YO! So I wanted to record a video where I geeked out over the music in Zelda: Breath of the Wild but... I ain't got time for that. SO, I decided to just go ahead and post a rough version of the script I was putting together (mainly because I think by the time I would have time to film this, no one would be playing Zelda anymore, haha).
I'd like to say that as of now I've yet to beat Zelda (DON'T BE A DICK AND POST SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS), buuuut here are some thoughts I had on the music of the game so far. Let me know what you guys think!
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a third person, action adventure game developed and published by Nintendo on March 3rd, 2017--BUT YOU ALREADY KNEW THAT BECAUSE IT WAS LITERALLY THE HIGHEST RATED VIDEO GAME OF ALL TIME.
There’s no doubt in my mind that people will be talking about this game for years to come, and for good reason, but I wanted to take a second to talk about something I personally found fascinating about Breath of the Wild and that’s its use of music.
Now before I go any further I just want to say I’m not an expert on any of this. I don’t make video games or report on video games, I just play a lot of video games, and if you don’t agree with whatever it is I’m about to say or think it’s stupid or that I’m giving the game too much credit or whatever… that’s totally cool. Also I’m just gonna assume you have, like, a base level familiarity with the Legend of Zelda series and in regards to Breath of the Wild spoilers, I’m mainly gonna be talking about stuff that happens within the first few hours of the game and avoiding as much of the story as possible. That being said, I would rather you not spoil the game for yourself than read this. Seriously. Go play this game.
...Okay, I’m gonna nerd out over Zelda now.
I would argue that the Legend of Zelda series has some of the most iconic music in gaming. The original cartridge was released back in 1986, which has given players over THIRTY YEARS to allow for dozens of melodies to be burned into their brains. You can’t go to a renaissance fair without hearing some dude playing The Lost Woods theme on an ocarina he’s gonna try to sell you for $20… maybe 15 if it’s Sunday.
But take all of those songs, every memory you have associated with them, every SINGLE thing you know and love about the Legend of Zelda… and understand that it’s gone.
Because that is the message this game is trying to convey to you from the beginning: The land of Hyrule is dead. It died 100 years ago and all that’s left are the skeletal remains of a fallen kingdom.
Everything about Breath of the Wild is screaming this message. The fact that you start with nothing, the fact that you scavenge for everything, the fact that hills are littered with ancient, rusted blades from battles long lost, the fact that - aside from one mysterious old man - you don’t meet another person until you’ve put hours into your adventure, and I could go on!
...but this is supposed to be a talk about music, so let’s take a step back and acknowledge that music… is noticeably absent from this game.
Whereas most Zelda games immerse you with nonstop themes and melodies no matter where you go, Breath of the Wild’s creators made the decision to deviate from this strategy and instead provide scarce, atmospheric instrumentation that comes and goes depending on your locations, actions, and time of day.
Now there’s tons of reasons why they might have made this decision, the most obvious of which I would assume to be practicality. With Zelda’s return to an open world design, constant music would inevitably become grating. So, they took a page from games such as Skyrim and Minecraft and opted for occasional and situational music. But this choice also helps to support the initial message and tone of the game I brought up earlier. As players we’re used to music in our Zelda games, so when it’s not there it’s weird.
So, absence of music leads to unfamiliarity, but let’s talk about where there IS music. Breath of the Wild is doing something really cool and it starts at the Temple of Time. The temple is likely one of the first places you’ll explore in the game and it’s music falls in line with the scarce ambiance you’ve been introduced to so far, so much so that you may not even notice that it does indeed have it’s own theme. BUT if you listen, you’ll realize that composer Manaka Kataoka has incorporated Zelda’s Lullaby into the song… or at least... three notes of it. After those three notes, though, the melody takes a turn and drops into something completely different. It then almost seems to come back, as if struggling to continue, before again inevitably falling away into something new, unfamiliar, and ultimately… sad. This used to be one of the most memorable locations in the Legend of Zelda and it’s paired with what used to be one of the most memorable songs… but not anymore.
(EDIT: Shout out to Twitter user @hylain_gamer for pointing out that the Temple of Time theme is actually still there in it's entirety, it's just UNBELIEVABLY SLOWED DOWN. Gotta go back and make an adjustment to this bit when I get time. Nevertheless, this is not the temple theme most remember. It's sad, slow, and broken down. Good ear, @hylian_gamer!)
Fast forward several hours.
At this point in the game you’ve learned more about who you are, why you’re here, and what the state of the world is. You understand that it’s up to YOU to save Hyrule and you are on a journey to do so. It’s around this time you’re likely to run into the first of many stables. Yes, stables have a theme song, and yes, Kataoka once again borrows three notes from a famous Zelda melody: Lon Lon Ranch.
Unlike the Temple of Time, stable music is pretty nice! The first stable you’re likely to come across in the game is really one of the first signs of modern civilization you’ve encountered! It’s happy and it has a tinge of familiarity thanks to those three little notes. You remember the delightful NPCs of past games and you remember riding a horse, which brings us to the first, completely unsubtle incorporation of a Zelda song.
Riding your horse at night allows you to finally listen to a song you’ve known since 1986: the Legend of Zelda theme song. Like THE theme song. The strings bring it in gently and it’s the perfect compliment to the soft, plucky notes of the piano. It’s not the theme in it’s entirety, but it’s unmistakably there. WHY?
Because at this point, you have begun to take the world BACK and you have begun to feel like LINK. You’ve fought monsters, you’ve solved puzzles, you’ve found rupees, YOU’VE GOT A HORSE. These are things that are familiar and they are reinforced with THIS music that you’re likely to hear around this point in the game as you make your way towards…
One of the Four Races of Hyrule. Whether it’s Zora’s Domain or the Goron City, the homes of these four races all use music that you’ve heard before. At this point it’s all there, ALL OF IT. By now you’ve begun reclaiming Link’s memories with the aid of Impa and the Sheika Slate and low and behold you’re given music that you, the player, remember!
It’s all about reclaiming what was lost. Hyrule died and the music went with it, but as you fight to take the kingdom back you’re rewarded with the melodies you grew up listening to for hours. It’s different, it’s intentional, and maybe you hate it… but I love it, because I love the music of the Legend of Zelda… and I will fight every Moblin in Hyrule to bring it back.
Music. Zelda. Awesome.