The Legend of Zelda: 25 years of pioneering video game sound

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 25 years since the world first met Zelda. The high fantasy action adventure game, officially titled The Legend of Zelda but commonly referred to as just Zelda has become one of the most widely recognized and popular video games in the world. It is only fitting that the 25 anniversary of such an influential game be commemorated with a world premiere of another art form Zelda inspired.

Poem of the Adventurer, which features themes from The Adventures of Zelda, premiered at E3 in 2011. Martin Leung, the “Video Game Pianist”, performed Poem of the Adventurer before a live audience at the Nokia LA Live Theater as part of the Video Games Live concert. Leung is a soloist with the Video Games Live orchestra. Poem of the Adventurer was written for Martin by American Composer Michael Glenn Williams, who attended the premiere performance.

“Martin is a concert pianist, trained at Yale. Martin Leung is breaking new ground performing Poem of the Adventurer, music with the popular appeal of video game themes and classical virtuosic technique, ” said Michael Glenn Williams. “His performance was both artistic and full of bravado. He has a huge fan base, with millions of views on YouTube. It is thrilling to have Martin as an interpreter of my music.”

Martin Leung, Video Game Pianist
Martin Leung, Video Game Pianist

The Video Games Live orchestra tours live performance venues around the globe. Currently on hiatus until October, only three shows are scheduled in the U.S. this fall. Tickets for two of the U.S. performances, the first on 29 October, 2011 at CSBU – Coussoulis Arena in San Bernardino, CA and the second on 5 November, 2011, at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in Madison, WI are already on sale. The final U.S. performance of 2011 will be on 30 December at Abraveanel Hall in Salt Lake City, UT. The autumn’s first concert will be performed on 1 October at the National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After the Madison, WI concerts, the Video Games Live orchestra will spend December touring “down under” with performances scheduled for:

  • Vector Arena in Auckland, NZ (9 December)
  • Brisbane Convention in Brisbane, AU (11 December)
  • Plenary Theatre in Melbourne, AU (13 December)
  • Perth Convention Centre in Perth, AU (17 December)

The Video Games Live orchestra will also perform two concerts in Sydney, AU at the State Theatre on 15 and 16 December, 2011.

In addition, Michael Glenn Williams music is published by GWhiz Arts and Sciences so musicians wishing to perform Poem of the Adventurer may do so. Poem of the Adventurer was featured in the March/April edition of International Piano magazine.

Poem of the Adventurer is not the only orchestral or piano music associated with Zelda. Although early versions of the game were restricted to a few sounds, later games introduced more an more musical elements. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, the latest installment of the popular video game franchise from Nintendo is, according to comments made by developer Mahito Yokota in Iwata Asks, is “an eye-opening experience to how great video game music can be.”

In fact, The Legend of Zelda has always been something of a pioneer in video game music. Ocarina of Time, which debuted in 1998, was among the first, if not the first to introduce music motifs that changed with the game and the way in which the player was playing it.

“It is nothing special now, but as long as I can recal, no games before the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time switched seamlessly to the fight music when you were on an adventure and a fight scene began,” Yokota told Iwata Asks.

“When a fight started, the enemy motif would start. Then, when the fight was over, it would go back to the original music,” Yokota continued. “I thought the transition was really smooth and clean. The feeling of Plunging into adventure was so strong that — and I’m not saying this because I was not working for Nintendo at that time but —  I thought Ocarina of Time was a great masterpiece to me.”

If you haven’t listened to a video game, you are missing an integral part of the gaming experience. You’re also missing a wonderful music experience that goes far beyond the gaming system, landing in concert halls around the world.