“Here comes the rain again falling in my head like a memory, falling in my head like a new emotion…”
It rains at the beginning of Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past, heavy drops of a few pixels wet the future hero during his first journey to the Castle and nature coincides with the drama that is unleashing, with the only imaginable inner storm which moves the protagonist in that air bathed in tregenda, with his dismay that we shared terrified as we began that extraordinary, seminal 16-bit adventure. However, the rain is only a scenographic element, functional to fuel an elegiac vision so that our “heart recognizes itself in the celestial framework”, so sings the succumbing Schubertian wayfarer of the Winterreise. Nature is therefore illustrated through a poetic and contained artifice albeit with an undoubted art of representation, moderated with a lyrical procedure that denies its indomitable and imponderable being.
It was not so in Breath of the Wild, where every atmospheric phenomenon instead affects Link’s wandering, unpredictably altering the rhythm of his adventure, dilating and complicating it. Here nature is cruel according to a meaning that coincides with that of Leopardi’s cosmic pessimism and with inhuman indifference, heedless of wars and tragedies, sacrifices and victories, that wild natural breath is passed in Tears of the Kingdom. If Hyrule has changed, overwhelmed by new catastrophes, however, its atmospheric phenomena do not change; so that it still rains on us both “as a memory” of what had been during that first, past epic, and as “a new emotion” arising from memory and distorted by the present, by the mystery of the future.
The rain therefore continues to feed a perceptible discomfort, whatever its quality: those first few drops which can then dissolve and yield again to the sun or the moon, increasingly thick water which slides torrentially down from the rocks, dense deluges illuminated by lightning and counterpointed by the crashing sound of thunder.
It is impossible to remain indifferent to the rain, so even in the villages or stables the people comment on the climatic event with disturbed comments and react, seeking shelter. Link, especially if far from civilization, can seek shelter and this time even build it through the use of his new powers or find the illusory comfort of a cave, because these are never without dangers.
Once safe, we can bivouac so that time passes quickly, hoping that the storm will finally end. However, by “cheating” with nature and altering the flow of time, extraordinary segments of the game that are pure contemplation are lost, or the magic of chance is not noticed: a traveler who joins us to draw comfort from the same shelter, the rising of a rainbow, a detail of the panorama that had escaped us and that will deserve our next investigation or the remote flight of a dragon that only those who have already experienced a dazzling “tearful” memory can identify in all its heartbreaking reality.
So if in A Link to the Past the emotion deriving from the rain is orchestrated and suggested, in Tears of the Kingdom and in its unforgettable antecedent, as well as influencing our progress, it becomes the engine of accidental dilations of playing time, of prolonged recollection, of subjective poetic considerations, of introspection and mythopoeia. Those minutes spent in the safety of an open refuge eagerly sought and joyfully found, are static extraordinary moments of play and non-play, the source of a great wonder that excludes haste and urgency and reminds us of another traveler : Alvin Straight of that only illusorily linear and clear (compared to other works by the same director) masterpiece which is A True Story by David Lynch, the scene during which the elderly protagonist aboard his small lawn tractor is surprised by a storm and finds the protection of a solitary barn, from which he can quietly admire that wonderful and terrible downpour.
There is a violence devoid of any sweetness to which so much poetry has accustomed us in the thick, white and cold flakes of Tears of the Kingdom (here our review of The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom) which veil “the ground in oblivion of snow”, as Eliot wrote in a positive interpretation of this atmospheric phenomenon, as opposed to the cruelty of sunny April, an icy benevolent whiteness that “feeds a thread of life on dry tubers”.
There is no childish Christmas goodness, here the snow is malevolent, blinding, it freezes us and complicates the journey, it forces us to look for suitable clothes and to cook foods that can, at least for some time, relieve the frost. In a different way from the rain, the snow fuels bitter considerations and bewilderment, it is a confusing phenomenon, a shroud placed on the land of the Rite which is similar to the black drops of cursed sewage that pollute the first crystalline waters of the Zora. The snow puts us on the border with Game Over, with the end, and transforms our journey into an almost purgatorial experience if it doesn’t whisper to us in a stormy voice that its road leads to hell and not to heaven.
Wandering through those chaotic and white lands, one can recall an episode of Dreams by Akira Kurosawa, that of the expedition whose ascent towards a peak is interrupted by a snowstorm that confuses the senses and alters the sense of time to the point of making the night indistinguishable from the day. There is no more painful labyrinth in Tears of The Kingdom than the glacial one with its black and wicked light, a maze built from the snow and the chaotic perfidy of nature.
The burning eye of the sun and the chilling eye of the night
Only the lands of Gerudo are very hostile, stingy of every amenity except that longed for in the mirage or in the possibility of an oasis. During the night hours it freezes more than in the mountains and the ground seems iridescent with an impalpable ice, while already at dawn the sun rises fiery with the cruel gaze of a great inquisitor who eagerly peers into the darkest secrets of the soul, forcing us to modify our motor strategies as pilgrims.
There is a mendacious vastness, broken by crevasses and muddy swamps of quicksand, by expanses of hot sands under whose surface vermiform monstrosities move. There is no time for contemplation, only for survival, because nature is stingy and petty, a ghost of itself, you can’t feel its breath even when the wind blows, just the last exhalation of a dying colossus. The shadow can bring us comfort, while the sun annihilates us, like desert animals we yearn for the profile of a palm tree, for an isolated rock that can deny us the light. But the sadistic shadow moves quickly with the sun, making it difficult to stop. It is in these extreme moments that we remember the cool grassy charm of the Hyrule plains, the waterfalls and streams of the Zora lands finally purged of the miasma that oppressed them, the breeze that blows on the islands suspended in the skies, even the sick darkness of the underground, an oppressive place but in its own way vital, intimate and comforting in a bizarre way.
The sound of nature
“Wie ein naturlaut” indicates the musician Gustav Mahler inspired by romantic and then Wagnerian practices on the score of the first movement of the symphony in D Major, “like a sound of nature”, intending to suggest the breath of the world with the artifices of the orchestra.
Richard Strauss who even used the instruments called “wind machines” in many of his works such as Don Quixote, The Woman Without a Shadow and above all The Symphony of the Alps, a symphonic poem with a descriptive and naturalistic intent which nevertheless alludes to a Zarathustrian path of elevation . The “wind machine” immediately denounces the fictitious quality of its sound and, only if used for a few bars and with an art of orchestration that Strauss undoubtedly possessed, is it not trivial and even annoying, also because the ordinary orchestra is managed many times effectively to restore the idea of a voice of nature without resorting to loud and tacky “special effects”. This introduction is useful for dealing with the sound of nature in Tears of The Kingdom and its relationship with the soundtrack, especially when this dialogues with atmospheric phenomena.
The sound of rain, wind, thunder and lightning and even the isolating silence of snow possess an overwhelming realism in Tears of The Kingdom; it is a sound panorama that deludes us in an even more powerful way than the image and the sensitive consequences of atmospheric phenomena on the player and the game world, of the “truth” of this fabulous scenario. Here, in such wild realism, the introduction of music in a soundtrack would risk being artificial and vulgar, like an excess of “wind machines” in a piece for orchestra.
This is not the case, because in Tears of The Kingdom (but we also always remember its antecedent) the music never superimposes itself on nature, it does not climb on the sounds but sometimes becomes a melodic translation of Link’s thought, a feeling, sometimes a signal of danger or even an indication, as when in the snow or in the desert we begin to hear with relief, in the distance, the bucolic themes of the stabling before we see the smoke rising from its chimney. It also happens that music is integrated into the game world, as in the whole fantastic thing about the Radiant Fairies.
The music, always so important in Legend of Zelda (because during his long history Link has almost always played an instrument) in the last two immense legends is not in the background, but artfully camouflaged in the murmur of the forest, among the whispers of the wind, with the roar of the rain, truly revealing itself, exposing itself and exploding only when emotion, violence or the supernatural suspend the non-human “eternal” breath of nature.