The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack is a far cry from what we’re used to hearing in the series, a fact which makes its ambient beauty even more enjoyable.
The music of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild generally evokes one of two responses: either it’s subtle enough that you don’t actively notice its passive effects on your emotions as you trot across Hyrule, or you’re waving one arm at the screen in delight while yelling, “THIS GAME!!!” I confess that the latter happened a lot to me, and for more reasons than just the music. But either way, this soundtrack is amazing.
Composer Manaka Kataoka was relatively unknown before her work on Breath of the Wild. She did work on the original Wii Fit, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, and Animal Crossing: City Folk and New Leaf. Breath of the Wild is clearly a new animal, though her prior work shines through at times with a more calming, mysterious influence than the epic, dramatic sounds of past titles. The music heavily uses piano and strings, and frequently deviates from “expected” melodies we’ve come to rely on from the series in favor of far more subtle nods to past games among entirely new tunes.
I’ve compiled a very, very small handful of my favorites from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for your listening enjoyment, but really, you should just listen to the entire soundtrack when you get a chance.
There are tons of little ambient piano tunes throughout Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, so I tried to narrow it down to just one. These quiet little pieces usually play in the background as you explore the open world. There’s no trumpet fanfare for Link; no epic hero charging off into battle. Instead, Hyrule is blanketed in a strange peace and tranquility for a world that’s about to be completely destroyed by a force of pure evil.
“Ruins” is first heard fairly early in the game, likely while you’re still on the Great Plateau just getting your bearings and piecing together what has happened in Hyrule. This track floats a light, high, whimsical piano melody punctuated by a deeper, more insistent nudge from the lower half of the keyboard. When you throw in the sound effects such as birds chirping, the wind, and the sound of footsteps on stone, you quickly get a sense that wherever you are is mysterious, old, and full of some meaning you can’t quite grasp.
The song that plays at every one of the Sheikah Towers recalls the Shrine theme, but while those give the impression of descending to an ancient depth, the Sheikah Towers by nature must convey great heights and open, airy places. You can hear each note floating off into the distance as it’s played, making this track highly effective the higher you climb. Then there’s the occasional tech/synthesizer whisper, calling to mind the influence of the Sheikah and the realization that this tower you are climbing is not a new thing, even if it just burst from the ground a short time ago. It is older than anything else in the world of Hyrule, yet still familiar to the reincarnated soul of the hero that climbs it.
Stepping away from solemnity momentarily, here is Prince Sidon, our favorite fish boyfriend and easily one of the best characters in the game. There aren’t very many straight-up character themes in the game, but Sidon is introduced with this smooth, sweet tune that’s only enhanced in feeling when he flashes his charismatic smile and gives us a word of encouragement. There’s even a hint of sadness in that flute melody, implying that even though Sidon doesn’t show it, he’s been through his own share of struggle in losing his older sister and watching his people suffer under the recent heavy rains. This positive, slow, but heartfelt tune is perfect for the oceanic prince of our dreams. 10/10: would marry him and play this song at the wedding.
It’s night. You’re just reaching the top of the mountain when suddenly, you hear this music with its solitary eastern string melody slide in. You look up and there, just in front of the moon, is a gorgeous, snake-like dragon drifting alone through the starry sky. It’s truly a sight to behold, and this music appropriately fleshes out the scene with the feelings of awe and wonder one would be swept up in during such an encounter.
We never really find out much about the dragons in Breath of the Wild–only that they are divine servants, neutral in their affairs, and far too powerful for a human to make much of a dent in should one choose to pick a fight. They maintain an aura of mystery throughout the game so that even with maxed out hearts, the best equipment, and a finished map, a dragon encounter still inspires you to stop and watch with wide-eyed wonder as it passes.
To take another break from beauty and awe, Frontier Village (or Tarrey Town) is an interesting little area where you gradually recruit folks from all over the world to come and build a village. The soundtrack there starts off simple, but the more people show up, the more layers are added. This is the final product, a sort of jazzy and peaceful little town tune with horn, strings, oboe, and all the trappings from each of the four races that populate the little village. Frontier Village is one of the handful of tracks that directly brings to mind Manaka Kataoka’s work on Animal Crossing. Far removed from the cares of Hyrule proper, Tarrey Town serves as a pleasant little respite from Link’s harrowing quest.
Back to the darker side of the soundtrack, this is one of the few spots in the game where you hear the main Legend of Zelda theme. The introduction of it at such a crucial time is pertinent, especially as a melody sharing your ear-space with one of the few true remixes of an old theme in the game: the Hyrule Castle theme. The two ditch the gentle piano of the overworld for organ, chimes, and full orchestra sounds to create a feeling both of finality, but also of returning at last to something familiar. You’re meant to recognize the Hyrule Castle themes just as its corridors are meant to cause a feeling of nostalgia as you climb–just like Link would, as he returns to the place where he lived most of his life and spent so many of his lost memories.
Warning: The final track is full of musical spoilers! Listen and read on at your own risk.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has plenty of powerful boss themes, but none quite so grand as its finale. You’re dropped at the last into Hyrule Field, one of the most iconic locations in the series, with your trusty horse and the Light Arrows that you always finish a Zelda game with. Yet in spite of all this familiarity, the music itself is the Breath of the Wild theme: a theme you’ve never heard in its entirety in-game before! I love this moment and this piece because it seems to represent a unification of the old and new of the series, as well as the final moment of unity between Link and Zelda themselves. It brings everything you’ve done up until now together in one epic, desperate final strike at the persistent enemy who caused it all.