Notes on Ocarina of Time, Part 3: Through Dodongo’s Cavern

This is a continuation of our Ocarina notes project. You can see all the parts here.

Part 3: Through Dodongo’s Cavern

Music

Perculia: Last blog ended with Link’s secret meeting with Zelda–and we said we would talk more about the music. While there’s a fair amount of musical combinations, the three-note fragments both have to convey a distinctive mood on their own without orchestration, yet also segue effectively into a harmonized 8-bar melody. Having the themes serve as background music for appropriate zones makes the songs feel familiar and logical when we finally are taught them. In the first blog, I mainly talked about puzzles that required combat to solve them–moving forward, I’m looking forward to seeing new types of puzzles and character interactions reliant upon music.

With regards to the scene where Link met Zelda: it reminded me a bit of Saria giving Link the Ocarina, one that was emotional and conveyed a sense of grown-up responsibilities and wisdom beyond the characters’ years. It’s interesting how you don’t see Zelda much at all in Ocarina and in one sense, she’s just waiting inside the castle for all of Act 1. But her song holds a lot of power and it’s used numerous instances throughout the game, giving her a ‘voice’ as well.

Hamlet: Zelda’s Lullaby is a notable Ocarina song in that it’s the only one used before this game (it was in Link to the Past)–Ocarina doesn’t even use the well-known Zelda overworld theme. Zelda’s Lullaby is central to this game in a deeper way than I think people realize (some of the following is speculation). The Ocarina can play 5 notes, and those 5 notes had to account for every in-game song Link can play. Composer Koji Kondo put a lot of thought into choosing the 5 pitches that he would be locked into for this purpose. And the reuse of Zelda’s Lullaby required that the A, B, and D used in the opening of that theme be among the five chosen. Given that two of the five pitches would likely be a tonic and its octave, there was really only room for one added note. He went with F, completing the D-F-A-B-D quintet of pitches that are now burned into our minds, but Zelda’s Lullaby was possibly singlehandedly responsible for most of Link’s limited Ocarina palette.

Moreover, when we hear the fully harmonized version of Zelda’s Lullaby (in the form of the Hyrule Castle background music), it is in G major. Even though that key conflicts starkly with the F-natural in the Ocarina note set, that doesn’t matter because Zelda’s Lullaby makes no use of the F. Throughout the game Kondo does this–the only triad in the Ocarina note set is the D-F-A, but he is not limited whatsoever to D minor harmonies only (which would have made for a very boring score). See Epona’s Song from the last segment. It uses the same three buttons as Zelda’s Lullaby in a different order, and later appeared in the Lon Lon Ranch music–in D major (again possible because it doesn’t use the F). Every song has a melody that’s carefully written using a subset of the available Ocarina notes, so it can be played on the in-game Ocarina but then also fit into whatever larger harmonic picture he has in mind.

By now you’ve learned 4 Ocarina songs (Zelda’s, Sun’s, Saria’s, Epona’s), and not one of them uses the bottom note (A button in the original N64 version, L button in the 3DS one). Why? Because that’s the root D, and when combined with the F above, he winds up the Link’s Ocarina’s “home” key of D minor. And as you’ll see with your next two songs learned, D minor is finally going to be used for some pieces that are very special to this game.

(credit Dan Bruno at Cruise Elroy for some of the musical observations. I will probably reference his outstanding analysis of the Ocarina score more times before we’re done. For people who want a much more detailed continuation of the points I outlined here, his posts on this game are a must-read.)

Goron City

P: Back to Goron City. Darunia’s dance cracks me up. He *really* likes Saria’s Song. The inhabitants are a humorous mix of surface gruffness and hyperactive cheerfulness when you help them. And I can throw flower bombs now, a natural evolution from grabbing and throwing rocks. I learned about throwing bombs to unlock secret passageways and vendors, as well as running while throwing a bomb for extra distance. I attempted a mini-game to bomb a rolling Goron and the special reward music played, but all he did was resume rolling me over. I’ve since tried this on later trips to Goron City, and while it’s nice to see how it took me less tries each time, it’s frustrating how I keep getting rolled over. I’m learning more now how zones are reused at different points, so if this reward can’t be obtained until later, a clue would have been good.

The extra bomb practice did pay off when I had to unlock the entrance to Dodongo’s Cavern. Before, I was haphazardly placing bombs down and happy if they happened to go farther while running, but this puzzle forced me to figure out how to control a bomb’s trajectory. This is also useful as bombs have a limited duration and throwing them covers more distance.

H: The rolling Goron is a little bit of sloppiness again. When you first find him there’s a clue that you should try to stop him. When you get the Goron Bracelet and can use bomb flowers, every indication is that you should now stop him, but when you do (after a number of tries because the timing is tricky as you discovered), you get nothing. Reason being that his reward is something you can’t use yet (you can probably guess), so the game doesn’t give it to you. It’s a minor point but I want to flag it because the little things make clear how Ocarina is not polished to an absolute mirror shine. Moments like this are very few and far between in Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, and Ocarina has them just slightly more often.

Aside for readers. I find LttP and LA to be the two best Zelda games I’ve played. I think I will elaborate on that in a side post at some point to avoid derailing too much here, but wanted to point it out. With the reverent tone this discussion sometimes takes I want to make clear that I don’t see Ocarina some paragon of perfect gaming.

Dodongo’s Cavern

P: At first glance, I can tell that this dungeon will be less of a tutorial and more complex than the previous one, both in the layout and utilizing bomb flowers both on walls and enemies. Bombs are a prevalent part of this dungeon from the very start, where I learn how they can take out annoying eyebeams and unearth Gossip Stones. With all the musical interactions, I’ve been doing, it’s natural to try out songs on them now–and was rewarded with a fairy. (H: So that’s why you like Gossip Stones so much. I don’t think I’d ever found that in my early playthroughs).

East wing: Fun to see how basic concepts are elaborated upon: buttons now require weight to remain pressed down, explosive mobs (not just bombs) can open walls. Was initially not a fan of Statues 201–the grey rocks that turn hostile and need to be stunned with bombs (H: Deku Nuts are good for this (and really, not for much else)). Even shields, something previously simple, become more sophisticated as I learn to swap between the Hyrule shield in fiery areas and the Deku Shield for the Business Scrubs.

H: Yeah, good call. Business Scrubs in Dodongo’s Cavern is a neat bit of design. They needed a reason for you to occasionally swap to your Deku Shield (you can’t kill Scrubs with a Hylian Shield as child Link, as the nuts shatter off you instead of bouncing back). Otherwise the whole “Deku Shield is flammable” mechanic would be ignored since you’d never put it back on.

P: West wing: Continues to build upon concepts introduced previously in elementary forms–learning to use L and View functions in the room with the spinners, moving and jumping precisely on narrow bridges. Also dealt with parrying dinosaurs–I was glad I had earlier practice on the werewolf in the Lost Woods. It was also fun to see how bombs are used more elaborately as things progress, such as dropping them into the fossil’s eyes and throwing them precisely while running.

The second floor ends with two rewards–rupees for jumping over a bridge to reach a bombable wall, and an elevator for clearing all the rooms. At this point, I can appreciate the design of the instance–how you’re right back where you entered and if you die at this point, you’ll have a short run back to the final set of chambers. (I know my usage of WoW terms like ‘farming’ are amusing to some, but I did appreciate how you could ‘farm’ hearts and Deku Seeds by chopping down plants towards the end of the instance. Also amused how there are two visible hearts in the middle, but they require you to walk across a narrow path surrounded by lava.)

H: I was thinking about this as I typed out the paragraph on the werewolf above–the two Lizalfos you fight in one room in this dungeon were coming up soon after. And the Lizalfos (dinosaurs) themselves are derivative of Stalfos, a classic Zelda monster going all the back to original (a skeleton warrior with a sword and shield). People familiar with Zelda games would have been expecting to build up to them, and milder versions of similar monsters raise the expectations of Stalfos appearing in later dungeons and being more formidable.

P: Final wing and Boss: I tried to predict the puzzle behind this set of rooms, noticing the movable blocks and the sunken blue switch. It was fun to see that my predictions were mostly correct: I could tell that the boss was near due to all the pots and plants, and even a chest with extra bombs. Remembering how the boss in the last instance required use of a new item (the slingshot), it was easy to figure out that King Dodongo would be defeated with bombs. I was too busy practicing my timing and moving to take advantage of this feature, but it was a nice touch how you could use infinitely-blooming bomb flowers in the corners of the room, instead of your own bombs, to fight the boss.

H: It’s neat how this is the second Zelda dungeon of your life and you’re picking up on the structural features already: using the item acquired in that dungeon against the boss, the rooms before the boss having resources to restock on, shortcuts you periodically assemble so you can always get to where you are quickly from the dungeon entrance.

P: With these new bombs, I want to go back and explore other places–definitely Goron City, but also the immovable rocks on Death’s Peak and rocky walls in general. I wonder if the Gorons will have something new and welcoming back for Link in town–they seemed quite overjoyed with their newfound rock supply. Poor Link, they only wanted to hug you.

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