Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in 1988 and since then has become a beloved classic. This game revolutionised RPG’s and the Zelda series still amazes the market today. Essentially, the plot consists of a young boy dressed in green, delving into an adventure to save the princess Zelda. There are many elements to this game which make it so heart-warming yet the most memorable aspect to the Zelda series, is the music behind the game which can spark a wave of nostalgia to any player.
The composer for the Ocarina of Time soundtrack is Koji Kondo – the first man hired by Nintedo for the sole purpose of composing. He is also the composer of the equally loved Super Mario series. The Legend of Zelda soundtrack comprises of 82 tracks with a total runtime of 1 hour 17 seconds. The songs are simplistic renditions of the do-re-mi scale. The music was developed using a MIDI, a musical instrument digital interface, which allowed a variety of instruments to communicate with each other and computers. The most notable instruments used in the game include a flute, piano, violin, timpani and a snare drum.
Perhaps the most nostalgic aspect of the game is Kondo’s use of the technique leitmotif. This is defined as a short, constantly recurring musical phrase which is associated with a character or place, usually serving as an introductory theme tune. However, Kondo gives each location in Hyrule its own song which plays as the player approaches the area. With such limited scales but comprehensive soundtrack, Kondo has given each character and location an associated melody which produces emotion but retains catchiness. For example, the song for Koriki
village has a light-hearted, high and joyful tone, comprised mainly from strings and wind, which replicates the nature of the residents of the village. Yet the theme for the final boss consists of fast, tumbling low notes of urgency, interjected with long alternating notes which inflict a sense of danger in the player. It’s these emotive yet simplistic songs which make the Legend of Zelda so engaging, as the player’s emotions are heightened by the appropriate music choice.
With over 70 hours of gameplay, Kondo faced a huge challenge composing a soundtrack which retained interest yet provoke emotion while avoiding becoming too monotonous. The Hyrule field track is the perfect example of this. Short stoked from strings which are harmonised by flute solos give the field track a majestic feel. However, the variations keep it interesting. While running, there is the addition of percussion but when standing still the percussion drops and the music becomes quieter and more serene. Tempo change is very significant to altering the tone. Enemy battle music often interjects the field track which returns once the enemy is defeated. The importance here is not just variation, but the interaction between the music and the player’s control. Koji Kondo was asked in an interview what he considered to be important when composing music for a game to which he replied; “First of all, each game has a unique rhythm or tempo, so I try to capture that and compose music that fits the game’s rhythm. Second of all, the balance. For games, it isn’t just the music, one also has to consider sound effects, the balance of the volume, the balance between left and right channels, and make sure the sound effects more prominent. Third, putting in variations in the music to fit with the interactivity of the game. For example, speeding up the tempo when time is running out or changing the music that plays depending on the player’s location.”
Legend of Zelda takes music to the next level with the involvement of instruments being essential for story progression. Link must learn to play songs which have specific attributes, like summoning his horse, which draw the player’s attention to the music. Notes appear on the screen to which the player must press the correct buttons to copy the tune. These are simplistic lines ranging from four to eight notes, using the five notes available on an ocarina. The analogue stick could be used to bend pitches which helped Kondo overcome the challenge of creating different melodies. Once completing the song, an orchestral version comes in underneath Link’s playing, adding a sense of achievement. These songs soon become memorable after learning to play and really heighten the appreciation for the soundtrack.
It seems the soundtrack for Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time plays an equally important role to the functioning of the game as the story does. Kondo has not only produced a majestic and fluctuating composition but has made it so powerful; it inflicts a strong reminiscence upon players which has made it such a well-known classic.