Tune Analysis: Zelda – Breaking Down How Music Affects Games

By Zach Bowman
July 31, 2017


Music Is Art

Music can paint masterpieces without wetting a brush. Melodies can craft magnificent sculptures without chiseling stone. Harmonies can form exquisite poetry without traditional writing. For me, the components of sound to generate music contain a multitude of memories, often memories with games. The Legend of Zelda series features a majority of the most nostalgic tunes from any game series for a lot of fans.

Exploring how music affects experiences in games is valuable- it allows one to better appreciate the subtle changes in the mood of a scene or environment. The Legend of Zelda series goes to great lengths to ensure that the fans enjoy a full experience of the game. From overworld themes to temple themes, there are many great examples of how we as gamers are always in for a treat when playing Zelda.

Functionality of Songs

This is where things become interesting and unique to the Legend of Zelda series. For me, the story begins with A Link to the Past. I most often think of a very common function of music in Zelda games- the ocarina. For my experience with these games though, A Link to the Past has a very specific time and place where a song must be recited to open a blocked passage.

This is one of my favorite moments in this game. It takes place fairly early on and is simple enough to solve. The item “Book of Mudora” must be obtained in order to translate the Hylian text that is written on the stone tablet. “To open the way to go forward, Make your wish here And it will be granted.” After reading the tablet, Link performs this wish, in the form of a brief song. The whole scene darkens and focuses on Link posing his wish upon the platform, and a cool little tune rings out to indicate what is taking place. Take a moment, think about how this scene would play out without that tune. For me, it definitely feels like something would be missing. This music is a key aspect of this point in time, and adds a layer of depth to the entrance of this temple. It defines what this wish is: something sacred that must be done in order for the hero to continue on in the quest to save Hyrule. Upon entering the dungeon however, the mood is swiftly shifted to the dark and brooding setting of danger that lies within its walls. The sacred moment before entering the dungeon also better defines Link as Hyrule’s Hero. Opening a passage is one of my first memories of how Zelda music functions in the game series. From this game on, the purpose of this music in the games became more complex and various.

The Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is where the complexity really begins to shine. Prior to starting into the adventure in Hyrule, the main character is given an ocarina. Upon meeting the princess Zelda in the Hyrule Castle’s courtyard/garden, the character learns the first song “Zelda’s Lullaby.” This song is used in order to open up certain passages in the game, that seem impossible to open at the time until hints are found. It is the “Royal Family’s” song that, when played, opens a stone door in Goron City and even strikes open a grave to allow access into a deep chamber. By example, this particular lullaby’s use in Ocarina of Time made evident to players that music would now play a more important role.

From that point on, the player learns more songs along the quest, each having its own unique sound and use. A repeated purpose seen within the game is the ability to teleport to each temple’s location by playing a specific song that corresponds with that temple. An example of this is the many moments in which Sheik aids Link by passing on the knowledge of the “temple songs”. Each song belongs to a certain temple, and can be played from another area of the game to teleport the player to the temple entrance. A favorite musical piece of mine is the “Serenade of Water” teaching session after a grueling but fun adventure spent in the Ice Cavern in the back end of the Zora’s Domain. The song is soothing and mysterious, and while played on the Sheik’s harp it really shines. The harp gives it a wonderful echoing effect that further enhances the mood of the Ice Cavern. The vibrant blue walls glitter with a strange light and are seemingly transparent, adding to the mystery. While it is obvious that the action of the song is to teleport the player to the Water Temple via the Hylian Lake, my fond memory of this serenade is the mood and tone it sets. The Serenade of Water is a charming preface to the Water Temple, which also features a track within it that is strangely calming, although the emotion most perceived here was frustration due to the puzzles. Deceiving is the word that immediately comes to mind with these two songs, although strikingly beautiful. The complexity of the music had grown throughout the series of Zelda, and it did amazing things for the gameplay experience.

Majora’s Mask

The next entry in the series shared very similar gameplay along with a new refreshing story with radically different musical functions. Right from the start, the character is inflicted with a curse that transforms him into a deku scrub. After an initial time reversal (a very important recurring theme of this game), a mysterious mask salesman is introduced and instructs the character on how to play a song that will reverse his condition, the Song of Healing. In terms of bringing something new to the story and gameplay, the song of healing fit in perfectly. Much of the game’s focus dwells on the sorrow and misfortune that had befallen the population of Termina. Each region has its own melancholy story in which the main character must use the Song of Healing to assist in helping the side characters move on from their tragedy.

Not only does the Song of Healing help move those characters past their grief, it also transforms their sorrow into the main masks that the hero must use to navigate through the dungeons. When it comes to the dungeons, this game did not feature quite as many as its predecessor, but the music added a layer of richness that helped make these temples stand out in their own unique way. The Woodfall Temple features a prominent barbaric sound to it, with shrieks and fast paced tong drums. The Snowhead Temple boasts a vast and echoey feeling track, that aids in making the spine tingle from the unnaturally high platforms the hero must work through. The metallic sounds of the Great Bay Temple are likely the best example in the game of a song that really flows well with the environment, helping mesh together the feel that the temple is a daunting maze of both pipes and currents. The ancient feel of the Stone Tower song aids in crafting the environment for that temple. When the hero flips the whole world upside down, the song then becomes even stranger, adding a “something does not feel quite right here” characteristic. As if it was not crazy enough that we have flipped the world on its head, the music must also reflect upon this unusual event.

The Rundown

Upon thinking of music in gaming, the Legend of Zelda series has always set a significant example of how music should be created in games to serve a purpose. The music in these games is not just there to exist in the space, it is the key to making the player feel like they are a part of the adventure. Among the games that I have played so far, Majora’s Mask still remains my favorite musically. The emotion that is conveyed with the Song of Healing really drives the feeling that the hero is not just there to save Termina, but to save Termina’s inhabitants from their own sorrow, remorse, guilt, and depression. Overall, each game features a wonderful soundtrack that cannot be ignored while observing the design of the game series. I have not had the chance to play the latest installment of the series, but I look forward to listening to the music that has been written and designed to fit “Breath of the Wild” and all of its themes.

Wishlist 0
Continue Shopping