Music Analysis: The Legend of Zelda (NES)


The Legend of Zelda, released around 1986, was the first game of this legendary series. While the concept was simple, it set fire to the imaginations of an entire generation. The technology was crude, but the team managed to pull off an experience unlike any other.

One of the areas that should have suffered because of the crude technology was the sound. And while the 8-bit blips and bloops would be laughed at if they were featured in a game today, the were laced in with one of the most memorable soundtracks of videogame history.

Join Ice's Zelda Central as we go through this legendary soundtrack.

The Composer

The soundtrack to this game was composed by Nintendo legend Koji Kondo. Two of his most memorable themes are featured in this game, including the Overworld theme, which has become a staple of the Legend of Zelda series. While others games opted for songs that were simple in structure and composition, Koji Kondo's themes had breathtaking arpeggios and powerful, dynamic chord structures. When Nintendo hired him to do the soundtrack, they made a decision that would forever help define the sound of an entire genre.

Koji Kondo was also the man behind other such classic themes, such as the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. He stayed with Nintendo, and went on to compose the music for some of the most memorable games: games that defined decades and became hallmarks for entire generations.

The incredible themes featured in this game could not have been possible if not for this talented composer.

The Technology

The music of The Legend of Zelda is held back somewhat by the technological deficiences of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Featuring just a few channels of sound, the ability of the composer to orchestrate was incredibly limited. The arrangements had to be tight and simple.

Saw waves, Triangle waves, and a crude Noise channel make up the arsenal. Also, because of the limited amount of sound channels, whenever a sound effect was played, one of the sound channels had to drop out. Interestingly, the sound that most often drops out is that of the main melody, giving the player a look behind the music into the complex harmony structure.


The Zelda theme is probably one of the most recognizable videogame theme songs in history, second only to the Super Mario Bros. theme. Most people have logged more listening time to the main theme than to any song ever featured on the radio.

This soundtrack, simple in sound but complex and majestic in structure, is definitely a very important piece of Zelda history.