Legend of Zelda’s Breath of the Wild is a leap in Nintendo’s gaming that takes the franchise to a new and unexplored territory. The soundtrack is no different. With such a drastic departure from the main story’s epic sounds of adventure, the pick left differences of opinion on the soundtrack, ranging from people who are in love, to those who expressed outrage over the lack of core, memorable themes, and of course arguments among all sides about whether the soundtrack was good or not.
As I was playing the game I found the music to fit with the game, while still missing the franchise’s simple melodicism I loved growing up. One can say I have an understanding of both sides here.
Fans looking for the Breath of the Wild’s music to contain deep and simplistic melodicism were hard-pressed to find something. Heavy content to sway them through different senses of adventure were replaced with tranquil scenery. Fans expecting something different were disappointed about this soundtrack, claiming something was missing. The truth is, something, or rather someone, was missing, Koji Kondo.
I did some research behind the composers of this soundtrack and discovered that Koji Kondo, composer of pretty much all the most famous themes in the Legend of Zelda Franchise, was not involved in this installment of Legend of Zelda. Instead, the music was the work of Manaka Kataoka and Yasuaki Iwata. Both of them are incredibly talented composers who did wonders with the game’s music.
Now that we know they are different composers, we should know then that this is a different voice showing through, and we should give them the chance to deliver us something different. I personally love the work these two did for the game. I have never played a game that portrayed feelings of nostalgia, tranquility, and history in a way as complex as this game has.
What Does this Soundtrack Have to Offer?
I will not delve too deeply into the theory behind this soundtrack, others can analyze the specific tunes better than I can. Instead, I want to talk about Ma or the space between. Think of a Japanese sculpture garden, where a few rocks are spaced apart on an open field, and how that space of emptiness has meaning because of those rocks. Similar is the space between two notes on the Koto or the space between the words you speak. When aware of this space, it becomes tranquil while a heightened state of spirituality occurs. In this space, one is aware of every detail and in collecting the vastness of this empty space, realizing that this nothing is everything.
Playing through this game I couldn’t help but imagine if that’s what these composers had in mind. The tranquility of the forests and the beauty behind the landscapes explored alone. The lack of quests and a map which tells the landscape and nothing more. Areas of ruin you find in the vastness of the desert, certain to find something yet there’s nothing there. In most games, I’d be frustrated to find nothing, but in this game, I was so engulfed in the empty space of this world that I found the most value in these spaces of in-between.
Then, of course, one is delighted to come across whatever they find, whether it be Kass on his accordion or a stable, or even a village. The music fades in and out of its environment, like a rock in a sculpture garden. It serves no special purpose except to be.
Every location is based on earlier themes, including the little hits of the piano that may appear in the trance-like wind of the forest. The music itself was masterfully done, and it takes one through emotional rides which create the perfect picture for a story. The game’s an all-encompassing work of art.
As for why Koji Kondo wasn’t in the project, it helps to look at what else Nintendo was doing. The most obvious reason is that he was needed for Super Mario Odyssey, whose soundtrack is also incredible and does feature the melodicism that Kondo is so famous for. But Nintendo wanted to take Legend of Zelda on a new direction as well, and to change the composers, and let them take the themes of the franchise and put them into their own voices is perfect for creating that sense of newness to series.
Personally, I hope Koji Kondo comes back, but I’m also excited to see what more Kataoka and Iwata come up with, perhaps the three will be working together on the next game. While I don’t think the soundtrack could have been more perfect, I think it’s also good to make use of Koji Kondo, one of my favorite composers alive, while we can.