In Defence of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Soundtrack | Game Score Fanfare

In Defence of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Soundtrack | Game Score Fanfare

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Zelda music is important. With a Lynel’s share of iconic game melodies,
Zelda soundtracks are hugely popular and deeply cherished by fans. Music often plays a role in the games’ stories
too, and there’s even a worldwide concert tour dedicated to the series. Whenever a new Zelda game is released, there
is an extraordinary expectation from fans for its music to be of a certain calibre and
sound a particular way: Epic and heroic, with rich, memorable melodies full of adventurous
spirit. So with 2017’s Breath of the Wild promising
a new way to experience Zelda and trailers boasting an exciting new score. Needless to say, the hype was high. While the game received no shortage of praise,
opinions on the soundtrack were a bit more divided. Breath of the Wild’s music wasn’t the
bombastic, adventurous score that we expected, instead it was gentle and quiet, at times
even silent. Many fans were disappointed, feeling it wasn’t
true to the established Zelda sound or spirit. I personally love Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack
and think it has lots of wonderful melodic gems hidden within it. But that’s beside the point, because the
role of a soundtrack is to score the emotion on the screen – if it has a nice, memorable
melody then that’s just a bonus. I don’t think Nintendo made the wrong decision
with Breath of the Wild’s music because it perfectly captures the emotion of the game,
and further than that, I don’t even think it sounds out of place within the series. I’d argue that even more famous than Zelda’s
sense of adventure is its wildly divergent tone. Music is so vital to the series because most
new Zelda games introduce a new version of Hyrule with its own history and character,
and the role of the music is to establish the unique mood of this world. So while Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time
may be heroic and adventurous, Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask are much more dark, mysterious
and dreadful. Then there’s the Wind Waker’s swashbuckling
score and the sweeping orchestral romance of Skyward Sword. These distinct musical approaches all help
to cast their respective game’s world and characters in entirely different lights. Compare this to one of Zelda’s closest relatives
Metroid, which has had creepy, atmospheric music from the very start and has barely strayed
from that style in the thirty years since. At least, successfully. It shouldn’t be surprising then that Breath
of the Wild sounds different to previous entries in the Zelda series. It may not be adventurous or even dark and
dangerous, but the music works just as well in establishing its unique setting.  
Most Zelda games will open with a relatively peaceful Hyrule being thrown into imminent
peril thanks to the rise of an evil power. It’s up to Link to prevent this from happening
and keep Hyrule safe. However in Breath of the Wild, the battle’s
already been fought. Ganon won and took over Hyrule, Link fell
into a deep sleep and it’s been this way for a hundred years. It’s a post-apocalyptic Hyrule, a broken
shadow of its former self. This is immediately made clear as the first
thing Link sees upon waking up and leaving his tomb is the dilapidated ruins of the Temple
of Time – still standing, but badly damaged. As you approach the destroyed building you’ll
occasionally hear this fragile piano separated by seconds of just silence. It might not be immediately obvious, but this
is actually the Song of Time from Ocarina, just stripped to the bone and played very
slowly and loosely. It’s almost like half the notes have been
pulled out of the music and we’re just left with this skeleton of the Temple of Time. The same is true for the Hyrule Field theme. It feels like the bones of something greater,
the damaged remnants of a once marvellous civilization. Combining the fragile piano with electronic
fragments in tracks like Sheikah Tower highlights the ruins of this ancient but technologically-advanced
world. The music taps into this broken version of
Hyrule that you’re exploring by almost sounding broken itself. A lot of the time though, you won’t even
hear any music at all – just the sound of the wilderness. Breath of the Wild embraces the quiet, because
silence is just as important as sound. Any intro to music class will teach about
John Cage’s 4’33”, a piece of music that is four and a half minutes of rests –
in other words, pure silence. 4’33” is a bit of a cheeky way of saying
that music isn’t just instruments playing notes and chords – it can be any noise you
want it to be, even the quiet stillness of your environment, if you were to just listen
to it. The silence of Breath of the Wild not only
lends itself to the game’s emotional tone, but serves functional purposes as well. For one, it prevents the themes from getting
repetitive and annoying across the dozens of hours you’ll spend traversing Hyrule’s
landscape. It also allows the music to better elevate
dramatic moments important to the story, such as Link’s memories revealed along the way,
or the Divine Beast dungeons. Sometimes though, these moments are much more
subtle. Storms are awful – you can’t climb, you
can’t see, you can’t build a fire so no resting or cooking food, you risk being struck
by lightning and you can’t use any metal items. Worst of all, unless you’re in a specific
area no music plays during a storm. But when the sun finally breaks through the
clouds and the storm subsides, the music will fade in to signal the return of safety.  
Other times the music will start playing for no apparent reason at all, scoring a nothing
moment like chopping down a tree or scaling a cliff face. To me this kind of harkens back to those bigger
moments, turning something menial into something meaningful. It’s a reminder that everything you do is
important and working towards your greater goal of defeating Ganon and restoring Hyrule
to its former glory. Silence also enables the music to pull you
closer to the world, making it feel smaller. Kass might be a single bird, but you can hear
his accordion in a greater area around him, drawing you towards him. It’s the same with the stables or villages
peppered throughout the map – the slow fade-in of the music guides you to them. Battles too, though this does sometimes have
the opposite effect. This gentle tugging of the ear can also be
felt in the music’s recording. Following the precedent set with Skyward Sword,
Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack is full of real, live-recorded instruments, adding
a nice physicality to the score. There’s a strong emphasis on solo performances,
creating an air of intimacy, and the timbre of some of these instruments, such as the
shakuhachi in the Kakariko Village theme, have a real airy and organic texture. If you listen carefully, you can sometimes
even hear the performer breathing. This pulls you closer to the music itself,
tuning your ear to its intricacies. It’s little touches like these that give
Breath of the Wild’s score its intimate feeling. All of this lends itself to an overarching
feeling of sorrow. The contemplative space found within the silence. The intimate and tender instrument solos. The damaged piano tracks, an instrument which
to me feels very introspective and melancholic. These three feelings – brokenness, intimacy
and sorrow – when combined, they result in burden. When you are deeply upset about something
that is wrong, you feel a personal weight of responsibility to make it right. This is presumably the burden that Link feels. 100 years ago he was Princess Zelda’s knight
in the fight against Ganon and he failed. While many of Hyrule’s citizens are optimistic
about Link’s return, others are angry and still blame him for what happened. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to
say that our silent protagonist probably blames himself too and feels a little ashamed.  
We do see this much more clearly in Zelda. It wasn’t so much Link’s responsibility
to protect Hyrule as much as it was the Princess’s. She was born with the burden of Hyrule placed
on her shoulders and dedicates her whole life trying to live up to this duty, but is unable
to achieve what is required of her. Zelda is haunted by her past failures and
resents her perceived inability to protect Hyrule. To me, Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about
having lofty adventures through a fantastic world – Link isn’t Bilbo Baggins leaving
the Shire for the sake of the adventure and Zelda isn’t a kidnapped Princess in need
of rescue; it’s a more personal tale of redemption, for Zelda, Link and Hyrule, steeped
in brokenness and failure, but with just a touch of hope. The music perfectly captures this emotional
core of the game, in a way that catchy earworms and rousing, heroic fanfares just can’t
do. Thank you to my Patreon family for actually
making this video possible. With their support I was able to purchase
a game capture card and make this video that I’ve wanted to for months. I am so incredibly grateful for the kindness
that is extended to me, it means so much. Super special thanks to my top-tier supporters:
Chris Chapman, Mike TK, Nanalew, David Shternberg, Gregarwolf, Jedrej Wilinski, PhantomMiG, Neil,
Bifbof, Kevin Rampf, Furtherproof, Luigi Piccoli, Fredi Garcia, Jared Williams, Darby Bohde,
Tabitha, Emma Smith and Jordan Hoxsie.

100 thoughts on “In Defence of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Soundtrack | Game Score Fanfare”

  1. Anyone that enjoys this video should really look up Brian Eno, and the music genre he helped to pioneer. Breath Of The Wild is FULL of music, it's just very quiet, and it's meant to be. It's called Ambient Music. It's supposed to be left on in the background, not focused on, but it it subtly can change your mood, even make you feel better or worse. Music is an amazing science as much as it is an art.

  2. I think BoTW soundtrack is underrated, Kokiri forest, Hyrule castle, Guardian theme and Kass’ theme are fantastic. Just to name a few.

  3. I think BoTW soundtrack is underrated, Kokiri forest, Hyrule castle, Guardian theme and Kass’ theme are fantastic. Just to name a few.

  4. The only criticism I have of Zelda Breath of the wild is the minimal dungeons to the explore ( you could count shrines but receiving the same reward every time, is like beating a dead horse) I also wish they fleshed out the world a bit more, I understand post-apocalyptic Hyrule was what they we’re going for, but I would rather it be brimming with NPCs filled with quests.

    This doesn’t detract from the fact that this may be one of my favourite Zelda games of all time. Absolute fantastic job by Nintendo and I would 100% recommend this game to anyone interested in the Zelda franchise.

  5. I am head over heals for this sound track. I’m barely a quarter through the game and I am so grateful I still have more ahead of me to discover. Wonderful video!

  6. The score was originally a disappointment to me, but I stopped feeling that way after thinking about it more. This video puts so much thought into how appropriate it is for this Zelda game in particular, so thank you for explaining it so eloquently!I also think that not having an overpowering over world score allows you to travel throughout the world more seamlessly. If it changed every time we transitioned into new scenery, that would be quite jarring.

  7. You make a convincing argument, probably the most convincing possible for BOTW's music. But I disagree. The lack of music made BOTW a worse game overall, so much so that I know friends of mine just listened to spotify to replace the lack of music while playing.

  8. I don't want to paint with too broad of a brush here, or sound douchey/conceited, but I feel like you have to have a really short attention span to dislike this game's music. You don't have to have a grand, sweeping overworld theme to have good music.

  9. I love the soundtrack of normal world exploration because it enhances that sense of wandering the wilderness

  10. BOTW's music just leaves room for the environment sound&feel. Environment is the main character almost all of the time.

  11. I really like how you put that thought at the end, that in BoTW Link isn't a hero saving the princess and following the same story we've known so far; in this story, he failed and is working toward redemption. It makes the game feel a lot more relatable and optimistic in my opinion.

  12. I never realised the fact that link probably felt ashamed to have failed to protect hyrul, this silent protagonist really does fit the description.

  13. You make a whole video about the soundtrack and NOT mention the Blood Moon theme? That has nothing to do with anything mentioned, that's just a total mind fuck!

  14. WOW! Why isn't there a love button? This video made me emotional. I love the music in breath of the wild and you have put my thoughts into words but even better.

  15. The only music I have problem with is the horseback riding piano piece which always reminds me of the Guardian battle music and I freak out 'cause I can't see where the enemy is. Other than that, I like the piece and quiet that lets me hear steps, weaponry making noise on Link's back, and nature. Since making less noise is an important skill when sneaking past enemies, the lack of intense music helps you hear how your movements sound.

  16. The feeling from going to a calm field while fetching apples to going into an infested castle with marching sounds telling you that "this is the shit" is fantastic.

  17. I'm so glad someone pointed that out !
    About Hyrule is now in ruins, and the music fits perfectly.
    I'd go even further in the analysis. Take Fallout's worlds, the ruins of civilization shows how slow things have become, and everything seems like an endless desert. What makes the genius of Fallout is it's music, the catchy songs about love and happy things that seem now long gone. This contrast between the world and the music is what marks anyone that plays.

    In Botw, the music will make you remember when you saw the temple for the first time. It will make you remember that last cutscene of link remembering.

    That's exactly what music can be used as in gaming, a way to mark your memory with emotions. The game becomes part of you through it's music.

    That's why you listen to Age of Empire's music, that's why you feel bad when you hear naruto soundtrack…

  18. When making considerations for comprehensive pieces of art like a video game or a movie I always reflect on the parallels between the visual, gameplay and musical facets. Botw In terms of gameplay is the definitive Zelda game. And in terms of visual style, while it’s definitely unique, it echoes zelda’s past with its character design and iconic location design. The temple of time is in ruins but not unrecognizable. So why do this with the music? Why turn the music into this unrecognizable cacophony somehow intended to evoke an emotional connection. And as the definitive Zelda, shouldn’t the main theme be definitive?? I understand your point about this open world and having a repeating theme for 40 minutes being monotonous but that’s been done to great success before. And your assertion that real instruments played by real people make this soundtrack organic and emotional is also a reach. This day in age, that’s basically what video game soundtracks are: played by real people on real instruments. That’s not that unique. The music of botw isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s definitely not great and it’s totally forgettable. I mean why else would you have to make a video defending it?

  19. BOTW music is meant to be a cut, quiet, and seemingly chopped up. With it being an open world, the music establishes that feeling of loneliness. Hyrule is destroyed, barren. Some parts are even a wasteland. It gives that idea that everything glorious is once gone. BOTW music in the open world enhances other things, like the patter of your running. The trots of your horse along the grass. The mood of BOTW is one of a kingdom once standing tall and proud turned to ruin. There is almost nothing left, and the music in the open world goes along with things like bugs flying away when you get close. But notice, as soon as you go to a town or something, there is immediately louder music, something that always stood out to me. I was really just putting my feelings down here, because honestly it makes me feel weird when people say BOTW’s soundtrack was one of the worst. Kass’s theme is one of my favorites. I remember just scaling mountainsides and hearing the piano go away and fade into the accordion in the distance, which would naturally make me look for Kass so i could get a new shrine quest. Breath of the Wild is very beautiful, in conclusion.

  20. whenever i hear the soft and quiet music from botw, i can fully imagine nothing, because that's what the overworld of botw is. it's just empty fields with ruins of things that used to mean more.

  21. This is one of the most insightful videos I’ve ever seen created for a video game — I’ve rewatched this multiple times! Incredible job!

  22. An interesting exploration of Zelda's main theme over the years:

  23. I just got this game. Yes I was very upset that after I left the great plateau there was still no world music. But as I kept playing I realized that there is a lot of things that aren't what we are used to seeing in the past Zelda games. Seeing Hyrule in the state it's in and meeting impa and learning the turn of events did hit a soft spot in my heart and I certainly felt more appreciation for the changes the developers made for this game. Watching this video also helped me see it all through a different perspective. I'm very excited to continue playing and seeing the story develop!!!


    Sorry that's my reaction when I heard how people wanting something more "bombastic" when they played this game. I personally feel that this design choice was fitting, and the music couldn't be more perfect for this game. Many memories attached to these pieces, despite their simplicity.

  25. It's obvious that an enormous amount of thought has gone into the music of this game, and i personally don't understand how anyone can critique it.

  26. See I've never played a Zelda game. Well until I played BOTW. The music while yes wasn't in your face all the time. It felt more as though it was apart of the ambient sounds. It felt sad yet and lost, which is what I think they were trying to convey. Everything is lost and in ruins and you can feel it through the music.

  27. i dont think its too far fetched to say that the music capture's link's own emotions about his surrounding area, too! when he's around more people like in villages or cities, the music is more lively and happy, and i think that link might feel the same way. in hyrule castle and in battles, it's almost scary music that kind of makes you feel intimidated/full of adrenaline, and in the temple of time, it's broken because link's own memories are broken, and he even might be trying to put some bits of his past together and ultimately failing.

  28. I don't get the "same song for 10 hours" defense of there being almost nothing in the overworld. There are many different environments not just the main 4 regions and the villages and castle. Even in elevation alone the game itself missed out on making them unique. Snowy mountain everywhere sounds the same. Could easily have the base region theme calm down or transition into a sparser colder version. There are many ways you could incorporate a traditional zelda soundtrack to fit the mood. zelda has the day night cycle replacing the day theme with nothing but environmental sounds which was put in place for the exact reason they defend the silence with. I appreciated night far more then than i did with the nothing in botw. It became the mundane so eventually it became the default overworld theme. Silence rarely by itself is enjoyed or sought after. Usually it's to relax after a busy day or because you've dealt with something noisy. With that end mind i think the silence would have worked for areas meant to make you reflect with how destroyed the area is. Or the mountaintops there being nothing but the sound of the wind. Ironically that wasn't the case in breath of the wild you got looping short song tail ended by a "TOK TOK" that drives me up the wall and ruins the isolation of a snowy mountain.

  29. Subtle music works better for open world games.

    Take Skyrim for example. It's musical score is amazing. But I can't stand it because it the same tracks play constantly and after 500 hours it's needless to say that the music volume slider stays at "0%". Any good song can become annoying if listened to for long enough periods of time.

    Zelda games have been mostly linear for 30 years now and the music reflects that. Their fantastical scores don't overstay their welcome.

  30. This pretty much summarises my feelings about the music in this game and I'm glad you were able to talk about that feeling of space, especially regarding the Temple of Time. As I'd never played a Zelda game with the Temple of Time present, I didn't know what to expect when I first went there. Even then, that assortment of piano notes had me nothing short of entranced and invested in what I saw to be a ruined world calling me to help it. There are a good few goddess statues outside of the Great Plateau and I knew how to get to the vast majority of them but I would always go back to the temple for my upgrades just to remind myself of the wonder I felt when I first played this game.

    When I actually learned what the music was based off of, the perspective changed massively and really emphasised how far gone this world really was. From a beautiful almost gregorian type chant to no voice at all and yet the spirit of Hyrule was still well and truly alive here, albeit very faint.

  31. Hearing how the music is just a broken, downtrodden version of Hyrule makes me wonder if it'd be possible to do a "Da Blob" version, where it starts broken and sad and slow, then evolves as the level is coloured/world is repaired and gets slowly more bright kind of like Mario Sunshine as you collect more shine sprites.

  32. It also just, you know, sounds great. Like, damn the OST sounds like something from a Ghibli film.

  33. I never will forget the first time I saw the dragon over the bridge. The soft and graceful Chinese-styled music as the dragons fly ahead (or if you're really unlucky like I was, while swimming up a waterfall. HEY, I found out a shrine was behind that waterfall… after I ran right into the dragon and lost health). It's my favorite track and sometimes I will just follow the dragons or watch them as if I'm bird-watching, something I like doing in real life. I think that's pretty memorable if you ask me.
    Breath of the Wild's soundtrack embraces that feeling of being outdoors in a world of emptiness. It's empty, but not fully. There's beauty all around.

  34. (me before the watching the whole video) i felt like the soundtrack was apropriate for the game given that it was after a battle that many lives were lost and after it the castle was taken, followed by greenery growing again and flourishing, like walking back out alone

  35. Fantastic video, great writing, commentary, visuals, and opinions! I agree with everything; you've made me look at botw in a completely different way

  36. Thing is if they had kept dungeons and dungeon themes then I would see your point but they all seem so samey and that takes some of the unique part of any zleda score. The only one fans love is the hyrule castle theme as that gives you a feeling of power. But the rest just make the divine beasts boring.

  37. I actually really like the minimalist approach they took with this ost. the oddness of stuff like the off kilter Guardian theme… it's so minimalist. just notes. literally. just notes. there's a melody but it's like it's barely hanging together through each note and beat. that's really cool. I can't think of anything like it.

  38. Whenever you see one of the dragons for the first time and the breathtaking music starts playing along with this beautiful creature flying around.

  39. Those who don't like the music didn't understand a thing of the game, so probably they'll also consider it a mediocre game. Nintendo took a path of the timeline that was never explored before and executed it to perfection. The "lack" of music it's just for your own sake, trust me, I've played this game for something of 350 hours and I almost got the "non-existing" music on my nerves. People who don't like it haven't even played the game for more than five seconds probably, since it's so rich that the soundtrack changes with every step.

  40. I love these video essays that go into BOTW’s music, I mean, I haven’t played the game but I’ve heard practically the entire score, and though I know most of the stuff that gets said, or have felt the same emotions. It’s the tiny detail and soothing voice of these kinda videos that make them particularly special

  41. I thought that the soundtrack was perfect for it what it was. The soft ambience of an empty kingdom, showing how the calamity could devastate all but nature. The music reflects that once there was something bigger, but it’s all gone now… and Hyrule Castle is, in my opinion, one of the most memorable tracks in the series, not only because of the song itself, but also the contrast between the outdoor and indoor themes that show hope and despair in equal measure. I personally think that BotW’s sound direction was the best in the series.


  43. BOTW has the best and most fitting soundtrack since Majora's Mask.
    To me, Skyward Sword has the less memorable and most stale of them all.

  44. The fact you needed to make a video in defense of the soundtrack makes me really sad. I feel like the people who criticized the soundtrack were a collective hive mind that completely missed the entire fucking point of the soundtrack in the first place. I pity them all.

  45. it goes even more than that, 
    because each champion has their own theme that only plays after you defeat the blights and encounter the memories,
    you feel some sort of nostalgia if you here it again, like they were some friends you knew and was great seeing them again.
    At least that's how i felt when i listened to the concert performance.

  46. This is by far my favorite Zelda soundtrack. It's massive and the tracks in it are incredible. The lonely piano is beautiful too. I grabbed the soundtrack and enjoy the music because I didn't feel like any of the themes were overplayed.

  47. You know nothing if you think the music in this game is good. the game itself is just a boring open world full of emptiness with horrible game changing mechanics.

  48. I hope BOTW 2 uses this technique like its predecessor, seeing as how it will most likely take place within ancient ruins.

  49. The only thing that sucks is the shrine music and how repetitive it is yea lost woods is repititve but at least its good

  50. There may not be loud or especially epic music in BotW, but when you line up all the titles and variations of themes, there’s actually a lot of music in this game. The world is so vast, that there’s music/music fragments and themes for everywhere and everything. My personal favorite theme has to be the shiekah tower theme. It’s somewhat forlorn, and takes my mind beyond the land. It takes me to a place where empty space seems like more than what is around me, and there’s an evident and subtle balance in the way they used the instruments to carry that feeling as Link stands at the bottom, readying himself for the climb, or stands atop looking out over the land that once was the flourishing kingdom of Hyrule, now only a shadow of its former self.

  51. People who like this score would enjoy In A Landscape and Dream by John Cage. Beautiful ambient piano music

  52. Okay but can we just talk about how good the Divine Beasts Themes are? When I first started the game I expected them to have an epic score that would mirror the action of taking on a gigantic robot animal. Instead we have strange almost alien sounding tracks. And thats perfect. Each of the tracks start out creepy and uncanny. They're heavy and leak this certain feeling of failure and redemption. These are the placed where your friends died because you failed. Then the fact that all of them have SOS and SAD morse codes embedded into their tracks with Revali's hesistence to activate it even mirroring his personality. And if we think about the fact that the Sheikah slate is the only device that can receive their morse code it makes it even worse. Anyway the best of the four tracks has to be Mipha's. We can assume that many people did her Divine beast first so the Track starts of soft and smooth. The calm sound of the piano reflects the water aspects and makes us feel as though we already tamed this beast. But then BOOM. Like a lightswitch as soon as you activate the first terminal the music switches. Gone is the calm piano replaced by a high music box and a darker more aggressive piano. It sounds dark and sad. Like you've made a horrible mistake and start to remember it. The other themes get more pumped and hopeful the more terminals you activate but Mipha's just gets darker and darker. Even the SOS which before was soft, barely hearable suddenly BURSTS into the track frantic and helpless.

  53. nah, the "music" sucks, is not music just sound effect, if you want to go minimalistic is ok but not completely quiet, my best example is assassins creed for minimalistic, when you are fucking around the cities you dont hear music, but something you hear little music 20 seconds long at much, and the tone of the musci changes depending where you are and what is happening in the story, the more you progress the story and beat the templars the music is cheerfull, so bad execution in zelda too boring, special case to the battle music when you encounter enemies, fuck im strugling, could die in any moment but the music doesnt reflect that, is just an anyoing tune, fuck.

    by the way who is narrating, a femenine man or a masculine woman?

  54. I disagree entirely. I had over 100 hours into Skyrim and still am in love with its soundtrack. The best game I've ever played bc it was able to truly immerse you into just about every fabric of the game. Skyrim was an experience not just a game. Zelda is great. If there was a game capable of music for the whole journey it would be Zelda.

  55. I love this video, and I'm not suggesting it's music be anything but what it is. I'm placing this here simply to give this guy some followers, because he is just getting going:

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