Welcome to Part 1 of the Legend of Music. Let’s jump right in.
Master of creating fully orchestrated musical pieces on 8-bit, Kono Koji has inspired and continually challenged musical composition in the realm of video games for over three decades. The Zelda Series has consistently kept several songs since the beginning (timeless classics like the Overworld theme, Fairy theme, and Hyrule castle), but let’s take a deep dive into the game, I consider as, the turning point for both storytelling and music in the Zelda series: Link’s Awakening.
For those of you who have yet to play Link’s Awakening, it is set on the island of Koholint in which Link shipwrecks. He meets Marin, a girl who longs to be free of the island, and her father Tarin. Link insists on leaving the island, but is told insistently by its inhabitants that nothing lies beyond the ocean. An owl informs Link that his only means of return is to wake the Wind Fish asleep atop the mountain. To do so, Link must collect eight instruments around the island to play “Ballad of the Wind Fish” and wake the creature.
Link’s Awakening is said to be the beginning of modern Zelda series. It is the first to be driven by character dialogue and character emotion. Not only is this the first real fleshed out plot and storyline of the series, Link’s Awakening is also moved by music. This emotionally driven story introduced fans the power of music.
Our musical journey begins as we are introduced to the “Ballad of the Wind Fish” upon finding Marin singing the song in the open field. “Ballad of the Wind Fish” can only be described as a heartbreaking ode to sacrifices that every hero must make. It is both courageous and sorrowful.
Soon, Link goes on a quest to collect the Eight Instruments of the Sirens to wake the Wind Fish to make the strangest orchestra I’ve heard: the Full Moon Cello, Conch Horn, Sea Lily’s Bell, Surf Harp, Wind Marimba, Coral Triangle, Organ of Evening Calm, and Thunder Drum. All instruments are found in various dungeons. I suggest you listen to some of the themes. They are some of the most haunting in the franchise.
Link’s Awakening has some of the best and most recognizable themes in the series. My favorite of this game being “Tal Tal Heights“. It’s a charismatic rendition of the Overworld theme, that has you feeling ready to take on baddies with the romantic flare of some swashbuckling explorer. It is the best song in the Zelda Universe (fight me). You reach Tal Tal Heights at the climax of the narrative. Link soon discovers the secret of the island of Koholint: it is an island made of the dreams to who every discovers it.
In this case – the island is made of Link’s dreams. Awakening the Wind Fish with the power of music will awaken Link and bring the island of Koholint and its inhabitants to disappear into his memory of music. I always thought it unique that this island made from the memories of Link was built around music. It’s my belief that music must be incredibly important to Link. It is what connects him to his friends, to Zelda, and to the goddess. Knowingly or not, the creators inevitably created an important method of storytelling that links music to the goddess and other characters.
Finally, Link obtains the ocarina.
Once obtaining the ocarina, Marin finally teaches Link “Ballad of the Wind Fish”. Both know that they must wake the Wind Fish and Link, ending this musical dream. After a defeating the nightmares, Link plays the ocarina with the eight instruments and sets the dreams free. Music and the ocarina, Link’s link to the goddesses, are what sever him from the nightmares and awaken him from his shipwrecked coma.
Without this staunch introduction to the importance of music in the Zelda series, I do not think the Zelda series would have such a lasting impact. This was one of the first games to not only have amazing orchestration, but it was one of the first to include the player. Music in the Zelda series is never just in the background. It is never just a filler for silence. Music is a moving force of the goddesses and their connection to the timeless hero Link and Princess Zelda.
Check out the orchestrated version of “Ballad of the Wind Fish“!
Next, we’ll take an in-depth look at the music of the game that brought a new generation of fans to the series in a two part coverage of Ocarina of Time.