July 14, 2024

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From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Youth Radio Project: What’s the most terrifying Zelda theme?

4 min read
Chadthelake analyzes the single most terrifying and stressful song he has ever heard. It's from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Chadthelake: My channel is Chadthelake. Please subscribe there or follow. So, it came from just a joke name that I came up with for Jackbox and then it stuck. Yeah, I’m Chad, but not like bro, like the lake in Africa.

[00:00:17] I don’t host on my YouTube a whole lot. Mostly you can find me over on Twitch (also Chadthelake).

[00:00:24] And normally I just play games on my channel, but I love Legend of Zelda.

[00:00:31] I can’t play it ‘cause I don’t own a capture card, so I’m going to analyze a bit of the music from it, that bit of music in particular being the single most terrifying and stressful song I have ever heard: The Guardian Theme from Breath of the Wild, and I’m sure just me saying that gave many people watching that—like they tried to parry.

[00:00:53] So the Guardian Theme covers the battle against one of the game’s sort of big, dangerous enemies, that being a guardian. Guardians are not threatening. They are big, they are clunky, they are easy to spot. They take ages to attack you.

[00:01:09] And even when they do, they deal a lot of damage, but it generally isn’t lethal if you’re any farther into the game than the very beginning. So why, pray tell, do they have such a reputation as one of the most terrifying run-for-your-life-type encounters in all of gaming? Their music!

[00:01:30] Most of the music in Breath of the Wild is very, very quiet, calm ambience—a few piano notes, maybe a slight violin bit—but most of it is extremely quiet. And the Guardian Theme completely subverts that by having an insane just mash on the piano as soon as it starts.

[00:02:08] That piano mash bit is also a distorted version of one of the small piano cues that can play while you’re running around.

[00:02:19] Same with the rest of its theme. That being, basically there’s bits throughout the theme that are distorted or discordant or off-key versions of overworld ambience, which gives the idea (and I did actually research some music theory specifically for this), which gives the idea that the game itself knows that this monster is unnatural and should not be there. And yet it is anyway. It plays with leitmotif in a really, really interesting way.

[00:02:53] The second thing I want to talk about is the percussion. Anyone who’s heard the theme knows the bulk of the music is the same piano bit over and over again, but the percussion on there is not actually any normal drum.

[00:03:21] It’s a metronome. And specifically, it’s a metronome that syncs up perfectly with the time it takes for the guardian to unleash its incredibly powerful attack. Once again, giving an idea that the music is a clock counting down to your demise.

[00:03:40] Then you get into the bridge, which is just good. I don’t have anything to say about it. It’s just fantastic. Listen to it.

[00:04:00] That shares some leitmotif with another area from a previous game, that being the Lanayru Desert from (The Legend of Zelda) Skyward Sword, which also had ancient robots as enemies / characters. It shares a leitmotif with that area, which is really, really interesting and has some really weird lore connotations.

[00:04:23] It also, while the rest of the music is the clock ticking, that bit has very, very subtly and very, very heavily distorted and edited clock chimes sliced into the music, which at least to me reads as, ‘Your time is now up, you’re done, the guardian’s going to kill you now.’

[00:04:47] Once again, I want to reiterate, it’s not going to. They’re not threatening. They’re really easy—you literally just need a tree and they can’t attack you.

[00:04:57] But otherwise their music makes every single part of your body feel: ‘Fight or flight. You are in imminent danger and you need to run.’

[00:05:09] And that, I think, is what makes them such a dangerous threat, is that the sound that plays when you encounter them turns off that logical, ‘I can fight this’ part of your brain. And it just puts you into a mode where you are pure survivalist and you can’t actually do anything to fight back against the very easy monster in front of you.

[00:05:33] Other Zelda games actually do that a lot—everything they can to tell you visually and audibly, ‘This is something you can’t fight,’ even though you absolutely can. Even the other iteration of the guardians in that series, they’re slow. They take a while to attack. Other than the one variant that just sucks.

[00:05:52] But their music and the environment, when you encounter them, like, the sky turns red and everything lights on fire and it puts you into fight-or-flight mode.

[00:06:01] The Little Nightmare series does that with its monsters a whole lot. It’s a horror game in the style of like an old Tim Burton film, like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride. It’s less of a clever trick because you actually legitimately cannot fight them; obviously in that game, the monsters are a lot more powerful. You have no means of defending yourself, but once again, the music throws so much sensory at you that you’re like, ‘I need to get out of here. It’s not worth it, I’m running.’

[00:06:31] Find me over on Twitch, Chadthelake.

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