Before I begin, it’s probably best that I explain the appearance of myself and the existence of this panel in brief detail. My name is Jordan Mizzi, a new writer from Victoria, Australia. I’ve wanted to do analysis articles for years now, so I’m absolutely ecstatic for the opportunity to work on my favorite video game series here at Zelda Dungeon.
So, I bring to all of you: Deku Notes, where I comment on the interacting elements across the entire Zelda franchise and discuss which mechanics I agree or disagree with. Essentially, I’d like to place a limelight on certain components of the Zelda series, exposing the thematic value of said components. It could allow us as a fan base to further question what is outdated or out of place in Zelda or things we may want a return to in future iterations.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
While my position on this website was still pending with staff members, I mulled over exactly what I would discuss if by chance, I did get the job. At some point, I could not get the iconic Zelda music out of my head, and not just the actual tracks like Midna’s Lament, but also the nostalgic pieces we were able to play on the Ocarina of Time: Minuet of Forest, Serenade of Water and Oath to Order to name a few. It all had me realize how integral the music is in our Zelda games. Music really is integral to any video media, and it’s something that I notice in our community as a point of focus when we praise Zelda. And how could we not when we were fed these songs through the Ocarina? Which imprinted the music into all of the players through repeated use. I can still remember myself when I was much younger, fumbling and toying with the Ocarina, the music it played actually framed a lot of my childhood.
If we really think about it, the Ocarina was pretty great, and not just for nostalgia, the instrument also served practical function in the game world. Here’s a summary of it’s uses:
- The Sun’s Song would not only allow you to skip the day-night cycle for time specific events, though it would also freeze redeads if you played it when they were in the room with you. That way you could get the first strike before the thing executes its killer bear hug.
- The Song of Time teleported specific blocks to other areas, this acted as a solution to certain puzzles within dungeons that featured the large blue cubes.
- The Song of Storms created rain, caving in thin layers of terrain to reveal holes leading to treasure and rewards. If played at a gossip stone, a large fairy would emerge, filling up your hearts and magic meter.
- Epona’s Song would call your trusty horse in the overworld at will, allowing you to travel to other parts of Hyrule significantly faster.
- If you stopped playing the game for a while and return without knowing where you should go, playing Saria’s song will have her tell you a general summary of what you’re supposed to be doing.
Some of these songs aren’t really necessary to finish the game, though they did assist you in plenty of situations; having the Ocarina become a very useful tool.
And then there’s the warping songs. By going to areas across Hyrule where dungeons are located, Shiek would always appear and teach you a song. At any point in time, as a child and as an adult, performing these songs would teleport you just outside of the desired dungeon. This proved to be extremely useful when, halfway through the Spirit Temple, you realized you forgot to do something in Castle Town. The songs you played also were thematically appropriate. Nocturne of Shadow felt kind of melancholic, like a setting sun, which works well when you consider that the Shadow Temple was just outside of a graveyard. Bolero of Fire has a constant fast pace, it sounds quick and loud, like fire, or a volcano. The warping songs acted like an introduction to wherever it took you, setting the tone of the next location very nicely.
Overall the Ocarina was a great asset in both of it’s featured games, because it conveyed each of the songs as a positive experience to the player when they associate it with rewards and convenience. Because the ability to play music in Ocarina of Time was mostly well-received by the community, Nintendo decided to recycle the mechanic in most of the larger, console based Zelda titles. Unfortunately, this is where I begin to feel very conflicted about the component.
In 2003, Nintendo added The Wind Waker to the Zelda juggernaut for the Game Cube, which like it’s older brothers Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, uses an instrument, this time called the Wind Waker. The conductors baton, although useful, lost a lot of the luster that it required to have the same impact as the Ocarina.
The greatest issue that I discovered with the Wind Waker was that even though it is featured in the title of the game, it’s not very useful as a tool except for the two songs you use constantly. The first being The Wind’s Requiem which changes the direction of the wind, and the second being Ballad of Gales, which acted as the umbrella warping song in the game, taking you to any of the raging cyclones strewn across the overworld. Because The Wind Waker is set in an ocean, you were forced to use a boat as a means of travel, requiring you use your baton to direct the wind to wherever you were headed for higher velocity. And because The Wind Waker had such a large overworld, teleporting from island to island was very convenient when you consider how long it took to sail anywhere, especially to distant islands. Apart from this there are four other songs with two being useful in very limited situations where you have to use the song and two others that are only used for scripted cut scenes to proceed into a dungeon.
The Wind Waker expended the functionality of the ocarina and there’s no real trade off, I mean you do have to actually use the instrument in one of three rhythms to play songs correctly, and that added a little depth, though I reject the notion that that makes up for what we lost. Furthermore the songs you do play don’t have the vibe that has them stick with you like the Song of Storms or Elegy of Emptiness- they’re not even songs if you think about it, just tiny excerpts of songs.
In 2006, we were treated with Twilight Princess as a swan song for the GameCube into the world of motion controls with the Wii. And although the idea was not here in it’s original from as an instrument, it was re-conceptualized as songs you would sing at peculiar stones while you were in wolf form. Returning to these stones when you were a human provided some pretty nice combat tricks that you learn to help deal with foes, though nothing out of the ordinary. Considering that it’s not really an instrument which is the focus of this weeks article, I don’t really want to discuss it for too long. However, there was another mechanic in Twilight Princess that I wanted to comment on: the whistling grass.
Essentially, you could find these in open areas to use as a means of calling for the assistance of a hawk, or another type of whistle grass that played Epona’s song, which summons your horse. You do not have to use these at all except at the very beginning of the game. I never see anyone comment on it, which is strange because it always bothered me. It was framed at the beginning of Twilight Princess like it could have been quite a useful tool, though was completely ditched for the rest of the game.
The issue with the Epona’s song whistle grass and the howling wolf stones was that they did not serve as a cohesive mechanic, both feeling very out of place. And what really left a sour taste in my mouth was how these Howling Stones just borrowed songs from Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask, as though the creators were trying to pay homage to these older titles. It just felt to me like Nintendo were trying to appease fans by ushering in a very weak instrument-esque system, as opposed to being an interesting and engaging idea like the Ocarina of Time.
On the Nintendo DS, players were treated to the use of a microphone for some of their games, and even though it was not 100% responsive, it still got by where it needed to. This leads me into my next issue for 2009 title Spirit Tracks which revisited the instrument mechanic. This time players were using the Spirit Flute: a cute and colorful set of wind pipes given to you early on. To play this instrument, you held flute with the touch screen, swiping left or right to change the pipes and consequently the pitch you were playing at. However, to play the instrument, you had to blow into the microphone which, for me at least, was terribly unresponsive.
Now for the most part, the Spirit Flute was used at the end of dungeons to restore Spirit Tracks across the land. To do this, Link traveled across New Hyrule and searched for the Lokomos who used their magical instruments to play a duet with Link. These scenes were very cinematic and at times, quite beautiful, though were marred by the scripted flute sequences that I failed numerous times due to the microphone. The game is thankfully blessed with other songs outside of these scripted sequences that offer some use, like a song that heals you in the middle of dungeons or another that reveals hidden objects. I was glad to see this sort of thing return, and to be extended upon. However, I think it would have been more beneficial to rely on button presses to not risk ruining the immersion of some key moments.
The last instrument we were given was undoubtedly the worst: Skyward Sword’s Goddess Harp. Given to Link halfway through his adventure, the Goddess Harp serves as the instrument we use to open my butt head in the sky, open silent realms, and to transform the stubby Goddess Sword into the iconic Master Sword. To do this, you go to specific locations where you learn the songs, return to another place, play the song and you obtain one of those three rewards. You cannot play these songs outside of scripted sequences and they only act as entry points into other parts of Skyward Sword. Yet Nintendo totes it at the player like a tool, locked to the bottom of the control pad, suggesting that it is supposed to be useful. The only other thing you can do with it is play it near Goddess Walls to obtain a few rupees or some hearts, nothing special.
Instruments as a recurring mechanic lost all of the depth from previous games, with the Goddess Harp feeling like Nintendo wanted to have another excuse to squeeze in motion controls. Which leads me to the next issue with the Harp. Playing it. All you have to do is simply strum the Wii remote up and down at a constant rhythm for a set amount of time – no button presses, no pitch changes – just strumming. Oh, and if you miss the rhythm, you are sometimes interrupted by Fi who abruptly reminds you to strum in time with her. And when you consider how beautiful some of the cut scenes are after you play the songs, the entire experience can be ruined by your own frustration when you constantly have to retry because you stuffed up. And I expect Nintendo were not trying to achieve this as the segments shown after are very graceful and serene, a visual treat that really captured the excitement of making the Master Sword.
In Skyward Sword, instruments have essentially become stripped of their former use, losing the essence that the Ocarina of Time proposed. And when I think about it, it seems like Nintendo desired to have this work as a symbol to represent Link’s pursuit for Zelda, as it was once hers and it represents the goddess, like your sword. This would have worked well, if the Goddess Harp was a key item, rather than an interactive one. As by trying to reduce the harp to very strict use, though in addition to this, giving the player the ability to play it in the open, it is heavily conveyed to players that a mechanic is being hinted, rather than being engaged upon.
The fact that the instruments have deteriorated kind of annoys me, because I feel that it’s a great tradition to the series that can also have optional functionality. This is especially true when the instrument is the main title of the game, like the Wind Waker, as it illustrates the idea that the Wind Waker is a very legendary item that will recur throughout the game, kind of leaving me disappointed when I realize how it’s overshadowed by other mechanics like sailing. Though if we see more stuff like the Spirit Flute, minus its gimmicky control-scheme, I can still see plenty of potential to make it work out.
Be sure to comment below as to what ideas you have for future instruments and songs. Thanks for making it to the end, until next time.