VR Zelda Month: Top 15 Non-Dungeon Music

VR_Zelda_Month

It took me a long, long time to decide on what pieces of Zelda music went into this list. Much harder to compile than the dungeon music list, and in fact probably the most difficult list of them all, putting together a collection of the best overall tracks in a series as musically rich as The Legend of Zelda is a truly daunting task. So it’s a good thing people have opinions.

Despite how amazing they tend to be (or, perhaps, because they tend to be so amazing) I have disqualified end credits themes from this list. They tend to just be medleys of tunes from whatever game they happen to hail from, anyway.

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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. Spoilers may follow.
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15. Outset Island – The Wind Waker


What better way to start this countdown than with the wonderful background track from the very first island in The Wind Waker, a Zelda game many people rank as the best in the series for music? The theme of Outset Island is just so fitting of Link’s initial naivete at the, well, the outset of his journey. The gentle flow of the melody is grounded by that persistent deep and inoffensive brass rhythm, yet matches so well to the ambient sounds of ocean swell against the beach. What’s more, it features a callback to the music of the opening area to Ocarina of Time, the Kokiri Forest, with a delightful flourish at 1:30 in the above video.
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14. Tal Tal Heights – Link’s Awakening


One of the best things about Link’s Awakening is its wonderful use of the limited Game Boy speakers to craft some truly noteworthy tunes. Tal Tal Heights, which plays in the region of the same name within the game, is one of the absolute best examples of this. Using brief samples of the classic Zelda overworld theme to contextualise itself at first, the piece launches into a deceptively complex audio layer cake complete with pseudo-snare percussion that emphasises Link’s late game urgency to find out just what is going on with Koholint island. That second stanza, which bleeds into a section using simple repetition of a single high pitched note, is just blissful.

13. Zora’s Domain – Ocarina of Time


One of the most soothing tracks in the Zelda series, the reverberating steel drums and mellow guitar of Zora’s Domain never fail to have a calming effect on me whether I’m playing through Ocarina of Time or just listening to the soundtrack on a Sunday afternoon drive. I have no doubt that this music played a major role in the increased popularity of the merman-like Zora race from Ocarina of Time onwards, as beforehand the creatures were only known to pop their finned heads out of rivers and spew irritating fireballs at you. Just let your worries float away…
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12. Clock Town: Day One – Majora’s Mask


One of the major musical themes running through Majora’s Mask is several slight alterations to a single melody to fit a particular situation. For example, the theme for each of the four major regions in the game is the same tune reimagined four different ways. Similarly, the music for the game’s Clock Town hub area changes by getting noticeably more frantic with each passing day, but my favourite version is the first one you hear. The Sun’s Song opening theme from Ocarina of Time signifies the start of the first day, when everyone is still ignorant of the horrors to come, before jovial percussion and a melody that never gets old take over.
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11. Dark World – A Link to the Past


As good an argument as any for the quality of the Super Nintendo’s sound chip, the Dark World theme makes an impact every bit as strong as the actual world itself when Link first steps through the portal leading to it, fully equipped and ready to destroy some twisted evil enemies. The music focuses on an underlying current of hope and a sense of courage against unfavourable odds, rather than the dark and foreboding tones you may usually see in games with dark versions of their universes. The upcoming A Link Between Worlds features a pretty amazing remix of this theme – you can listen to it starting from 0:44 in the background of this trailer.
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10. Fi’s Farewell – Skyward Sword


There are many who say that the soundtrack in Skyward Sword as a whole doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the other Zelda games, despite being the first fully orchestrated one in the series. However, it does boast at least two truly amazing individual pieces of music, Fi’s Farewell being one of them. A variation on Fi’s Theme, which pops up a few times throughout the game, this impossibly emotional piece of music appears very late in the story and combines with some solid writing and visual timing to make you care quite a bit about something that has spent most of the game annoying you. For that it deserves rapturous applause.
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9. Midna’s Lament – Twilight Princess


Despite being a variation on one of the game’s main musical motifs, Midna’s Lament outshines and blows away all other versions of its melody by tying itself to an incredibly emotional moment in the narrative of Twilight Princess. It doesn’t hurt that it’s an amazing piece of music all on its own that sounds amazing on piano, of course. The cascading underside motif starts quite forcefully for a piano piece and then repeats ad infinitum, urging Link’s wolf form onward like few other Zelda tracks manage to do while a simple and poignant melody brings the feels. As you sprint through a relatively empty Hyrule with a ghostly-pale Midna barely clinging to life on your back, it really does feel like you are racing against time.
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8. Song of Healing – Majora’s Mask


This piece is forever associated with the creepy Happy Mask Salesman in my mind, as he is the one who teaches it to Link in order to undo the curse placed on the Hero of Time by the wayward Skull Kid. However it actually appears a few times throughout the story, mostly as the backing to some pretty heavy stuff. The release of the Goron spirit of Darunia, the death of Indigo-go guitarist Mikau and, perhaps most impactfully, the removal of the Gibdo curse on a little girl’s father are all scored by this beautifully haunting tune. Of all the songs you can play on an Ocarina in a Zelda game, this is the most memorable for me.
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7. Hyrule Field – Twilight Princess


Twilight Princess‘ lengthy overworld theme captures the grand excitement of that first E3 trailer all those years ago very, very well. The piece starts powerfully and then goes through a number of tonal shifts to keep things varied enough to last you a trip across the famously vast landscape that TP offers. Like all good overworld themes, it’s essentially several tracks in one. As you listen to it you can almost picture yourself playing the game, overcoming enemy encounters here and there, making your way through valleys and crossing bridges while admiring the sunset. Those five minutes of highs and lows before the loop hits are a story in their own right.
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6. Realm Overworld – Spirit Tracks


For all that is surprisingly great about Spirit Tracks, perhaps the one aspect that makes it most worthy to hold its head up with the best of the Zelda series is its amazing music, led by this fantastic track. The DS is by modern standards a very limited piece of hardware and cartridges can only hold so many musical tracks, so memorable overworld music that doesn’t get old is essential. Thankfully, it’s there and it’s there in spades. Every time you leave a town or solitary map location the music makes you feel like you are heading out on another mini journey, filled with optimism at its prospects. The first time you hear it, the main melody line soars above the tracks and into your mind forever.
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5. Overworld – Link’s Awakening


The most recognisable piece of music from the entire Zelda series unsurprisingly appears very often throughout the games, mostly as an overworld theme of some sort and always sounding slightly different. The Link’s Awakening iteration is my absolute favourite variation of the theme. The intro to the track just radiates the feeling of stepping into a dangerous world, before the familar bars come hurtling in, as synonymous with Link as the World 1-1 theme from Super Mario Bros is with Nintendo’s mustachioed plumber. Just when you think the loop is going to start over, it goes completely off book, adding a more adventurous note progression that flows on surprisingly well from the traditional theme and takes the whole track to a whole new level.
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4. Dragon Roost Island – The Wind Waker


Just… Listen to that. One of the first islands you visit in The Wind Waker boasts a musical track so good that it causes many players, myself included, to look for excuses to stay on it. Messing around with bomb flowers and the pretty explosions they make, talking to the natives a zillion times, watching the wind lines swirl through the air – all in the name of hearing just one more loop. From the tropical flavour of the opening flute/ukelele stanza to the moment when the bass backing comes in to the way the layers change up and overlap slightly and beyond – it’s all magic. Whichever member of Koji Kondo’s composing team came up with this heavenly melody should just retire now, cause this is once-in-a-lifetime stuff and topping it is probably going to be impossible.
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3. Clock Town: Final Hours – Majora’s Mask


The deep sense of foreboding conveyed by the musical accompaniment to the final six hours of the Majora’s Mask cycle is simply unmatched anywhere else in the series. The feeling is as inescapable as the fate of Termina’s civilians – the moon is going to crash and everyone is going to die. There is nothing even Link can do to stop it, unless he can somehow make sure all four captive giants are freed within a matter of hours. Gone is the bouncy standard Clock Town music; in its place one eerie and otherworldly chord fades in and out over and over again while some twisted, very 1980s synthesised sounds form half-finished tunes across the aural tapestry of impending oblivion. Unless I have a story or sidequest-related reason for sticking through it, every time this music comes on I whip out my Ocarina and hightail it back to that first dawn, because I just don’t need those feels.
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2. Ballad of the Goddess – Skyward Sword


When Koji Kondo and his composing team went to the drawing board with the aim of creating a piece of music to serve as the main theme for Skyward Sword, they were dealing with more than just the implications of one game. As the 25th Anniversary Zelda release and the much-hyped first game in the chronological timeline, Skyward Sword‘s theme needed to draw from the history of the whole series as well. The clever way they achieved this? Incorporate one of the oldest tunes in the series, Zelda’s Lullaby, by playing it backwards to form the main melody of the new piece. Add some grand orchestral flourishes, make sure to include a harp at the beginning as a reference to the Zelda of Skyloft and voila, you have a piece that gives most any Zelda fan goosebumps.
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1. Gerudo Valley – Ocarina of Time


The greatness of the upbeat Gerudo Valley backing track from Ocarina of Time is so widely recognised that Nintendo’s 25th Anniversary orchestral performances featured a special arrangement dedicated entirely to it. The simulated claps that usher in the piece signify that something special is coming, then that strumming guitar just wins hearts. Plenty has been said about this fantastic track and I will add to the sky-high pile of words with the assertion that it is my favourite piece of music from the Legend of Zelda series. I’ve probably heard the song more times than anything else on this countdown to boot, because of the many, many Super Smash Bros Brawl matches I have played over the years on a particular custom stage that had this music locked in as the backing track.

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Honorable Mentions

Goron City – Ocarina of Time
I thought about including the funky Goron theme from Sprirt Tracks here, but after consideration I realised that I prefer the version from OoT more. Low notes, prominent percussion and a distinct tribal flavour define this piece and all others like it in the series.

Deku Palace – Majora’s Mask
Whatever instrument that is (or should I say is pretending to be) in the background of the musical track for the Deku Palace, I love what it’s doing. The theme sounds like some kind of line dance on steroids – it’s vibrant, it’s slightly maddening, and it’s definitely memorable.

Astral Observatory – Majora’s Mask
Wondrous, mystical, hopeful and darkly foreboding all at once, this excellent slice of synthesised harpsichord is found only in the place denoted by its name, which is a bit of a shame but probably does make it stand out more in my mind than it otherwise might have.

Molgera Boss Battle – The Wind Waker
Probably the most famous non-final boss music in Zelda history, Molgera’s theme is my personal favourite as well. Notable for including a discernible human vocal style, it is best listened to when accompanied with the ominous sights and sounds of the boss’ build-up cutscene.

Byrne’s Theme – Spirit Tracks
The unmistakable Latin flavour of Byrne’s standard musical theme is all kinds of awesome, with maracas and clapping and such interweaved with some train whistle-esque melodic sounds to immediately place what game it’s from. The tune reappears in the final battle with a more ‘epic’ timbre.

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