The Two Different Types of Zelda Games: a Theory!

It’s the beginning of the work week and you probably want to stick your head in a deep-fryer, but have I got something for you – it’s time for another Zelda article! But wait wait hold on – this time it’s more a fan theory type of thing, or at least, something that I’ve come to realize. So don’t scurry away if you haven’t played Breath of the Wild – this is spoiler free, and doesn’t even talk about the game much at all. Let’s get to it!


I’ve just hit around 50 hours in Breath of the Wild, and as I was playing, I was thinking about the little things about it that bother me. It’s funny how, no matter how much we human beings find something enjoyable, when we are exposed to it for a long time, we tend to find flaws in it eventually. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re very keen observers. Anyway, this is one of those cases, and I know I’m not alone here. I’d like to save specifics for Breath of the Wild for another article, but in pondering the subject and comparing it to other games in the series, I asked myself a few questions:

  1. If I was to re-play a Zelda game after Breath of the Wild, which would it be? Ocarina of Time 3D: Master Quest
  2. If the next game had to be either open world, or more linear, which would I prefer? Linear
  3. What do I miss most about the changes to Breath of the Wild? The presence of a bigger soundtrack

That last one stuck with me, and got me to thinking even harder – I’ve played every Zelda since Link to the Past, and it became very apparent that each Zelda game tends to bounce back and forth between the central tone, and it’s never more obvious than with the soundtrack. Hold on folks, cause I got a theory about something!

You can categorize practically every Zelda game into one of two sides: cheerful or solemn. It’s a question of the overall tone, and it’s usually very apparent early on in the game, but throughout the game, the subjects are light-hearted, or very dark and ominous.

For example, cheerful games:

  • Oracle of Ages/Seasons
  • Ocarina of Time
  • Minish Cap
  • Four Swords Adventures
  • Wind Waker

And here’s what I consider the solemn games:

  • Link to the Past
  • Link’s Awakening
  • Majora’s Mask
  • Twilight Princess
  • Breath of the Wild

The solemn games have something in common: there are many negative and scary undertones. These games may not only be one tone for the duration of the entire game, but overall, you can categorize most of them in this way.

One of the biggest conveyors of tone with The Legend of Zelda is the soundtrack. This is what so clearly made Breath of the Wild feel like a bleak game for me. Of course, this is not inherently a bad thing. The music must match what’s going on in-game. I mean, could you imagine Ocarina of Time’s Kakariko Village music playing in Breath of the Wild? Talk about a bad clash.

For an example of how different two games can be using only music, listen to these two tracks, one from Ocarina of Time, the other from Majora’s Mask. Two games that were released right after another, using the same engine. Both of these tracks are the open field music in their respective titles. You only need to listen to the first ~25 seconds of each to see what I mean.

They both start off exactly the same way, but around 0:16 into each video, they go off on totally different directions. In Ocarina of Time, the music is positive, full of promise, and ready to tell us a story of the Hero of Time saving the world yet again, as he leaves Kokori Forest and heads for Hyrule Castle! Sure the game has its moments of darkness (ahem.. Bottom of the Well..) but overall, the game is full of cheery moments.

However, with Majora’s Mask, our ears are treated to something entirely different. There is something about the music that’s more than a little off-putting. It’s ominous, bleak, and makes me nervous just hearing it, and that’s when you start to realize the horror that is Link’s reality in the game: he’s stuck in a Groundhog Day situation and is constantly reminded of impending doom. This is not a happy game by any means, and this is just one example.

For another big contrast, let’s look at two different console installments, released one after the other (excluding Four Swords), The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. The title screens by themselves spell out entirely different adventures you’re about to embark on.

Pretty cheery, right? Conjures up images of sailing the seven seas, meeting cool bird people, and generally having a grand, cel-shaded time. Then, there’s Twilight Princess.

Personally, I’d rank Twilight Princess as one of if not the darkest Zelda games out there. It’s also one of my favorite games in the series! Go figure. Of course, there are plenty of signature happy moments in the game, generally by way of tracks that already existed in the series, and let me tell you, they are necessary to balance out the otherwise very bleak world of Twilight Princess.

There’s plenty more examples, just look up any soundtrack listed up there and I’m sure you can find plenty. Nintendo has been going back and forth with the cheerful/solemn style since Link to the Past, and personally I hope that in the next installment they can return to the silly and fun Zelda formula.

Do you have a particular preference against one of the types of Zelda game? Would you describe Breath of the Wild as a solemn game? Are you looking forward to a return to the happy cheery Zelda world? Let me know in the comments!

5 thoughts on “The Two Different Types of Zelda Games: a Theory!

  1. Pingback: The Breath of the Wild Critique – The Reflection Phase (part 4/4) – nostalgia trigger

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  3. Imtiaz Ahmed

    I personally find yes BOTW is very quiet game, but when there is music, it’s very catchy. The music Mass and other bird characters play on their accordians I can’t get out of my head. There’s also a nice jingle or something that plays when you are galloping at full speed on your horse. It has subtle hints of the main Zelda theme. I find BOTW to be a re-imagining or rediscovery of Link or Zelda as a whole, so I find it fitting it’s quiet because the themes have yet to realize themselves. Again with the music that comes up when galloping on your horse helps remind you are headed in the right path to realize your true destiny. It’s as if the games saying you’re almost there just a little more! I find it beautiful really.

    I do find BOTW solemn because Hyrule has constant reminders of the calamity brought to the world by Ganon, and it’s riddled with death.

    I do find the cheery Zelda games have their place and would love for another one. Seeing cute little Links huge eyes for the first time and all the different facial expressions that brought was so charming, and I thought his grandma was adorable!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One thing I agree with you about is playing Ocarina of Time after finishing up Breath of The Wild. As much as I love Breath of The Wild I don’t think it’s better than Ocarina of Time. Is that nostalgia? It could be :), but that game did everything right in my opinion. The story, characters, gameplay, and soundtrack was amazing. I need to get the 3DS version.

    If Nintendo can build another open world game as well as they did Breath of The Wild I would have no problem if they made the next Zelda game open world. I just want them to bring back my longshot and I’ll be one happy camper :).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s interesting that you bring up the music, as that’s often missed as one of the most important features in creation of atmosphere.
    In fact, in many cases the lack of music can create an atmosphere. If your ears have been used to music and sounds (even if you haven’t noticed them) throughout the experience, their sudden absence can create an unsettling feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

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