The main theme for The Legend of Zelda's opening crawl on NES is embedded in gaming and popular culture, reimagined and remixed countless times. Like many much-loved parts of gaming it has a slightly complicated history, which is nicely summarised in a recent official interview.
Translated from a feature series first published in Japan (to celebrate the Famicom / NES Mini), Nintendo's site has posted an interview featuring Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka and composer Koji Kondo. A number of Nintendo's most famous soundtracks have been written by Kondo-san, with The Legend of Zelda being among the best known.
The interview discusses the tight deadlines of early NES projects, and also outlines how vague briefing documents often were, leaving Kondo-san with limited information when composing tracks. When it comes to The Legend of Zelda's opening theme, the original plan was to utilise a NES rearrangement of some classical music - Ravel's Boléro - before 'The Copyright Incident'. Nintendo had thought the track in question was out of copyright, but discovered that it wasn't quite past the 50 year requirement (from the date of the composer's death); as a result Kondo-san had to work quickly through the night to replace it.
A trimmed version of the relevant section is below.
Kondo: I knew I needed completely different music since Super Mario Bros. is a completely different world, so I wasn't sure what to do. And The Legend of Zelda has an opening crawl, so I wondered about what should play during that too. Tezuka-san's written request simply says, "title music." (laughs)
Kondo: For quite a while, it just played Ravel's Bolero. It really matched the opening crawl!
Miyamoto: You rearranged it for the NES, right?
Kondo: Right. But immediately before finishing The Legend of Zelda, we learned it was still under copyright.
Tezuka: Uh-huh. (laughs)
Miyamoto: Oh, I remember that! (laughs) The Copyright Incident! In Japan, music usually enters the public domain 50 years after the death of the composer.
Ravel, who wrote the music we were using for the opening crawl, lived a long time ago, so we thought we were safe. But we looked it up just to be safe and found out it had been something like 49 years and 11 months since Ravel's passing and the copyright would run out in a month. But we didn't think we could wait that long. (laughs)
And we couldn't delay the release of the Family Computer Disk System.
Kondo: So I pulled an all-nighter to compose the opening song. But it's just an arrangement of music used in the game.
Miyamoto: He reworked it to sound more like an intro.
Kondo: I was desperate. It was really down to the wire.
Miyamoto: The Legend of Zelda was nearly complete. Perhaps that incident is why I really like that opening song. It's sort of like music in a spaghetti western film.
The essence of that type of tune is concentrated in the opening song and, above all, it suggests courage. So I think it's the perfect song to play when you set out on an adventure.
So it's a good thing that Kondo-san spent all night composing it.
Kondo: For sure! (laughs)
If you need a reminder of Ravel's Boléro, check it out below.
And, of course, the famous opening crawl track in The Legend of Zelda on NES.
All told, we think Kondo-san's all-nighter was worth the effort.