When I first started listening to this soundtrack, I was immediately struck by how easily it took me back to my childhood, even though I played through this game when I was in college. Granted, this is partly because the soundtrack tastefully incorporates some classic themes from older games in the series, but I think the 3D Legend of Zelda games have always cultivated a timeless sound. Many of my favorite contemporary video game soundtracks proudly pay homage to popular music and other video game soundtracks, but Twilight Princess’ grand melodies are more evocative of the cinema and classical music from the late romantic period.
Twilight Princess boasts a richly thematic score. The game’s main motif is fully stated for the first time in “Hyrule Field Main Theme” as per series tradition, but this main theme also contains two other motifs that weave throughout the score. The first of these two motifs generally tends to emerge during tender moments, and is beautifully expressed during “Escort’s Safe Arrival.” The second motif is essentially the game’s victory tune, and it occurs most memorably during boss battles. It is also particularly prominent in “Horseback Battle” and “Final Battle #4.” The main melody of “Midna’s Theme” also recurs throughout the game, and its transition into major key for “Midna’s Parting” is subtle but effective. Sometimes this thematic unity is reinforced with instrumentation instead of melodies. All tracks relating to the Zoras prominently feature guitar, and the tracks relating to Ordon Village and its inhabitants tend to feature woodwinds. The Twilight Realm tracks use minimalistic melodies and ambient synths to create a menacing and alien atmosphere. These tracks are so different from the rest of the score that they almost feel like they belong in a different game, which feels appropriate given their context. The original music in Twilight Princess is memorable and thoughtfully arranged, and it holds its own next to the series’ classic melodies.
And make no mistake, there are a lot of classic tunes on this soundtrack. We have had a few direct sequels within the Legend of Zelda Series, but the series’ greater chronology was never explicitly invoked in-game until Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. That sense of history is communicated in part by the music. One of my favorite examples is “Sacred Grove,” in which a lonely skull kid plays Saria’s song from Ocarina of Time. The originally happy melody sounds forlorn and sometimes menacing here; a distant echo of a forgotten past. “Rutela’s Theme” is an ethereal arrangement of the Serenade of Water, and the howling duets are essentially a collection of Link’s greatest hits from the Nintendo 64 era. I particularly love how fragments of the series’ main theme are sprinkled throughout the soundtrack, but the full melody doesn’t play until “Staff Credits Theme #1.” It’s a goosebumps-inducing moment, and it reinforces the idea that this is just one chapter in a grand multi-generational saga.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Twilight Princess’ brilliant rendition of “Hyrule Castle.” When the player finally gains entrance to the titular castle, it is occupied by Ganondorf (spoilers, I guess, but he’s right there on the cover…and this is The Legend of Zelda). At first, the track is a faithful and austere rendition of the classic Hyrule Castle theme, until it briefly digresses into the tail end of Ganondorf’s theme before the loop. As the player continues to make their way up the castle, Ganondorf’s theme becomes increasingly prominent, until it almost completely overwhelms the track. It’s a masterful bit of contextual scoring, and one of my favorite tracks in the game. Sadly, the version on this album starts at the mid-point of this transformation and does not show its full range, but it’s still an excellent track.
“Hyrule Castle” aside, the dungeon themes feel very sparse, being primarily composed of ambient sound and occasional snatches of music. They stand in stark contrast to the big sweeping melodies found throughout the rest of the soundtrack. I think this was a thematic decision on the composer’s part, as the relatively atonal music found within the dungeons emphasizes their hostile atmosphere, but the tracks are completely unmemorable on their own. Sadly, most of the boss battle tracks are forgettable as well, although there are a few notable outliers. “Zant Battle” sounds genuinely insane. It starts with a brooding melody layered over hyperactive percussion before folding in techno elements and references to other boss themes. Then it hits a couple of hard tonal shifts and propels itself toward a cacophonous finale. I wouldn’t recommend listening to it while you are driving, but it perfectly represents Zant’s madness. “Final Battle #4,” with its pounding drums and low brass, immediately assaults the listener with a primal intensity. It feels like a classic fantasy battle theme done to perfection.
Despite my effusive praise, I can only recommend this soundtrack with a few major caveats. There is a large amount of music here that simply does not stand up on its own, even if it’s perfectly effective in-game. Also, if you are not a Legend of Zelda fan and you are not familiar with its long musical history, then many of this soundtrack’s best moments will be completely lost on you. Even though I am a long-time fan of the series, it took me several listens to come to my current appreciation for this soundtrack. This is partly because some its greatest pleasures come from the thematic elements that weave it together, which is why large chunks of this review read more like a thematic analysis. It may not be immediately compelling, but time and familiarity reveal it to be a rich, complex, and emotionally resonant work. At times, it even manages to be exquisitely beautiful. As I said earlier, Twilight Princess feels anchored in cinematic musical traditions and, at its best, it holds its own among the greats of that genre.