Koji Kondo’s Ocarina of Time breaks from video game soundtrack mold

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was an industry changing video game released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998, and with it, it brought in a wave of 3D action adventure games. Since its release, Ocarina of Time has been praised for its ability to work new aspects into a beloved franchise — by changing from a top-down adventure to a fully 3D environment while staying true to the core gameplay.

Not only has it remained in gamers’ hearts for the last 12 years, but the music is still one of the most popular video game scores ever released. Koji Kondo has composed some of the most recognizable video game music, including every game in the Legend of Zelda series as well as every Super Mario game released to date. The game is notable as being one of the first games to incorporate music as a main function without being a rhythm or beat game.

One of the key aspects of Ocarina of Time that makes it such an innately musical game was the inclusion of an ocarina as one of the key items in our hero’s inventory. Link must play songs on his ocarina to complete goals, either by altering elements such as time and weather, or by summoning the powers of the sages. The in-game ocarina has five finger holes and requires the player to press buttons on the controller to play different notes. Koji Kondo stated that his main focus on writing music for the game was to base it all on the limited five-note scale of the in-game ocarina. Something that players will notice throughout the game is that almost all of the music you hear will at one point be learned on the ocarina as an integral part of gameplay. As challenging as it may have been, it gave the gaming community a soundtrack to cherish through the years.

One unintended side effect of including an ocarina in the game was an unprecedented increase in ocarina sales. This has led to wind instrument makers releasing ocarinas styled after the iconic blue instrument in the game, and some even include a small Triforce near the mouthpiece.

Another reason why the music has stayed in the limelight is the popularity of the songs to be covered on YouTube. Searching the term “ocarina” on the popular video site brings countless covers of the short songs that Link must play to change the in-game world on ocarinas and many other instruments including piano, electric guitar, and theremin.

One of the other great aspects of the game is its use of themes. Unlike most video game music with definite themes, the music does not announce the entrance of a character; rather, it is to set the feeling of a distinct area. The style has been coined “reversed leitmotif,” where “leitmotif” is the concept that themes are attached to characters; it’s most notable in films such as Star Wars and Jaws, two of John Williams’ most memorable soundtracks. The style was originally brought into popularity by 19th century composer Richard Wagner and his opera Lohengrin. One of the most recognized themes in the game is “Hyrule Field”, which is essentially the new overworld theme, which is generally more popular than any of the music from Ocarina of Time, with a notable cover by alternative metal group System of a Down gaining ironic popularity.

Although the soundtrack has lasted as one of the most recognizable of all time, when it was first released, it did receive some criticism for its lack of reference to the music in earlier Legend of Zelda titles, most notably the original overworld theme, which was present in all the previous releases. Even with this criticism, the music shines through on this wonderful game as something gamers and musicians alike can appreciate. Not only is the music great for a video game soundtrack, the music is just simply great.

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