A look back: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Well it has been quite some time since my last re-review.  Yet somehow the gap is somewhat appropriate considering the drought of good games leading up to this title.  Infact to get to the next truly memorable game you have to go all the way back to Top Gear Rally, or GoldenEye 007 both released over a year earlier!  Doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you’re young, have lots of free time, and have played all your games to death it feels like years!

All that time leaves little else to do but anticipate the next big thing, which in this case was the first ever 3-D Zelda game.  By now the internet was picking up steam and the hype machine was in full force.  N64.com had recently become the new IGN64.com, predecessor to IGN.com as it is today.  There was no shortage of information, screen shots, first hand impressions… you name it.  And the word was this could possibly be the greatest game yet made, perhaps even ever to be made.  Depending on who you ask, it has still yet to be surpassed.

To sum things up, if you own a Nintendo 64 you must own Zelda. It’s that simple. And if you don’t own the system, Zelda is reason enough to make your purchase — right now.
-Matt Casamassina (IGN64.com)

Limited edition gold cartridge.

So here I am.  I’m desperate for a really great game.  I’m hyped.  And I’m broke!  Unfortunately I didn’t have the cash to throw down and reserve a copy and get the gold cartridge by the deadline.  But I saved and saved, and played my hand.  I showed up at Wal-Mart at 6:00 AM on release day to see if I could weasel in and get an extra gold cartridge.  My first attempt was thwarted.   They informed me I could by a regular copy, but the gold ones were folks that pre-ordered.  (I KNEW THAT!)  I asked what I had to do to get my hands on one.  The guy at the counter looked around and said in a more discrete tone, “We’re going to hold all the pre-orders for two weeks…  After that they go on the shelf.  If you come in first thing two weeks from today, and if there’s any left…  you can buy one.”  I gave him a nod of understanding and with a great amount of restraint, walked out of the store without the game.

Two weeks later, I’m up at 4:30 AM.  Get around and ready for the 30 minute trip to Dodge City to hopefully claim my game.  No matter what I’m leaving the store with Ocarina of Time, gold or otherwise.   I could only hope it was with the collector’s edition that I had put my self through an additional two weeks of torture for.  So I arrive around 5:30 AM just incase there was a line…  Yeah right.  I was possibly the ONLY customer in the store.  Night shift was still cleaning up empty stock boxes, so I milled around looking at the electronics section waiting for anybody to show up who might have a clue what was going on.  Right around 6:00 somebody walked up to one of the registers and they were carrying a cardboard box about 2/3 full of N64 games.  Quickly I approach them and ask if those are the Zelda games getting ready to go on the shelf.  “Yes they are.”  Moments later the cash is exchanged and I’m heading out of the store with a plastic bag, a shiny gold box and a big grin on my face.   It is mine!

I remember getting back in the car and actually SHOUTING for joy!  Super geeky I know, but it’s one of those moments you look forward to for so long that when it finally gets there, you feel like you’ve just been dreaming about it the whole time, but now all of a sudden it’s real.  You can hold it in your hands as if it were conjured from your thoughts and pulled into reality.  Re-thinking this experience really reminds me of why I was so into gaming then, and why the N64 holds such a nostalgic appeal for me.  In those days there was nothing better than “release day” of the game you’ve been looking forward to for so long.

Wow, over 700 words and I still haven’t said anything about actually playing the game!

Eleven years later I’m picking the game up again.  Although this time it’s in a somewhat different fashion than the previous games I’ve gone back and played.  I chose to play from the Ocarina of Time/Master Quest Gamecube Disc.  The advantage being I was able to get progressive scan for sharper graphics.  But I also had to use a Gamecube controller, which takes some getting used to compared to the N64 controller for this game.  So I cheated a little bit, but all in all, the experience was almost as fantastic as it was the first time around!

It has been so long since I played this game.  Partly because you have to have a decent chunk of time to devote to it to actually get anything accomplished.  For this reason I probably haven’t played the game in almost 8 years.  I have forgotten so much about this game, the little nuances, puzzles and side stories were all waiting to be re-discovered.  This ends up making this one of the most powerful revisits yet and by and large the reason it has taken so long to write this installment.  Once I picked Ocarina of Time up, I haven’t been able to put it down!

Other than some dated graphics (which have aged surprisingly well) this game could easily pass even today as a true example of great gameplay.  It’d didn’t hit me right away, as much of the beginning of the game is still quite familiar…  but as I progressed past the first hour or so, the whole game really started to open up for me as I found my self back in 1998 all over again, wondering where to go next, and how to beat the current boss.

And oh the boss battles!  I remember the sheer sense of scale that you felt when that door locked behind you and you were faced with some terrifying bohemouth that you appeared to have no hope of beating.  Taking down a giant flame breathing lizard when you’re only 4ft. tall makes the victory that much more sweet.  I was constantly surprised how often these bosses and dungeons had me at my wit’s end wondering how the heck I beat it.  I mean, I KNOW I can do it!  I DID it once already!  Curse my memory for not being able to pull the solution from the depths of my brain.  But even more… relish the ambiguity as it gives me the opportunity to relive the rush of putting the pieces together for the first time.  If only I could be so lucky as to not remember any of my games!

Screwed.

Screwed.

As I played through the game, the story didn’t seem as significant as I remember.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story, but it’s not the glue that holds the game together.  Rarely is there a cinema sequence that lasts longer than a minute.  But the scenes that are there are powerful and succinct.  Rather than deluge you with information and plot lines (a la Final Fantasy) they primarily serve to point you towards your next destination but also often evoke feelings of duty, courage, and help provide a purpose to powering through what can be some very frustrating quests.

The heart of this game, as it is with all Zelda games is the gameplay, getting new tools and thinking up ingenious ways of using them to accomplish your task.  This is adventure in its purest form.  For instance you find yourself in a room with a locked door…  one torch is lit, one is not.  You’ve been here before, and what you did was pull out a branch and light it on fire using it to carry the flame to the unlit torch which in turn would unlock the door.  Of course that was when you were a kid…  BEFORE you traveled through time.  Now you don’t have any timber so what do you do?  After a few seconds of hard thought you step to the side, pull out your bow and arrow and fire through the flame to the unlit torch and as your arrow strikes, the second torch comes to life…  the door unlocks, and you press ahead to see what challenge could possibly await you on the other side.  Little moments like these bring a smile to your face, and they happen literally ALL THE TIME in this game.

If that all isn’t enough, the game just completely immerses you in the environment.  Wonder what’s over that hill, or behind that building?  Well guess what, you can go find out.  You might need a horse or a hookshot, but odds are if you can see it, you can get close enough to really check it out.  Come to find out there can be whole worlds hidden behind places you’ve walked past dozens of times.  While sometimes sparse by today’s standards, the world still feels very much alive.  Not just in the sense that there’s people living in towns and villages, but that the landscape changes over time.  And with the time travel feature, things you do in the past are reflected in the future… sometimes you find out what you did after you supposedly already did it and realize you’d better go back and do it!  Whoa!  Mind blown!

Ocarina of Time also has one of my all time favorite video game moments of all time.  After you’ve beaten all the temples, awakened every sage and you’re finally ready to battle the great Gannondorf, you arrive at his castle.  You fight your way through one final mini dungeon climaxed by a long winding stair case.  At the base you faintly hear an organ playing.  As you ascend the music grows louder and louder, more maddening with each and every step…  Well just watch.  (Skip to about 1:45  —  Spoilers obviously)

Just a fantastic game from start to finish.  I always enjoyed it, but I think I appreciate it even more after the second time through.  This game just flat delivers where 95% of other games don’t.  Titles like this are why I’m a Nintendo fan.  You don’t need a fancy sound system or TV to enjoy this game.  Just some free time and the love of adventure.  It may not be a perfect game, but it’s about as good as any game will ever get.  And that earns it a 10/10 in my book.

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Posted on March 10, 2009, in Video Games, Zelda. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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