Countdown to Skyward Sword Part V: Funky Hylian Beats to Move Yo Feets
Let’s try something. Write — or just think — of a list of the five most recognizable tunes in all gaming. Don’t think of your favorites, just the ones you know other folks would be able to name, gamers or not, if they heard them. After the Super Mario Bros. overworld theme, I bet this comes directly after.
The Legend of Zelda series is responsible for many of the most memorable themes in video games. Love the series or hate it, longtime composer Koji Kondo and his collaborators have done quite a job of scoring Link’s adventures through the years. We’d be able to fill an entire days’ post with examples from just one game, but we’ve got two more entries in our Countdown to Skyward Sword, so we’ll pick some of the most prolific pieces and roll with it. If your favorite Zelda track doesn’t appear here, let us know in the comments.
Note: The links — no pun intended — are set up to open in new tabs. For optimal enjoyment, choose one song from each category to punctuate your reading experience. My personal favorites are embedded under the sub-headline for each category.
A call to adventure
As the de facto theme for the series, the track has been paid homage by outfits such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra to the New Japan Philharmonic and myriad remix artists. It also finds its way into other overworld themes. You need only listen to the Hyrule Field Theme from either Ocarina of Time (starting at around 1:15) or Twilight Princess. Even Wind Waker’s Great Sea theme reeks of overworld greatness.
The magic of the tune lies in its grandiose opening notes and sustained upbeat sensibility. The first time I heard it was when I played Link to the Past the first time. If you’ve made it through the first 20 minutes of it, you know just how epic it feels to walk out of the Sanctuary to the MIDI horns that introduce you to Hyrule.
And once you introduce a horse to the equation it gets that much better. Even the train-centric Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks manages to retain that classic Zelda feel while incorporating a slight Wind Waker vibe. You’ve got to love the Celtic touch.
The dungeon themes from A Link to the Past do the trick, but don’t really stand out compared to others. The Sanctuary Dungeon Theme is probably the best from that title. Its Dark World counterpart, while no more repetitive, gets stale quite a bit quicker.
The Wind Temple Theme from 2003’s Wind Waker is dangerous in that it lulls you into a false sense of security. With such a serene backdrop, how much could possibly go wrong? Well, just wait until you get into that mini-boss room full of Wizrobes, Stalfos and Dark Nuts.
I’d say the series’s portable entries might just have some of the best dungeon music there is. Just take a listen to the Sky Palace Theme in Minish Cap or the dungeon theme from Phantom Hourglass — which pays great homage to the cave music from Link to the Past — to get the gist of it.
The first game in the series lacks any proper fighting music, but Adventure of Link more than makes up for it with this diddy here. The enormous bosses you fight in A Link to the Past are more than deserving of the over-the-top soundtrack that accompanies each encounter, too. It’s almost like somebody yelling “The odds are against you!” throughout each encounter.
Take another listen to the Hyrule Field Theme from Ocarina of Time and whenever it gets a little intense, yeah, that means an enemy approaches. Both N64 games have their own battle themes, as well. Ocarina of Time’s gives you a decent sense of danger, but it’s Majora’s Mask where you get a true do-or-die mentality. It starts off subtle enough but really kicks into high gear if your fight lasts longer than 45 seconds.
Wind Waker takes the prize for me in this category. Three of my four favorite battle themes — the other being Dinosaur Battle — can be found in the game: Ganondorf Battle (embedded above), Mini-Boss Battle and Molgera Battle. The best thing about Link’s 2003 outing is that each fight is punctuated by the sound effects your sword makes on contact. Those notes make each battle so much more dynamic than anything else in the series.
Instrumentation is key
While Link doesn’t have a tune to call his own, I think our green-clad hero gets the best deal of all. He creates music. From the flute’s inclusion in the very first Legend of Zelda, orchestration and creation have been an enormous part of the Zelda formula. You can see its influence elsewhere, too. The Zelda flute plays an important role in Super Mario Bros. 3. Well, only if you want to cheat.
In the original Legend of Zelda, the flute opens the way to one of the game’s dungeons. It serves the same purpose in Adventure of Link. The series’ SNES outing, however,
Link learns 12 songs in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, each one more memorable than the last. I’m regularly torn between “The Minuet of Forest” and “Saria’s Song” as my favorite.
The tunes learned in Ocarina serve as themes for characters and areas later on in the series. Take, for example, Queen Rutela’s theme in Twilight Princess or the Forest Haven theme in Wind Waker. Rutela’s theme is the Serenade of Water fully fleshed out and the Forest Haven borrows a bit from Saria’s Song, which reminds me: When it comes to music in the Zelda series, it’s all about location.
Location, location, location
The Lost Woods have always been a favorite of mine, from their appearance in A Link to the Past to the Forest Haven in Wind Waker
But the one Zelda theme most recognizable to long-time players might just be that of Kakariko Village. After its debut in A Link to the Past, this tune has made its way into every console iteration of the series since, from a faithful adaptation in Ocarina of Time to a playful interpretation in Wind Waker and, my favorite (embedded above), a tribal homage in Twilight Princess.
And, of course, who can forget the Lon Lon Ranch theme from Ocarina of Time and its Majora’s Mask counterpart?
Awesomeness breeds inspiration
By far, my favorite clip (again, embedded above) would have to be DarkeSword’s take on The Legendary Hero Theme.
One of the most interesting endeavors out there is the Zelda Reorchestrated project. What these guys do is nothing short of amazing: They take the original music from each installment of the series and update the MIDI sounds with some truly inspiring samples and post them on their site. Take a quick tour through the myriad remixes and soundscapes and try to come out of it unimpressed. The most ambitious project the group has taken on is an entire reorchestration of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time soundtrack, which is re-imagined beautifully on the site.
YouTube user HeathersOcarina, among many, do an amazing job of adding their own spin to classic Zelda tunes. Just check out her addition of an ocarina to the Dark World theme from A Link to the Past.
Music adds such an amazing dynamic to Link’s adventures through Hyrule. What would Zelda be without a truly inspiring score to punctuate every moment? I don’t think I want to know. With that, I leave you with the following: