- Original release year: 1998
- Consoles: N64 (later: GameCube, Wii, Wii U, 3DS)
There are a few games that I have put off and have dreaded reviewing, for the simple fact that I feel that I would fail to articulate sufficiently what the game means to me and how the game changed the landscape of videogames forever. If one game fits that description more so than any other, it is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
7 years after the release of A Link to the Past and one console generation later, the videogame industry had changed a lot. Gaming had entered into the third-dimension, a change that meant developers had entirely new technology they had to master. 3D gaming had quite a few teething problems, with many early 3D titles both looking and feeling clunky to play, but with Mario 64, Nintendo had proved that they were going to be leading the way with innovative, amazing 3D titles. Eyes were fixed firmly on Nintendo, with Ocarina of Time being one of the most hyped and hotly anticipated games of all time. How would Zelda transition into the third-dimension? Well, phenomenally well, as we all know by Ocarina of Time’s legacy.
This is a game that wowed everyone I knew in high school. My best friend as a child, someone who still remains a fantastic friend to this day, received Ocarina of Time as a present back in 1998. I remember all the classic arguments we’d have – Is the boy dressed in green called Zelda? How do you hold the controller? Is it better than Mario 64 or GoldenEye? Regardless of the arguments, there was one thing we could agree on; this was one of the best games we had ever played.
The story is a fairly typical affair if you’ve played a Zelda game before. You play as the child Link, who finds himself embarking on an epic quest to save the princess Zelda from the evil Ganondorf. During your travels, you are led through small villages, dramatic volcanoes, barren deserts, large lakes and, of course, multifaceted, complex dungeons. And if anything was transitioned successfully to 3D, it is the dungeons, which Nintendo did a fantastic job creating (hell, I even like the Water Temple – At least, in the 3DS remake).
Putting aside the story, as soon as you turn on this game and progress past the beautiful, picturesque load-up screen, with Link travelling across Hyrule on the back of his trusty horse, Epona, you will notice straight away how well Link controls. Just like Mario 64, Link controls fluidly, as expected, with the analogue stick. Of course though, Ocarina of Time is not a platformer, so there are a few innovations that make Ocarina of Time far different to play. One such innovation is the lack of a jump button. Instead, Link will automatically jump when you approach the edge of a ledge. In 1998, it sounded weird, yet it works perfectly. Another innovation, was the use of a lock-on feature. One thing developers struggled to deal with, was how to make a game in 3D control easily for players, when it essentially allows for 360 degrees of movement. It could make combat, for example, fiddly. Ocarina of Time created ‘Z-targetting’, a feature that allowed you to lock-on to enemies, or NPCs, or important weak-spots on bosses, to ensure the game was intuitive for players. It’s a feature that has become common in videogames in general ever since.
Although Ocarina of Time kickstarted the 3D Zelda franchise, the gameplay is very familiar to those who played A Link to the Past. You still have a lot of the similar weapons and items, such as a boomerang, bow and arrows, bombs etc. You’re still going to be pushing blocks, using bombs to blow up suspicious looking walls that will lead you to secret rooms. It also introduced a new, well, almost a gimmick, with the use of the Ocarina though. Although some are tired with the use of gimmicks in Zelda games now (the masks in Majora’s Mask, the boat sailing in Wind Waker, the wolf in Twilight Princess, the motion controls etc. in Skyward Sword), but in 1998, the Ocarina felt innovative. You could learn new songs, play them on the Ocarina and it was another gameplay mechanic to progress through the game.
The other ‘gimmick’, was the time travel element, working like the light and dark worlds in A Link to the Past. This added another depth to puzzle solving, with Link needing to travel back and forth between ‘child era Link’ and ‘Adult era Link’ (7 years apart) to progress through the game.
Overall, Ocarina of Time is title that has left with it an impressive legacy.Without a doubt, it completely deserves all the hype and praise in the world. Never played it? Pick up the 3DS version. If that’s not a possibility, then the N64 version can be had for pennies and there are numerous ports for the GameCube, Wii and Wii U too.