Here’s a familiar sentence as of late: Link’s Awakening was one of the first Zelda games I ever played – yet it’s one that formed such a lasting impression it’s influenced how I’ve looked at every Zelda game since. Specifically, how the Zelda series treats music.
It’s not just that The Legend of Zelda series has rousing title music that is sung over and over throughout the last three decades by gamers and fans alike. It’s one of the few songs that transcend gaming, much like most people can sing the Mario theme even if they haven’t played a Mario game. Those rousing notes can get anyone’s blood pumping.
But one song has always stuck with me since I tackled the island of Koholint on a road trip as my family moved to Las Vegas back in the 90s. Huddled around the screen of my Game Boy, the Ballad of the Wind Fish was the soundtrack of that car ride. I thought it was so interesting to see music play a central role in an adventure game – something the series has always done.
Link’s Awakening’s core mission is to gather the Instrument of the Sirens and to wake the Wind Fish. This idea that musical instruments were the key to unlocking the end of the game was something so cool to me, especially as I was still hoping my parents would buy me a Saxophone to play when I got to Middle School (spoiler alert: they did – I still play twenty years later). As a result, a theme that started to permeate early on as I played the Zelda series growing up was that music had power.
I’m a huge Lord of the Rings nut (my Twitter handle is LOTRLore for good reason). The power of music in that secondary world is woven into the fabric of Tolkien’s creation – the world was literally created through the Music of the Ainur. Just like Arda, the power of music itself is woven into the fabric of Hyrule - or in Link's Awakening's case, Koholint Island. The Zelda series showcases the music has the power to wake legendary creatures, start storms, or turn back time.
I would find myself walking around out new house on Nellis AFB humming Marin’s Wind Fish ballad. In fact, when the Link’s Awakening Switch announcement was made, those three ascending notes were all I needed to hear to know I would be hooked again on the remake. It literally was the song of my childhood for a time.
It’s not just the way music is used as a plot device either – the subtle changes in the piano motifs in Breath of the Wild tell you a lot about what is going on around you. The overworld theme in A Link to the Past is literally the series theme – something Link’s Awakening also does to an extent, though albeit with a bit more clarinet at the outset in the latest version.
These recognizable themes ground the game with the rest of the series, connecting them with each other – but not just the music itself but Link’s connection with the music. In Link’s Awakening he is gathering the Siren’s Instruments. In Ocarina of Time his use of the eponymous Ocarina can start storms, change the time of day. The Song of Time finds its way from opening the Door of Time and down through the ages, giving Link the power to warp back to the first day in Majora’s Mask, and you even hear the leitmotif in Breath of the Wild some.
In Windwaker Link isn’t just playing a part of the music – as he holds the Wind Waker conductor’s baton, he’s creating the music.
As I’ve been playing through Link’s Awakening on the heels of the Switch release last week, I’m reminded of all these themes and call backs across the different games. I’m reminded how rooted the Zelda series is not just in its excellent theme, but the stories themselves are tied to the music itself. It plays an active role in virtually every Zelda game. The Ballad of the Wind Fish holds power like every song to come after in the Zelda series, and it’s a trend I hope we see continue as the series moves through its third decade.