Shigeru Miyamoto, a Japanese video game designer, created an open-world adventure that emphasized exploration and discovery and released it on February 21, 1986. He spent the next three decades revolutionizing the interactive arts. The Legend of Zelda places the player in the shoes of Link, the Time Hero, as he attempts to rescue Princess Zelda from Ganon, the evil wizard. Was it a success? Yes, it was! The Legend of Zelda sold more than 136 million copies worldwide by March 2022!
The original Legend of Zelda is remembered for its inventive design and approachable gameplay, courtesy of the work of Miyamoto and co-director Takeshi Tezuka. However, today, it is also hugely popular for its music. The game’s five tracks, composed by Koji Kondo, have become earworms, setting the standard for the next 35 years of Zelda games and video game music in general. Why music was so important in making The Legend of Zelda games a huge success?
Music plays a significant role in the Legend of Zelda games.
Whether we realize it or not, The Legend of Zelda music has brought countless people from all over the world together. With the help of its remarkable sounds, Hyrule springs to life before our eyes and imaginations, from heroic ballads to catchy tunes, perilous fights, heart-string tuggers, adventurous marches, and so much more. The music in Zelda took things to a whole new level. For about 35 years, its musical legacy has touched the hearts and minds of players worldwide, from North America to Japan, Australia, Europe and beyond.
Link uses music to help him complete his quests! The first appearance of instruments in The Legend of Zelda came from the very first game with the title, after which the series is named. Link can find a recorder in that game, which was released in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The recorder is useful for completing dungeons and for a few niche secrets, but it is otherwise useless.
In The Legend of Zelda, Link’s Awakening, instruments and their musical capabilities were greatly expanded. Link’s entire quest revolves around acquiring eight musical instruments to awaken the Wind Fish and leave Koholint’s dream world. Unfortunately, the instruments in that game serve more as quest items than as usable tools. It was until The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that players could access and use instruments. The ocarina was the focal point when the Nintendo 64 classic was released. Link could use the ocarina of time to change the time of day, teleport to different parts of Hyrule, and even cause sporadic storms!
Music can affect time in the same way it does in this game. Essentially, music makes time feel different as we get lost in the instruments’ sounds. While these gameplay elements serve the game’s structure first and foremost, they parallel how music works in our world, and this is expanded even further in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the direct sequel game.
While Ocarina of Time was very linear, Majora’s Mask focused on the world’s characters much more, which means many more opportunities to see how music affects them. Link uses the “Song of Healing” to ease others’ pain severally in the game after the song cures him of the curse Skull Kid places on him. It is similar to how music can help us work through our difficult emotions and heal from pain.
Various iterations of the “Song of Time” are also used in Majora’s Mask, and this song was originally in Ocarina of Time, but it was in Majora’s Mask where its impact was fully felt. Here, the song helps Link reset to the beginning of his three-day time loop. Furthermore, players can play two variations of the song, each with its distinct effect. The “Song of Double Time” helps Link to the next day or night, while the “Inverted Song of Time” allows Link to slow down time’s passage to 30% of its original value, helping him to complete time-sensitive quests easily.
Both of these songs continue the previous theme of how music and time can interact, with one influencing the other. One additional aspect of Majora’s Mask is the importance of music to those who live in Termina. Link learns many songs from others and uses the songs to wake or put them to put these people to sleep. It is similar to how music helps us navigate our everyday lives, even though the songs in the game work much more effectively than a lullaby might.
Another example of music’s importance in The Legend of Zelda series is in the Nintendo 3DS game called The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Here, Link plays the songs he learns on a spiritual pan flute, and the songs are frequently performed in duets with individuals known as Lokomo. Spirit Tracks emphasizes Link’s collaboration with other musicians; through the various duets, he can power up the spirit tracks, after which the game is named.
These train tracks allow Link to travel to new areas and continue his adventure. Of course, there will always be an element of fantasy when discussing The Legend of Zelda, but Link can’t power up the rails on his own, and the Lokomo can’t power up the rails without Link. Only by uniting as one and playing the music together will they be able to summon the necessary powers to bring the rails back to life.
Looking at the various games of The Legend of Zelda series, it is clear that it has a strong connection with music and its ability to affect us and the entire world. This is because music is all around us, pervades our lives, and can create effects on us that seem almost magical to this day. In this sense, music is a link between the worlds of the Zelda universe and our world. Obviously, this is super important, considering that it makes the series impactful and memorable to the many people who play the games!