The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was originally released for the old, huge Game Boy back in 1993, but over the years it has quietly attained a reputation as one of the best games in a remarkably hallowed series. (Kotaku recently named it the second best in the series’ history.) Freed from the home console, the game’s designers created something looser, weirder, and denser than its predecessors, qualities that typically lead to a cult classic. Interestingly, they took inspiration from another early ’90s oddball hit, Twin Peaks.
A detailed piece on The Musical Narrative unpacks one of the keys to the game’s artistic success: its music. Created under the incredible constraints of the Game Boy’s sound chip, which only allowed four channels at once, the soundtrack riffs on a single, space-y theme that wouldn’t be out of place on a modern ambient or space-rock album. Despite the limits of the Game Boy, it was the first game in the series to feature different music for each dungeon, and author Jason M. Yu’s piece goes into great detail on how the variations on that theme mirror the game’s larger narrative. The key to these variations is the game’s use of tritone—a note interval that sounds evil and pops up often in metal—and something Yu calls “the Jaws effect,” which he defines as “using progressively shorter intervals of time between musical moments and increasing pitch to create a sense of looming danger, or that something is getting ‘closer.’”
While it’s pretty music theory-heavy, there are tons of playable examples of the music, all of which are great, and Yu makes sure to keep things understandable for the people who never got much further with music theory than reading Weezer tabs. It’s a thoughtful lens into a great game that is getting an increasingly fond critical reevaluation. You can read the whole thing here.