Hello, readers! Brian here again with the third edition of “The best and worst of Zelda.” Last weeks comment section was bustling with topic ideas, and while I considered many of them, I can only choose one per week. This week’s topic comes from a user by the name of Sean20. Don’t forget to submit your ideas for next week! Now, on to the article.
Dungeons are the bulk of the Zelda experience. While the overworld contains most of the exploring and the hidden secrets, the dungeons are the places where you most often use items, solve puzzles and fight enemies; three things that make Zelda games what they are. But today I won’t be talking about which dungeon had the best items, or puzzles or enemies, but rather atmosphere. The music of a dungeon can make the difference between creepy, cheery or just plain-out weird. Whatever the purpose of a dungeon is, it’s music must amplify it as much as possible.
So which dungeons provided the best tunes, and which ones left too much to be desired? Find out after the jump!
Back in the days of The Legend of Zelda, “Zelda music” could only be associated with a few compositions. There was of course the iconic overworld theme which has been remade in several games afterwards, there was the dungeon music… and that was basically it! I mean, there were a few little melodies here and there, like when you played the flute for instance, but they didn’t last much more than a few seconds. That means that for however long you want to play that game, be it a few minutes or a few hours, you were only hearing two songs. On repeat. Forever. It sounds like absolute torture! But the Zelda team, specifically Koji Kondo, made sure those two pieces were as catchy and as memorable as can be. The original Zelda’s dungeon music is certainly catchy, with it’s high pitched arpeggios running in the background and the slightly deeper, ominous melody playing on the foreground. For 8-bit music, it’s pretty complex. Still, all of that said, after the first few dungeons I started realising that the higher notes resembled beeping, and when my hearts got low, I couldn’t stand it! It was like beeping on beeping! Well, at least it’s not as much as Skyward Sword. But overall, the one track was a good effort on the part of it’s composer, yet I feel it was easily overshadowed by it’s own sequel.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a strange game that barely resembles the rest of the the Zelda series. It’s undoubtedly the most difficult member of the franchise, turning off younger players and long-time fans alike from it’s RPG playstyle. I personally don’t dislike this game by any means, although it’s definitely not one of my favorites, but despite the difficulty I always found it enjoyable to play. I’d contribute that mostly to it’s consistently high-quality music. May I direct your attention to one of the greatest songs in all of Zelda’s history: The Palace Theme!
This song is certainly one of the greatest ideas anybody has ever had… ever! It’s ridiculously catchy, to the point that I didn’t mind hearing it in every palace, or in a million games of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Notice, musically, that it is similar to The Legend of Zelda’s dungeon theme, as it’s background contains arpeggios going in the opposite direction. The melody of this piece is so memorable (admittedly more from the Smash Bros. series) because it’s simple and easy to hum along with. But don’t think I forgot the Great Palace theme, the first song to have it’s own one respective dungeon. It’s very similar to the regular palace theme, but it’s a bit more dark, probably as a result of the key the composer chose. It’s a good final dungeon theme by all means, and a well-received change from the regular palace music.
A Link to the Past Did a good job expanding on this idea, by giving the Light World and Dark World dungeons separate themes. These songs don’t do nearly as much in terms of memorability as the Palace theme did, but they served their purpose. The Light World dungeon theme, in my opinion, is the weaker of the two, and not even in terms of musical excellence. I actually just found the music too calm to be ominous. I think it actually just reminded me too much of the water levels from Donkey Kong Country; a strange comparison, but I think it proves the point. It feels aquatic? Apparently. But the Dark World dungeons are marginally different. The bulk of the music is rapidly repeating notes in chaotic formations, which sound frightening, strange and, well, DARK. Of course, the tune doesn’t sound so great on its own, but it really fits the eeriness of the Dark World. But neither of these are even close to my favorite dungeon theme from this game. No, that trophy is taken by the theme for Hyrule Castle. It’s blaring horn sounds are really regal, meant to emphasize that it is, in fact, a castle, but still rather dark sounding, as if to show evil lurks within. It’s a fantastic piece of music, which is why it’s been remade in so many Zelda games to date. Perhaps I could delve into a “Best and worst of Hyrule Castle themes” on a later date, as that alone would take a whole article! But for now, I think we should move out of the classic era and talk about one very controversial Zelda song.
If you grew up with either version 1.0 or 1.1 of Ocarina of Time, chances are you were freaked out beyond belief by the Fire Temple’s music. Actually, it still scares me to this day. It’s brilliantly creepy, especially the chanting, which is apparently Arabic for “There is no God but Allah,” or something to that extent, thus causing it to be removed along with Ganon’s red blood in version 1.2 and all subsequent remakes. But let’s forget about that for a short bit, and talk about how freaky this piece is WITHOUT the chanting. The drums alone with this little chime in the background every once in a while create the base of this dungeon theme, and they creep me out! Add back the chanting and I was done as a kid. I think I would actually consider this one of the most well-done pieces of music by Koji Kondo, simply because it never ceases to scare me half to death. So now, for your own pleasure:
But you wanna talk frightening? Then let’s talk Majora’s Mask! The whole game is a veritable Halloween of scary characters and atmospheres, but let me not say anything. I just want you to hear this first:
What is this? I have no idea. I don’t think I very much like it. But really, what is it?
On a more serious note, I think the Woodfall Temple theme does a magnificent job at fitting it’s dungeon. No, it’s not a ‘good song’ by any means, as in, I wouldn’t just listen to it, but in the world of Majora’s Mask, and in that temple specifically, it feels close to perfect.
Majora’s Mask is also home to one of my all time favorite themes, which is of course the flute-heavy Stone Tower Temple. In a manner similar to some of the classic titles, it keeps you whistling along with it the whole way through. I think it’s impossible to dislike it, and it’s a perfect fit for the temple it’s a part of. Musically, it sounds very middle-eastern, and it’s a great song to listen to even outside of the game. Though it isn’t as eerie as you may expect from this game, it focuses on the use of an instrument amazingly well. But not nearly as well as The Wind Waker.
Despite it being one of my favorite games, the dungeon music in The Wind Waker often failed to stick with me. I think it was the overwhelming quality of the overworld and general island music that made me forget about the dungeons, except for one in particular. The Wind Temple utilizes instruments to their full potential, with of course the wind instruments making an important appearance. I also love the bit with the classical-sounding guitars. It’s a really cool piece that gets much less recognition than it should.
But I think it’s time for something a bit negative. Sorry folks, but I can’t love them all. It is literally amazing how boring the dungeon theme is in Phantom Hourglass. Honestly, it baffles me. At least in my opinion, it’s trying too hard to sound like something out of A Link to the Past, which is strange because I would much rather it try to emulate it’s own predecessor. I’d also like to point out that it uses the SAME MUSIC for every. Single. Dungeon. What is this, The 80s? It’s the first game since The Legend of Zelda to do this, so I’m going to call it a long stride backwards. I don’t like it one bit, actually, because the game doesn’t have bad music otherwise. I certainly wouldn’t call it “a blemish on an otherwise perfect game,” because the game was far from perfect, but I would call it a blemish on an otherwise less-so-blemished game. That made very little sense, so moving on…
Spirit Tracks tried to fix a lot of things that went wrong in Phantom Hourglass, and rightfully so. For instance, where Phantom Hourglass had the Temple of the Ocean King, an irritating, revisited and timed dungeon, Spirit Tracks has a much more enjoyable take on a similar idea. The Tower of Spirits, the games biggest and most important dungeon, actually has some pretty great music. It really fits the game as a whole, featuring a very march-like train rhythm, while the melody is played on some synthesized wind instruments. In this way, I’d compare it to Dragon Roost Island or The Great Sea; tunes which I feel succeed greatly in representing The Wind Waker as a title. In that manner, each visit to the Tower of Spirits felt like a bigger dive into the game’s setting, plot and mood. It’s a good piece that gets little recognition, not unlike the next composition on our list.
When you talk about dungeon music, you’ll rarely hear anything about Snowpeak Ruins from Twilight Princess. I actually think this is my favorite piece of dungeon music from this game, and for many reasons. It starts off with a single, intense chord, that immediately decrescendos into a very quiet, hollow-sounding wind instrument, soon accompanied by chimes and a very melodic bit played on what sounds like a clarinet. It’s ominous for sure, as dungeon themes often are, but it also feels like it has a theme of snow, or ice. Then the topper is this suddenly appearing bass noise in the background, which plays two notes every so often, while the two wind instruments begin to harmonize. It’s a really beautiful and thematic piece that I believe deserves a lot more recognition than it receives. Maybe it’s because the music is often overshadowed by the noise of Link running on ice, or maybe it’s just because it isn’t the most memorable temple in the game, but the music is stellar, and that’s all that I’m judging here!
Twilight Princess Is actually home to one of my favorite video game soundtracks, with a plethora of absolutely excellent tracks both intense and soothing. But among all of those gems there has to be at least ONE song I dislike, right? Well of course, and that song would most certainly be the music from the City in the Sky. It feels like they were trying too hard to be creepy on this one, and it just came out like a mish mosh of weird noises. It hurts my head, and I don’t like it much at all. It reminds me of some very pretentious, cerebral electronic music that some people would call ‘brilliant.’ But I suppose to each his own, and if you like this temple’s music, you can have it!
And last, but certainly not least, is one of my favorite pieces from the fully-orchestrated Skyward Sword. The first temple, Skyview Temple, has some very mysterious, deep and bellowing background instruments that play softly behind an eastern-inspired woodwind melody, and let me tell you, I’ve never been so scared of an oboe in my entire life. Those low-pitched horns in the background remind me of the forest, or more importantly, Faron Woods, where the temple resides. But that oboe reminds me of monsters, puzzles and imminent danger. That’s a well-designed piece of music, if I do say so myself!
And isn’t Zelda just filled with well-designed pieces of music? It’s a gorgeous variety of majors and minors that remind you of adventure, battle and exploration. While I may point out both the good and bad, remember, it’s all just my opinion, so feel free to disagree respectfully in the comments. Of course I couldn’t fit EVERY dungeon theme into one article, although I would love to, so you’re all welcome to discuss some of the songs I left out.
Also, don’t forget to write in your suggestion for next week’s topic! Just fill in the blank: “The Best and Worst of Zelda: _______”
So what do you think? Do you have a favorite piece of dungeon music? Where do you agree or disagree with me? What would you like to see more of in the next game?
Finally, last week I asked for suggestions for the series’ name. I only received one suggestion, “The Good, the Bad and the Zelda.” Do you like it or not? If not, what are your suggestions? Put it all in the comments below.
Thanks much for reading!