Last night I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying my mother to the movie Baby Driver. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend it because it is an artful demonstration of just how great cinematic sound design can be. The whole movie was so catchy, incorporating music and sounds thematically alongside the action and drama in a way that made the entire film feel like a music video – in the best possible way. When I got back around midnight and needed to write a blog post, all I could think about was music and that got me thinking about a video game that I feel has similarly excellent sound design: Wind Waker.
This is actually a first for Adventure Rules in that I have never discussed music on the blog before, which is weird to think about. I love music! I grew up singing in choir, performed in musicals, took voice lessons in college, and make up songs about most of my daily tasks. My wife is not only an excellent singer but also a skilled instrumentalist – she’s got a lot of talent as a percussionist and basically taught herself to play ukelele. My son loves music and even at two years old sings all the time – he even sings the songs I make up, which is my favorite thing ever. Music is a daily part of my household, so the fact that as a game blogger I have ignored it until now is a weird oversight. I guess it’s because writing is a visual medium whereas music is auditory, so it’s a challenge to discuss music in a way where I feel I’m conveying my point effectively.
The Zelda series as a whole has plenty of incredible music, but Wind Waker takes things up a notch in my mind. It’s the first Zelda game I played where I felt like the music genuinely stirred up feelings such as adventurousness or fear. To really appreciate it, let’s hear some examples. Note: none of the videos I am about to link belong to me. Videos are property of the respective YouTubers, music is property of Nintendo, all that good stuff.
When you set out upon the Great Sea in your talking dragon-boat (that for some reason is the king of lions? I never got that as a kid), this song carries you to adventure. Hearing it now, I want to jump in a boat myself and sail the vastness of the ocean. There’s a persistent layer of music “underneath the surface,” so to speak, that feels urgent and gets my feet moving. The melody has an epic scope to it that calls to mind a feeling of vastness. These feelings work together to inspire me to explore vast, unknown places, and I love sailing to this song.
What I DON’T love is hearing this song out on the sea. The second that high pitched, eerie siren chorus starts, I enter panic mode. What is coming after me? Where is it coming from? All I know is there is a building sense of intensity as the JAWS-style bass plays underneath the surface of increasingly frantic wailing and more instrumentation builds throughout the song. I’m not shuddering, you’re shuddering.
Of course, sound design is more than music and there were plenty of other great choices in the sound design for this game. Remember these stupid things? I always referred to them as imps, but their official name is miniblins. Anyway, these little devils ruin your entire day by knocking you off of the higher parts of Forsaken Fortress just when you have managed to work your way to the top, and the only warning you get is their weird little chirping sound. As soon as I hear them I start swinging – or, more likely, pray they don’t knock me down from a tower as I’m carefully sidling along a wall.
The quirky side characters in the game also have great voices. My favorite is the guy running the battleship game on Windfall Island. Your goal is to find three squids of varying lengths hidden on a gameboard – if you hit a squid, you are rewarded with an enthusiastic “kaboom!” If you miss, the proprietor issues forth a dull “sploosh.” He also has different voices for the captain of the ship and for the children of the town that you manage to save. He’s a lot of fun to listen to!
The theme song of Wind Waker is really awesome in that it ties in elements from other songs within the game. Of course, you don’t realize that until you play it. But during your adventures with Medli and Makar, the two new sages who help revitalize the power of the Master Sword, you teach them songs that together make up the pieces of the theme song. Medli’s song, the Earth God’s Lyric, starts off the theme while Makar’s Wind God’s Aria follows after. I love when games incorporate musical themes that travel throughout the game and this was a really awesome way to do that.
Another great sound design choice in Wind Waker is how the flow of combat affects the music in the game. Specifically, whenever Link lands a blow, the music is suddenly punctuated in a way that compliments the song. I always loved training against Orca on Outset Island because of how could the sword attacks sounded within his theme. This feature creates an illusion of a live orchestra playing alongside the song, emphasizing the highs and lows of the battle with their music.
Of course, battle music is most important against a game’s final boss, and what is (in my opinion) the best version of Ganondorf is accompanied by what is (again, my opinion) the best music for a Ganondorf fight in the series. This song is powerful, grand, heart-thumping, with great instrumentation and vocal elements. The clashing of the Master Sword against the twin scimitars of the King of Evil makes it even better.
Of course, my favorite song in the entire game is actually the first song you hear when starting a new file. This tune plays over the introduction, accompanying the story of the Hero of Time and the fall of Hyrule to Ganon. I love how this song sounds – it accompanies the text perfectly and sets the mood for the game. The very beginning puts me in the mind of a Tolkien epic, and the moment where the familiar Legend of Zelda theme jumps in with the arrival of the hero of time lifts my spirits and calls me to adventure. The emotional lows of the song compliment the text and convey Hyrule’s despair beautifully. And the song ends off on a hopeful note before the game introduces us to the new hero who will bring an end to Ganondorf’s villainy.
That’s gonna be it for me, adventurers. But I’d love to hear from you! What is your favorite song in this game? Do you enjoy the sound design in Wind Waker? Let me know in the comments below, and also let me know if you’d be interested in seeing me cover the music of more games.