‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ and Harmonies of the Wild
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From its combat to its sandbox, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a serendipitous revitalization of a beloved series, and a lesson in master craft world building and game design. Breath of the Wild leaves no stone unturned in its graceful approach to the reconstruction and re-imagining of what a Zelda game is and could be, and that includes the gorgeous soundtrack. Breath of the Wild‘s score perfectly melds into the world it enriches and enlivens, whether in it’s serene and subtle harmonies that encapsulate the whispering wind on the grassy plains, or the suddenly sweeping melodies that impossibly match the valor and mettle of the Hero of Hyrule and the beauty and mystique of the world around him. At first listen, Breath of the Wild seems to have abandoned the strong, ever-present melodies the franchise is known for in favor of a subtle, harmonious style reminiscent of Joe Hisaishi’s work on some of the best Miyazaki films, a comparison that works on innumerable levels. While partially accurate, composers Manaka Kataoka and Yusuaki Iwata have scored the perfect companion piece for Breath of the Wild‘s deeply lush world instilled with the grandeur of a bygone era while reverently hearkening back to Zelda’s long history of unforgettable themes and phenomenal melodies by Koji Kondo and others. The resulting score is equal parts serenely harmonious, emboldening melodies, and a Legend of Zelda: Greatest Hits record.
The understated side of the soundtrack is immediately notable upon beginning the game. Breath of the Wild‘s main theme wafts by as Link stands atop a cliff upon just waking up before the score satisfies itself with subdued, trickling tunes from a piano. Gone are the inspiring themes of Hyrule Field from Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. Instead, the music ensures the winsome world is center stage, allowing the sounds of the Great Plateau and the wild beyond to speak for itself. Appropriately that all shifts in battle, when the piano harmonizes with the drums and sharp sounds of strings fitting for every treacherous encounter, or when the piano might suddenly quicken the tempo when a Guardian is near, blending the sound of the orchestra into the sounds of the battle and the noises the Guardian itself emits. In this way, the music wondrously weaves itself in and out of the sounds of the wild, harmonizing with the environment and not shying away from the silence of a dilapidated Hyrule left in ruins from calamity 100 years prior.
Not that Breath of the Wild doesn’t have its melodies. The game’s main theme helps instill a sense of wonder each time Link reaches the top of a tower as the camera pans across the prepossessing, surrounding environment. Every cutscene is masterfully scored as well, with gorgeous melodies both new and old, and as Link approaches civilization new and familiar themes pervade the air. In these times more than almost any other, Breath of the Wild reverently regards the franchise’s history. As Link nears Rito Village, the ever present piano churns a sorrowful tune that, suddenly assisted by several more instruments, develops into a somber rendition of the fan-favorite theme of Dragon Roost Island from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. A similar – but still admirably diverse – version of the song plays whether the player is visiting by day or night, but unmistakably the tune is that of Dragon Roost. The Zora’s Domain theme in Breath of the Wild is a closer interpretation of Ocarina of Time‘s theme for the Zora’s Domain, also featured in Twilight Princess.
While some of the franchise’s themes are present in Breath of the Wild (recomposed as softer renditions of original pieces to match the tone of the overall game and soundtrack), many notable melodies are intricately woven into new pieces familiar only as a small refrains – some as small as three notes – that must be uncovered and discovered in a rich tapestry of sound; fitting for a coy, puzzle-ridden franchise. While riding a horse at night, the Legend of Zelda theme can be heard harmonizing with the new piano theme. A similar theme plays while riding during the day, but instead of the Legend of Zelda theme on the violin, it is a slow duet of “Zelda’s Lullaby” that makes a guest appearance. Though only three notes, “Epona’s Theme” can unmistakably be heard during the new Stables theme, particularly poignant with the instrumentation. More debatably, one particular portion of the Shrine theme, which sounds very much like the typical fanfare fans have come to expect from a dungeon theme in Zelda, almost seems to mirror the title theme from Ocarina of Time. One of the most direct musical citations is the new Hyrule Castle theme, which blends a new theme that sounds strikingly like the Hyrule Castle theme from A Link to the Past (or the King of Hyrule’s theme from The Wind Waker, if you prefer) with “Ganon’s Message” also from A Link to the Past (or Ganondorf’s theme as many of us know it), the Legend of Zelda theme, a touch of the “Ballad of the Wind Fish” from Link’s Awakening, and played with the gusto of “Gerudo Valley” from The Symphony of the Goddesses, all of this resulting in a sensational medley of Zelda themes and a thrilling new, yet familiar theme that all may perfectly represent the interwoven lives and unending struggle between the carriers of the Triforce: Link, Zelda, and Ganon.
Perhaps therein lies the true brilliance or Breath of the Wild‘s score. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, in many ways Breath of the Wild is a game about rediscovering the past, whether in instances of scenario design, Link’s open world journey beginning the moment he awakens (like the NES classic), the hero’s struggle to remember his own distant past, or Zelda and all of Hyrule trying to discover the truth from centuries past, down to the score. While that score departs from the traditions of previous Zelda entries, in many ways it musically recollects a long history of the franchise without sacrificing its softer, somber tone or its willingness to take a back seat to the wilds of Hyrule. In that regard, the score to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is all that it needs to be, emblematic of the characters and the central conflict, adequately quiet for a Hyrule in disrepair, with glimpses of the greatness of the past and a wavering hope for the future, a hope built on the whispers of a legend – the legend of the Hero of Hyrule, the legend of Zelda.