Legends of Localization Bonus: Low Hearts in Zelda

I got a question the other day by a reader of my Zelda comparison site asking about how the music in the game sounds in both versions when you’re low on health:

The reason I’m writing to you is that, since I started playing the original LoZ in the Wii Virtual Console, something has been kinda bothering me about the background music that plays inside all the dungeons (except the last one).

The thing is: when there is a sound effect (for instance, when you have few hearts, which triggers that beeping sound that has been annoying Zelda players for generations), the background music seems to change a little. I mean, it doesn’t really change, it only gets more… limited.

It seems to me that, due to the limitation of the sound software/hardware in the NES, there are only so many individual sounds that can be played at the same time. Which means that, when they have a complex melody (like the one in the dungeons) AND a sound fx, they sort of choose only one to play at a time. This causes the dungeon music, which normally has a 4-tone rising scale, to skip 2 of the tones (the 2nd and the 4rd).

I actually think it sounds good the way it does! It even sounds a bit creepier or something. But my doubt is: does that happen in the Famicon Disk System as well??

I’d love to hear from you about that subject!

Thanks a lot!

When I was a kid, I remember noticing how weird the music sounds when you have low health – I guess I just forgot since I’m much better at the game nowadays 😛 So here’s a comparison of the two versions:

Famicom Disk System Version:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

NES Version:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Don’t mind the slowdown and weird stuff like that in the two clips – that’s just due to technical issues on my part.

Anyway, my ears are terrible at picking up tiny differences in stuff, but to me it sounds like they’re the same. But if you hear stuff I don’t, let me know!

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Legends of Localization Bonus: Low Hearts in Zelda”

  1. JRokujuushi says:

    Yeah, they’re both the same.

    The reader who wrote in was right about the sound. The NES has five audio channels – two pulse wave, one triangle wave, one noise, and one DPCM for lo-fi samples.

    In the dungeon music, the two pulse wave channels alternate back and forth when they play notes, which lets the note on one channel ring out while the other channel plays. For example, the first arpeggio G, A#, D, D#. The first channel plays G, then the second channel plays A#, then the first channel plays D, then the second channel plays D#.

    When you’re low on health, the beeping plays on one of the pulse wave channels, which means that channel can’t play the music. In this case, the first channel will play G and D while the second channel plays the low health sound.

    (Sidenote: Koji Kondo used the triangle wave for the melody in the dungeon music because it’s commonly used for basslines, and he thought using it for the melody gave it an unsettling feeling. He used the same technique in the castle music for Super Mario Bros.)

    I know the FDS has an additional sound channel, which is probably why this reader thought it might be different. I don’t have much experience with it, though, so I can’t speak for certain about the FDS sound channel’s use. However, in the games I’ve seen it used, it only ever seemed to be used during title and credit sequences, or short fanfares where there isn’t much actual gameplay going on. This gave me the impression that the FDS sound channel took too much CPU power to use during gameplay, but I don’t know for sure.

    • SomeUser says:

      The separate FDS channel is sort of like a custom wave channel thing, and only sound effects that utilize the FDS channel would interrupt any part of the music that uses the FDS channel. (Zelda doesn’t use much of the FDS channel in its music, from what I remember.)
      Since the dungeon music and annoying-beepy-low-health-noise both don’t use the FDS channel, the two (NES/FDS versions) sound identical.

      Also on the note on the FDS really only being used in parts without much gameplay, I think it’s just laziness, not taking up CPU.

      I guess the guest thought the extra channel was just another pulse wave (which is essentially what you said, I think)?

  2. blahmoomoo says:

    I don’t hear a difference in this particular music…

    But if you look at Super Mario Bros, whenever you collect a coin, one of the melody tracks drops out. It doesn’t happen with [most?] other sound effects though… I suppose that’s because most sound effects happen on one track, but some sound effects can overlap. That is, all the sounds that Mario makes (jumping, entering a pipe, enemy squishing, etc.) are on their own track, but you can jump while a coin gets collected. So the coin sound uses a music track so it doesn’t get cut out by the other sound effects.

    Now, it looks like the FDS version of SMB has the same limitation (didn’t notice it at first). I thought the FDS had an additional music track though… maybe the programmers just didn’t take advantage of it since they were releasing for the NES and Famicom too (one track less = less composing costs too)?

    What does the music without the heart bleep sound like? Maybe something changes when the bleeps are occurring and Link makes sound (like with sword strikes)?

    • Mato says:

      I tried doing other things while the beeping is going on but it sounds the same in both versions. I’m honestly surprised – all this time I thought the FDS version would use the extra sound channels to allow more sounds at once, but I guess not, or at least not in situations like this.

    • Mudkip3DS says:

      If I had to guess, it’s probably that they/the composer/programmers wanted to just use the FDS channel for the extra effects only and enhancements in the music here and there. Or maybe it’s just a case of being new hardware and they didn’t really have that firm of a grasp on it yet.

      Have to say you’re wrong when it comes to “less composing costs”, though, as the video game music world is quite different from the real music world, so the same corporate structures here wouldn’t really apply (in most cases). It’s more likely that they didn’t want to have to go to the hassle of having to change the soundtrack again to fit the NES, so they kept the difference simple.

      For an example, compare Castlevania, which was released on the FDS in Japan and the NES worldwide. If you compare the music between the two versions, you’ll find that they’re essentially (and are) the same.

      Remember, other than the FDS having “one extra sound channel with primitive wavetable support”, the FDS and NES sound hardware are essentially the same, with the same backing Ricoh 2A03 chip.

Subscribe to RSS Feed Follow me on Twitter!