Release Date: November 21st,1998
Rating: E for Everyone
Platform: Nintendo 64
This game has been a joy to play from the moment Navi woke Link from his slumber to start the journey, to the moment that I dealt the final blow to Ganon. Even after having played it alongside The Breath of The Wild, The Ocarina of Time still manages to impress me for many reasons that I will list later. I used to play this game a lot growing up as a kid. Maybe a little too much. Given that, it speaks volumes about this game when I can still be glued to my seat, despite having beaten this game at least 20 times in my childhood and not be bored replaying it.
There is no denying it, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a game that is worth owning for whatever excuse you can imagine. Whether you aim to collect games you think worth preserving to show off to future gamers, or just to enjoy, this is a title worth keeping and playing for years to come. This is not just a game essential to own when you have a console for playing it; it’s a game meriting discussion for its accomplishments during one of gaming’s most monumental periods of time, gaming’s transition from 2D to 3D.
During the mid 90s, the gaming industry was experiencing a major shift changing games forever. Right before 1994 came to a close, Sega became the first company to debut the first major 3D video game console with their Sega Saturn. Sony shortly followed suit by debuting their 3D gaming system the Sony Playstation. During this time, Nintendo was already working towards transitioning into 3D with Nintendo 64. As exciting of a period as it was, it was also scary for developers; there was a make-it-or-break-it pressure to bring classic gaming mascots into 3D while introducing new mascots and ideas to change the gaming industry forever.
With already experiencing success with 3D treatments of Mario and Starfox, it’s needless to say that the developers felt pressure creating the first 3D Legend of Zelda game. Not only that, but they needed to make it a great follow up to the critically revered A Link To The Past. Thankfully, they managed to make a game that truly stands to the test of time. Even you play this game alongside Breath of the Wild, it’s easy to see how phenomenally designed The Ocarina of Time truly is.
Like many other games in the same franchise, Link goes on a quest to save the land of Hyrule from Ganondorf. This isn’t just another story where Link has to go to dungeons, collect the things, and defeat Ganon to save Hyrule. You do start off the game collecting spiritual stones with the mission to open the door to Temple of Time to claim the Triforce before Ganondorf does. When you finally pulled the Master Sword from the pedestal, Link ends up in a 7 year slumber, while Ganondorf comes in the Sacred Realm and claims the Triforce for himself. Oops. Now you have to awaken the Sages in order to gain power to help defeat and seal Ganondorf away to save Hyrule.
The moment you pull the Master Sword from the pedestal, you go through a couple of changes that helped make the story among the most memorable stories of the Zelda series. Upon waking up from his seven year slumber, Link wakes up to discover he is a full-grown adult. The first few minutes of this discovery alone were among the most awe inspiring moments of all Zelda game history, as gamers were introduced to a new and improved version of Link. The Link that gamers were accustomed to didn’t look as anywhere as badass as Adult Link, so seeing Link’s new form permanently cemented into players’ minds forever. The moment that you walk out of the Temple of Time, however, is the moment the feeling of awe goes away completely. Walking towards Hyrule Castle, Link discovers it destroyed and the town overrun by ReDeads (which their high pitched shrieks make them terrifying as hell). This was done by Ganondorf, as he destroyed Hyrule Castle and Castle town and proceeded to create chaos across every corner of Hyrule. Seeing the destroyed Hyrule Castle and Town was the first of many reminders of the consequences of the player’s actions in choosing to pull the Master Sword to put Link into a slumber. This made the player feel the weight of their action to give players a higher sense of urgency to help fix the wrong. The combination of seeing Link transform into Adult Link and seeing constant reminders of the consequences of pulling the Master Sword helped make the the take of saving Hyrule fresh, and helped make the story of The Ocarina of Time even more memorable.
Even though the world itself is not big nor inviting compared to the Hyrule in Breath of The Wild, Nintendo has found a way to make Hyrule feel massive and real. The Hyrule field still has a way to put you in awe when you make your first steps into the open field. When you make your first steps into the Hyrule Castle Town, it feels lively and full of people. When you first step into Lake Hylia, you just want to take off your clothes and go for a swim. Every area you end up in makes you feel that you are one with environment. Nintendo also has their tendency to add extra polish into the game to make you feel you are more in tune with the environment. It’s nice that you get some nice rewards for just exploring different parts of Hyrule. Speaking of rewards, the optional quests in the game helped drive the environmental immersion home, as they make you care more about the inhabitants of their respective homes of Hyrule. You even get your fair share of reward just for exploring. They even have some easter eggs in some parts of the game if you look just hard enough. From the people of Hyrule to the dungeons sprinkled to different corners of Hyrule, all of the details that went into every aspect of Hyrule draws players in and brings out the experience in a way not a lot of games could accomplish.
Speaking of dungeons, they have a way of leaving a lasting impression on you. The dungeon rooms that were big enough in the previous Zelda games felt even more massive than ever when translated to 3D. The majority of rooms make you feel that you can see for miles. Even when you are walking in hallways you feel relatively small in the hallway. The dungeons that were built for this game explores a respective element predominant to their areas of Hyrule. For example the Fire temple is located deep in the volcano of Death Mountain, making it impossible to survive the heat without a specialized tunic. Not to mention that there is lava around the first floor and there are a lot of fire enemies in the temple.. Last but not least, the dungeons have some sort of mission and is not just thrown in the game to find items like a map, or an item that helps you defeat the boss of the dungeon. Instead, each dungeon has some sort of intention to give you a reason on why you are exploring these dungeons in the first place. When you first explore the Deku Tree, you are convinced that you are trying to remove a curse from the Deku Tree. Of course, all of that sure helped gamers remember that infamous Water Temple to this very day…
Not only were the developers challenged into creating a new 3D Legend of Zelda experience, they also had to introduce gamers to new 3D controls. This game has managed to accomplish this feat in many levels, which was one of the reasons why this game became monumental. Not only did they successfully make the game easy to navigate through the 3D space, but they managed to break ground with the controls which some of the ideas are still being used to this day, while still feeling familiar with controlling in a Zelda game. You have your movement controls (now with the joystick), along with the action and sword buttons. You also have more buttons to assign your items to, which makes the players feel more enabled, as they will be going to the menu to assign items less frequently. Now here is where the controls get groundbreaking. When Link is fighting enemies in combat, the player can make Link target the enemy, making him focused on the enemy, while the player can move Link around relative to the enemy’s current position. This can be enabled by pressing the Z-button, which single handedly created the term called “Z-Targeting”. You can can also use “Z-Targeting” to get Link to focus on NPCs as well as other points of interest. If you happened to know why gamers today say this term, this game was entirely responsible for this term.
The music is the final piece of the puzzle to make the environment feel alive, and god damn does this game nail it. The music in Hyrule field helps contribute to give you this wonderful feeling of awe as you explore every corner of Hyrule. You feel the great sense of wonder as you race across Hyrule Field, as it makes you more in tune with going to Hyrule Castle (no pun intended). Some of the tunes that are familiar to you from the previous Zelda games also got a nice treatment. You’ll feel familiar when you navigate to your save file menu, or when you make your encounters with Ganondorf. There were also multiple themes throughout the game that also have cemented into the gaming culture with their melodies that will catch you in. Just listen to this snazzy tune here.
As much as I hate to talk about the final battle (as I want to avoid spoiling it for the readers), I feel that I wouldn’t do this review enough justice if I didn’t touch on this particular boss battle. Every aspect of this battle made the conclusion to The Ocarina of Time made the battle to remember for the ages. For each step that you climb up Ganon’s Tower to the final showdown, you can hear the music from the organ piano growing louder, making you anticipate the final showdown even more. You have your showdown with Ganondorf, which you have to best him using a lot of tools at your disposal. Once you defeat him, you have to escape the tower, with the time limit making the escape even more urgent. Once you finally managed to escape, you face your final battle, which is done in a beautiful cinematic kind of a way. And not in a way that is all cinematics and no action. There is action to be had. There were cutscenes that occur in moments that helped draw this already epic showdown into a fitting conclusion for one of the most fantastic games of all time.
Not only did Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time manages to get everything right, but it even manages to set the bar for Action-Adventure games in the way that Super Mario 64 set the new standard for 3D platformers. The game is just a masterpiece that is worth obtaining if you happen to have an N64. This game has perfected the camera and target lock on controls that were borrowed into many games that followed The Ocarina of Time. I even noticed that Witcher 3 has this target-lock on mechanic, nearly 2 decades after The Ocarina of Time was released. There were other parts of this game that made their way into future games too, but no mechanic from this game has managed to age better than the “Z-Targeting” mechanic.
Not only has this game impacted the games that followed The Ocarina of Time, but this game has also managed to leave their marks on the gaming community that still remain to this day. Even gamers and Youtube personalities nowadays still call the target lock-on mechanic “Z-Targeting”, even when playing games of the PS4/XBone/Switch era that have no Z-button. This terminology will certainly be here to stay for years to come. Also, thanks to the infamous Water Temple, the gamers would not stop talking how tedious the Water Temple is. Even the level still stings with me when I played through the Water Temple. It even has hampered the gamer’s attitudes towards water levels in the upcoming generations. The gamers were even soured when navigating through the water level of Majora’s Mask 2 years later. To this day, I can’t even find gamers that put water levels in a positive light. Last but certainly not least, the music certainly struck a tune with many gamers that stuck in their minds to this day. The music has provided many gamers inspiration that is shown in their art. For example, there are many remixes of Gerudo Valley and Song of Storms that are present on Youtube. There are video game themed covered bands that would cover Song of Storms. And on that final note, here I leave one example of how the music of The Ocarina of Time manages to stay alive in the gaming community.