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Soundtrack of the Month 07/2011: The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time

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With the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D on the Nintendo 3DS, I thought it would be a good time to recognize the game’s soundtrack, composed entirely by Koji Kondo. We had the pleasure of speaking with Kondo about his thoughts on the score and the upcoming Skyward Sword a few weeks back, and now we’re here to delve even further into the score.

Join us after the jump as we go 13 years into the past and check out the Ocarina of Time soundtrack.

Now, there are several different versions of this soundtrack available. The definitive version would probably be the Japanese soundtrack release from Pony Canyon that went out of print nearly a decade ago, before I was actively purchasing game music, so I never actually got my hands on it. What I do have, however, is the United States domestic release that was sold through Nintendo Power. Other regions had similar promotional soundtrack releases, which omitted several tracks (nearly half) while still covering an entire disc of music.

While A Link to the Past will probably always be my favorite Zelda experience, and thus, Zelda soundtrack, I can’t deny the power of the Ocarina of Time soundtrack. It’s a fantastic fantasy adventure score, complete with town, dungeon, field, and battle themes, and I think what I appreciate most is the unadulterated continuity of Kojo Kondo’s music, as after Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, he would relinquish some composing duties to other composers at Nintendo.

While I am looking at a rather incomplete version of the score with this North American promotional release, most of the key pieces are here. The dreamy and memorable “Title Theme” left quite an impact with its 3D visuals for the first time in a Zelda game with Link on horseback standing against the backdrop of the moon. The playful tracks near the beginning of the album, including “Kokiri Forest” and “House” bring a sense of comfort to the listener, while “Inside the Deku Tree” still amazes me with its ambient approach. “Hyrule Field Main Theme” is an incredible compilation of mini-themes that are tied together in random order to generate excitement and adventure as well as danger and intrigue, which was a genius move for that time in gaming, and “Battle” really builds tension with its repetitive bass notes.

While the synthesized ‘voice’ in “LonLon Ranch” may have aged poorly, it’s wonderfully composed, and the country style of the track is still fresh. “Lost Woods” and “Windmill Hut” are still as playful and catchy as ever while “Zora’s Domain” is beautifully serene, and “Temple of Time” is epic yet subdued with its choral elements. Then there’s the impressive flamenco guitar in “Gerudo Valley,” which is to this day considered to be the best track from the game by many. Finally, “Kakariko Village” and “Great Fairy Fountain” hit a nostalgic chord as arrangements of past themes in the Zelda series.

Tucked away at the end of the album are the iconic ocarina themes that aren’t listed on the back cover of the album. I remember trying to teach myself these melodies on the piano as they left such an impression on me despite being such short pieces of music (under 30 seconds each). There’s the contemplative “Minuet of the Forest,” the defiant “Bolero of Fire,” the angelic “Serenade of Water,” the foreboding “Nocturne of Shadow,” the hopeful “Prelude of Light,” and my favorite of the bunch, the melancholy “Requiem of Spirit.” Sounds like a series of Castelvania subtitles, but in fact, despite their length, they’re probably the most memorable sounds from Ocarina of Time.

Unfortunately where this album falls short is in the various battle themes and dungeon themes featured in the game. I’m largely not a fan of the battle themes from the Zelda series (although “Battle” on this album is one of my favorites), but the many classic dungeon themes are sorely missed. That’s okay though, as we know they’re fantastic and are available on other soundtrack albums (something Nintendo has largely ignored in recent years). Even more, we all know by now that Nintendo has made available the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D soundtrack disc to those who register their games on the Club Nintendo website. The album will feature 50 tracks, which, again, isn’t all of the music from the game, but it’s still almost double what’s on this album.

It’s also important to note that this soundtrack is not only a fan favorite. Nintendo also took a liking to the Ocarina of Time soundtrack, releasing two separate arrangement albums. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time ~ Hyrule Symphony is an orchestral album featuring arrangements of 13 tracks from the game, including a lovely “Ocarina Medley” and of course “Hyrule Field,” “Title Theme,” “LonLon Ranch,” and others. The other arrangement album is actually my go-to Ocarina of Time CD, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Re-Arranged Album. It took a rather eclectic approach, but relied on a lot of electronic and techno sounds. You definitely have to check out “Battle,” my favorite track from the album. I wish Nintendo would still produce wonderful arrangement albums like these.

In closing, the Ocarina of Time soundtrack, like the game, is a piece of gaming history. It marked Link’s first foray into the 3D world, and Koji Kondo rose to the occasion by providing an equally immersive and compelling score. It stands out in my mind as one of the last times Koji Kondo would single-handedly compose music for a game (he also handled Majora’s Mask), which is an important distinction, at least for me. I’m happy that Nintendo has breathed new life into the game with the 3DS remake and has even given the soundtrack some love with the Club Nintendo release.

Let us know what your memories are of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Is it some of Kondo’s best, or his worst? What are your favorite tracks, and do they align with Kondo’s personal favorites? Do you have a preference when it comes to the game’s two arrangement albums, and are you looking forward to the orchestral track on the Ocarina of Time 3D soundtrack album?

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