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A Trippy Way To Tap Into Ocarina of Time Nostalgia

Illustration for article titled A Trippy Way To Tap Into iOcarina of Time/i Nostalgiaem/em

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out in 1998. For a certain generation, it represents the peak of electronic entertainment. Link could climb, swim, and swing his sword like never before. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that decades later people are remixing and augmenting the game that defined their childhood in music.

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Zeldawave is an EP that remixes sounds and sights from Ocarina of Time into a trippy blur of gaming nostalgia. Created by Graeme Clarke under the alias Marble Pawns, it’s one of the most polished examples of the extremely niche sub-genre of vaporwave from which it borrows its name. Like Simpsonswave or other offshoots, Zeldawave has the audio distortion, jumbled scanline effects, and slow, methodical beats that make up the genre. The culmination of all of these things is a version of Ocarina of Time that most closely approximates what it would be like to remember having once played it in a dream.

“When you first boot up OOT [Ocarina of Time], when you go to the title screen and hear its music, you feel...something. It’s happy, sad, simple, but yet it still sort of reflects this idea of growing up, and seeing a changed world around you,” Clarke said in an email. “Whether it’s making you feel scared, empowered, comfortable, free, the music of Koji Kondo carries the emotional charge of OOT and elevates it to a level of high art.”

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Koji Kondo, who composed the music for several Nintendo games, including most of the Zelda series, has said that one of the most challenging things about scoring Ocarina of Time was the jump from the SNES to the N64. The technology’s greater range meant game soundtracks could sound more realistic. “When I was creating the music myself, I had to think, ‘This isn’t going to sound like a computer. This is going to sound like an actual instrument,’” he told USGamer in 2014. Ocarina of Time’s soundtrack isn’t just one of the most memorable of all time, it’s also a unique inflection point in the overall shift from extremely gamey music to more naturalistic scores.

For that reason it’s proven a fertile uncanny valley for remixers like Clarke. The same graphical improvements that made Ocarina of Time feel revolutionary at the end of the 90s but now look garish by modern standards are mirrored in the music. The steel drums in Zora’s Domain sit just on the edge of that divide, clearly artificial but hauntingly believable.

“I feel like when people talk about Vaporwave, the word ‘nostalgia’ is thrown around a lot,” said Clarke. “Nostalgia is such a powerful thing to me, it feels like a weird, mystical connection we have to our past selves and in a way I feel like Zelda almost references this through the kid/adult environments within the game. People who played OOT as a kid are adults now, and the world that seemed so happy and care-free as kids has now become something a bit more dark.”

Vaporwave is a lot of things (including dead, according to most of the people who originally spurred its creation), but throughout much of it is a pervasive sense of ironic distancing. Those seeking refuge in the aesthetics of yesterday’s shopping malls and their monotonous muzak struggle to embrace the gaudy commercialism and troubling underlying economics. Pushing those ideas and others from the Reagan 80s and Clintonian 90s through a filter of sound distortion and repurposed marketing art is a way to have it both ways.

In something like Zeldawave, that duality is less overt. The visual pastiche isn’t meant to guard against succumbing to a predatory marketplace ideology so much as the static, unreflective embrace of whatever stuff people happened to like as kids. “The Zeldawave videos, along with my other anime/video games/assorted nostalgia based videos, are a way for me to connect back to those experiences, while at the same time reinvigorating them with some ‘added layers’ in the form of trippy visuals and even some newer songs,” said kurodon85, a YouTube curator who mixes old gameplay footage with other popular vaporwave tracks.

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At the end of the day Zeldawave provides an outlet for those interested in reliving the experience of Zelda in ways that simply playing the games over can’t provide. Similar to visiting your local mall in 2017 (if it even still exists), picking up something like Ocarina of Time or the original Legend of Zelda and playing it today pales in comparison to whenever you first experienced those games. And that’s the largest draw around Zeldawave, or any other nostalgia-driven project. When it works, it provides a window back into the exact moment you first transformed into adult Link or discovered you could burn through bushes to reveal secret dungeons. Even if it only lasts for a few moments in a YouTube video.

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

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DISCUSSION

When I first read this article down, I thought to myself, “Outside of the Temple of Time theme, I don’t remember being all that impressed with OoT’s music.”

Then I started thinking back to just how effortlessly the OST fit with the action of the game; there was never really a point where the sound design overwhelmed the game play, nor did it ever feel under-served. It struck a rare balance between providing ideal ambiance, and just enough driving verve to quicken my pulse a little.

I think part of the reason I don’t think of OoT for music is, as you said, it was the be-all-end-all of game design for its day (the other end of it is that Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger had, between them, more or less crushed video game OSTs in my mind for the foreseeable future). I was sixteen when the game first came out, and if I hadn’t had my first serious girlfriend at the time (as “serious” as high school relationships can be, anyway), it probably would’ve consumed my every waking hour.

...even with my then-girlfriend in the picture, it still ate up every minute I wasn’t spending with her or at school.

But what I remember most was the sprawling sense of adventure, rather than the music. The feeling that I could really go anywhere, and do pretty much anything (provided I had the required item to do so, anyhow) was one that had only been created previously by Super Mario 64.

In some ways, I envy folks who are significantly younger than myself, as they’re going to live to see technological advancements my generation couldn’t have even dreamed of. But in most ways, I’m damn glad to have grown up when I did, as I got to live through the Atari, NES, SNES, and N64 eras (with their attendant competition, like the PSX)—it felt like anything was possible, and we’re only now really seeing the dividends of some of those early triumphs.

Also, Ethan, I owe you an apology for my reaction to your “difficulty slider” article. I went off half-cocked and only responded to the portion of the article that rubbed me the wrong way, rather than the article entire. You deserved better than that, and it’s not a good look on me, either. So for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.