Those who have disliked Koji Kondo's N64 Zelda scores because of the sound system's limited capabilities needn't worry about the same problem applying with the soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The score still uses MIDI-sounding instruments rather than a full-fledged orchestra, but the overall quality of the sound is much better than the N64 scores. There are some tracks which occasionally sound every bit as flat as Mario Story for the N64, but somehow composers Kenta Nagata (Mario Kart 64, 1080 Snowboarding), Hajime Wakai (Star Fox 64, Pikmin), Toru Minegishi (The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask) and of course the legendary (pun!) Koji Kondo manage to avoid making the tracks sound intolerable.
Sound issues aside, is the score for the ninth entry in the Zelda franchise worthy of its title? Probably the best way to answer this question is to take the soundtrack apart in pieces, rating it first by how many classic Zelda themes have made it onto the album and how the other new compositions hold. First of all, if you're a fan of the scores for Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, prepare to be in store for a feast - many of the familiar themes come from these two titles. The house, shop, treasure chest, morning, and item catch fanfares from Ocarina of Time are all included, as well as the themes for Ganon, Princess Zelda, the fairy fountain (the best version being a glorious choral feast on disc 2 track 20), and Hyrule Castle from A Link to the Past. And the classic Overworld theme? Don't worry, it's on the soundtrack - hinted on more than one track. Probably the most impressive renditions of this theme are a choral hint via the last track on disc 1, and the very last track on the album, which mixes not just the Overworld theme but the revamped version from Ocarina of Time. The results are nothing less than gorgeous. I should also mention that "Kakariko Village" is resurrected in the most unusual manner I've ever heard. It sounds more lively, peppy, and bouncy than it ever has. This may shock Zelda purists, but I soon grew accustomed to it.
Zelda fans should be pleased with the amount of old tunes to accompany Link's latest adventure, but may have divided opinions about the rest of the tracks. The overall score has a Celtic, sea-going adventurous feel similar to Disney's Shipwrecked, with occasional dark, menacing songs and breathtaking choral treatments. The chorus vocals waver from being authentic to sounding like they were drived from a synthesizer. "Jabun" really surprised me; it's Jabu-Jabu's theme from Ocarina of Time... and the vocals sound crisp and authentic (in an otherwise repetitive song).
Probably the most bizarre tracks on the entire album are the ones that are "brief, barely a theme" songs. "The Forest of Outset Island" is just a two note mallet instrument playing continuously with two basson-like notes popping in about every five beats or so. "Sealed Hyrule Castle" starts out with a very brief wind-like instrument (which sounds like it's being played through radiowaves), but then after a brief pause, we hear these loud door-closing sound effects in a ship's hold that repeat a few more times. There are many tracks on here that are specifically written for the cinema cutscenes in the game. These tracks mix in various themes or sound like they could come from a motion picture soundtrack album. These tracks are not the most comforting tracks to listen to, but I do not consider "cinema-style" tracks in a game soundtrack a bad thing at all. I actually find it amazing that Kondo and company have been pushing the limits with this score.
This "interactive" element of the soundtrack is especially noticeable in the battle tracks. Whenever Link draws his sword and moves in for the kill, the music increases tempo and/or strikes aggressive chords to accompany his striking an enemy. This is the most amazing feature about the battle themes, which are otherwise the score's only weak elements. There are more battle themes than any Zelda soundtrack to date (one each for the game's individual bosses). The themes are even reprised on the second disc when Link faces off with them again later on. But the battle tracks lack the furious, bombastic, boomy feel of those in Ocarina of Time. The last battle track is a clever mixing of Ganon and Link's themes, but it's definitely no match for the awesome "Last Battle" from Ocarina Of Time.
Despite this unfortunate weakness in the battle tracks, The Wind Waker still has much to offer in the new themes that the soundtrack introduces. The theme for Aryll, Link's sister, which sounds a bit like a derived, upside-down version of Princess Zelda's lovely theme, is beautiful and bouncy when allowed to be given more "lively" appearances. The most striking new themes are those for Medli of the Rito Tribe, and Makar of the Korok Tribe. Medli has a lovely, upbeat dance number on a high wood instrument, and Makar continues the Celtic bounciness on a fiddle. The two themes are cleverly intertwined in the game's opening theme and scattered on various tracks. The same is true for the bouncy "Dragon Roost Island" and very Celtic, bagpipe laden "Forest Haven". Apparently Kondo wanted more "recognizable" themes in the music and the job is more than well accomplished. The ending credits music combines the themes for Makar, Medli, and Aryll magnificently in a lovely symphonic finale that doesn't end with a big bang but with a very pleasing ripple.
There are people who had angry opinions about the album releases for the recent Zelda soundtracks. Because this is the hugest Zelda soundtrack ever (133 tracks!), it shouldn't be surprising that a two-disc set would be chosen. Some argue, however, that it could have been three. One track, "Tower of the Gods", fades out just as it gets started, and the tracks basically loop once. I can imagine plenty of clamor over this, but this is the only other drawback Zelda fans should be aware of.
All in all, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is probably one of the most unusual Zelda soundtracks I've heard in a long time. It's definitely different from what I was expecting, not as offbeat as Majora's Mask, and multi-faceted. It's occasionally weird, it's beautiful, it's unconventional, it's strange, it's amazing - all in one package. In the end, however, it functions superbly in the game and the number of excellent tracks make it yet another shining gem in Nintendo's library of nostalgic soundtracks. The slightly lacking battle themes hamper the album from being another Ocarina of Time, but the other shining assets about the soundtrack to The Wind Waker make it a worthy addition to Nintendo's "legendary" franchise.