The Legend of Zelda -Ocarina of Time- Original Soundtrack
The Legend of Zelda -Ocarina of Time- Original
December 18, 1998
Buy at CDJapan
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most commercially and critically successful video games ever made. Taking Zelda to the third dimension, it delighted with its entertaining free roaming gameplay, intricate presentation of Hyrule, epic storyline, and a score successful on a number of levels. Koji Kondo’s soundtrack was particularly impressive because of how it interpreted Hyrule’s geography, races, legends, and threatened existence through diverse means without the loss of the wider individuality and unity required to reflect the alien fantasy world of Hyrule as a whole. Let’s take a closer look…
The world of young Link is usually characterised by an outwardly positive vibe. “Kokiri Forest” delightfully portrays the childish nature of the fairy folk inhabiting Link’s homeland; the theme’s crisply phrased melodies are whimsically passed from one instrument to the next in almost dance like fashion above thin but buoyant accompaniment. The initial section of “Lost Woods” — simplistic, sparse, and repetitive — is so inherently happy and hummable that it strongly indicates it was created by Saria, one of the Kokiris; in fact, it was more likely conceived by Kondo in the bath, who also offers a gorgeously elaborate development section. Youthfulness is still evident outside the forest. For example, the bright melodies of the Celtic “Market” suitably represent a shoppers gathering in the country, while the jazzy nature of “Hyrule Castle Courtyard” reflects the fun of somewhat carelessly sneaking around. “Kakariko Village” is calm, laidback, and reassuring, beautifully arranged from A Link to the Past in both of its incarnations here. “Lon Lon Ranch” offers a similar feel while referencing the country music of vocalists like Emmylou Harris; it features synth vocals intended to represent the songstress Malon that are incredibly soothing despite their sound quality. There’s also an array of more trivial but still charming themes used in various buildings, for instance “House”, “Shop”, “Shooting Gallery”, and “Windmill Hut”. And who could forget the theme of Kepora Gebora, Link’s winged teacher? Here, Kondo’s lyricism really shines, as he represents the owl’s wise, inquisitive, and caring nature.
The racial diversity of Hyrule is evident throughout the soundtrack. The watery home, grace, pride, and reverence of the Zoras is reflected in “Zora’s Domain”, one of the finest examples of a variety of styles of music blended into one piece; Kondo combines Caribbean percussion, ethereal synth pads, and the distinctive tones of an acoustic guitar effortlessly to give a unique sound. Also wonderful is the representation of the friendly rock-eating giants, the Goron; the theme is almost entirely percussion based, but surprisingly catchy and groovy, made particularly original by the imitated sound of a DJ scratching on a turntable. The most popular theme on the soundtrack is “Gerudo Valley”, used to represent the desert home of the Gerudo, a tribe of women thieves. With its flamenco beat, unforgettable melody, and Spanish flair, it’s simply irresistible. The centrepiece of the score, the “Hyrule Field Main Theme”, provides an overall representation of Link’s adventure despite the vastness of Hyrule. This wondrous synth orchestral composition subtly samples a variety of themes from previous Zelda games, including the traditional Zelda overworld music, creating a soaring and adventurous composition. The melodic references were too subtle for some, who complained about the loss of tradition, but the theme excellently complements the setting of Hyrule nonetheless. It also wonderfully adapts to it: the break of dawn results in the theme being introduced by the serene morning theme, the approach of an enemy leads to an increase in dynamic and a transition into an aggressive and percussive section, coming to a standstill results in the music becoming more slowly phrased, and the approach to dusk results in the theme becoming progressively calmer and quieter before fading into nothingness.
Creation of the ocarina themes was a massive challenge to Koji Kondo, given he was limited to using just five notes, but the result of his efforts is nothing of outstanding. The melodies themselves are memorable and inspired. They form the basis of six sophisticated and individually characterised orchestrations in the case of the elemental dungeon themes, representing life, fire, water, darkness, spirit, and light. Those that are not dungeon-specific are presented as solo ocarina melodies that each provide the background for a more substantial setting theme. Kondo pairs “Saria’s Song” and “Lost Woods”, “Song of Storms” and “Windmill Hut”. “Epona’s Song” and “Lon Lon Ranch”, “Sun’s Song” and the morning theme, and “Song of Time” and “Temple of Time”. An anomaly is “Zelda’s Lullaby”, which is the only ocarina theme derived from another score, A Link to the Past, and the only one not arranged for use in a specific location. It is used as a character theme (“Zelda’s Theme”), an event theme (“Meet Again Zelda”), and, finally, symbolically (“Ocarina of Time”) before the end credits medley appears. Given the game’s title and the extent of the ocarina’s integration into the game’s score, mythology, storyline, and gameplay, it was essential that Kondo got it right, and indeed he did; the ocarina themes and their arrangements sound excellent from a musical, technological, and layman’s perspective and the ocarina is wonderfully integrated into the story and gameplay.
Despite its title, Ocarina of Time still remains a tale of good against evil. The storyline is dominated by how Hyrule is threatened and eventually dominated by the megalomaniac warlord Ganandorf. The soundtrack reflects his threat immediately after the beautiful “Title Theme” with two dire cues: “Enter Ganandorf”, 13 seconds worth of uncompassionate dissonance, and “Deku Tree”, a sorrowful theme reflecting Ganondorf’s curse on the doomed father of Kokiri forest. Half way through the soundtrack, a fully-fledged arrangement of “Ganondorf’s Theme” from A Link to the Past is presented. This is the most potent musical symbol of the game’s biggest turning point, when Ganondorf usurps the throne, seizes the Triforce, and wreaks multiple disasters upon Hyrule. Who could forget emerging from the Temple of Time as Adult Link following these events only to see Hyrule Market has been taken over by zombies and, in place of Hyrule Castle, there now floated a dark tower surrounded by lava? Also integral to the storyline are the various themes associated with the legends behind the Sacred Realm, the Hero of Time, and the Triforce. Synthesized choral samples are responsible for the sacred aura inherent to “Legend of Hyrule” and “Chamber of the Sages”, while Gregorian chant colours the symbolic modal melody used in “Temple of Time”. Also unforgettable is the solo harp theme of “Sheik”, used to represent a supposed incarnation of the agile and mystical Sheikah tribe. It flows through a series of impressionistic chord progressions with incredible elegance and, despite being simple and repetitive, never grows old.
At Shigeru Miyamoto’s request, Kondo made Zelda’s dungeon themes very ambient in nature. They all boast amazing timbres, atmospheric qualities, and development. “Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly”, for instance, integrates electronica and gruesome sound effects to represent fluids, noises, bubbles, and pulsation inside a giant fish gut. “Shadow Temple”, on the other hand, relies on drums, atmospheric noises, and distorted vocals to represent a spooky and dynamic environment. “Ice Cavern” and “Water Temple” interpret two different states of water through extensive use of tuned percussion. Perhaps best of all, “Spirit Temple” is centred around the unpredictable wails of an ethnic flute; this is genuinely emotional to listen to and emphasises the holy but primitive nature of the Egyptian-influenced temple. A few of the dungeon themes are trimmed down, however. The most significant victim is “Fire Temple”; with a playing time of 0:42, the awesome chanting section is discluded, though perhaps for cultural reasons, given some Muslims complained that it was inspired by Islamic prayer call. Unfortunately, the action themes are not especially remarkable, at least relative to most RPG soundtracks. They are generic, predictable, and similar, though represent activity well enough and are not without their individual quirks; for example, “Middle Boss Battle” is based on the chord progressions of “Ganondorf’s Theme”. Talking of which, the final dungeon theme is an organ arrangement of the same theme used when climbing Ganon’s tower. Given Ganondorf himself is represented as the organist, the theme becomes increasingly louder and more elaborate as gamers approach his quarters. The final battle theme is an epic and emotional affair — slow-paced, melodic, thickly textured, and driven by rapid drums. It’s a delicious piece of music that is well worth revisiting.
The most significant problem with the score is its presentation in album form. 82 tracks are squeezed on to one disc featuring 78 minutes of audio. This contrasts massively to the limited but moderately impressive domestic release of the album, which held 35 tracks and 72 minutes of audio. As a consequence, most tracks in the Japanese release of the album do not loop, which is sometimes to the benefit of the of the disc, given individual pieces rarely grow boring, though is often disappointing too. In addition to limiting the development of dungeon themes, an alternative rendition of “Lon Lon Ranch” was omitted, where an ocarina, as opposed to synthesized voice, interprets the lush melody. In order to hear the ‘entire’ score of Ocarina of Time independently of the game, it’s necessary to buy this soundtrack, the domestic soundtrack, and ‘The Lost Cuts’ European album, but is it worth it? Not really. Loops, dungeon themes, and ocarina interpretations are nice to have, but not worth buying two other difficult-to-obtain albums for. That said, another criticism with the Japanese soundtrack is that it is quite an abrupt experience in places. This is partly due to most tracks not exceeding a minute, though the considerable stylistic fluidity of Kondo’s creations means most tracks flow well to the next. The main culprit are the various fanfares and one-time event themes. For example, immediately after the delightful “Kokiri Forest”, three fanfares dedicated to item discovery interrupt the flow of the adventure. Straight after, the soundtrack goes on a bit of a tangent dedicated to shopping, battles, the Deku tree, and guess what? Even more fanfares. The low point of the soundtrack is four very similar and slightly annoying pieces dedicated to horse racing presented in succession. Certainly, some sort of music effects collection at the end of the soundtrack would have been better than a near-endless number of interruptions. Nevertheless, this soundtrack is still the definitive purchase.
Criticisms with the album itself aside, Koji Kondo’s score to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece. Its melodies are gold, its diversity is impressive, and a near-perfect balance is achieved between continuity and change. The overall score manages to be a fluid and captivating accompaniment and to a revolutionary game, an adequate support to action, events, and the storyline, and an excellent representation of the scenery and dungeons of Hyrule. The soundtrack will appeal most to those who have played the game, given it brings so much nostalgia with it, but this ought not significantly undermine its worth and pleasantness as a stand-alone musical creation. I highly recommend it.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.