Whenever I’m playing a game, I usually forget about the soundtrack or it is used as a backdrop to help further solidify the game’s environment. I never really thought about how important game music was until I played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The music added so much personality and flavor to the universe. Since the release of the debut title in the Zelda franchise, Nintendo has reinvented their musical formula in several ways. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is no exception.
Like all Zelda games, the music is divided into characters and locations. The first song that comes to mind when thinking about Twilight Princess is Midna’s theme. The song features an enchantingly haunting piano melody that characterizes the mysterious and playful nature of Midna. This is a perfect example of a great musical theme which plays to our emotions without using words. I especially love when the music is first introduced when Midna is helping Wolf Link break out of Hyrule’s prison. It helps establish the character’s personality without much exposition. In addition to the stark contrast of visuals, the music helps demonstrate the game’s tonal shift. Midna is the epitome of this change. The game doesn’t tell us much through its story or dialogue, but through its more engaging musical themes. Twilight Princess uses a good balance of simplistic dialogue and music to tell the story in a way that isn’t too ambiguous or too overloaded with information.
Shadow-filled melodies don’t stop at Midna; the Twilight Realm theme is Twilight Princess’ greatest musical experiment. There are several moments in the game where the twilight creatures come to attack Link. The digitized and dissonant music sets an unpleasant atmosphere. Most of the music in Zelda contains some kind of string arrangement or a subtle use of keyboards and effects; however, Twilight Princess tries something that is so off-putting with its collection of almost random synthetic beats that play during the presence of the creatures. This helps personify the twilight as being unnatural, as if it is a distortion of nature. However, Twilight Princess reuses the same arena brawls against the twilight beasts often. During every brawl, this theme plays over and over again. It was something that I appreciated when I first heard it, but hearing it late game just gave me a headache.
As much as Twilight Princess impressed me with its dreary arrangements, my favorite pieces are the more peaceful and uplifting songs. These include Ordon Village, Faron Woods, Lake Hylia, and the Hyrule Field themes. Every Zelda game establishes the village Link lives in (in this case Ordon Village) as being youth-like and immune to danger. The sluggish sleepy melody of Ordon Village uses short, choppy wooden rhythmic patterns in contrast to the long drawn out leading melody line to mold the personality of this tired town.
Faron Woods works as a great progression from the first area of the game. As Link brings himself closer to danger, the mysterious warmth of the Faron Woods theme swells in the forest. Just by hearing this song, I can tell that this area has been around for a long time. There isn’t a barrage of details through text, cutscenes, or dialogue to help me understand and feel placed within this world. Instead, the music acts as a great catalyst for my imagination.
Lake Hylia is probably the last area in the game that retained a peaceful setting. After the lake is rid of twilight, a slow ascension of synth notes rolls in as a mellow acoustic guitar takes the leading melody. Hearing this song alone makes me think of nature and a sun rising. This is another great example of setting the atmosphere effectively in a game.
Much like Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess implements songs that are performed in the game by the player, this time more so a side feature where Wolf Link interacts with a golden wolf (the Hero of Time) in order to learn the melody to further gain a new ability. Even though I enjoyed finding the wolf stones and learning new moves, these songs felt really unimaginative to me. The wolf stone sections were probably created with inspiration from Ocarina of Time as a way for Zelda music to be implemented within the gameplay. However, I didn’t feel like wolves singing shrill melodies back and forth to each other fit the tone of this game very well.
The Zelda franchise tends to reuse certain melodies and themes such as Zelda’s Lullaby. Most of the Zelda games use Zelda’s Lullaby within an important cutscene, and the same goes here. The arrangement isn’t altered drastically and neither is the house music (this plays whenever Link enters a building). It’s obviously a new recording with new instrumentation, but these two songs haven’t changed in terms of melody. I don’t really have a problem with this given how many new songs Twilight Princess brings to the table.
Long time Zelda composer Koji Kondo stepped down from composing and writing music to being the sound supervisor for Twilight Princess. It’s funny how he originally wanted a full fifty-piece orchestra to accompany the arrangement in order to help the action sequences. It would have been interesting to hear what the orchestra would have sounded like in Twilight Princess, but I think he made the right decision to make the music digitally. The whole idea of adding an electronic element to the music helped create a harsh dystopian tone that the franchise had never experienced before.
The music in Twilight Princess fits seamlessly with its gloomy and almost gothic art style. It sticks to the traditions of the series while experimenting with darker compositions in order to achieve something unique and unconventional for the Zelda franchise.