The music is the most instantly gratifying element of LZ and difficult to argue against, since online gameplay videos and the scant MP3s from Galbadia Hotel do not lie. It's in no way like other Legend of Zelda music and there is no traditional Hyrule tune, but this for me emphasises the music's quality. It's unique, eclectic and very unusual, sounding like a medley of ethnic instruments and themes. South-American Panpipes, African percussion, a strong middle-eastern vibe, plus a lot of delicious 1980s synth. Overall the music is quite unlike anything else I've heard in videogames - surely such diversity is a good thing?
Dale DeSharone: "We created the music in our studio. Our composer was Tony Trippi, [He spells it out], who had worked with me at Spinnaker and then came on board, and worked with me at the new company. So he created all the music for both games. We were working on the games simultaneously, so we were working on the script, on the design and the artwork, and the animation to both games at the same time."
Unfortunately the voice acting was atrocious, being the first thing which people criticise. It was poorly acted, with apparently no attempt to match what was onscreen to what was being said. Hence why we have a skinny blonde girl trapped in a Viking longboat on top of a mountain, with her overlaid character-cinema instead showing a bloated fat woman with red hair, while the voice is that of someone with a thick Texas accent (please, whatever you do, ignore the cinemas). The idea of overlaying animated character portraits onto the in-game action is an ingenious one (done superbly on Popful Mail for the Turbo Duo, if you want a comparison) - but unfortunately it's a wasted effort when the animation is sloppy and acting poor.
Though it was perhaps out of Mr. DeSharone's control, since as he explained, they used union actors.
Dale DeSharone: "Of course, we auditioned local union actors, AFTRA [American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] actors, and chose the voices for the game. There's about 10 minutes of cinema in each game, so there was a fair amount of audio to edit."
If you've not got access to the games, I highly recommend checking out some videos or MP3s to experience the unique and high-quality music on offer.
The in-game graphics are another highlight of LZ, especially the backgrounds, since rather than being traditional pixel-based sprite-art, they have a Claude Monet-like pastel impressionist quality. This should be evident from the screens - strokes from when the backgrounds were first painted are still visible. Over the years only a few games have tried experimenting with different visual styles, which elevates LZ to the plateau of titles like Okami (Japanese brushwork); Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct (CG renderings); Skullmonkeys (claymation); Rakugakids and Rakugaki Showtime (graffiti); Saga Frontier 2 and Legend of Mana (water color) plus of course, Yoshi's Island (wax crayon), among others.
Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon
This was a direct result of the CD medium being able to hold the higher resolution scans, and it's a pity that not more games have tried being a little different. Also as clever, as previously stated, is that character dialogues are introduced via portrait-cinemas which overlaid onto in-game action. The problem though is that all the FMV-style cinemas are of a very low quality.
The reason for this proves fascinating: a bunch of Russian animators were flown over and placed in an apartment, then drew everything. Not to offend anyone from Eastern Europe (my surname reveals that I too hail from that area), but when you think about it, the post-communist east-bloc styling is painfully evident in the cut-scenes, and for anyone who enjoys Japanese anime (a staple in most videogames) or the kind of output from Ghibli studios, then those in LZ aren't very palatable.
Dale DeSharone: "AIM was of course expecting some type of full-motion animation in the games and I was trying to figure out how we were going to do that on the budgets. A mutual friend put me in touch with Igor Razboff. Igor was also interested in starting a new technical company at this time (1991). He had a PHD in Higher Mathematics and Computer Science from the university in St. Petersburg, Russia. He had been in the U.S. for twelve years and had worked at Bell Labs and Computer Vision. The Perestroika was beginning and the Berlin Wall was coming down. Igor wanted to return to St. Petersburg for the first time in twelve years and build a company there that would provide some type of service to U.S. companies."
What Mr. DeSharone describes next is almost like outsourcing (bringing foreign workers over to do the job.)
Dale DeSharone: "Igor and I got together and we talked about what type of business we could start in St. Petersburg. And I had seen numerous animated films coming out of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. So I thought, well, we could probably do animation over there'. So he went over, found about six people who had some experience with 2D animation, and of course they didn't have the expertise that U.S. animators have. U.S. animators have been paid fair amounts of money, for decades, to learn animation. And they were more scattered over there, in smaller studios. But we had about half a dozen people, and we brought them over here to the U.S. for 6 months, and put them up in an apartment, there are a couple of apartments near where I live, here in Massachusetts. And, gave them computers, and scanners. Most of them at that time worked on paper, on animation paper, and then scanned it into the computer, and cleaned up the line and colours on the computer, and then we transferred it to CD-i. We may have also written a CD-i tool that would let them view it and clean it up on the CD-i player itself. The animators had varying levels of skill, in terms of animation."
This created quite an ironic situation: a Japanese company (Nintendo) licensed out their intellectual property to a Dutch company (Philips), which then funded an American company (Animation Magic, under the tenure of Dale DeSharone) to creates games with said IP, in turn bringing over Russian artists to create the cinemas.
As stated though, it's best to ignore these completely, since they will only taint what is an otherwise expertly crafted pair of games.