There are many factors that go into making a video game. Solid gameplay, unique level designs, memorable characters, graphics and environments, and so much more. But one of the key aspects of a great game is great music. Would the original Super Mario Bros. have been as memorable without that classic "World 1-1" theme? Nope. Would the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII have made as big of an impact if her theme didn't start playing at just the right moment? Considering that people actually do cry when her theme plays nowadays, I'd say no. Hell, there are people who look forward to a Super Smash Bros. game just to find out what classic game themes are getting remastered.
Naturally, The Legend of Zelda series, being the A+ franchise it is, has had some incredible music in its many titles over the years. So narrowing down a list of the ten best is no easy task. It's especially difficult when you consider that music is subjective, and everyone has their own tastes.
Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below, and share your faves!
Honorable Mention: Zelda's Theme (originally from A Link To The Past)
So in case you didn't get it from the above paragraph, it was not easy narrowing the list down to ten. Almost every Zelda theme is well-made and fits its setting or character perfectly.
A number of them are also so well-known that they instantly bring back memories to anyone who played the games at a young age. So, we wound up with one too many and had to bump one down to an honorable mention.
Here's the thought process. When you hear this theme, what do you think of? Serenity? Yes. Beauty? Sure. Innocence? Most definitely, and that's the problem. Zelda obviously isn't an evil character, but she's not exactly an innocent bystander either. The more recent games have given her a chance to get involved in the big conflict - instead of just sitting off on the sidelines, waiting for Link to run in and save the day.
This is by no means a bad theme, and it doesn't wreck a person's perception of the character completely. But it could use a bit of an update for the current version of Zelda.
#10.) Dragon Roost Island (originally from Wind Waker)
Sometimes a particular area or person can enter a player's memory purely because of the music. If a piece of music associated is catchy or effective enough, people will find themselves going back to that theme over and over again. Dragon Roost Island from Wind Waker is one of those themes.
Does the theme fit with the island? Debatable. Does it suit the denizens of the island, the bird-like Rito people? A bit, yes. Does it mesh with the idea of a dragon sitting on a volcano? Maybe. So why does the theme make it on the list? Because it's just catchy. The track is full of energy - and you just can't help but hum or whistle along with it. Sometimes, that's all a song needs.
#9.) Midna's Theme (originally from Twilight Princess)
Twilight Princess is often compared to Ocarina of Time, mainly due to their similar nature, but one thing that sets the two apart was the story. The story of Twilight Princess seemed to be more focused than the story in Ocarina of Time. Whether that's good or bad is subjective, but one thing that is almost universally agreed on is the depth of the true central character of the game: Midna.
Midna has quickly become one of, if not the most popular characters in the Zelda franchise. Her theme incorporates almost everything about her. It's quiet and sounds very alien to us, overall very mysterious. For a good chunk of the game, that's what Midna is. You know nothing about her or her motivations. You're just roped into helping her prepare for the fight against Zant. Yet the mystery surrounding the theme is of a positive nature. When you first hear it, it makes you want to learn just what Midna's hiding. It encourages you to keep playing to learn the truth. Also, its positive nature shows Midna's true personality. It reveals that underneath her snarky exterior, there is a good person there - one you can trust.
#8.) Song of Storms (originally from Ocarina of Time)
One of the things that separates Ocarina of Time from the Zelda games that came before it, as well as one of the reasons the title remains so popular, is its incorporation of music into the gameplay itself. Playing a particular song on the Ocarina was necessary to unlock certain doors, solve certain puzzles, or just to turn day to night - when need be. The songs themselves are well-written and memorable, and any one of them could find a spot on a Top Ten list.
The Song of Storms, however, is easily one of the most popular out of all the tracks from the N64 Zelda days. So much so that it made a return in Ocarina's sequel, Majora's Mask. The reason people like this song so much is a) it's a very unique, catchy theme that actually goes against its somber nature, and b) it fits the theme perfectly. When you hear this, you can easily picture someone dancing to it in the middle of the rain. That may sound cheesy, but this song does become synonymous with rain, and considering the title, that means it's a job well done.
#7.) Temple Theme (originally from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link)
Don't worry, the newer game music won't occupy all of the entries on this list. The older Zelda titles had their fair share of great music as well. While Zelda II may be considered the black sheep of the Zelda series (one of them, anyway), one piece of music in particular is instantly recognizable, one that you hear as soon as you step into any of the games' dungeons.
This song has become even more popular in recent years - getting a remix in Super Smash Bros. Melee. It succeeds perfectly in its intent, setting the mood for the player to descend into a dark, dank dungeon. Uncharted, possibly frightening, territory - where enemies are around every corner and there's a larger monster at the end, guarding a sacred treasure. In that aspect, it actually works better in its original form, the NES beeps and boops enhancing the tone.
#6.) Dark World (originally from A Link to the Past)
The idea of an alternate realm that opposes the normal world has appeared a number of times in the Zelda series. Ocarina of Time's time travel, Wind Waker's return to Hyrule, and Twilight Princess' Twilight Realm. But A Link to the Past was where the concept started - with a simple Light World and Dark World. There were many similarities between the two, but enough noticeable differences too.
Much like how the regular overworld has an energetic theme, the Dark World's theme is proper for a grand adventure. Yet, what sets it apart is its slightly different tone. The constant bass thumping gives the song a slight militaristic feel - fitting with the knowledge that you're now in Ganon's territory, and the odds are against you. But the darkness isn't prominent, and the song remains confident and uplifting, telling you that no matter how bad it gets, you will make it through, and you will save the day.
#5.) Hidden Village (originally from Twilight Princess)
When you see a Zelda game, you can usually guess what the setting will be. Medieval, with small villages instead of big cities, primitive technology, and plenty of wide-open spaces. But Twilight Princess tried to change that up a little bit, without doing something completely different - like in Wind Waker. Small advancements in technology were made, in some cases giving the game a bit of a steampunkish feel. In other areas, particularly in Kakariko Village, it felt more like Hyrule had entered its version of the Old West.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Hidden Village theme. Acoustic guitars, whistling here and there, and heroic trumpeting all set the stage for an awesome area. Link has taken the role of the Man With No Name, and he's about to start his final showdown, bomb arrows at the ready. Awesome.
#4.) Gerudo Valley (originally from Ocarina of Time)
Of course, before Twilight Princess got going with the Western theme, another area from a different game had already hinted at the Old West. Ocarina of Time was praised for its unique and distinct areas, and the song for the mysterious Gerudo Valley followed this notion so well - that the song has become almost as famous as the main Zelda theme.
When you first heard this song while playing Ocarina of Time, I'm willing to bet you were dying to get further into the area. The music was catchy and energetic, and had a very heroic feel to it. You wanted to explore the region ahead of you, because you believed that there was something amazing on the other side. Unfortunately, you had to come back much later - after you were an adult and could get across the bridge. And even then, you had to go through the Gerudos' fortress, which, as anyone will say, is a pain. Still, no one can get this theme out of their head once it's in there. Not that you would want to.
#3.) Song of Healing (originally from Majora's Mask)
Majora's Mask is the other black sheep in the Zelda franchise, but for different reasons than Zelda II. Whereas Zelda II was different in gameplay, Majora's Mask was different in mood. Instead of the usual energetic adventure, the game had a very dark, somber tone. You weren't out to save a princess or protect a kingdom. You had to save one small town, and by extension, an entire realm, from destruction by a falling moon. You only had three days to do so, and the people themselves seem to realize that their time is coming to an end. To say it's depressing would be an understatement.
Nowhere is that mood more apparent than in one of the first songs you learn in the game, the Song of Healing. The song by itself is a very beautiful one, yet rather sad. You feel as though you're doing something good when you use this song, but it's a very bittersweet feeling. Which makes sense, when you consider the context. Though you use the song only a handful of times in the game, in each scenario, you're not so much healing a person's body, as you are their soul. This usually means a dying person's soul can pass on in peace. In other words, you're playing a song at a funeral, essentially. It's very rare that a song can be uplifting and depressing at the same time, and this is one of those instances.
#2.) Overworld Theme (originally from The Legend of Zelda)
I'm sure you're not the least bit surprised to see this make the list. After all, why wouldn't it? It is literally synonymous with the Zelda franchise itself. When you hear this song, you instantly think of this series, of the courageous hero Link travelling throughout Hyrule to rescue Princess Zelda from the clutches of the evil Ganondorf. But why does it work so well?
Because it perfectly exemplifies what Zelda is: adventure. Everything about this song resonates that feeling - when a person starts an adventure. Travelling around an exotic land, seeing new sights and facing great perils. Growing in strength of both body and mind the further you go - so that when you finally face off against a great evil - you are ready. This song helps prepare you for that, and reminds us that the adventure isn't in the destination, but the journey there.
#1.) Credits (originally from Wind Waker)
You're probably surprised by the appearance of this song, especially at the coveted number one spot. What could possibly make this song better than the famous Zelda Overworld theme? A number of reasons. One, the song itself is very cheery and happy. It makes you feel good to have played this game. I imagine some have actually sat and waited at the start-up screen, since you can hear a piece of this there. Another reason is that you can hear bits and pieces of songs you heard throughout the game, making this a very nice medley of the best the title has to offer.
And finally, it plays its intended role to a T - as the end of the story. You've defeated Ganon. You've saved Zelda. You've reunited with your family and friends and, despite all the hardships in your way, you're stronger than you were before. Your journey is over. Now, you can sit back and revel in your victory, confident that you succeeded in your quest - and that your story will never be forgotten. This song is the triumphant return for the conquering hero, and that's why it makes number one.
The Legend of Zelda series will never be forgotten in the minds of gamers everywhere. Even if, heaven forbid, the day comes when the Zelda series truly ends and no more games in the series are made, everyone will remember their experiences with their own favorite title. The music is just one aspect of this wonderful series, but without it, would the franchise be as universally loved? You be the judge.
Those looking to further head down memory lane should remember that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D will be released on June 19, 2011 for the Nintendo 3DS.