Breath of the Wild composers on changing up Zelda’s music formula and much more
Wakai: With making the BGM we had many suggestions from the staff, such as one to do Kakariko village in a tradition Japanese style. The truth is that we originally had Kakariko village with completely different music, but we changed it to be in fitting with the atmosphere of the overall game. I remember it being a lot of hard work to express a distinctive image within the game world.
Kataoka: Also on the topic of the orchestra: from the start we discussed how you can have lots of really grand orchestral pieces, but by virtue of the fact they are all played by an orchestra, they have that similar sound.
Wakai: Even though we wanted to create an atmosphere, we still wanted this game to have its own distinctive feel.
Kataoka: For example, in the main theme we have instruments not often used, such as the Japanese bamboo flute or the ‘Erhu (Chinese flute)’, then for percussion we mixed in Taiko drums and Buddhist bells; and by using these instruments that are uncommon, I think we’ve managed to create a unique feeling. But actually the main theme was particularly difficult to create, and I had lots of discussions with Wakai about its composition.
Wakai: We were composing sometime in 2015 with an eye to showing it at E3. In the end, though, the announcement ended up taking a year longer.
Iwata: As it was left to sit for so long and then we composed it all in one go, it was nice to draw on so many different phrases from that extra time. Everyone wants their particular phrases to be the most listened to in the game.
Wakai: Not just with the main theme, but also because we were able to create so many of the Champions themes in advance, we were able to unify the whole thing more easily. Talking of the Champions, even today I have been playing around with melding the music for Prince Sidon and Mipha from the second DLC, exchanging some of the notes.
Iwata: Even now!
Wakai: I just had a sudden idea. Originally Sidon’s theme was made of a combination of scale Ti and Do (Sidon’s original Japanese name is Shido) and Mipha’s was a combination of Mi and Fa (original Japanese name: Mifa), but then for the song ‘Mipha and Sidon’ I created Sidon’s theme using the Mi and Fa scale, because I thought when you look through Sidon’s eyes, Mipha is the real hero.
Iwata: Originally we were like: Her name is Mipha, so we have to go with Mi and Fa! (Laughs) And because the need then arose to write Sidon’s theme, we thought now we’ve come this far we might as well use Ti and Do. Along with that Mipha and Sidon’s themes became entwined with the battle music for mythical beast Vah Ruta, because in the original game Link rides on Sidon’s back as he fights. But in the DLC it is Mipha who lets Sidon ride on her back, so we transposed some of the Ti and Do scales for Mi and Fa.
Kataoka: And then as the song continues some of those modulations are completely overturned.
Iwata: We were completely obsessed with that link between the names of the characters and the song. So while in the DLC demo the music is split between four Champions, I insisted that Mipha take the lead! (Laughs) Talking of the other Champion themes, I think the one I had most difficulty with was Revali. More so than now, at the start of composing, Revali was a character that I really couldn’t stand, and I ended up transmitting that distaste in his song. That’s when Wakai asked me to make the character more likable through music, but I was thinking at the time: ‘Even if you say that, making such a terrible character relatable is impossible’. (Laughs) I think I just about managed to create something that makes him likable, but I feel like it was a lot of work!
Wakai: For sure, if you don’t have that love for the character, it’s difficult.
Iwata: Yes, but I learned to love him. (Laughs)
Wakai: That feeling is not only necessary with music but with everything. And I think, if it is there, the work will be better received too.
Kataoka: Opposed to that, I think that Urbosa’s theme was the easiest.
Iwata: That’s true. We created that with the idea of it being elegant but also having that feel of the protective aunty looking out for others. With Daruk it was less about the melody and more about the arrangement, and we included a lot of the same instruments as the Goron town theme, such as the trombone and drums, to really bring out that notion of the Goron family. Even though Daruk has this line of distinction as a Champion, he is also one member of a family, so we wanted to make sure he had a feeling of calmness and composure. And then we used some string instruments that wouldn’t normally be associated with Gorons, which gave him a unique feel. We created the theme first, and then referenced the phrases in lots of different scenes.
Wakai: But we were careful not to put in those references all over the place without meaning. So when that phrase appears, I think there is a clear relevance that the player can be aware of.
Iwata: Right. The phrase for all of the Champions uniting – ‘Let’s go! Power of the Champions’ – is actually also used in the theme ‘What Happened a Hundred Years Ago’, and then we included it in the DLC2 track for the designation of the Champions: ‘The Holy Princess and the Five Champions’. There are times when you look back and see, despite what the supervisor wanted, that phrases like this had been sneakily inserted into other songs. (Laughs) For the Champion’s DLC we brought in Abe to play the second guitar. How did you feel being involved?
Abe: Because I was brought in part way (after the game was finished), I’m probably the one closest to having the perspective of a player. But whereas a player can listen to a song and think ‘wow this song is cool,’ from the moment I was part of the development I became more concerned about the arrangement and interplay between the songs.
Wakai: There was a lot of documentation left over from the major change to better blend the world battle music and that of the towns, and before I knew it Abe has read all of it. I was like: ‘how do you know these things?’ Was there any practical difficulty in creating the music?
Abe: Because the game was already there in a complete form my major feeling was: how can I add to this already completed product? First off I created the theme for the Champions’ Temple, which was really difficult. I was told new shrines had been made added all over the game world, so I combined lots of different songs and created a new one. I wanted a theme that was on a par with the ones already in the world, but I didn’t want it to be too similar, otherwise, what was the point? No matter how many I created, though, Wakai and the others just kind of said: ‘hmm…’
Abe: On top of that, I was asked to do the Motif for the ‘Champion’s Ballad’ track, so I ended up taking elements of that in order to make the theme for the ‘Champion’s Temple’. I actually think coming in for the DLC was a good experience for me.
Borrowing and Arranging
Wakai: I thought long and hard about incorporating old Zelda music into this game, but because I was always stuck on changing up the things people take for granted in Zelda games, the sound needed to be different from previous games. So as sound lead, I decided I would make use of those pieces that, from a subjective view, had the most impactful character.
Kataoka: Wakai made a rule that we shouldn’t rely on the cheap technique of re-using the music for easy fan-service points. So, rather than using a previous piece just because it was popular, he decided to use only things that fit with the mood and had relevance. He gave particular preference to the traditional overworld music, Ganon’s Theme and Zelda’s Theme, which have been included in Zelda games for a long time. Aside from those, though, he didn’t want to unnecessarily include old songs…and I think he had a tendency to try and hide them! (Laughs)
Wakai: No-one has even realised the one in Kakariko Village!
Wakai: There is a bit with a glockenspiel in the song – please listen to it carefully.
Iwata: As for other songs from the series, we were surprised how excited fans got when they realised they could speed up the ‘Temple of Time’ theme to hear it differently. More than trying to hide the theme, I was really just trying to find a way to include it in the game. Because the temple has fallen to ruin, it was important to me that the song represent some of that, and also that the theme not be too prominent and remain sparse. I would have been satisfied just for people to realist it was the same song, but I am really happy with the positive response.
Wakai: Within those older inclusions, there were also ones that did not come from the composer but came as requests from some of the scenario leads. So it isn’t just a case of my picking and choosing whatever songs I like! (Laughs)
Kataoka: In terms of those requests, one of the leads wrote the script for Link’s lost memories while he was repeatedly listening to Zelda’s theme, so he asked us if we could include it faintly during the memories. For me personally, when listening to Zelda’s theme I have the notion of her face and the scenery around, and because especially in this game there is that aspect of her finally awakening some of her powers, a lot of the staff have a real attachment to the song. Because of this, we tried our best to incorporate it into the game. We’d be delighted if players could think about the reason and meaning for each BGM song being included in for each part of the game.