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The Power of Perception: Exploring the "Invisible" Sound Design in Breath of the Wild

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Gaming, Games, Zelda, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo, Switch, Wii U, Game Design, Sound Design

As humans, our connection to the world of sound is profound. We possess an innate sensitivity to the subtlest of sounds, whether it's the delicate whisper of leaves dancing in the breeze or the mighty roar of a cascading waterfall. Our auditory perception serves as a powerful lens through which we interpret and navigate our surroundings, enriching our experiences and deepening our understanding of the environment that surrounds us.

As we delve deeper into the realm of sound design in video games, it is worth exploring how certain game series masterfully leverage their soundtracks to heighten player engagement and immersion. You probably thought of the “Devil May Cry” series. The concept of each character having his own signature song that changes based on combat is a fairly interesting notion indeed, and having the song adapt to your gameplay improves the idea.

Gaming, Games, Devil May Cry, PlayStation, PC, Hack & Slash, Game Design, Sound Design

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, takes the effect sound has on your experience, and elevates it to levels beyond anything we have ever experienced in a game before. Sound director Hajime Wakai states in the official video series about making BotW, that huge care was put into footstep sounds, since you'd hear them all the time while playing as Link. Which is an understatement, in my opinion. The entirety of the game is a sound-design masterpiece, so I'll focus on a few specific areas that caught my interest:

Link’s sounds

There are hundreds of sounds surrounding Link; some of which are the sounds of weapons, shields and bows moving on your back. When changing your level of stealth (which is quantitative in BotW), the volume of those sounds goes down. While wearing full stealth armor your gear makes much less noise, and this change isn't achieved by simply turning down the volume of those effects. In fact, the sound team actually re-recorded themselves handling the same weapons more quietly. This subtle change, and how it's done tells us more than just the level of details the sound team are paying attention to, but rather how Link himself isn't simply being quieter in this state (wearing a full stealth armor), but also he's being more cautious. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of Link's sound design, is that wearing a certain monster’s mask causes the sound of your movement to mimic the sound of the same monster.

Fire & Water

There are distinct sounds for various items falling in water, depending on their shape and weight, including Link himself. A brush fire, a torch or a weapon on fire, a fire arrow, and even the sound of a thrown fire arrow drowning in water have different sounds. You only need one sound to convey fire, but the diverse sounds for different types of fire gives you knowledge about how each fire might be used differently.

Gaming, Games, Zelda, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo, Switch, Wii U, Game Design, Sound Design

Music Design

Wakai also mentions that each major village in the game has two versions of its theme; A day version, and a night one that seamlessly blend into each other. The two versions have different tempos, so the transition between them requires composing a new bridging section, and record it accelerating or decelerating the tempo. Breath of the Wild, like any other game, features its own combat music, which may appear simplistic initially, but is actually rich in small interactive details. For example: a specific sound plays within the soundtrack the moment you successfully strike an enemy, and that sound differs in intensity based on the force of your attack, perchance.

Gaming, Games, Zelda, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo, Switch, Wii U, Game Design, Sound Design

In conclusion, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild demonstrates the profound influence of sound design on player immersion and engagement in the video game industry. Through meticulous attention to detail, the sound team behind the game has crafted an auditory experience that transcends conventional expectations. A well-deserved 10/10.

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