The Legend of Zelda is, without a doubt, my favorite gaming franchise ever. There are probably plenty of other titles that are smarter, deeper, or just as fun and engaging, but Zelda will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first serious introduction to video games.
So today, with yet another list singing its praises, I’m offering my top 20 favorite songs that ever came out of the series.
Note: Please forgive me if some of the audio clips are shoddy. Uploading to YouTube drastically reduces the quality.
20) “Guardians Awaken”, Skyward Sword
This track is great because it does exactly what it’s meant to, and it’s damn effective at it. “Guardians Awaken” juxtaposes with the more tranquil, almost soothing Silent Realm themes; adding to the suspense and anxiety as you race to gather all of the Sacred Tears before the Guardians awaken. When they do -especially if it was triggered by accidentally stepping in Waking Water or being spotted by a Watcher – a single strike from their swords is enough to send you all the way back to the beginning of the trial, no matter how close you may be to the end.
“Silent Realm Guardians” is loud, clashing, and metallic, banging in your ears and spurring you into panic, as you are hunted down by silent, unforgiving giants. Once you’ve heard this track, you don’t ever forget it, and once each Silent Realm trial is completed, you feel all the more accomplished for having successfully staved it off.
19) “Hyrule Field”, Ocarina of Time
Who doesn’t love this theme? It’s just so iconic!
I also love the (for the time) fairly subtle shift from major to minor when you are confronted by an enemy.
18) “Hytopia”, Triforce Heroes
The music of Triforce Heroes generally has a certain…je ne sais quoi about it. I particularly like the accordion parts in this theme for the main hub area. It’s classy, but fun at the same time.
17) “Tarm Ruins”, Oracle of Seasons
This track hasn’t aged the best, I must admit, but I still enjoy it. Especially in various remixed forms.
If I close my eyes (and hear past the chiptune element of it), it feels like I’m exploring an ancient forest, littered with walls, archways, and crumbling buildings from some lost civilization. That’s pretty much exactly what you are doing in-game anyway, so it fits. There’s really not much more I can say about it than that.
16) “Skyloft”, Skyward Sword
Hajime Wakai has written some truly breathtaking music for Skyward Sword, and it is further accentuated by the choice to use an actual orchestra in composing the game’s soundtrack.
The theme for the floating city of Skyloft is, as you might expect, light and airy. To me, it represents the peaceful, joyful existence of living in a sort of ivory tower; almost a Garden of Eden, of sorts, where people and animals work together in harmony. The world on the ground far below is not even a distant memory anymore, and only a few people in Skyloft still wonder about it in any way.
You hear the song throughout the game, but it also comprises a fair amount of your introduction to the world. Possible symbolism aside, it’s just very nice to listen to, and much like the “Hyrule Field” theme from Ocarina, it draws you in and provides an upbeat start to your adventure.
15) “Bazaar” and its variations, Skyward Sword
Same game, different tune.
The Skyloft bazaar is where you shop for weapons, supplies, and potions before heading down to Hyrule proper. It contains about 5 vendors (if you count the potion shop wife and husband as 1), and each has a unique variation of the bazaar theme that begins to play when you approach his or her area. I recommend listening to all of the shop tracks, even if you can’t play the actual game for whatever reason. Each iteration uses different instruments and sets itself to a different pace, conveying both the general bustle of the marketplace and the energy/personality of the vendor.
14) Original “Fire Temple” Theme, Ocarina of Time
I realize that this version was replaced due to its insensitive use of a core Muslim prayer, and I don’t mean to support appropriation or exploitation. However, I don’t believe that it was meant to be malicious or purposely disrespectful, and before people jump to condemn someone for ignorance, I think that the original intent of the action should count for something.
That said, I don’t know what Koji Kondo was actually trying to do at the time. Personally, as a kid, I thought that the original track was cool and interesting. Of all of the temples in Ocarina, the Fire Temple felt the most like somewhere people might actually go to offer prayers to the gods, and the theme was a major part of that interpretation. A sudden echoing, rhythmic chanting fades in and out throughout the track, making it seem like an ancient, spiritual place; one which has now been corrupted slightly by Ganondorf’s evil influence.
If this genuinely offended people, then I am glad that it was cut. Everyone deserves to enjoy this game without feeling like it’s insulting their religion. This was just my 2 cents, as a once ignorant white kid who later went on to love studying world religions in college. It confused me when I picked up a more recent copy of the game several years ago and the chanting was just gone, with no real explanation.
13) “Fire Sanctuary”, Skyward Sword
Here is a cool fire theme that is pretty cool and doesn’t offend anyone, as far as I know. The “Earth Temple” theme is decent too, but it didn’t get stuck in my ears like this one did.
12) “Inside the Great Deku Tree”, Ocarina of Time
The “Forest Temple” theme is probably better. It’s definitely creepier, to say the least, but “Inside the Great Deku Tree” is soothing and spacey. It really does feel like being inside something truly empty and gigantic, and I love using this as writing music when I’m trying to clear my mind and focus on something new.
11) “Stone Tower Temple”, Majora’s Mask
Foreboding, but not as in-your-face unsettling as the “Ikana Canyon” and “Ikana Graveyard” themes. To me, it feels like a hopeless, endless climb upward, and that’s not too far from my actual feelings whenever I try to make it up to the Stone Tower Temple. You just keep messing with switches and playing that godforsaken “Elegy of Emptiness” song, over and over and over…
It’s a fairly fitting prelude to a fantastically challenging Zelda dungeon, though. I used to try to play the base tune on my elementary school recorder.
10) “Farore’s Silent Realm”, Skyward Sword
I can’t remember what the exact instrument is during this track, but the closest I can describe is “if a tinkle and a clang had a baby, this is what it would sound like.” A glass cowbell, maybe? What kind of bells would forest spirits use, anyway?
I can already picture my audio engineer/high school band boyfriend ashamedly shaking his head at me for that one…
But this is my favorite of all of the Silent Realm songs. It is a simplistic, staccato rendition of the “Faron Woods” heme; calming, but also distinctly lonely and otherwordly. I like it a lot.
And, by instinctual association, its accompanying Silent Realm is the easiest and least stressful of all of the trials.
9) “The Great Sea”, Wind Waker
ADVENTURES ON THE HIGH SEAS! WOO-HOO!
Need I say more?
8) “Deku Palace”, Majora’s Mask
This theme feels like it’d be fun to dance to, and lucky for Link, his Deku form has a spin attack that is adorably twirly.
7) “Fi’s Theme”, Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword seems like it’s taking up most of the list, doesn’t it?
Fi is easily the most annoying companion character in the 3-D games, possibly even the entire series. She is essentially a robot who states the painfully obvious, telling you that you’re low on hearts or the likelihood of a bokoblin shocking you with an electric cattle prod right as he is swinging it at your face.
That said, her theme music is beautiful. I cried at the end of the story, which I won’t go into for the sake of spoilers. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who often has trouble completing games in a year (sometimes a few) or less.
Suffice it to say, “God damn it, but Fi made me feel!”
6) “Hyrule Castle”, Breath of the Wild
Here’s a new one.
Outside of the iconic Zelda retreads, the music in Breath of the Wild is nice if basic and repetitive at times. But this version of the conquered Hyrule Castle theme is a nice compromise of old and new, managing to be feel hopeless as well as looming and sinister. It even harkens back to Ganondorf’s organ-playing as you ascend the castle steps in Ocarina, but it doesn’t get louder as you approach the sanctum.
5) “Lake Hylia”, Twilight Princess
Such a beautiful instrumental. Lake Hylia is a big open space where you could just imagine sitting down and watching the clouds and the tide go by.
Incidentally, proportionally-speaking, Lake Hylia in Ocarina of Time should be a similar massive size as it is in Twilight Princess. Even though it looks much smaller (and is, compared to that later game), it does takes Link a while to swim across it; the rising and setting of the sun is what offers the illusion of largeness.
…Sorry. That’s just an annoying nitpick I hear from some fans. Either a day in Hyrule goes by really quickly, or the game makers did what they could with size and system limitations of the time, folks. The Nintendo 64 was still damn impressive.
4) “Kakariko Village”, Twilight Princess
This version of Kakariko’s theme has more character than it did in Ocarina of Time, and that is due to the addition of what I assume is an eagle-bone flute. Or something in that family, at least.
Renado, the village leader, and his daughter Luda have a distinctly Native American character design, and Kakariko resembles a town in the old west, complete with sparse vegetation and a faded earthy color scheme. The theme ties it all together, keeping a few recognizable chords intact but changing enough to fit the new set up. It’s very pretty, and definitely worthy of being one of my favorite songs in the series.
3) “Gerudo Valley”. Ocarina of Time
Did anyone else go out and learn about Mariachi music entirely because of this one song?
2) “Dragon Roost Island”, Wind Waker
What’s not to love about this one? It’s practically bursting with energy and fun!
The “Dragon Roost Island” theme is definitely a spiritual sibling of the “Gerudo Valley” theme. It is probably the closest another Zelda track has come to it, and I would even go so far as to argue that it surpasses “Gerudo Valley,” if only in sheer awesomeness.
I apologize if that was sacrilegious.
If Mexican music being applied to desert amazon women didn’t quite fit perfectly for you, this theme seems completely appropriate for the Rito, a seaside race of bird people who worship a giant dragon that sits atop their mountain. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, but it just works.
Don’t ask me why they all wear powdered wigs, though. I have no idea.
1) “Zora’s Domain” and ” The Serenade of Water”, every incarnation
Sorry to mush together two songs for the top spot, but they are both gorgeous, and they essentially go hand in hand, as common themes for the aquatic Zora people. If you don’t know what they are, how did you even get here? imagine a reversed-mermaid.
Or don’t, and just look below.
In the case of the latter song, I particularly love “Queen Rutela’s Theme” from Twilight Princess. It’s hauntingly beautiful, yet oddly comforting, much like the ghost herself.
The general “Zora’s Domain” song is what I most want to hear when I’m baking, writing, lounging, or swimming, for some reason. It just makes me happy to listen to it, and it definitely makes me think of water. It may not be as epic as something like “Dragon Roost” or “Gerudo Valley,” but it doesn’t have to be. It soothes the soul and cheers the heart.
*The images and sound clips used in this post do not belong to me. Please let me know if you notice any of the audio being missing or not working properly, and I’ll find another link.
What are your favorite Legend of Zelda tracks? And why?