Discover more from The Oscillator's Stone
A Hero's Homecoming: Metamodern Intertextuality and The Legend of Zelda
The Zelda franchise isn't all that metamodern--until you consider the music behind these two games.
I’ve been feeling some semblance of metamodern-ness as I’ve been indulging in my most recent hyperfocus: The Legend of Zelda video game franchise. It’s taken me a minute to figure out why.
I haven’t played all of the games——I’m more interested in the lore than accruing achievements——but the ones I have played don’t stand out as metamodern if I am only considering the gameplay or the plot. What makes these games special isn’t so much the lore as it is the fact that they are a unique blend of role-playing, strategy, and puzzle games. For those unfamiliar, you play as an Eternal Champion-style protagonist named Link who incarnates many times in various versions of a land called Hyrule, and you are the only one who can wield a magic sword against Evil Incarnate. You beat monsters and you save the princess. There’s nothing terribly metamodern about that…
…Until you consider the music.
Before I get into specifics, I’ll briefly explain the property behind this subtle twinge of metamodern sensibility. Intertextuality——the interweaving of contexts that happens when one work references another——can be done in a number of ways. You can say that intertextuality itself is an advent of the postmodern paradigm, as modernity’s notion of truth revolved around an idea of objectivity. In other words, a text was believed to be more authentic and reliable if it stood on its own. Postmodern intertextuality essentially exists to challenge that assumption; there is no such thing as anything that isn’t relative to other things. You could say that postmodern intertextuality is intertextuality for its own sake.
If postmodern intertextuality is a sobering cocktail, metamodern intertextuality is a cozy sweater weaved from a multitude of textures and colours, all of which are your favourite. It can evoke nostalgia, or make the viewer feel acknowledged in a special way. A lot of the jokes that have emerged from Tumblr’s “fandom” culture are like this——you had to “be there” to get the joke, and if you get it, you feel an overwhelming sense of belonging and connection not just to the people making the reference, but to the referenced works themselves——almost as if these works were created with you in mind. The following songs manage to do all of this and then some.
I’ll explain more as we get into the specifics, so read on to learn about five songs from a couple of Zelda games that contain metamodern intertextuality.
The Wind Waker
This game is weirdly controversial, but I think it’s great fun. The soundtrack is the perfect quirky, Celtic-inspired background music for exploring the high seas——be it virtually or otherwise. When a young boy from Outset Island’s sister is kidnapped by a giant bird, he takes to The Great Sea alongside a sassy pirate captain in order to free her and ends up having to face an evil wizard named Ganon.
The Wind Waker references a previous game, Ocarina of Time, in a way that makes uber-nerds unbearably emotional. If you’ve played Ocarina of Time, you know that this version of Link goes through some particularly grief-ridden trials, not least of all the tragic burden of being returned to a timeline where the catastrophe he saved the world from never happened and thusly no one remembers his heroism. In the Wind Waker’s timeline, however, this previous incarnation of Link is remembered and honoured through a coming-of-age ritual wherein boys are gifted their own version of his easily recognised green tunic and matching Phrygian cap.
But we aren’t here to spoil the game’s plot for you——we’re here to talk about the music. So, let’s get into it.
The main theme for The Wind Waker is the catchiest tune in the whole game, hands down. If the call-and-response between the violin and flute during the first part doesn’t make you want to dance, well, you’re probably boring. Towards the second part, things start to get pretty nostalgic as the flute’s accompaniment morphs into the iconic melody from the original Legend of Zelda from 1986. And as if that weren’t enough, the final movement incorporates part of the melody from “Zelda’s Lullaby,” a key song in Ocarina of Time as well as many other games.
“Main Theme” from The Wind Waker, by Hajime Wakai, Kenta Nagata & Toru Minegishi
The Original Main Theme reference happens at around 2:07 and the Zelda’s lullaby reference first happens at 3:00. TWW’s Main Theme also references some of the songs that are unique to the game itself, making it an interesting and playful little overture.
“Zelda’s Lullaby,” by Koji Kondo
What makes this last reference especially fun is that Princess Zelda is not even featured in the game (at least, not at first glance…). If you played Ocarina of Time or The Legend of Zelda for NES as a child, these homages are likely to feel extra special to you.
“The Legendary Hero”
This song really goes for it in terms of nostalgia. When you first start playing TWW, a storytelling sequence ensues, telling the story of the aforementioned Hero of Time. “The Legendary Hero” plays in the background as text and images reveal the story. What starts out as a tune all its own suddenly transforms into the original game’s Main Theme!
The original game is now almost 40, yet the composers over at Nintendo somehow still manage to keep The Main Theme fresh and interesting by incorporating it into the scores time and time again—-in a way that honours the players that have been with them since the very beginning.
The Legend of Zelda “Main Theme” by Koji Kondo
“The Legendary Hero” by Hajime Wakai et al.
The reference to the Original Main Theme happens at 0:52, but it feels more epic when you listen to the whole thing.
This catchy tune makes a reference to a less-often reused song from Ocarina of Time. The so-called Hero of Time from OoT hailed from a forest populated by the Kokiri, a race of eternal children that have not been featured in another game since OoT.
Toward the final bars of “Outset Island,” The flutes play the notes from the first part of Kondo’s “Kokiri Forest,” which is the theme that plays whenever you are in——you guessed it——the Kokiri Forest. If you know the fan theories surrounding what happened to the Kokiri in the Wind Waker’s timeline, this makes things even more emotional. If you don’t: the story of The Wind Waker is on one of three timelines in the series, in which a Great Flood washes over Hyrule, possibly wiping out the Kokiri (or forcing them to evolve into these adorable tree people, the Koroks).
“Kokiri Forest” by Koji Kondo
“Outset Island” by Hajime Wakai et al.
The reference to “Kokiri Forest” happens at 1:31.
Here’s another exciting reference to Kokiri Forest in TWW: the Koroks first appear in this game when Link enters the Forest Haven to speak with the Great Deku Tree (who is possibly descended from the Deku Sprout from Ocarina of Time). The music playing in the Forest Haven is almost like a “chillhop” version of “Kokiri Forest.” There couldn’t be more adequate support for the fan theory that the Kokiri from OoT evolved into these charming little guys!
“Forest Haven” by Hajime Wakai et al.
Let’s move on to the next game.
Breath of The Wild
An all too relatable narrative exploring apocalypse, uncontrollable technology, and the resurgence of hope in the aftermath of a gravely consequential failure, BotW is the franchise's most intertextual game to date. That is, there are a lot of previous games to draw from, and BotW has managed to draw from most of the big ones. The theme music for Rito Village is essentially a carbon copy of “Dragon Roost Island” from The Wind Waker, which was the first ever game to feature the birdlike Rito race. Additionally, the theme music for Zora’s Domain in BotW is a slowed-down version of the feel-good steel drum number from Ocarina of Time’s “Zora’s Domain.”
There is also a special feature you can add to the game by buying figurines called amiibo. When scanned, you can use these to access armour and artefacts from previous games——from the fierce deity mask in Majora’s Mask to Link’s quintessential tunic and cap as it appears in other games, such as Skyward Sword or Twilight Princess. There are plenty more easter eggs to be found for the diligent superfan, and at the end of this article, the curious enough can find links to some very thorough lists of all the easter eggs in BotW.
That aside, here are two musical examples of metamodern intertextuality in BotW that I find particularly striking:
Kass is a character in Breath of the Wild. He is a Rito bard, the source of a lot of important lore and a recurring quest giver who shows up at a number of stables which are scattered across Hyrule. When you come across Kass at a stable, he plays along to the “Stables” theme on a concertina. Interestingly, the melody he plays is “Epona’s Song,” otherwise known as the “Lon Lon Ranch” theme from Ocarina of Time. This results a special version of the “Stables” theme that you can only hear when you run into the bard; if Kass isn’t at the stable, the regular version of the theme not featuring the concertina part will play——making this easter egg all the more special.
“Stables” w/ Concertina, by Manaka Kataoka & Hajime Wakai
“Epona’s Song/Lon Lon Ranch” by Koji Kondo
I owe this one to Zeltik, an incredible youtuber who might know Zelda facts & lore better than even the creators themselves. It’s so incredibly subtle that I would never have found it on my own!
Fi is the spirit of the legendary Master Sword, a mythologically important weapon that has been featured in many of the games. She is first featured in Skyward Sword, which is essentially the franchise’s origin myth; it explains why Link, Zelda, and Ganon(dorf) keep showing up generation after generation in the first place.
Fi is essentially bound to the spirit of the hero, which means that the sword can only be wielded by Link, and she makes a distinct noise whenever she communicates to Link in Skyward Sword, sounding a bit like a recording of a robot’s voice playing in reverse.
During a flashback scene that details the pre-game events, Link nearly dies after nobly defending the princess, and she lies crumpled over him in sorrow. At this moment, the sword glows with its signature blue light and Fi’s unmistakable weird noise can be heard. “Zelda’s Awakening” plays softly in the background, and just as the sword glows, the song makes reference to “Fi’s Farewell Theme” ——letting us know that all hope is not yet lost.
“Fi’s Farewell Theme” by Hajime Wakai & Koji Kondo
“Zelda’s Awakening” by Manaka Kataoka & Hajime Wakai
The reference to Fi’s Theme doesn’t happen until about 1:45, but the whole song is great! Notice there’s a beautifully arranged choral reference to “Zelda’s Lullaby” as well, around 0:50, and a reference to the original Main Theme follows it just before the “Fi’s Theme” reference. Keep in mind that Link is dying in Zelda’s arms while all of this is happening. It’s so perfectly dramatic, I get chills every time!
The decision the composers made to weave all of these games together with subtle, yet noticeable acts of intertextuality is not what gives the franchise’s music it’s metamodern feel, in my opinion. Rather, it is the way they have done it, as well as the reasons I suspect why they have done it.
As if paying homage time and time again to the absolute legend that is Koji Kondo weren’t enough, these composers have done everything from reprising entire songs from previous games to subtly sliding in a phrase or two of the iconic Main Theme from the 80’s in order to pay homage to us, the player. Not only does the music add coherence to a franchise with a notoriously fragmented story arc, it grants a sense of belonging and familiarity that it’s players can perpetually return to.
Link is supposed to be the vessel for the “spirit of the hero” who incarnates time and time again, but it is the players that truly breathe life into him. As such, his story has evolved and come alive alongside many a generation. There is an unmistakable sense of homecoming that happens when a newer game pays homage to an old one, and that is where this sense of metamodern-ness is coming from. It’s more than just a wink and a nudge to the uber-nerds——in fact, I could almost swear that Nintendo’s composers are telling its patrons with each and every reference: thank you for playing, old friend.