How ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ Changed ‘The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’

In 2007, Super Mario Galaxy pushed the limits of just how far a video game could go. Nintendo took fans out of this world — literally — and created an experience unlike any other. Some of their efforts were so successful that they imported them into another highly-anticipated Wii game: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

A screengrab from 'Super Mario Galaxy'
A screengrab from ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ | Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP via Getty Images

‘Super Mario Galaxy’ was the first Nintendo game with a full orchestra

Super Mario Galaxy was unique in that it was the first Nintendo game to have a full symphony orchestra playing its score. Longtime Nintendo composer Mahito Yokota reflected on how he came to use orchestral music for the game in a 2007 episode of the Iwata Asks Q&A series.

“I didn’t want to use an orchestra just for the sake of it,” Yokota admitted. “I even thought that although you may be able to make the scale of the game seem more epic by using music from a live orchestral recording, if that ended up sacrificing the game’s rhythm it would have the opposite of the intended effect.”

Mario series creator Shigeru Miyamoto approved of the decision to use orchestrated music. “Miyamoto-san had told me, ‘This is good! This sounds the most space-like,’ but he never said, ‘This sounds the most like Mario,'” Yokota remembered.

Koji Kondo, who has written music for Nintendo’s biggest series including Mario and The Legend of Zelda, contended that it was an organic choice rather than a forced one to use an orchestra. “There are times that if you think too much about ‘the sound of Mario,’ you’ll get unnatural music that’s even hard to listen to during gameplay, and it’ll end up not sounding like Mario at all,” he said. “I think that, ultimately, cool-sounding music that fits the rhythm of the games make up the sound of Mario.”

Link shooting an arrow in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Link shooting an arrow in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild | Nintendo

‘The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’ had orchestra music because of ‘Super Mario Galaxy’

In the lead-up to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword‘s release in 2011, former Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata sat down with longtime Nintendo composer Hajime Wakai and Zelda series project manager Eiji Aonuma for another edition of Iwata Asks. This time, they discussed the big project of using a symphony orchestra for the Zelda origin story as they had in Super Mario Galaxy a few years prior.

Aonuma confessed that he wasn’t initially on board with having an orchestra do the entire soundtrack for Skyward Sword. “At first, I wasn’t thinking about using an orchestra at all. But during the roundtable at E3 2010, a reporter asked if we would use an orchestra for The Legend of Zelda, and Miyamoto replied, ‘An orchestra suits The Legend of Zelda, so we’ll be thinking about it.’ When I came back to Japan, Wakai-san came up to me in a fluster and said, ‘Is the music going to be orchestral this time?!’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’”

“I only experienced recording one track with an orchestra for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but it was a lot of work, so schedule-wise, I was certain we couldn’t do it for the whole game,” Aonuma continued. “To my surprise, though, Miyamoto-san said, ‘Record it with an orchestra!’”

The orchestra was a problem when making ‘The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’

Iwata then wanted to know if any problems presented themselves while creating the score for Skyward Sword. “From your point of view, what was the challenge this time with regard to the music?” Iwata asked his colleagues about Skyward Sword

“The orchestra,” Wakai responded. “It wasn’t entirely new because of the Tokyo Software Development Department’s experience with games like Super Mario Galaxy, but I think this was the first time for [Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development] in Kyoto to use an orchestra.”

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Nintendo has hosted ‘Legend of Zelda’ symphony orchestra concerts

Following the success of orchestral music in Mario and Zelda games, Nintendo then began taking shows on the road to take fans on a trip down memory lane through some of their favorite games.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Zelda series, Nintendo took the Symphony of the Goddesses on the road. The orchestra toured the United States and other parts of the globe for years, playing medlies from the most beloved Zelda games.