Sometimes, all you want to do at the end of the day is go back to a time when you had no commitments, responsibilities, or anal retentive professors breathing down your neck (Grrr). For me, this usually means dusting off the ole gaming systems and going back in time to the early 90's when I was just a kid. Mom listened to me plead for an SNES or Sega System but only had enough money to buy a used NES and a few of the classics. I was disappointed at the time, but now I make sure to thank her whenever I remember how much geek cred owning one has gotten me. I'll give you a hint: It's a LOT of 'cred'.

As I was saying, the moment I slide that cartridge into the slot I'm 7 years old again and saving Princess Zelda or getting pissed off that Princess Peach is in another castle. But what brings me back more than the familiar story or gameplay is the music that accompanied the game. When compared to the music you hear in modern games it might not sound like much, but not only has it become legendary within the gaming community, it's become an iconic part of pop culture. Play the Super Mario theme for literally anyone and they'll tell you what it is at the drop of a hat or say 'That's the song about that plumber dude, right?'
Mario aka 'Plumber Dude'
It would seem that the composers realized how much of an important their work has been to gamers because the familiar themes have never really gone away. Over the years we've seen many new versions of the 'ground zero' games and while the soundtrack has been packed with new content, the melodies we've come to know and love keep coming back and sound better each and every time.

Here's the thing, out of all of the games that qualify I would have to choose the Zelda series as my top soundtrack. It's a super hard decision, but to me Zelda stands apart because it has evolved in such a way that it's become an entity standing apart from the game. This is especially apparent when you listen to the 25th Anniversary Special Orchestra CD. For the fan who's played every game in the series it evokes all the images and memories of their experiences, but for the casual bystander it may be the soundtrack to a film or an industrious television show. Some pieces may have even been written by classical composers, who are they to know? The songs convey the whimsy, adventure, and magic that the Zelda series is all about.
For the especially nerdy fans (aka Me) there's even more to appreciate about each new soundtrack hiding just below the surface.

In The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (one of my all-time favorites), we explore an alternate timeline in the Zelda universe where after the events of the classic installment 'Ocarina of Time' the Gods have saved the world from evil by flooding everything so that there are now nothing but islands everywhere. When you sail across the vast seas instead of riding across plains or fields, like you would have in previous titles, you get a particular 'Pirates of the Caribbean' feel to the adventures and the music reflects this. But amongst the new and beautiful compositions you can hear little nods to the original games and locations featured in them.

In Wind Waker, Outset Island is the home of the hero of the story (An incarnation of Link) and if you listen closely to it's musical theme there's a small part where a wind instrument plays the theme from the Kokiri Village which is the home of the hero featured in 'Ocarina of Time'. This subconsciously gives players who are familiar with the franchise an emotional tie to the island! In fact, Wind Waker's soundtrack is loaded with remixes and new renditions of the music of its' predecessors. This clever move by the composer and developers reels the Zelda fans in by their nostalgia nerve (That's a thing, right?) all while delivering an exceptional game that definitely deserves it's spot in Zelda lore.
It's just so freaking beautiful!!! Gah!
Something similar happens in one of the more recent Zelda games, 'Skyward Sword'. Now in Skyward Sword we're in what is believed to be the prequel of sorts to the Zelda franchise. But all you really need to know is that the dynamic of Link and Zelda's relationship is much different. To me there's always been something separating them emotionally, but in SS they have always been good friends and you can really sense that they care deeply about each other, maybe they're even in love.

Now this game has gotten lots of criticism for how the motion controls operate and general complaints about gameplay, but I happened to enjoy it. *Ducks flying tomatoes. Yes it has problems, but the story touched me in a way that I wasn't expecting. Zelda is captured (Of course) and Link goes to save her (Of course) but both of them go on a simultaneous journey to realize what they are destined to become and achieve. For Zelda this is to go into a deep sleep to keep evil locked away, something that breaks her and Link's hearts but she does it to keep the world safe. Link finds that there is another way to keep evil sealed away by getting the Triforce (Of course), thereby awakening Zelda from her sleep to be reunited with Link. The whole thing is quite touching and uplifting, really.

So, in nearly every existing Zelda game we've heard the track 'Zelda's Lullaby' played at least once. Ask any fan and they'd tell you it's become a staple of the franchise. This song can be heard again when she goes into her deep sleep, fitting right? Now, the main theme of Skyward Sword is called 'Ballad Of the Goddess' and it can be heard throughout the story, most notably when we first meet Zelda in the end credits after Zelda wakes up. If this theme sounds vaguely familiar to any Zelda fan that's because it is the melody of 'Zelda's Lullaby' backwards. So when she goes to sleep the 'Lullaby' plays but when she awakens we get 'Ballad'. Get it?
Yeah, I just blew your mind, right?
It's apparent that The Legend of Zelda franchise has a rich lore all it's own and I truly believe at least half of it is rooted in the music. The developers understand how instrumental it can be in keeping their faithful fans coming back for more of the epic story of The Hero all the while enticing newcomers to the franchise. You can almost see the story unfold as you listen to the soundtrack and that's a true mark of a talented composer.

If you're a fan of the games, chances are you've probably bought at least one album already, if not then you need to remedy that fact ASAP. If you're not a fan but enjoy instrumental music that kickstarts your imagination, I'd recommend buying one of the soundtracks, in particular the 25th Anniversary.

What are your favorite nostalgic game soundtracks? Think I made the right choice? Tell me in the comments below!