Instruments of The Legend of Zelda

Our Nintendo Life Video Game Music Festival will be coming to an end soon, and we can't think of a better way to send it off than spending way too much time analysing musical instruments in the Legend of Zelda series.

Everyone knows and loves the Ocarina of Time, it's true — but it's far from the only instrument the Hero of Time has had his mitts on. It's not even the only ocarina he's owned. Let's take a look at the instruments from Link's adventures, in order of how much we like them (with some added review-style stats for fun), and celebrate the ways that music has influenced the Zelda series!

16. Strange Flute (The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons)

The Strange Flute from Oracle of Ages and Seasons can be used to summon one of three animals: Ricky, the boxing kangaroo, Moosh, the flying blue bear, or Dimitri, a dodongo that can swim. You'll need to choose one of them to reach various areas in the game — I like Moosh the best, because he's adorable — and the Strange Flute will change its name and colour based on which one of the three you picked.

It sounds horrible, though. That might just be the crunchy audio of retro games, but it certainly doesn't do the Strange Flute any favours — it's hard to even discern what the tune is. Extra points for Moosh, minus points for most of the other things about it.

Memorable songs: 2/10
Playability: 8/10
Usefulness: 8/10
Design: 4/10
Sound: 3/10

15. Howling Stone (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)

This one is a bit... odd. Most instruments are played by humans (or, well, Hylians) in the Legend of Zelda games, but Twilight Princess offers us the chance to have a dog yell at a rock and call it an "instrument". I'm not a purist — I think anything that makes music is an instrument — but this one can't really hold its own against something you might actually find in an orchestra.

Still, it's an inventive way to let Wolf Link join in. Pretty tricky to play, and it always sounds kinda bad, if you ask me, but extra points for letting me awoooo.

Memorable songs: 5/10
Playability: 4/10
Usefulness: 7/10
Design: 6/10
Sound: 5/10

14. Spirit Flute (The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks)

Listen, the sound of the Spirit Flute is rather lovely, but LORD do I hate Spirit Tracks' flippin' pan pipes. Maybe I just wasn't a particularly dextrous child, or maybe it's something to do with my awful lung capacity, but the later songs that require you to skip notes were HELL. [Kate is mistaken, the Spirit Flute is easily Top 5 material! - Ed]

Blowing into the microphone is a really neat little trick that the DS really wanted players to love (remember the final case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, with all the fingerprint dust? Or WarioWare?) but I just couldn't get into it.

Memorable songs: 3/10
Playability: 3/10
Usefulness: 7/10
Design: 5/10
Sound: 8/10

13. Ocarina of Wind (The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap)

The tinny speakers on the Game Boy Advance didn't do this one any favours, but thankfully the Ocarina of Wind from Minish Cap is only used for a short tune: the one you play to fast travel to a Wind Crest. It's the same tune from The Legend of Zelda's Flute, but Minish Cap's Ocarina is wayyyy less useful than TLoZ's Flute, which is basically a musical Swiss Army Knife.

Memorable songs: 6/10
Playability: 10/10
Usefulness: 7/10
Design: 5/10
Sound: 6/10

12. Flute (The Legend of Zelda)

And, speaking of the Flute (or Recorder, if you prefer) — this little woodwind instrument appears in a bunch of Zelda games, but the first game, The Legend of Zelda, is where we first got to hear that iconic music that would later become the Ocarina of Time menu track. Of course, since you're reading a piece about Zelda music on a Nintendo-themed website, you'll already know that this one later became the Warp Whistle tune in Super Mario Bros. 3, so I don't need to tell you that.

Thanks to the limits of the hardware, it's not very interesting to look at, but as far as usefulness goes, the Flute/Recorder is pretty darn good — you can use it to fast travel, find secrets, and even dry up lakes.

Memorable songs: 7/10
Playability: 10/10
Usefulness: 9/10
Design: 5/10
Sound: 6/10

11. Hawk Grass (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)

Twilight Princess' Horse Grass is horseshoe-shaped and summons a horse, so of course the bird-shaped grass summons a bird. Not a bird you can ride on, mind you — just a friendly hawk that can be used to retrieve out-of-reach items. Hawks are cool, but hawks are sadly not particularly useful in Twilight Princess, and criminally underused, too.

The song is nice, though, and harks back (or... hawks back) to Ocarina's Prelude of Light with its reverberating melody. Perhaps we can get the hawk to make a return in a future Zelda game?

Memorable songs: 7/10
Playability: 10/10
Usefulness: 4/10
Design: 8/10
Sound: 8/10

10. Goddess' Harp (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword)

I've never played a harp, so I am fully unqualified to say this, but... do people normally play harps by just running their hand back and forth like they're trying to lazily swat a fly? I always thought harps were more of a gentle plucking, instead of a flapping, but for Skyward Sword, the capabilities of the Wiimote didn't extend to "realistic harp play".

That said, I do quite enjoy the melodies of the harp. I mean, it's just ascending and descending scales, but still, it's got a gentle sort of lullaby feeling to it. Granted, it always sounds a little janky when you, the player, are doing it, but once you nail it and the cutscene starts, it's rather nice.

Memorable songs: 6/10
Playability: 5/10
Usefulness: 9/10
Design: 9/10
Sound: 8/10

9. Deku Pipes (The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask)

A little too nasally for my tastes, but still pretty rad. The Deku Pipes are the closest Link ever gets to looking like one of those one-man bands, which is a large part of their appeal, and the fact that they're not made out of wood as much as they are grown out of wood is extremely cool. The sound, on the other hand, might prove to be divisive — is it a horrible honk, or a pleasant baritone?

However, in the wider context of Majora's Mask's story, the Pipes are just a beginner's instrument — basically Termina's version of a xylophone for babies.

Memorable songs: 8/10
Playability: 8/10
Usefulness: 9/10
Design: 8/10
Sound: 6/10