Posted on May 13 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.
The open world of Breath of the Wild is generally a peaceful experience, with the occasional enemy here or there. But sometimes Link comes across something more terrifying than Calamity Ganon himself! It was up to Manaka Kataoka, lead composer of Breath of the Wild, to create a fear-inducing, and memorable theme for the mechanical menace that is the Guardians.
Introducing the Piece
Track 9, ‘Guardian Battle,’ is one that, no matter if you are brand new to Breath of the Wild, or an old hand at it, will make you jump in terror. The terrible robotic enemies that are the Guardians are present right from the beginning of the game. Their deadly lasers are capable of decimating Link in one hit, which remains true for the majority of most first time playthroughs. Kataoka has wonderfully crafted a theme fit for these terrors.
The ‘Guardian Battle’ has quite a few symphonic instruments that we have not yet encountered in our journey. The track first opens, however, with the piano en force with the terrifying opening trill that all Breath of the Wild players know and fear, ensuring the piano’s constant presence in the soundtrack. The piano is accompanied by other common string instruments, including the violin, and contrabasso, as well as some other synthesizers and pads. Much like the standard ‘Battle (Field)‘ theme, the ‘Guardian Battle’ leans heavily of different percussive instruments to back up the track. The list includes the concert bass drum, as well as the triangle, and wood block, which are featured for nearly the entire track. Also included in the line up is a set of crash cymbals, and some rhythmic instruments, mainly a quinto (the highest drum in a set of congas), a short feature of bell chimes, and one lonely cabasa.
This theme opens with a very iconic piano trill with a huge mechanical noise swelling underneath. Within the first four short bars of the piece, we are already brought right into the theme, both of the music and of the game. A recurring motif in Breath of the Wild is the juxtaposition of ancient technology and modern decline. This is why the piano is so important, because it is at the center of the two: it comes from ancient history (the first recorded keyboard instrument being the 3rd century hydraulis), and the true piano is falling into decline with the rise of synthesizers, and even just digital/computer-generated music. This tune embodies this central theme as well, as it is filled with electronic instruments overpowering the classical instruments. Just listen to the main ostinato (which starts at 0:04):
The synthesizers even have multiple voices (AKA harmony), which further emphasizes the overpowering technology, just like the Guardians so often overpowered the ancient Hylians, and even sometimes our gallant hero. This is further supported in the last few seconds (when the Guardian is defeated). It is in these 12 seconds that the hero prevails, as does the classical instruments. The synths fall away, to be replaced by the triumphant piano and violin trill.
This piece is rooted firmly in G-Major key, and a 3/4 time signature. Kataoka wanted the player to know right from the get-go that they are in a battle that needs to be finished, either one way or the other. As I mentioned earlier, this piece is all about the classical instruments versus the modern. The track opens with this riff:
This moves us from the piano dominant overworld theme into the piano/synth struggle. As we can see in the example above, the piano stays at a medium volume while the synths swell, showing the invasion of technology (or the Guardians in this case). Throughout the first section, as previously mentioned, the synths play a pretty dominant role over the piano. At about 1:13, the theme changes to its relative minor key (that is, having the same key signature of one sharp, but in a minor mode), being e-minor. In this section, the piano starts to fight back, much like Link fighting back again the Guardian.
The above excerpt, at 1:23, is a notation of the piano line, which can be heard clearly above the synths. In this short section, many other instances of the piano prevailing can be heard. Finally, at 1:58, the tag is heard (a tag is a final bit of music that is basically thrown in at the end to close the piece). The tag, again as said before, closes with the piano and violin, and not a whiff of a synthesizer. Link has won the battle, and the Guardian is destroyed.
This scary track got me in just the right way. There I was, minding my own business when all of a sudden, this wild piano trill comes on, a giant red dot appears on Link, and next thing you know, I’m blown to a million pieces by nightmare-laser beam! I just remember thinking “Wow, beamos’ sure got a serious improvement!” How very wrong I was. Like most new players to Breath of the Wild I spent most of my time cowering behind whatever cover I could find, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t get blasted away by one of the many Guardians in pursuit. ‘Guardian Battle’ is definitely one of the more memorable tracks for me. In fact, it accompanies one of my favourite moments of the game, being the Forgotten Temple sequence. There’s nothing quite as nerve-racking as gliding through a tunnel filled with dozens of the hardest enemies in the game with essentially nothing to protect yourself with. In fact, it was so impactful that it served as my alarm during university. You can bet it got me out of bed in a hurry!
What were you doing the first time a Guardian struck? Does this track still strike fear into your heart? Or were you never too entranced with this composition? Let us know in the comments below!
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!