1986 didn’t see Link coming. Much of the gaming world was still enthralled with Nintendo’s biggest release from the previous year, Mario’s first solo adventure “Super Mario Bros.” Nevertheless, “The Legend of Zelda” was a far different beast than the story of the plumber and future sports star. Mixing aspects of battles, puzzles and adventure, “The Legend of Zelda” told a complete story that had an edge and was (and still is) actually difficult.
All of these aspects cemented “Zelda” as in instant classic, but one of the things that has cemented Link’s place in pop culture history is the soundtrack. Koji Kondo, the musical maestro behind nearly every Nintendo game made from 1983’s “Punch-Out!!” to last year’s “Super Mario Maker,” followed up making the most iconic video game score of all time by making the second-most iconic video game score of all time.
This fact can’t be understated enough. The main theme to “Super Mario Bros.” is as recognizable as any pop hit of the last 50 years. The “Zelda” “Overworld Theme” is known immediately to gamers the world over, and probably would not be a stretch to call it one of the most famous melodies of all time. The first “Zelda” game had four songs all created with familiar 8-but MIDI technology. As the series progressed, songs from that game would continue throughout the entire series as re-imagined pieces designed to swell the waves of nostalgia. Here’s the same theme 13 years later, as heard in “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask:”
What made “Zelda’s” music so iconic was the range of influences Kondo worked from. Throughout the series, themes as wide-ranging from bolero to orchestral to Gregorian chanting all found appropriate places within the game, depending on the level. In the best of Link’s adventures, 1998’s “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” the titular ocarina became a centerpiece of the game. With it, Link could do a variety of things, such as turn the night into day (and vice-versa), warp to different areas or summon his horse, Epona.
Likewise, different stages in “Ocarina of Time” had their own pieces of music intrinsically tied to them, so that the player would know exactly when they had entered a new or familiar area.
Thirty years of “Zelda” has left us with dozens of games and hours of legendary music. The tunes pop up everywhere to this day, whether on the screen in various non-Zelda-specific games like the “Super Smash Bros.” series or even on Stephen Colbert’s late night show, where he recently had the Symphony of the Goddesses, a touring orchestra dedicated to the music of the series.
“The Legend of Zelda” proved that a game doesn’t have to be insanely easy to capture the attention of gamers and non-gamers alike (I’m looking at you, Mario) and a big part of that was the soundtrack. Whether you’re riding off in a field on your noble steed, or just looking to be swept away in the grandeur of a delicately-arranged orchestra, there’s something for everyone in the world of Hyrule. Here’s to another 30.