Two posts ago, I posted about Lana Del Rey’s SNL performance, which included “Video Games.” Sometimes I read a blog which sometimes has “16-bit Saturdays,” blog posts about some of this girls favorite early 90s video games.
This week has been Spring Break. Even though I am done with school, I currently work at the university, so work has been a little slow. Add to that the fact we are pretty much done with two magazines. So I have a little extra time on my hands.
I have this odd habit of listening to video game soundtracks when I read, or edit stories for work, or do homework. However when I play video games, I often listen to other music. My wife likes to tease me about this. She can always tell when I am working, because there is 8-bit epic-ness emanating from my computer.
Put this all together and you get my inspiration for today’s post, which is the first in a series.
Let me just say that I feel The Legend of Zelda is one of the best series of video games ever. I recognize it may have fairly simple gameplay. That is not the main reason I like video games. I like the story. Anybody would be hard pressed to find a video game series with obviously better story.
I also like the music. Again, it would be hard for anyone to find a series which has consistently better music. So I proudly present to you “The Legend of Zelda, Part 1.”
This game came out in the U.S. in 1987. The Japanese got it the year before, and they called it “The Legend of Zelda: The Hyrule Fantasy.” To avoid confusion, many fans refer to this first game as “The Hyrule Fantasy,” Hyrule being the fictional kingdom in which this “Save the Princess.” adventure takes place.
Green guy in the middle: Link, holding a piece of the Triforce. Girl in the red dress on the left: Zelda. Turquoise pig-beast on the right: Ganon. Little blue dude on the left in Link's armpit: Also Link, but wearing a different colored shirt.
And just so you are not confused, the princess is Zelda. The Robin Hood/Peter Pan looking hero is Link. It is a common mistake, but gamers (especially ardent Zelda fans) will turn into rabid Zombies and threaten the safety of your internal organs if you get it wrong too many times.
Other good things to know: The main bad guy is Ganon. To defeat him, you usually need to find one of three gold triangles (collectively known as “The Triforce“) or some similar sacred mystical object.
The game is from the same guy who created Mario and Donkey Kong, Shigeru Miyamoto. When he was a kid, he began to explore the forest around his home in Japan. On one of these expeditions, Miyamoto came upon a cave, and, after days of hesitation, went inside. Miyamoto’s expeditions into the Kyoto countryside were an obvious influence on the creation of The Legend of Zelda.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you a little about the sound track. First of all, there are only 10 tracks. Part of that is due to the fact that everything was simpler in the 80s. The U.S. hated the U.S.S.R., cars with gull wings and tape cassette players were cool, Star Trek had amazing special effects, Michael Jackson was still black, and computers were less sophisticated than the calculator I had in high school and had a color palette smaller than free versions of today’s Microsoft Paint.
As with pretty much everything else about this first installment, the music is not only great when compared to its contemporaries, but it continues to influence today’s video game music, which is also great.
Something about the main theme, which is similar to the overworld theme, just says, “Epic High Fantasy.” Imagine what the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings would sound like 25 years ago and that is the main Zelda theme. Maybe it is the arpeggio ostinato, or perhaps the melody in the lowest of the three available voices, but something about the track which plays in the Labyrinths is haunting. I still pee my pants a little when I hear it. The track which plays in the last part of the game, Death Mountain, is not as creepy scary as the other underworld bits, but is more a sign of heavy-handed impending doom.
There are other tracks which are more like sound effects. One of them Nintendo reused for Super Mario Bros. 3.
The last two are for the “Game Over” scenarios. They use the same melody, but if you die, the track is slower and simpler. If you win, the track is a little dancey. It seems a little out-of-place, honestly. Nintendo recycled that melody in most of the later games for the fairies you find or the very start when you are selecting which save file to use.
Really, if you like video games at all, you have to hold a special little place in your heart for Zelda. Video games in general owe pretty much everything to games like Zelda and Mario. They are The Beatles and Elvis of video games. Except without the drugs.
It is amazing to me that guys like Koji Kondo, who is pretty much THE music guy for Zelda, could get so much emotion through in four audio tracks. And that they did it so well, those same melodies are used to this day.