Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s regular hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today, is this GBA melody the least-heard official Zelda track to ever exist?
Last week a thread popped up on ResetEra suggesting that a certain song from the Game Boy Advance port of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (playlist / longplay) may be the “most unknown obscure piece of music” in Zelda series history. The Era poster, 404LinkNotFound, may well be right. I gave it a listen, and I’d sure never heard it. How about you?
If this track’s new to you, there’s very good reason. As the thread explains, a series of overlapping circumstances make the odds of encountering it vanishingly small. For one, it only plays when you complete a hidden dungeon, Palace of the Four Sword, added to the GBA version of A Link to the Past. And that, friends, is a process.
First, complete A Link to the Past. Go head, clobber Ganon. He had it coming. Then you need to beat the evil Vaati in the game’s multiplayer mode, Four Swords (longplay), so you’ll need to figure out how to get some co-op going. Playing Four Swords requires at least two GBAs (or compatible devices), a link cable, and two Link to the Past cartridges. (Of course, having four players would make the game easier, while being harder to arrange.) So, put some hours into that and beat Vaati.
(If multiplayer is out of the question, there are known glitches that let you warp to the end of Four Swords to do what you need to do. Or you could skip Four Swords altogether and use glitches or a specific emulator cheat to warp directly into the secret palace. But these workarounds require internet knowledge, and don’t make the newfound song any less obscure.)
Finally, back in Link to the Past, you’ll be able to access the Palace of the Four Sword (walkthrough) near the base of the Dark World’s pyramid. And it’s no cakewalk. Higher-damage foes and upgraded versions of prior bosses make it perhaps the most difficult challenge in any version of Nintendo’s 1991 classic. But if you got this far, you’re probably up to it.
So anyway, beat the dungeon so the credits roll, and you’ll hear the strange new song above…maybe. See, it’s actually only present in the European / PAL GBA version of A Link to the Past / Four Swords. American and Japanese-region players will just get the tinny GBA version of the normal Link to the Past ending music we’ve heard since 1991:
What the heck is the story here? Why would a nearly three-minute, completely original composition be relegated to what’s arguably the most obscure variation of a huge first-party GBA release? Well, the European version did come out last; Wikipedia suggests December 2, 2002 for the U.S. version, March 14, 2003 for Japan, and March 28 for PAL. Maybe those 14 days between Japan and Europe made all the difference. But still, come on. It’s weird.
As for the new song itself? It’s alright! It certainly fits. You can hear a few references to existing Link to the Past melodies, and the instruments are similar. However, it suffers from the same terrible sound quality as the rest of the GBA version’s music, so it’s like you’re hearing a degraded version of something that might’ve once sounded much nicer.
Only in this case it’s wholly unique to the GBA, so no such nicer version exists. One wonders how this track might sound ported back to the Super Nintendo’s sound chip, where the Link to the Past soundtrack originated. Sounds like a fun little project for any chiptune maestro so inclined. Maybe someone’ll do it!
That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music! Credit to Masterlink on VGMusic.com for the initial find, Ivaalo on YouTube for what appears to be the first upload a little over a year ago, and 404LinkNotFound on ResetEra for bringing this to wider attention (and Ian for sending me the link!). Just like that, another little piece of Zelda history’s brought to light. Cool!
So, have you heard this track before? Can you think of other instances of unique content weirdly gated off by a surprising regional variation? And heck, how are you today? Say hi in the comments! And we’ll see you here again later this week, as we’re slowing down the Morning Music train for a while. Cheers.