Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Videogame OST Analysis #3 | The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

I decided to just go ahead and get my namesake out of the way. Since I recently played through A Link to the Past, I’ll opt out for it now. I’m too lazy to pick apart Majora’s Mask and I’m still slowly making my way through Chrono Trigger. There you have it…

Game Profile
Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Release: 1991 (Japan)
Composers: Koji Kondo
Platform: Super Nintendo
Type: Fantasy/Adventure

Track #1 – “Title” – 0:18
Most Prominent Aspect – The gong-line crash that follows the descending seven second introduction.

This is actually one of the more ‘violent’ Zelda introductions. I say that because the majority of other titles usually have a very low key melody that plays over the start screen (e.g Ocarina, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, etc.). This game’s title screen music indeed starts out that way, but breaks pace after about seven seconds, transitioning into a very epic fanfare. Considering this was the Zelda that basically booted up the more annoying devotees of the franchise, it’s no surprise that this little eighteen second track precedes a formula that --- well, it still hasn’t gotten old (for the most part anyway…) now has it?

Track #2 – “Opening Demo” – 2:46
Most Prominent Aspect – The background melody that starts in at about 0:13.

This is pretty much the same music as the subsequent track with one exception: the background melody. It plays during the opening demo which explains the old Hyrulian tale to the player. It draws out a bit longer and meshes a little more heroically (not to mention harmonically) with the text sliding across the screen.

Track #3 – “Time of the Falling Rain” – 1:01
Most Prominent Aspect – The hollowed out melody that makes room for the actual game sequence

I actually like this track much more, as it’s making room for the play sequence accompanying it. It pretty much starts as soon as control is given to the player and is tied very efficiently to the imagery of Link running through the rain in order to get to the castle and save Zelda. It’s a very nice example of how music works with the game rather than simply being juxtaposed beside it.

Track #4 – “Overworld” – 1:29
Most Prominent Aspect – The highest note in the track

A returning track, it’s a core audio piece of the entire Zelda experience and consists of a looping theme expressing valiancy. I do think this has a very fundamental flaw for many however, and that’s the fact that it can get pretty annoying after an extended exposure to it. It becomes cacophonous after a certain point and will serve more as a detriment than a benefit for the players ear. It’s a great signifying theme, I’m not arguing that --- just that it’s not built to last. Luckily, in subsequent titles, it is given different instruments and mixes that assuage the potential obnoxiousness that the SNES sound card simply could not carry as far. In that sense, I’m giving this theme a very back-handed compliment. It was so far ahead of its time, it smashed the barriers that were surrounding it in the form of early 90’s video game technology.

Track #5 – “Kakariko Village” – 2:12
Most Prominent Aspect – The soporific pace of the entire track

This entire track is sleep-inducing, but in a good way. In every version I’ve heard of it, it comes off as a floating composition. It ascends while at the same time seeming to throw off very directed strikes which almost makes the track sound as if it’s kicking its feet in the air. A very nice tool it uses however, is that there’s two distinct paths that it runs on. One isn’t quite that high, but the following one is fairly low. It’s a very basic switch, but I think it’s that simple ability that has allowed it to become one of the most reincarnated Zelda songs.

Track #6 – “Forest” – 0:50
Most Prominent Aspect – First ten seconds

I’m a bit neutral on this track because it starts off very welcoming, but slows down just as fast as it starts. That said, it does match the actual forest it is being set against very well. It’s actually exercises itself in the same way that the overworld theme is meant to, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of being nearly as annoying since the player doesn't spend that much time in the forest. Its slightly jumpy and misdirecting tune goes well with navigating the small maze which makes up the forest.

Track #7 – “Master Sword Demo” – 0:13
Most Prominent Aspect – The overlaid twinkle throughout the first three seconds.

This is a track that in its appearance runs just shy of being worthlessly lurid. Due to that, its appeal for me remains stalwart. Being that’s it’s a mainly a cutscene piece, it has always performed its job admirably and like the Overworld --- it tends to come into its own more successfully as the times progress and access to more sophisticated instruments were made.

Track #8 – “Turned Into Rabbit” – 1:10
Most Prominent Aspect – The sounds effects backing up the entire track

I think this clocks in as my least favorite part of the entire album. The beat kind of unravels unravels itself. In a way though, it lives up to its namesake in how hindering it is to the player. It’s integrated into how handicapped they were before getting the magic mirror. If the sound effects from the mountain were not there, I’d actually hate this track outright, but somehow it manages to stay together through that alone. This is most likely because it gives the disjointed tune a bit of quirky uniformity.

Track #9 – “The Soldiers of Kakariko Village” – 0:30
Most Prominent Aspect – The echoing ‘clops’ in the first two seconds

Through mainly nostalgia, this track is something that will always remain fairly humorous to me. No doubt it’s threatening and actually fairly competent as an alert tune, but it drags into question of how archaic the nature of the soldiers’ attack pattern was. I’d compare this to all things of the slight humor granted by the persistency of police officers in Grand Theft Auto 3 while at a six star notoriety level.

Track #10 – “Guessing – Game House” – 0:53
Most Prominent Aspect – The short integral between the continuous beats.

This pretty much screams ‘mini-game’ at the top of its lungs. It’s not my cup of tea to be completely honest, but I like how it hides itself when the player is actually participating in the guessing game. The only obtrusive moments during this track are the first eight tones which play upon the player’s entrance. After that, the track somehow manages to maintain its intensity while using roughly the same elevated pitch. That’s actually pretty cool.

Track #11 – “Select Screen” – 1:01
Most Prominent Aspect – The basic rhythm to the entire track

I really enjoy this track for what it is, something that only plays while the player selects their file. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s an ideal track for its place. The only problems that rise are when its listened to for too long; its simplicity at that point begins to work against it. It’s consistently soothing through all the iterations it’s seen over the years and this one is no exception. Thanks to the beat, it never becomes as ‘weightless’ as Kakariko Village, but due to what the actual melody is composed of, it creates lovely little fairy motif for itself. That of course, plays right into the game’s entire fantasy theme.

Track #12 – “Dark World” – 1:01
Most Prominent Aspect – The second (lighter) melody playing underneath the entire track

I’m actually fairly surprised that I enjoy this track because it does share a few things with ‘Turned Into a Rabbit’. Luckily though, this overworld theme has enough dynamic composition to outlast even the more revered Overworld theme of Hyrule. I never got sick of it throughout the entire game --- not once. It ascends and descends very traditionally, but does it very well. The tempo is pretty quick (dangerously so I’d say), but it’s still married damn well with the turn the game makes after the player is locked into looking for the seven descendants within the Dark World.

Track #13 – “Dark Mountain Forest” – 1:49
Most Prominent Aspect – Secondary scension at 0:35

Now we’re back here again. Every track in the Dark World is iffy for me as I either have a strong response for it or against it. This one is an ‘against it’ piece with one saving grace, the lighter melody that comes in at the thirty-five second mark. What the track does do well here is convey that grueling sense of annoyance that the mountain became for me, which is twofold when considering those damn rocks that incessantly kept falling on my head. The MPA manages to not only reset the track, but it also strips the oppressive nature from it.

Track #14 – “Hyrule Castle” – 3:02
Most Prominent Aspect – The pace at which the main theme unfolds; also the ascension that comes in at 1:10

With a cursory listen, I’m willing to write this off as another one of those netrual tracks, but I actually had to go back and play through the sections featuring it. That was a good idea because this is a deceptively dynamic part of Link to the Past’s music. Every time it appears to drone, it has a nice ‘slap’ that successfully kicks the tone in another redirection. This track is yet another one that gets recycled throughout all subsequent Zelda games and I’d attribute that to its worth as a ‘nostalgic chameleon’. As long as it features the classic eight-beat signifier of Hyrule Castle, it can basically become anything it wants. It’s damn impressive.

Track #15 – “Sancuary Dungeon” – 2:44
Most Prominent Aspect – The first thirty seconds

This goes from being the most atmospheric track in the game to the most obnoxiously osmotic. After the first thirty seconds, a very pressing tempo is applied, which drives the player down a pseudo-hectic path. It does consistently help with the backdrop of navigating some parts of various dungeons (and puzzles), but at the same time --- it can just as easily degenerate into something ridiculously annoying. The problem is that extending the MPA wouldn’t help at all; I actually need the latter half of this to complement it. If the majority of the track were slowed and scaled back from ascending so stalwartly, I might actually love it.

Track #16 – “Cave” – 1:06
Most Prominent Aspect – Any high tone

This is the most piercing track of the bunch; it almost shoots the player in the face with how upfront it is. When I really step back to analyze it, it’s really just a simple beat with a bunch of high tones punctuating the overall package. There’s some subtle shifts however, which keep it from becoming too simple. I like that. It’s very indicative of how the caves were exposed to the player, not just the caves themselves. Not only is it simple, but it’s flexible as well.

Track #17 – “Church” – 1:10
Most Prominent Aspect – Everything after the first ten seconds

The introduction to this track is very welcoming, but the very shaky nature after the first ten seconds makes the entire thing come off as 'horrifically ethereal' which is fitting for it being a church theme. It honestly scared the hell out of me when I was younger and it’s because is like my ear is listening to the track through a thin veil of running water. As an adult, I actually find it soothing and there’s a couple of jarring ‘pulls’ in the melody towards the end that really stick with me.

⋆Track #18 – “Boss Bgm” – 0:37
Most Prominent Aspect – Entire track

This would be my favorite track out of the entire Link to the Past package. The way it bounces is one of my favorite things about it and is almost reminiscent of the original Metal Gear’s boss theme through a bunch of distantly related layers. It climbs very awkwardly, falls, and repeats the process all in less than a minute. Clashing with bosses always became an event with this damn thing playing and even if there was nothing to do at a particular moment; I was usually running around in circles in order to keep myself cognitively intertwined with the music. Thinking about it now, the track is almost like a boss in itself. After the three second intro, it launches a burst of connected beats, which always seems to match whichever boss it happens to be playing for. There’s also a subtle bit of cryptic tuning to it as well, which consistently kept me on edge as if I were always about to die.

Track #19 – “Boss Fanfare” – 0:13
Most Prominent Aspect – Five ascending ‘twinkle tones’ every few seconds

A very nice top off to the Boss Bgm, this is a good signifier of accomplishment. The flexibility this gains along with its co-dependent track is actually pretty impressive. The slowdown it has during that last five seconds is very important as well, as it makes the track seem much longer than just thirteen seconds. Those ‘twinkle tones’ are the well-dressed laces on the package of 'something good' following an epic boss battle.

Track #20 – “Dark World Dungeon” – 1:47
Most Prominent Aspect – The consistent tempo in the background keeping the entire track together

If not for the background tempo, I’d hate this track. As it stands however, I actually think this is the most atmospheric track in the game --- consistently anyway. It wins over everything else that the Sanctuary Dungeon managed to allude to, but fail with. The ‘empty’ spaces that it exposes are the best parts as well; they constantly let the player know that the downplayed rhythm is still speeding along in the background. It almost gives the illusion of always walking along a tightrope and looking down at those exact moments.

Track #21 – “Fortune Teller” – 0:51
Most Prominent Aspect – The scrambling & cacophonous tones.

This wins the award of being the most awkward and obscure track on the entire album. The first time I heard it, I immediately became annoyed and left the building. I was only about seven at the time, and that bitch of a clairvoyant never helped me, so this track was always white noise to me throwing profane insults at the screen. Replaying the game recently however, actually makes me enjoy this track much more. It creates those same empty spaces as mentioned in the previous track, but they’re much larger, composing the majority of the piece. When those really dissonant parts hit, they scramble the entire song in a very pleasant way. They then halt and let the player rest just long enough to hear it again.

Track #22 – “Princess Zelda Rescue” – 1:40
Most Prominent Aspect – The main Zelda theme

I always thought Zelda’s theme was the most prominent song to be mentioned out of all the recurring Zelda tracks. There’s always a serene sense of accomplishment in it. In Link to the Past’s rendition, there’s as a very distinct hum that kicks in about a minute in. It’s mainly due to the sound capabilities at the time, but it gives the song an almost unfair boost in richness. This track is not as ‘self-aware’ as all of its successors were, which by default makes it that much more quaint for its time.

Track #23 – “Crystal” – 0:44
Most Prominent Aspect – The echoing tones

The wind-chime esque melody that plays second fiddle here is just proof of the point I just made with Zelda’s Rescue. It’s really the same track as the previous one but the MPA is what makes it seem drastically different; it echoes behind the tempo of the melody and grounds it while floating upwards at the same time. It’s very sharp and avoids becoming obnoxious by having the chimes slightly waver as the song proceeds along. Despite the innate serenity of Zelda’s theme, this track makes it seem as if the entire leitmotif is wearing some sort of auditory armor.

Track #24 – “The Goddess Appears” – 1:00
Most Prominent Aspect – The soft tones in the background

This is yet another recurring theme, but it’s in the same family as Zelda’s theme. It’s almost the mediator between it and what it actually is --- the file select music. It’s basically just a rip of that song with a more individual intro. With a bit of context, this song transitions from simply being soothing to relaxing. The difference is how it punctuates and distinguishes itself form the long instances of adventuring and battling --- you know, all that Zelda is basically composed of.

Track #25 – “Priest” – 1:08
Most Prominent Aspect – The majority of the tempo

This is just Ganon’s theme. It moves very methodically through its tunes to convey something ominous and does it well. Given how synonymous this is with Ganondorf now, I’d actually say this is one of the better mixes. It doesn’t waste any time and there’s a slight cut off on some of the notes, making it a little more introductory towards signifying Ganon's presence (which is fitting for when the track actually plays).

Track #26 – “The Priest Transforms Into Ganon” – 0:06
Most Prominent Aspect – The duality of the track

This sound actually works really well for accompanying a transformation; it’s not too overdone, but still manages to get away with being slightly frightening over a six-second time frame.

Track #27 – “Ganon’s Message” – 1:11
Most Prominent Aspect – Three second intro

The intro is the only thing that separates this from being a carbon copy of ‘Priest’. Due to that intro however, it formally welcomes Ganon by resetting the track and going back to the ominous melody.

Track #28 – “Battle With Ganon” – 1:26
Most Prominent Aspect – The uncertainty of the main melody

As a final boss theme, this is not my favorite but it’s a track that I like the more I hear it It’s dynamic, rich, and it has the possessions necessary to last as a final encounter. The only flaw I’d place on it would be that the track doesn’t continually ascend. It seems to be built off the auditory premise of stepping forward then back. If the intensity of track’s latter high tones were increased just slightly, it would actually fit the progression of the music itself. Overall though, it comes off as being epic without containing one epic moment in it. I don’t know how it does that, but it managed it --- and without the flair of the regular boss theme either. That’s commendable to say the least.

Track #29 – “Triforce Chamber” – 1:35
Most Prominent Aspect – Everything after the five second introduction

If this theme had just one more inch of music added to it, I’d love it. As is, it’s just kind of soporific. It’s not bad by any means but it never capitalizes on everything that makes me like it in the first place. What it introduces, it abandons a second later and by the time there’s even a chance to make a difference, the track is over. All tied together, it’s definitely another one of those tracks that presents a serene sense of accomplishment. Since this piece signals the end of the game as well, it actually fits the bill in that fashion pretty well.

Track #30 – “Ending” – 7:45
Most Prominent Aspect – Everything that comes after the soft turn the track makes at the five minute mark.

This is a compilation piece that climbs through everything the game conveys while running the credits. They’re actually all original pieces that compose different strengths of various songs on the album. It’s filled to the brim with quite a few admirable portions (namely the soft areas), but my favorite stretch remains the last minute; the main overworld theme is drawn out to close and leads out of the game.

I never fell in love with Zelda games until Ocarina of Time and I think it shows with this. I never really got a lot of what made the SNES special for a lot of people. Even some of the greatest and most sensational games for it hit me in the side of the head and I never really stopped grimacing because of it. That said, A Link To the Past established the musical foundation for what made Zelda great in dozens of ways and I’m willing to respect it on those grounds with total submission --- no questions asked…or very few…kind of.

…fuck it…

The Artwork was taken from these sources:

LoZ: A Link to the Past Vector by ~TKmarioMaster
WIP Link fighting by *Adella
+ Paper Link and Dark Link + by ~hiyoko-chan
Link by ~TheMexicanSmeargle
Run Link Run by *leftyfro

~sLs~