The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an amazing game. It revolutionized the series by dragging it into an open-world, and it revolutionized open-worlds by making the experience all about discovery and instanced gameplay rather than just constant side quests and an overabundance of collectable items (though, admittedly, it has those too if you’re so inclined). It got rid of a lot of series staples, like a set of deep, long-lasting dungeons, exclusive items with each of those dungeons and a linear structure focused on progressing the story in a singular fashion. It also stepped back from the epic, beat-you-over-the-head music that the series has always been known for. For the next installment, it’s time to bring that style of music back.
Breath of the Wild’s music is poetic – minimalist piano trickles in and out of the speakers as Link traverses across Hyrule, picking up pace here and there, but always eliciting a childlike sense of wonder. Certain classic themes are played in this disconnected, arrhythmic style, like the Temple of Time theme, which echoes the old Song of Time melody from A Link to the Past and later Zelda titles. Other memorable tunes are similarly hidden within themes, like Zelda’s Lullaby sneakily tucked away in the Riding (Day) theme, which begins to play while on horseback. It’s fine to pay homage to iconic themes in this cryptic manner – in fact, it’s a fun Easter egg for fans to enjoy. But for future installments, a more overt approach to music might be the right call.
It’s worth noting that there are original songs scattered here and there throughout Breath of the Wild that fit the older in-your-face type of template. The main theme is rife with woodwinds and striking percussion, sweeping movements and an epic sense of delivery — it doesn’t touch the series’ main theme, but it’s a solid song and a good attempt by composers Manaka Kataoka and Yasuaki Iwata at trying to match the legendary Koji Kondo’s work with the series. Similarly, in the game’s second chunk of DLC, The Champions’ Ballad, the final boss Maz Koshia’s theme is exceptional and heart pounding. We dug into this track in an installment of Checking the Score and it’s worth hearing if you haven’t had the chance.
What it all comes down to is we want more of that. More major themes, not just in towns or for specific fights, but in dungeons and in the overworld. The minimalist approach to Breath of the Wild’s music was brilliant and perfectly fit the game. The Zelda team may very well recycle this approach with their next game, which will likely land on the Switch in a few years, and it’s reportedly going to be an open-world in a similar vein. That’s why the music needs to be different: Breath of the Wild did its thing, now the next game needs to make its own stamp on the gaming landscape. Heck, maybe bringing back a playable instrument like the Wind Waker or Ocarina of Time could help usher in proper ear-worms for the next game.
This new Zelda has a lot to live up to, and much like Majora’s Mask subverted expectations from The Ocarina of Time with aplomb, this sequel needs to take what we think a Breath of the Wild 2.0 will give us and turn it on its head. Music is one of the key ways to do this, and though this approach is much more difficult to implement in an open-world title, changing the tone of a game though music is an impactful strategy.
A classic soundtrack full of memorable, fully fleshed-out tunes isn’t the only major change we’d like to see in the next Zelda game. In fact, there’s a whole lot of things we’d love to experience with this highly anticipated sequel. Next month is Breath of the Wild’s (and therefore the Switch’s) one year anniversary and we’ll be releasing the second article in our “Dreaming of…” series for the occasion, this time dreaming of the next Zelda. If you can’t wait for a few more weeks, the first entry in this series, Dreaming of Resident Evil 8, is ready to fill your mind with all the horrific possibilities that franchise can take on next. The next Zelda game is sure to make an impression one way or another, and with the right music and development mindset, could even best Breath of the Wild – only time will tell.