Posted on July 15 2019 by Matt Pederberg
Music is a defining feature of The Legend of Zelda series, so much so that it becomes its own character. The soundscape molds Hyrule around Link and his friends, giving character to those he interacts with and helps the player connect with them on an emotional level. The awe-striking music from The Legend of Zelda played a significant role in why I chose to pursue Bachelor’s Degree in music, and it is why I have decided to take an in-depth look at different tracks throughout the scores that inspire me as a musician. I thought a good starting point would be Breath of the Wild, one of the soundtracks that I am least familiar with. Now, seeing as Breath of the Wild has a little over 4 hours worth of music (that’s 211 tracks, wow!), I figured I would start with working my way through the Sound Selection CD included in all limited editions of Breath of the Wild’s original release.
Introducing the Pieces
This pair of pieces introduces us to the flowing, ethereal waters of Zora’s Domain. The denizens of the Domain, the Zora, are fish-folk who love their water cool for swimming and tepid for relaxing. Both tones of water can be heard and felt in these pieces.
These pieces actually have a lot going on for instrumentation. The “Day” theme leans heavily on the higher notes of the piano, the life-blood of Breath of the Wild, as well as the very interesting (and very fun to play) steel pan drums, an instrument much linked with the Caribbean and the waters around it.
The theme uses some different percussive instruments like chimes and sleigh bells, as well as a snare drum. This version also utilizes the guitar, which is one of the two instruments indicative of Zora culture in Breath of the Wild.
The”‘Night” variant is just a beautiful duet between the piano and a harp. The harp is the second instrument that embodies the Zora. Both competing instruments are backed by some deep strings like the contrabasso, and some low synth vocal sounds. The two dueling instruments, however, dance gorgeously with each other.
I like to think of these two themes as quite separate pieces, though they are essentially the same theme, just arranged differently. The “Day” theme is much brighter, and evokes the fun and lavish life style the Zora’s live. The bells and chimes, as well as a glockenspiel, really liven it up. The theme evokes thoughts of Zora children splashing each other in the cool waters surrounding the Zora’s Domain, or elder Zora diving into the deeper waters to collect fish and snails before heading back up the waterfalls to their homes.
The “Night” theme, in contrast, evokes rest and quiet. It feels almost like a lullaby, which is likely due to its instrumentation. The harp simply suggests calmness and sleep, as well as the higher tones on the piano. Throw in the drones on the lower registers, and you’ve got a recipe for putting any riled kid to bed. I see Zora children lying in their pools, drifting to sleep, and the adults hanging up their fishing spears to join them.
Both themes create a culture that feels safe to be in, as well as being an enjoyable spot to stop in.
These two pieces are frustratingly close to the same key, so much so that it is essentially impossible for the human ear to pick up. The “Day” theme is in G-Major, a very simple key which has only one sharp, F, much how the Zora are a simple people, fishing and swimming and relaxing the day away. The “Night” theme, however, is in F#-Major, one of the more confusing key signatures as it both starts on a sharp and has six sharps! On top of that, F#-Major is only a half-step away from G-Major (one black note to the next white note on a piano). This certainly represents how the Zora are much more than they appear; as you scratch the outer layers, the player starts to discover that they are kind and deeply rooted in traditions and family.
Both pieces start in 3/4 time then shift almost immediately to 4/4 for the duration, which to me sounds like a Zora taking a dive, descending in the opening 3/4 bars, then hitting the water and begin swimming at the 4/4 bars.
I find it interesting to look at how similar these pieces are to the one that inspired it: “Zora’s Domain” from Ocarina of Time. Take a look at the opening bars of the “Day” theme on the piano:
Now contrast it with the opening bars of the original Ocarina of Time arrangement on the steel drum:
Notice how, with the exception of the second measure, they are identical. The only difference being the instrument and a couple accidentals. These similarities are present through essentially the entire piece. Many of the lines of the Breath of the Wild version echo that of the Ocarina of Time edition, just with more instruments and a bigger sound. To me, what that demonstrates is the way the Zoran culture is quite rooted in tradition, while still making it their own and crafting the small things as they go to fit who they are as a race together.
I have always really enjoyed the Zora as a culture since playing Ocarina of Time, but that love kind of exploded in Breath of the Wild. I really loved the way Iwata took the old theme and gave it a face lift. The “Day” version is still elegant and relaxing while keeping things interesting and like you want to keep charging on. The “Night” theme, however, just draws you in with its slower tempo and simplicity. It really makes you want to stay forever. I remember not recognizing the theme my first time reaching Zora’s Domain, and still thinking that it was a wonderful piece. I definitely prefer the “Night” version to the “Day.” I like how lithe the notes are and how beautiful the two instruments wrap each other up. They simply complement each other well in the ear.
How did you feel your first time reaching Zora’s Domain? Was it Day or Night time, and did you prefer one to the other? If you could change something about one of the themes, what would it be? Let us know in the comments!
Matt Pederberg is part of the Writing Team at Zelda Dungeon, holds a Bachelor of Music, and has used that knowledge to develop his love of excellent music in excellent video games!