Was Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as Glorious as We Remember?

A look at one of gaming’s beloved sacred cows.

In this monthly feature, we take a look at gaming’s sacred cows and inspect them under the lens of contemporary scrutiny. Often, nostalgia clouds our judgement and perceptions of the games of yesteryear as we look back at them through rose-tinted goggles. Were these games good? Yes! Are they still? Well, let’s take a look.

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

ocarina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MD__K-nm4Q

One of the finest title screens ever made

Let’s get this straightened out right away. Is Ocarina of Time a good game? Yes. Does it still hold up today? Sort of. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a revolutionary game because it marked the first transition of a beloved franchise into 3D. It made use of the X, Y, and Z axes during combat, and featured one of the most interesting second act transitions of all time. However, despite all the nostalgia associated with this sacred cow, the game certainly shows its age when compared to later entries in the franchise. Graphically – obvious, but more so in regards to gameplay.

Looking back at Ocarina of Time with the context of having experienced every other Zelda game leads to some interesting revelations. The power of the N64 allowed Nintendo to transition the Zelda franchise into 3D, allowing players to explore Hyrule the way it was meant to be, but in that process, Hyrule lost some of its mystery and wonder. Coming from Link to the Past, Hyrule was full of things to do. The land held mysteries that could be uncovered by cutting bushes, bombing walls – typical Zelda affair, but where it got creative was use of water and 2D space. Finding hidden entrances to buildings by simply walking around the structure, entrances to fairy fountains via whirlpools and waterfalls. And what did venturing off the main path grant players? Non-vital weapon upgrades and equipment that changed the way players interacted with the environment.

ocarina, http://zeldawiki.org/The_Legend_of_Zelda:_A_Link_to_the_Past

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

Ocarina of Time‘s biggest problem is predictability and lack of innovative gameplay within the context of a contemporary look back at the game. All the items and equipment you find are vital to continuing your adventure. Sure, there are a few minor upgrades that aren’t necessary such as the Biggoron Sword, Farore’s Wind, and Nayru’s Love, but overall, everything was handed to you on a silver platter. Nothing could be missed. When you were stuck in a dungeon, it was probably because you weren’t using or hadn’t found the item in the current dungeon. This inability to miss equipment makes Hyrule feel smaller and less mysterious despite it being physically bigger than any older game in the franchise.

As for things to do aside from the main quest, all of Ocarina‘s sidequests lack any sort of – well, memorability. The rewards for said sidequests weren’t any better. Accomplishing sidequests usually boiled down to being awarded a piece of heart, which is nice, but does nothing to add to gameplay aside from being a little tougher. But, to be fair, acquiring the fire arrows in Ocarina of Time is one of the most memorable things in gaming history. After escpaing the treacherous (and dreadfully designed) Water Temple hidden underneath Lake Hylia, you stand in the bright sunlight and aim towards the sun. Link readies an arrow and looses it. And just like that, the world has a sense of mystery again. The fire arrows descend from the sky and Link holds it up in triumph. Just plain cool.

ocarina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWdy-RAYSc8

Location of the fire arrows

Where Ocarina of Time features lackluster sidequests, Majora’s Mask features some of the most fascinating ones. The predictability of the Zelda franchise has turned on its head with the release of Majora’s Mask. The world of Termina was far different from the field of Hyrule. The mystery was back in Majora’s Mask, and unpredictable was the name of the game. Sidequests featured variety. No longer did we have to collect bundles of useless objects. Link was tasked with reuniting forlorn lovers, stopping an alien invasion, and even delivering the mail! And rewards? Masks that changed the way players played the game. Items awarded throughout the game were not vital to continuing the main story. Link’s Sword could be upgraded multiple times. Things could be missed! Thus encouraging players to actually complete whatever quest they could.

ocarina, http://zelda.com/majoras-mask/

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

Is this a fair comparison? Considering the games were released less than two years apart from each other and run on the same engine, yeah.

But enough of the negative, what did the game do right? Aside from introducing the brilliant Z-targeting, the game featured wonderful pacing. Like Link to the Past before it, Ocarina of Time convinces players they had “finished the game” and then pushes them into another world altogether. Transporting Link into the future will forever be one of the finest, most memorable experiences in gaming. Besides the realization of controlling an older Link, players were also awarded with the notion that the quest was not over. Many dungeons lay in wait for players to venture into.

ocarina, http://zeldawiki.org/The_Legend_of_Zelda:_Ocarina_of_Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Do these critcisms lessen the impact of Ocarina of Time? Not at all. They’re simply observations made to expose fallacies in gamers’ nostalgia. Only by exposing these flaws in beloved titles are we able to truly appreciate the evolution of a franchise and admire the influence they’ve had on other games throughout history. As for being the pinnacle of the franchise, Ocarina of Time serves as a solid entry into a 3D Zelda as it is indicative of the tone and theme of the franchise. What should be lauded as a sacred cow in the Zelda franchise is Majora’s Mask, but that is a discussion for another day.

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