To this day, Zelda games continue to take a highly musical approach to their sounds, each effect a little composition. It’s what makes the sounds so memorable and iconic! It also provides some excellent lessons in just how melodic you can be in your sound design.
Treasure 1 plays by itself for lots of pickups, like heart pieces and fairies. It’s a straightforward run up a 9th from F in the key of C Major, suggesting a IV-V progression.
Treasure 2 is added for more important pickups, like the sword or the bow. It adds ascending chromaticism in the lower voices to suggest something significant or revelatory, and it resolves to C Augmented instead of C Major, adding a mystical quality. The augmented mystique is expanded upon in Ocarina of Time, where “Treasure 1” is dropped and “Treasure 2” is preceded by a whole tone sequence.
(Note on the MIDI file – Treasure 2 has 2 channels. Channel 1 is a square wave and channel 2 is a triangle wave.)
This is one of my all time favorite video game phrases. It’s so damn mysterious! It starts by descending through G Harmonic Minor (the most mysterious of all the minors), and then changes direction with an equally mysterious bII augmented triad (Ab in this case). I just wanna solve more puzzles so I can hear it again!!
The first half covers a small interval in C Major and provides an almost noise-like low-frequency rumble. The second half expands to a much wider interval using only C and F#, a dissonant tritone. This sound’s all about creating a short burst of chaos, and I’ve always found it and the next sound super satisfying…
When an enemy’s killed, this plays simultaneously with the Hit Enemy sound. It seems kinda random at first glance, but if you start with the phrase below (which outlines a G# diminished 7th through chromatic motion)
and raise every other note by an octave, you get the game’s more exciting variation.
The high, warbly tone sounds metallic, perfect for a shield. Short notes in this range are often used to indicate that something was hit but not damaged.
This kind of sequence, featuring a chromatic motif descending by half step, is often used to suggest a downward spiral. Coltrane even did it in a piece called Spiral!
It matches the visual of poor Link spinning around when you fail and get his ass killed. There’s a break in the chromatic motion before the last three notes – the sound would work just fine without it, but it places the ending very clearly in E Major, giving a bit of hope and encouragement to the player to try again.