The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64
Platform: Nintendo 64
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date (NA): November 23, 1998
Genre: Action / Adventure
Nerd Rating: 9.5 out of 10
The year was 1998… or at least, sometime before 2000. Back in the day when you could go to Blockbuster and peruse through aisles packed with VHS tapes and generation five video games. That’s how most of my experiences with fifth generation games went. My mother would take my brothers and I to Blockbuster and, after wasting at least 20 minutes of wandering around the store, my brothers and I would pick out whatever games were available and looked the coolest, and rent them out.
Actually, now that I think about it, the last Blockbuster game I rented was Super Paper Mario for the Wii, so maybe it wasn’t that long ago…
I don’t know how my brother and I came upon The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but I’m glad we did. Ever since we first rented that cartridge from Blockbuster, I’ve made it almost a yearly tradition to replay Ocarina of Time, usually around Thanksgiving. So it’s about time I looked critically at one of my favorite N64 games for the Bacon!
In order to prepare for this review I decided to replay Ocarina of Time twice concurrently; one file on my N64 and the other emulated on my PC (mostly for screenshots). However, in doing this, I began to notice pieces of the game that went over my head as a child. While my feelings on the game in general didn’t change, my appreciation for it has grown.
Ocarina of Time opens in the Korkiri Forest, where a race of humans who forever remain as children live under the protection of the wise Deku Tree. One of the Korkiri, a young boy whose default name is Link, is different from the others; he’s the only Korkiri without a fairy. However, when the game begins, the Shakespearean-talking Deku Tree commands the fairy Navi to act as Link’s guide and bring the boy to him. After collecting the necessary gear (a sword, shield), Link reaches the Great Deku Tree to learn that…he’s been cursed by an ambiguously green Gerudo thief named Ganondorf, who Link has been seeing in his dreams, for not giving up the treasure of the Korkiri. So, the Deku Tree asks Link to prove his courage by destroying the curse, which ultimately kills the Deku Tree.
What starts as a pretty traditional fantasy-inspired tale becomes a twisted tale involving a prophetic princess, a sword in a stone, and time travel seven years into the future. Yet, this strange story with a blend of Arthurian fantasy and science fiction, about the war of Good vs Evil is a tale as old as time. However, it is presented in such a memorable and fantastic way, with a fully-realized world and interesting supporting characters. This was my first experience with The Legend of Zelda series, and it has been a fantastic journey!
When you think about it, Ocarina of Time could have been a disaster. It was the first 3D game in a series that had previously been all 2-Dimensional, with worlds full of open world exploration. And, it was no secret that the Nintendo 64 itself wasn’t the most powerful system on the market to release a 3D game with a huge open world for. Yet, somehow, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out and it was glorious. It looked amazing, even now, and sounded fantastic. Everything about this game, even the way the story was presented, was just incredibly well-crafted.
To add to that, the game hit a nice happy medium by giving a game designed with enough linearity for the newer fans, but also the freedom that fans of the older The Legend of Zelda games would appreciate. In fact, during the second half of the game, the player is given almost complete control of what order to complete the game’s five temples. Although some require certain temples to be completed first, fans have reportedly discovered nearly 30 combinations in which to complete the temples. Yet, the game still provides hints and guidance for those unsure how to proceed, without appearing to be hand-holding the player.
In a similar fashion, Ocarina of Time‘s many puzzles are presented in a way that isn’t too obvious, nor too difficult for players to solve. For example, in order to proceed to the game’s second dungeon, Link has to get the Goron Bracelet from the Goron chief, Darunia. However, by Link’s arrival, Darunia is still rather hostile and repeatedly tells Link in an incredibly passive-aggressive manner that the Goron’s are in dire need but Link can’t help them. The player then needs to figure out a way to calm Darunia down in order to talk to him, the method of doing so requires lighting all of the torches in the bottom floor of the Goron City and playing Saria’s Song for Darunia.
None of these directions are obvious at first glance, however, by talking to Gorons around the Goron City, Link will be able to piece together clues as to what to do. For example, one Goron tells Link something to the extent that many of the Goron are depressed because the torches are unlit, another confides in Link Darunia’s biggest secret-that he loves to dance. Another Goron standing by the warp to the Lost Woods states that the Gorons love the music coming from the warp. As a kid I never noticed it, but by allowing players to use their detective skills to figure out how to proceed by using NPCs and the environment as clues actually empowers the player.
As seemingly perfect as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time appears to be, it isn’t quite so. The game suffers from some pretty annoying graphical glitches and camera movement that can be a saving grace at some times, and a pain in the ass at others. Luckily, future versions of Ocarina of Time have improved upon the graphical glitches, to the point where version 1.2, the one used in the GameCube ports and beyond, runs incredibly smoothly. However, there are still plenty of instances where the player can see outside cell interiors should they stand next to them, and even worse, have the cell interiors block the player’s view at times. Oddly enough, Ocarina of Time isn’t the only N64 game to have such weird and inconvenient camera issues…
It may seem like I’m rambling on here, but what I’m really trying to say, is that there’s a reason that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has stood the test of time. It’s a game that’s simply, good. It has a story that can stand on its own without professional voice acting, live-action cinematic, HD graphics, and the other shit that defines the current gaming generation. It has a musical score that never gets old no matter how many times you listen to it. It has characters that are truly memorable and that players will actually care about. But most importantly…..
I used to play the shit out of that officially licensed Impa action figure!
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