Rightfully hailed by many as possibly the best game so far in the entire series, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild broke so many LoZ norms in just about every way, while still incorporating many of its characteristic charms. Getting nauseous from all the rotations and astoundingly inventive mechanics in each of the four Divine Beasts, cooking up enough Dubious Food and Hearty Simmered Fruit to feed an army, and crying like a baby at each Champion reunion cut scene… I spent over 150 hours of my life playing this game—UNABASHEDLY—and now I would love to share my thoughts about one of the norm-breaking-yet-still-charming aspects of this wonderful game: the soundtrack.
The Piano: A Reflection into the Human Soul
One of the first aspects of this game’s music that captured my attention was the use of gentle piano versions of the usual ditties. You know them well, such as this iconic one…
This particular sound effect was actually used only for unlocking new areas of the map with the Sheikah Slate, and I actually really appreciated its minimal use. Here’s how the sound plays out in Breath of the Wild. The video starts at 20:20, and the series of sounds is from 20:38 – 20:47, and then at 20:56.
There are other little sound effects in this game that are mostly piano-based, and this simple orchestration makes for such a delicate introduction—delicacy, as well as poignant and striking isolation. An instrument with such a vast range in terms of both pitch and emotional capacity, the piano is able to convey all kinds of moods and atmospheres single-handedly, while maintaining the simplicity in nature of being a single instrument. The piano tracks in this game are very simple, most likely not even requiring more than one hand in most cases.
Every other Legend of Zelda game before this one has been absolutely chock-full of music—wonderful, upbeat, heavily orchestrated (yes, chip tune is orchestrated), catchy, and memorable music. From the villages you first wake up in, to the fields, Fairy fountains, dungeons, and boss battles… One of the key characteristics of every single LoZ game before this one is indeed the abundance of energetic, lovable music.
So to wake up in a mysterious place, by yourself, with nothing to guide you but a mysterious voice, and to have such an utter LACK of music—other than delicate piano, subtle winds, light percussion, and unidentifiable electronic sounds—was jarring to say the least. Yes, when you exit the cavern and see the open world for the first time, there is quite a sweeping, but short, overture. After that though… Mostly silence.
But it is purposeful.
Link and you as the player are immediately thrown into a world of unknown, with the occasional Old Man visits and the piano as essentially your only companions. The simple piano riffs were a constant reminder of how alone you are throughout the bulk of this game. The mountain, waterside, cave, and Sheikah tower musical tracks were so sparsely arranged that they ended up blending into the experience without absolutely taking over, aurally.
Water Side Theme:
I have read how some other players have been displeased with the general scarcity of music, but I believe it was incredibly purposeful, powerful, and refreshing. In a brand new kind of game (open world), a brand new soundtrack style was only natural and extraordinarily fitting.
As the gameplay and aesthetics began to mirror real life more so than any other LoZ game, the music naturally followed suit. Having such an absence of musical companionship in the beginning (and whenever you’re exploring thereafter) consequently made the music of the towns, villages, and stables (which are filled with people and other characters) all that much more comforting.
Stables Theme: All Your Horsey Needs!
One of my favorite parts about many of the musical themes in this game is the fact that they are first heard from a distance, as Link is approaching, and then the music becomes more audible the closer he gets. I found the stable theme to be very cozy, with its soft bongos and tambourine, guitar, and flute-like wind instrument. The small ensemble certainly gives a homey feel, as it is a type of instrumental group that would reasonably gather at such a location to play a simple tune such as this together.
An absolutely adorable addition to this theme was when the Rito traveler Kass would sometimes show up, playing Epona’s song/Lon Lon Ranch on his accordion, which provided a beautifully nostalgic counter-melody.
Major kudos to the composers of this game, Manaka Kataoka and Yasuaki Iwata, who fit in one of Koji Kondo’s iconic, timeless themes seamlessly together with a new one. It was only fitting also for the character Kass to be playing it, as he is very knowledgeable about historical music, often playing various tunes that accompanied shrine quest riddles, which his teacher had passed down to him.
So many of the character-inhabited places had such simply orchestrated and tender music. My personal favorite track of the entire game (by a small margin) is the theme for Hateno Village. There is simply a magically whimsical feel to it, with the bongos + maracas, slow wavering strings + bass pizzicato, treble-end marimba tremolos, and leading bagpipe-esque instrument and violin. Not to mention the village theme changes depending on the time of day, as do other character-inhabited places in Hyrule.
These comforting town and village themes provided a wonderful contrast to the aforementioned lonely piano tracks… As well as contrasting the downright terrifying tracks that creep up on you with no warning whatsoever.
The Blood Moon, and Other Horrifying Tracks That No One Asked For
Similar to any traumatizing or otherwise life-altering event, ask anyone who has played Breath of the Wild, and they will most likely be able to tell you where they were when they experienced their first Blood Moon.
For me, I was passing by a serene waterside, having just easily defeated a little group of Bokoblins. I was running along, minding my own business, when suddenly I heard an eerie sound. Then another. Some flute trills. A few reversed sounds. The air unexplainably started producing bits of burning ash, as a terrifying electronic (or at least probably electronically altered), slightly screeching sound broke through, along with a flurry of unsettling bass piano notes. The entire sky turned the most ominous shade of crimson, and the clouds began to speed past, above me. I had no idea what was happening, and I desperately tried to run away from whatever doom was encroaching upon me. But no matter which way I turned, I simply could not escape. A horrifying growl tore through the air and the screen turned black.
Witness the experience yourself here:
At first, I absolutely hated whenever the Blood Moon would arrive, simply because of the awful, scary music. It wasn’t until I realized how genius the mechanic was—all enemies respawn in a way that actually relates to the plot—that I became more okay with it, and even looked forward to it, at least conceptually.
The Blood Moon track is not the only terrifying music that this game has to offer. While walking around certain parts of Hyrule, very special enemies called Guardians would sometimes creep up on you, and you would know they had spotted you when this track would play… (music starts at 0:32)
It was not until I was maybe 90% done with the game that I realized you could actually fight back and destroy these horrible, traitorous, multi-legged, mechanical atrocities. So, needless to say, I spent most of the game thoroughly terrified of these seemingly immortal enemies.
A cool feature that I noticed in Guardian battle themes, though, as well as Shrine themes (regular + battle) was the industrial nature, with tons of electronic instruments and electronic effects, which provide a stark contrast to the aforementioned gentle, solitary feel that the piano gives in other contexts. The addition of electronic music in Sheikah technology-filled places made sense story-wise, since the Sheikah gadgets were very futuristic, especially in comparison to other cultures in Hyrule.
Another one of the particularly interesting parts of the Guardian battle music is that when you do land your first strike on the enemy, a satisfying charge-like sound plays. Unfortunately, all of the OST files I found on YouTube do not include any of the *~awesome sound effects~* that really make this track, so while you can listen to the full track here, it isn’t as great as the full experience because of the lack of sound effects.
Speaking of in-game changes that affect the sound design, and without getting into too many spoilers, each of the four Divine Beast dungeon themes also had quite genius alterations based on progress.
The Divine Beasts: Terminal/Orchestral Layer Activation
When I first played Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, my brother was very excited for me to get to the fourth dungeon, in Ikana Canyon, the Stone Tower. A completely new and innovative technique in any video game I had played thus far, the flipping-the-tower-upside-down mechanic was mind-blowing. In Breath of the Wild, the developers took this a step further, by allowing players to rotate different parts—or sometimes the entirety, in different ways—of the dungeon itself, which triggered an echoing cry of the Divine Beast.
The best part about these dungeons though, is that for each terminal that Link activates, another layer of music is added in. Here’s the full track of Divine Beast Vah Naboris, which plays when all four terminals are activated:
Divine Beast Vah Naboris was the first one of the four that I did, and it was undoubtedly also the most difficult. I love the similarities in this track to the Gerudo Town theme, how it carries the same main melodies but with some electronic effects, and without nearly as steady of a beat.
My favorite Divine Beast however, was Vah Ruta—by a small margin though (a common trend in favorites in this game, apparently). The mechanics in the dungeon made me feel super clever, and I just loved the gentle, heart-wrenching story behind this particular Champion. To perhaps demonstrate the extremely unsettling nature of such a kind-hearted, nurturing character’s horrific demise, this Divine Beast has a progressively ominous musical track.
The Divine Beasts are not the only large, majestic creatures in the game. While the four of them are central to the plot, there are three other large, magnificent creatures with equally magnificent music that grasped my attention…
The Three Mystical Dragons: Bring Out the Erhu!
Similar to the conceptual experience of the Blood Moon, but opposite in terms of feeling, I remember when I first encountered one of these gorgeous dragons. I was walking through one of the rainy jungle-type areas, when I suddenly heard the gentle choir, gong, and soothingly repetitive piano jingle. I was immediately sold, when I heard the erhu, which is my all-time favorite instrument ^_^
This glorious, slow-moving track stunningly complemented the dragons Dinraal, Farosh, and Naydra, with a simple arrangement, expansive instrumental range, and huge but gentle atmosphere. This marvelous theme also has a scary equivalent, which you can discover the reasoning behind by playing the game… 😉
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was an immensely enjoyable game to play, with such an incredible diversity in terms of set design, characters, game mechanics, and music. No other LoZ game gave me such an emotional range and sense of immersion as this one did. While that is largely due to the new open-world genre, it was also very much because of the soundtrack, which was subtle at times, loud and obnoxious at others, horrifying, yet gentle, and all the while delicately balanced.
With the addition of so many new features and mechanics, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is such a brilliantly innovative, creative, and fascinating game—Nintendo has certainly outdone themselves. I cannot imagine how they could possibly do another game that could proudly follow this one, unless it happened to be one that parallels Ocarina of Time, and lives up to the name Legend of ZELDA… I would love to finally play as the princess herself. Here’s hoping! 😉 ♫
A huge thank-you to all of the amazing artists who generously agreed to have their artwork featured in this review! Check out their pages for more incredible art, time-lapse videos, and more!