Of Lullabies and Requiems: Music and the Legend of Zelda Series

From the compositions to the instruments to the plot– music’s always been important to the franchise. This is just a quick look at some of the ways.

By Mel Turnquist. Posted 10/03/2014 15:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

Music is an engaging element for any video game. It creates an atmosphere within that game’s established universe that really adds texture to the experience. Sometimes, it’s some battle music to get you pumped up. Other times, it’s a musical cue that signifies that danger is lurking ahead. And even a somber tune really sets the poignant moments that may evoke a tear or two out of you. Without a soundtrack, a lot of the most iconic games of our lifetime would be bland and easily forgotten. It may not be the most important element, but it’s still a necessity. This is especially true in the Legend of Zelda series, which takes that necessity to its limit when it comes to music. With the compositions of Koji Kondo and a variety of sounds that have evolved from 8-bit chiptunes to full blown orchestral arrangements, the series has really gone above and beyond when it comes to video game music and the usage of music within a game.

There’s been recurring musical themes that have weaved themselves into the tapestry of the franchise, the most enduring being the main theme itself. We all know it and we all hum it. It’s been a constant presence from the very first game. These days, the composers usually combine the title screen and overworld themes together from the NES version to signify the main theme. It’s appeared in so many other forms and interpretations, like the Great Sea reworking, which seems to combine both Hyrule Field and the main theme into a lovely overworld tune that plays as you sail from island to island. Then there are the two iconic tunes that made their debut in A Link to the Past: the File Select/Fairy Fountain tune and “Zelda’s Lullaby,” both of which have made their way into the series’ future installments in several forms. The first one is the falling arpeggio that you hear whenever you’re selecting which file you’re going to play, or when you’re at a Fairy Fountain (accompanied with a nice little harp intro). It’s a calming song that makes you feel safe in the world, which is exactly what the context suggests, at least with the Fairy Fountain. Then there’s “Zelda’s Lullaby,” the overarching theme for Princess Zelda herself. The usage of this theme is most iconic in Ocarina of Time, where you learn to play the song on the ocarina and then utilize it in certain instances in order to solve puzzles or enter certain places. In other games, it’s mostly just a motif for Princess Zelda herself and is a sweet little ditty that makes you smile…unless you’re really sick of having to play it for the fiftieth time when you’re trying to find out what song the game really wants you to play in that instance (usually in that case, it’s likely one of the other tunes).

Speaking of Ocarina of Time, that brings me to another point. One of the unique things about the Legend of Zelda series is the utilization of music within its titles. In a lot of Zelda games, music is not just used as the background melody or for certain cues. Music is also utilized in quite a few different ways. From the beginning of the series, you’ve utilized a musical instrument that would warp you to the entrance of different dungeons, should you choose to go there. You’ve also had to use musical instruments to summon animal friends, whether it’s any of the animals in Oracle of Ages, your faithful steed Epona, or a hawk. However, the most musical of the Legend of Zelda games had you playing music almost everywhere possible. Each song you were taught had a special function, not just for animals or for warping (though there actually were unique songs for each dungeon in Ocarina of Time). You need to get some rain up in Kakariko village? There’s a song for that. Need to change the direction of the wind in The Wind Waker? There’s a song for that too. Have a tormented soul whose mask you need in Majora’s Mask? You better believe there’s a song for that. The instrument that you mainly use for this is the ocarina. However, there are other instruments used like the Wind Waker, the Guitar of Waves, or the Spirit Flute, among many others. It’s not just listening to the music within the video game, it’s playing music in order to further the plot in whichever way you need to.

The most unique case for music being utilized in Legend of Zelda games is definitely Link’s Awakening. In this Game Boy iteration, the objective is to awaken the Wind Fish, who is currently inside an egg on top of Mount Tamaranch. The reason Link needs to awaken the Wind Fish is because he needs to get off of Koholint Island, and it was his only way to do so. In order to awaken the Wind Fish (who looks more like a space whale, for what it’s worth), he must collect the Eight Instruments of the Sirens, and go on top of the mountain to play “The Ballad of the Wind Fish” to rouse him from his slumber. From there you approach your final dungeon and the final boss, which is contained within Mount Tamaranch. I find the musical element to this game quite charming and really fun. Plus, the “Ballad of the Wind Fish” song is really pretty, which helps a lot. The game is not always mentioned in the same breath as Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, but it is still a worthwhile game to take a gander at. The gameplay is engaging and the story and music are top notch, and its utilization of music within the plot is lovely.

Of course, there are far more examples of music being used in the franchise. One could go on about the usage of musical cues in the Lost Woods in Ocarina of Time, where you follow the music in order to find Saria. Or they could talk about the influence of sea shanties and Celtic music in the Wind Waker soundtrack. Or even just go on and on about their favorite music pieces from the series (Sheik’s Theme from Ocarina of Time and Outset Island from Wind Waker are mine, for the record, but that wouldn’t make for a fun piece unless it was a Top Ten. As you can see, there’s so much to talk about concerning music and the Legend of Zelda series. It’s always played an integral role within the franchise in one aspect or another, and it’s made the games all the better.

One Response to “Of Lullabies and Requiems: Music and the Legend of Zelda Series”

  • 111 points
    roykoopa64 says...

    Great article! Indeed the role of music in the Zelda series is as important as the other aspects of the game, especially when the music is integrated into the story and the gameplay.

    Great nod to Link’s Awakening, that game deserves special recognition.

    Ah, I love the Zelda series so, ’tis why I am finally playing Skyward Sword again. I had already beaten it once, now I am having a go at Hero Mode. Orchestrated music sounds lovely in a Zelda game, yes indeed…

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