The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Review – Definitive 50 N64 Game #1
Over the course of this series, we’ve discussed how various series and genres changed with the transition from 2D to 3D gameplay. Some struggled, some succeeded, some had to be totally reinvented. Perhaps no series though made as seamless or as brilliant a transition as The Legend of Zelda.
Ocarina of Time is regularly called the greatest game of all time, it’s always topping lists like these. And for good reason – it combines the best of what 3D gameplay allows with the wonder, the thrill, and the awe of The Legend of Zelda.
“Dost thou have courage enough to undertake this task?”
As young Link, it’s up to you to retrieve the three Spiritual Stones scattered in dungeons across Hyrule and use them to gain access to the Sacred Realm and the Triforce itself before the evil Ganondorf can.
Sadly, your efforts only serve to allow Ganondorf to enter the Sacred Realm himself and reach the Triforce first. With his new power, Ganondorf is able to corrupt the land and make himself king.
While this is going on, Link remains sealed within the Sacred Realm, being kept safe for seven years until he can grow strong enough to take up his destiny as the Hero of Time, wield the Master Sword, and defeat Ganondorf.
As adult Link it becomes your task to travel this much more grim Hyrule in order to awaken the powers of five sages needed to seal Ganondorf away.
But just because you’ve grown up doesn’t mean you can’t go back to your more youthful form.
Ocarina of Time borrows the dual world concept established in Link to the Past and puts a clever new twist on it. Rather than warping between alternate worlds, you can travel back and forth 7 years in time, switching between young Link and adult Link at the same time. Not only is the world much different, some items and equipment can only be used in one form or the other.
To help, or maybe just annoy you, through all of this is Link’s guardian fairy Navi – assigned to see the hero through his journey. Navi’s cries of “hey! listen!” have haunted gamers and been a frequent source jokes since Ocarina’s release.
You control Link in both young and adult forms from a third person perspective, and of course you can lock on to enemies and objects, and of course context-sensitive controls let you interact with the world around you. Except, not of course.
These innovations are so universal, so taken for granted now, that you might not even see it when you go back to Ocarina, but this is where it all comes from.
Ocarina of Time overcomes the sudden difficulty in hitting enemies in 3D by introducing Z-targeting, which allows you to lock on to your enemies, and ensure you’re facing them head on when you’re trying to take them down.
Ocarina relies on environmental elements to trigger specific actions. Running up to a ledge will cause Link to jump automatically. Other times, you’ll be prompted to hit the A button to do everything from talk to an NPC to crawl through a cave.
All of these innovations don’t necessarily dazzle – but they strip the frustrations of 3D gameplay away, and allow the player to… just play, unhindered.
As the name suggests, Ocarina of Time places a huge importance on music. Although instruments had appeared in Zelda games before, this game’s most vital item is the ocarina – a kind of flute. You can learn a collection of 12 songs for the instrument, 6 of which allow you to warp to convenient locations around Hyrule. The other 6 are used for all kinds of things – engage with puzzles, change the weather, even invoke the powerful Song of Time.
Ocarina of Time translated and even expanded the scale expected with a Zelda game to 3D. Its overworld spans from Gerudo Valley in the west to Kokiri forest and Zora’s domain in the east, from Lake Hylia in the south to Hyrule Castle and Death Mountain in the north.
The game also introduced horse-riding to the Zelda series, a thrilling and liberating new way to speed up travel across these vast lands. Once you get Epona as an adult, you can call her at any time with your ocarina and go for a ride across Hyrule’s sprawling fields.
All theses unique locations are populated by a lively group of memorable characters. Ocarina of Time introduced a variety of new races to the Zelda universe, including the forest-dwelling Kokiri, the fish-like Zora, the rock-made Goron, and the desert’s Gerudo. Each of which have their own cultures and quirks.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time captures the same sense of wonder and discovery that was found in its predecessors, and even expands it. All of its innovations free the player to explore and experience a world rich in detail and full of character.
It is a journey full of grand moments and small gestures. Monumental, but also funny, sentimental, and reflective.