Getting introspective with Nintendo’s best music, Part 1: The Legend of Zelda

zelda music

Music is an essential part of the gaming experience. The right track can set a tone and elevate climactic moments, enhancing the game and creating memories that stick with you long after the credits. Powerful music stirs emotions and creates nostalgia for our favorite gaming moments. Nintendo is well versed in creating iconic soundtracks for its biggest franchises, and the games just wouldn’t be the same without them. Gamer or not, almost any human on Earth could recognize music from Super Mario Bros. So, what makes Nintendo’s music so special? Whether it’s the stories behind their creation, evolution over time, or what they did to define the franchise, there are endless reasons to appreciate these soundtracks and their varied music, starting off with The Legend of Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda’s soundtrack is timeless and magical

While not as instantly recognizable as Super Mario music, it’s fair to say that music from the Zelda series is also famous and is referenced in pop culture from time to time. Zelda has had iconic themes since its first outing, and that’s because legendary composer Koji Kondo was at the helm of both it and Super Mario. Zelda music is many things to many players. For me, it’s the sense of adventure in the overworld themes and how those contrast with the creepier dungeon music, as well as the environmental storytelling from each area’s unique themes. Quiet and comforting piano notes were a perfect way to introduce players to the title screen of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. At the same time, the unforgettable guitar strings of Gerudo Valley felt like an exciting and different culture altogether, while Great Fairy Fountain’s delicate strings are timelessly beautiful.

Andrew Schartmann, an expert on musical theory, described the series music as atmospheric and a wholly unique mix of genres such as Hollywood fantasy, Gregorian chant, 20th century classical, rustic folk, and more. This eclectic mix of styles explains how each zone in a Zelda game has such different music from the last, and that may have been borne out of the limitations of early Nintendo hardware. Constrained by the limited memory capacity of the NES and SNES, Koji Kondo still managed to make varied soundtracks by creatively playing segments of songs in different orders and lengths. Kondo brought his all to the series from the beginning, composing the main title music for the original game in a single night after the team discovered that they couldn’t use the song they had planned to, Ravel’s Bolero, due to copyright reasons.

Koji Kondo’s work set the foundations for future composers on the franchise and how experimental they could be, from the creepier yet varied tunes of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask he created alongside Toru Minegishi, to the ambient and serene sounds of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Classic tracks such as “Zelda’s Lullaby” from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, “Song of Storms” from Ocarina of Time, and “Dragon Roost Island” from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker all appear multiple times throughout the series. For example, a beautiful orchestral remix of “Dragon Roost Island” can be heard in Rito Village in Breath of the Wild, and “Zelda’s Lullaby” is audible when “Ballad of the Goddess” from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is played in reverse.

Zelda’s music also takes inspiration from familiar and unexpected places. The Kakariko Village theme in A Link to the Past was inspired by Kiki’s Delivery Service from Studio Ghibli. Ocarina of Time’s title theme is based on the Warp Whistle from Super Mario Bros. 3, and the Great Fairy Fountain track bears resemblances to the Water Land theme also from Super Mario Bros. 3.

It’s clear that music has a huge role to play in the series, and what elevates it beyond just being great set dressing is how crucial it is to the games themselves. Zelda‘s music isn’t just there to fill empty spaces, but oftentimes it’s a core element of the narrative and gameplay. The Ocarina in Ocarina of Time, the Goddess’s Harp from Skyward Sword, and the Wind Waker from The Wind Waker serve as mechanics to access new areas, solve puzzles, alter the environment, fast travel, and much more. Story-essential tasks like traversing time with the ocarina or collecting instruments for the Wind Fish in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening ensure that Zelda’s music is a definitive and unforgettable component of the series.

What makes The Legend of Zelda’s music special to you?

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and enjoys all things Japanese.