VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Dungeon Music

VR_Zelda_Month

Whatever people might think of the games in general, the Legend of Zelda series is just about universally renowned for its excellent music. Famed Nintendo composer Koji Kondo and his cohorts are widely regarded as some of the best composers in the videogame business and it’s not hard to see why. In the first of two music-themed countdowns, I’ll be looking at the top ten pieces of Zelda dungeon music.

The Zelda dungeon track is somewhat of a unique beast. Dungeon music needs to function well on an endless loop and should ideally have elements of tension and danger evident within it. A coherent melody is therefore optional, while an audio tone that matches the unique visuals of any particular dungeon is preferable. These factors and more were what determined the order of this list.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
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10. Light World Dungeon – A Link to the Past


A Link to the Past ties up its dungeons in two neat sections: pre-Dark World and post-Dark World. It does this through the story and a difficulty curve built into its dungeon design, but also through music. The first three dungeons of the game, also known as the pre-Dark World ones, make excellent use of the SNES’ amazing sound chip to create a sombre track that starts maliciously and then opens up into a piece that applies tinges of hope to the ongoing oppression of the classic dungeon slog. I’m a huge fan of the almost regal-sounding result.
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9. Earth Temple – The Wind Waker


There just aren’t enough didgeridoos in videogame music, so the fact that the Earth Temple from The Wind Waker features one in its music is a massive point in its favour. The fact that it balances the instrument with tribal percussion, distant howls, a threatening chord progression that disappears as quickly as it shows up and the odd East Asian drum motif is a real bonus. The very slow but undeniably steady music is a perfect match for the dungeon’s dull colour scheme, themes of decay and famous light puzzles.
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8. Mountain Temple/Desert Temple – Spirit Tracks


Though Spirit Tracks doesn’t boast a whole heap of different music tracks, the ones that are there are usually very notable indeed. Not least among them is the second of only two dedicated dungeon tracks in the entire game (for reference, the game has five main dungeons). The track is used for the fourth and fifth dungeons and fits both surprisingly well thanks to an imposing opening, an interesting recurring note stairway and a ‘mirage’ motif that fits the high temperature theme of both of the dungeons. Sounds great in the game’s surround sound mode, too.
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7. City in the Sky – Twilight Princess


The otherworldly tones of the music to what you already know is my favourite dungeon in the whole Zelda series are essential to granting it the unique atmosphere that makes it so memorable. This is hardly a complex piece of music – in fact it consists of a bunch of individual chords that seem to go on forever with incoming and outgoing sound bites that call to mind imaginary sky creatures – but it is really effective at what it does, which is delivering atmosphere in spades.
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6. Color Dungeon – Link’s Awakening DX


This is actually a slightly remixed version of the classic, claustrophobic Labyrinth track from the original Legend of Zelda game, but I believe it improves upon it ever so slightly. The addition of a deep buzzing backing track, a slower BPM and a new section simulating some sort of raindrop progression all make the DX-exclusive Color Dungeon all the more memorable to explore. But please, don’t listen to this track through headphones – that buzzing will drive you insane. I recommend staying with computer speakers for this one.
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5. Lanayru Mining Facility – Skyward Sword


The music of the very cleverly designed Lanayru Mining Facility mimics its major gameplay gimmick – when Link moves a timestone onto a designated pedestal and sends an entire room back to more colourful, more productive days, the music takes on a richly layered character that you can listen to here. Otherwise, this evocative, echoey track plays instead. The palpable distance of each note gels perfectly with the dusty, long-forgotten visual design of the dungeon to create my favourite dungeon music from Skyward Sword.
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4. Spirit Temple – Ocarina of Time


What a piece of music! Perfectly encompassing the mystery and danger of Ocarina of Time‘s final dungeon before Ganon’s Tower, the track opens with a few loud and mystical flourishes before pausing and ushering in a Middle-eastern MIDI melody on top of a slow and barely detectable beat. The main snake charmer-esque hook occasionally falters, much like our hero, but always comes back with a vengeance. There isn’t much more to say about it – just a typical slice of genius from Koji Kondo.
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3. Dungeon – The Adventure of Link


I am astounded by this track whenever I hear it, regardless of how many times I’ve heard it before. Though I’ve never played The Adventure of Link, this recurring dungeon theme (sometimes called Palace) just does so much within the limits of 8-bit chiptunes that I just cannot ignore it. It’s quite a lengthy loop that just screams “adventure” and I would place it right up there with the amazing battle themes from the first three Final Fantasy games in terms of quality. I’ll hazard a guess that this track is actually the most famous part of AoL in general, because it appears in remixed form as the default music for the Temple stage in Super Smash Bros Melee. Gloriously, I might add.
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2. Stone Tower Temple – Majora’s Mask


This is technically two tracks, as the Stone Tower Temple has two versions of its backing track. Around halfway through the above video the music switches to the version you hear when the temple is upside down. Both versions are excellent and exemplify the general tone of Majora’s Mask with unsettling efficacy – the creepy wind opening ushers in the slow burn of the main beat which complements the slightly maddening ocarina-slash-midi bass harmony, then the backing stops for that wistful high pitched solo and it becomes clear you are listening to one of the best tracks in the entire Zelda series. And that’s only the first half.
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1. Forest Temple – Ocarina of Time


This brilliantly uneven track is quite often placed at the top of lists just like this, but I’m going to be boring and agree wholeheartedly with the consensus. The Forest Temple is just so crucial to the pacing of Ocarina of Time, as it is the first dungeon the game leads you to after becoming an adult. It needs to showcase a darker, more serious and much more dangerous world, which it achieves in a big way through the marriage of layout and music. That fading stereo rattle, those ethereal notes and that twisted pseudo-vocal chant that comes and goes again and again, that cathartic moment where all the elements line up for an instant only to fall apart again… sublime.

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Honorable Mentions
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Water Temple – Ocarina of Time
Starts with a magical cascade of promise and then drops still before that sombre ocarina comes in… Yeah, you’re gonna be in here for a while.

Ancient Cistern – Skyward Sword
Multi-layered and a perfect complement to the life and death themes of the dungeon.

Great Bay Temple – Majora’s Mask
That relentless industrial percussion perfectly captures the character of the mechanical dungeon while the main melody sounds as if it is constantly trying to escape from a whirlpool…

Dark World Dungeon – A Link to the Past
Endlessly urgent and foreboding, this track pairs all too naturally with the sounds of Link’s dying yelps in my head.

Wind Temple – The Wind Waker
Pulls the classic Zelda dungeon music trick of layering a handful of optimistic notes on top of an oppressive repeating melody, and does it with typically successful results.

Skull Dungeon – Oracle of Ages
I’ve never even touched Oracle of Ages, so this music was introduced to me by a friend, but my word is it flipping amazing.

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