most intelligent and sophisticated among the Zelda series, which I will demonstrate through discussion of its music.
As with any good video game, the music possesses narrative power as well as the ability to create a mood commensurate to the backdrop against which the protagonist is pitted. For those readers who indulge in classical-music discourse, the music becomes even richer in complexity and meaning if listeners can connect a recurring theme to a person, place, thing, idea, mood, etc. In other words, the leitmotiv (pace, Richard Wagner) imbues themes with even more associative and narrative powers, to the point where the theme is inseparable from its subject.
I am here to show how the music of Twilight Princess achieves these associative and narrative powers more effectively than any other Zelda game, despite the criticism the game has received. To do so, I divide this article into four parts, which I will release over the course of the next several weeks.
Part 1: Self-Reference: The music of Twilight Princess strikes an impressive balance between “old” and “new” music; it is the game whose music refers to more past games than any other, even OoT. In that sense, the music of Twilight Princess 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: In this part, I focus 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 unprecedented uses of music in TP with regard to new themes and where they appear in the game.
In a way, 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, NOT the sound effects. The themes will be linked to Youtube in addition to 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! With that said, let’s begin.
Part I: Self-Reference: Drawing from the Past
By self-reference I mean how composers Koji Kondo, Toru Minegishi, and Asuka Ohta drew from musical material of past games and wove themes into the soundscapes of TP. As far as I know, no other Zelda game is as self-referential as TP, as it features themes from no fewer than five Zelda games. I will begin in chronological order of the previous games, starting with the earliest release, The Legend of Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda
The iconic theme of the Zelda franchise, the one that appears in of practically all the Zelda games, naturally appears in TP. It appears in the original 8-bit game as the Main Title theme and in the Overworld th
The Main theme also makes a few appearances throughout the game. After Link frees Faron Woods from the Twilight, the spirit Faron restores Wolf Link to his human form and clothes him in the signature green tunic. More significantly, Faron tells Link, now that he looks the part, that he is imbued with the powers from the ancient hero chosen by the gods (Link from OoT). At this point of recognition, the original theme plays briefly (start at 13:38). (Faron Information gratefully provided by Philip Kunhardt.) Finally, the original theme occurs in the Sacred Grove, when Link obtains the Master Sword.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
What surprised me about researching the themes of the Zelda series is how several important themes originated in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (ALttP) and have transferred to games like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. For instance, Zelda’s Lullaby first appears early in ALttP when Link rescues the Princess from Hyrule Castle’s dungeon, and both flee to the Sanctuary of Hyrule Castle. It also occurs when Link obtains Crystals each time he defeats a dungeon boss and rescues one of the Seven Maidens. The theme has a lilting, soft accompaniment, and its mood is always peaceful. Rarely in any Zelda games does it sound different than either peaceful or majestic: characteristics befitting of Princess Zelda.
Zelda’s theme appears in Twilight Princess several times, despite the fact that Zelda herself is a bit more distant a presence in this game. We first hear Zelda’s Lullaby when Link in Wolf form and Midna first meet her in Hyrule Castle, where she is held captive. Zelda’s theme next appears after Wolf Link carries a dying Midna back to Hyrule Castle about half way through the game, and they re-encounter Zelda. Shortly thereafter, players hear an excerpt of the lullaby when Zelda transfers her power to save Midna’s life. Next, the lullaby appears when Link and Midna first enter the Sacred Grove and approach a Howling Stone with the Triforce symbol. Wolf Link howls the Lullaby, which summons the Skull Kid to lead the two throughout the Sacred Grove and towards the Master Sword. Finally, the Zelda theme appears during the final battle when Ganondorf uses Zelda as a puppet to defeat link (the theme appears at 0:32) and when Link frees her from Ganondorf’s possession and Zelda reawakens.
Ganon himself receives a theme in ALttP, which occurs in several places. The theme originally is attributed to the sorcerer Agahnim, who captures Zelda and takes her to Hyrule Castle. Link pursues Agahnim and witnesses him banish Zelda to the Dark World; the two battle, and both wind up going to the Dark World. The next time the theme appears is after Ganon reveals himself to Link as he rises from the lifeless body of Agahnim, his alter ego, and escapes in bat form to the Pyramid in the center of the Dark World. When Link tracks down Ganon, the theme sounds as Ganon speaks to Link. While Ganon does not reveal himself as the main antagonist in TP for quite some time, his theme appears clearly when Link encounters the Sages at the Mirror Chamber; they inform Link about Ganondorf’s failed execution (begin at 3:51). The next time we hear Ganon’s theme, it is in counterpoint with the Hyrule Castle theme as Link ascends to the highest part of the tower. We of course hear the theme once again when Link meets Ganondorf in the main tower of Hyrule Castle.
Incidentally, Hyrule Castle also receives a theme in the two games. From its character and minor mode, it maps easily onto the context that it
is either a regal theme, dignified yet with a touch of loftiness, or a dangerous place overrun by enemies. We first hear it in ALttP, when Link enters Hyrule Castle (beginning at 0:12) and rescues Princess Zelda from Agahnim. We hear three versions of the Castle theme in Twilight Princess, each with increasing levels of accompaniment and countermelodies. In its simplest form, the Hyrule Castle theme is monophonic (melody alone without any accompaniment) with an interplay between digital oboe and flute, but the texture changes and alludes to the second phrase of Ganondorf’s theme at 0:42. As Link gets closer to reaching Ganondorf, the theme now has a march-like bass line for its only accompaniment, making it homophonic in texture (melody with accompaniment) and increasingly threatening. The second version of the Castle theme also alludes to the second phrase of Ganondorf’s theme at 0:37. The third and final time we hear the Hyrule Castle theme, it is at its most complex with Ganondorf’s theme as the countermelody (a melody played simultaneously with another, usually a secondary one), making the texture polyphonic (the interaction of two independent melodies) and the most sinister.
The final two themes of ALttP from which TP draws are the Fairy and Master Sword themes. The earlier game set the precedent for hearing this familiar tune at the Select Screen. We also hear it when Link encounters Fairies on his journey. For example, the Fairy Theme occurs when Link throws money in the Pond of Happiness. In addition to the select-screen association, the theme has since become associated with Fairies replenishing Link’s health, power, or improving his abilities. TP continues both associations: at the select/menu screen theme, when Link encounters spirits like Eldin (see the opening of this walkthrough), and each time Link encounters the Great Fairy during the fifty-room Cave of Ordeals. Regarding the Master Sword Theme, it occurs whenever Link either first discovers it or takes it from/returns it to its original place. Compare ALttP’s Master Sword theme with TP’s Master Sword theme.
As we approach the end of references to ALttP, there is one more subtle reference to the Kakariko Village Theme. Although OoT co-opts the original theme verbatim, the Kakariko Village Theme of TP refers only to the first six-note motive from ALttP, which begins at 0:07 . It appears fleetingly in the Kakariko Village Theme of TP from the beginning.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
As readers may expect, OoT is the game to which TP refers the most. The richness of music from OoT comes from a balance between character themes, as well as themes connected to plots and locations.
Three character themes appear in OoT and TP are those of Epona and Saria. The first time anyone hears Epona’s song, it is actually known as the Lon Lon Ranch theme. When Malon teaches Link the song on his Ocarina, however, the repeated three-note descending motive becomes associated with Epona more so than with the Ranch. In TP, the Horse Grass theme, both when Link blows through the grass and howls as a wolf, is where we hear the Epona motif. It is not a part of the soundtrack per se, but it is enough to merit mention here. (Horse Grass Information gratefully provided by Philip Kunhardt.) The main exposition of Epona’s theme, however, occurs when Link enters Kakariko Village early in the game and encounters his companion, who he must tame after being terrorized by the Bulbins. The theme is much more aggressive and frenzied than the one of OoT; but, like OoT, Link uses the theme to call his loyal steed from that point onward.
One of the most popular tunes to have come from OoT is the cheerful Saria’s Song/Lost Woods theme. The first time we hear the tune, Saria teaches it to Link as a way for the two friends to communicate, especially after Link decides to leave Kokiri Forest. However, when Link wanders into the Lost Woods, the theme emblematizes the woods and becomes part of an environment in addition to Saria. The theme appears under similar contexts in TP with regard to Link travelling within the forest/maze setting, the Sacred Grove. The theme, however, is no longer attributed to a specific character as it was in OoT. While the TP version retains the rhythm, pitch, and even ocarina timbre of the original theme, the accompaniment makes a huge difference difference. It is much more subtle than the original setting. I personally find it to be less cheerful and more distant—more “serious,” as it were—but I suppose that is the way things tend to be in TP. The accompaniment for the Sacred Grove theme in TP consists of harp-like arpeggios in contrast to the percussion and chordal accompaniment of OoT. Despite this new casting, players do not mistake the familiar tune for a second.
TP borrows a boss theme from OoT, as well. Only King Dodongo and Volvagia have this particular Boss Tune in OoT; perhaps it has to do with their relationship to the Gorons or with fire-based dungeons? Anyway, Link fa
ces possibly the most well-liked boss of TP, Stallord, who also has the same theme. The theme begins at 0:26, but the familiar tune that connects both games starts at 0:42. (Boss theme information gratefully provided by username OcarinaMan)
There are a few themes from OoT that are not associated with a character but are in TP. The first is the Serenade of Water. Sheik teaches Link the serenade in the Ice Cavern right after he obtains the Iron Boots and before he enters the Water Temple. In TP, however, the theme is attributed to the Spirit of Queen Rutela of the Zora, who meets Link and Midna after they free Zora’s domain from the Twilight. Because of its haunting melody, this tune has remained a favorite among Zelda fans.
The two remaining themes of this kind are also melodies that Sheik teaches Link on his journey, like the Serenade of Water. The first is the Requiem of Spirit, which takes the hero to the Spirit Temple in the heart of Gerudo Desert. The second is the Prelude of Light, which enables Link to travel to the Temple of Time. In TP, however, the tunes belong to the Hero’s Shade, who takes the shape of both a luminescent wolf and that of a skeletal warrior (popularly referred to as the Link from OoT for another case of self-reference). Analogous to having to play the melodies on the Ocarina, Wolf Link has to howl the Requiem of Spirit and Prelude of Light melodies to his guide from afar in order to progress with his swordsmanship training.
The rest of the themes that relate OoT and TP are attributed to places, races, and Hyrule’s history, and most of have found their way into the canon of memorable Zelda tunes. The one theme that relates to plot development occurs twice in OoT: when the Deku Tree or Zelda herself explain to Link the History of Hyrule and its creation and whenever Link enters the Chamber of Sages. In TP, the theme relates to the history of Hyrule, as well. Link encounters the Spirit Lanayru, who tells him where to find the Fused Shadow; yet the spirit provides a caveat for Link about the nature of the power he seeks. Lanayru’s tale of the History of the Goddesses incorporates the theme and leads to an infamous cut scene that easily is one of the most disturbing in all of the games.
Regarding themes given to places and locations, the earliest one to occur in OoT is that of Link’s House (also associated with many other friendly abodes throughout the game). TP follows suit with the theme, serving the same purpose and contexts. This light-hearted theme, along with the Kokiri Forest and Ordon,themes represent the idyllic and safe environments where Link is accustomed to being at the beginning of the narrative—away from the dangers of Hyrule field and of Ganonorf’s forces. Themes like these represent purity in the game, of lands untouched by the troubles of the world. They are analogous to the Shire theme in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. In moments of Link’s adventures, the house theme functions as a respite from the battles and trials he endures.
Three other major “location” themes drawn from OoT are from Goron City and Zora’s Domain. In both cases, Link meets races of Hyrule that prove to be allies and friends. Like Link’s House theme, these two themes transferred to TP almost verbatim; there were very little changes made to the timbre, instrumentation, rhythm, tempo, etc. Instead of Goron City, however, the theme is attributed to the whole of Death Mountain. The title of Zora’s Domain in TP remains the same as in OoT.
The next “location” theme that occurs in both OoT and TP is the Temple of Time theme. In the former game, the Temple is nestled right next to Hyrule Castle and the market square upon entering it, the player hears the theme, a verisimilar take on monophonic chant (possibly Gregorian chant), the kind historically associated with ritual worship. In OoT, Link can access easily the temple because of its location (and afterwards through warp). In TP, Link enters the Temple of Time much later in the game after having obtained the Master Sword in the Sacred Grove. The theme does not occur until Link actually travels back in time when he walks through the Triforce-crested doors in the Sacred Grove. Out of all the themes that have remained consistent between the two games, this one remains completely unchanged.
The last theme of this kind occurs when Link and Zelda escape the Castle after the former’s first confrontation with Ganondorf. The escape music is pretty tense, and it helps keep players on edge during the precarious escape. It appears in TP in the context of Ganondorf’s failed execution, the track titled “The Demon Thief.” At 0:49, the theme appears again when the Sages realize that, despite having been run through with a sword, Ganondorf survives the execution and manages to break his shackles. It is at this point when the Sages banish him to the Twilight Realm.
While several themes connect OoT to TP, I have shown so far how the original game and ALttP also have contributed to TP’s musical landscape, yet there are still more game references that establish connections with TP. The next reference will certainly please many fans, according to the Zelda Poll!
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
As far as the major Zelda releases go, I believe that MM and TP share a kindred spirit. The former game deviates from the traditional story line of Zelda, Link, Ganon, Hyrule, etc. and thus might seem like a curious choice as a point of reference. Yet, if one adheres to the Zelda timeline, the two games appear under the same post-OoT thread. Therefore, they both are analogous in their qualities, chief among them being the dark nature of the narrative.
What also makes them similar is the way in which Link physically transforms. The myriad masks that Link wears in MM allows him to transform, while the power of the Twilight enables him to become a wolf in TP. In MM, Link learns the Song of Healing from the Happy Mask Salesman after he recovers the Ocarina of Time from the Skull Kid. Link, who was transformed into a Deku, plays the song and returns to his human form. In TP, Link is traveling as a transformed Wolf along Death Mountain covered in Twilight. He encounters the Hero’s Shade, who teaches him the Song of Healing. Both games rely on a transformed Link to provide the diegetic music (as in originating within the plot/action, not background music).
The second reference of MM is the Goron Lullaby, but it may prove contentious among readers. It is for this reason alone that I will reserve discussion of the Goron Lullaby for Part 2, Re-Appropriation and Variation. (Thank you, Philip Kunhardt, for giving me this idea!) Although there are only two references to MM, there is one final game to which TP refers . . .
The Wind Waker
Last but not least, TP makes one sole reference to the Wind Waker (these two games are like Yin and Yang with regard to character, color, mood, etc.), but it incorporates parts of two themes. As Link travels the sea, he learns the Ballad of the Gales by the Wind God Cyclos. When Wolf Link approaches the fifth Howling Stone in TP’s Snowpeak, the Hero’s Shade teaches him the Ballad of the Gales, but that is not all. Although it is very subtle, the percussion that follows the howling bears striking similarity to that of the Wind Waker main theme. (WW Information gratefully provided by Philip Kunhardt.)
The music of TP provides the strongest cases of self-reference in the Zelda franchise. The composers adopted several themes from five previous installments, which demonstrates the game’s relationship and indebtedness to its past. In this regard, TP honors the franchise in a way that no other game has; it also reinforces the thematic unity of the Zelda storyline across multiple games. It is therefore unique and meta in the literal senses of the words. Notwithstanding the value judgments one may put on this homage to the past (for example, it is not original enough/it tries too much to be like this or that game), it was an intelligent, even a critical move on the part of the creators to have a game as large in scope as TP reissue music with which fans were already familiar. Doing so gave them something to hold on to. Fans could recognize that TP indeed sounded like a Zelda game. Moreover, the pre-existing tunes gave fans the opportunity to create new associations and affix them to the ones they already may have had with the former games.
Part 2 of this article will focus on how the composers of TP re-appropriated some of these pre-existing themes to make them fresh and apropos of the storyline. And don’t worry—the next part will not be as long as this one! I welcome your constructive comments and thank you for reading.