Back in August of '09 when Dealspwn was but a little fish in a vast pond, I wrote a retro review for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was a rather shameless excuse for me to profess my love for my favorite game and earn a little cash on the side. However, this Christmas, courtesy of my wonderful girlfriend, I received a copy of The Zelda Collection, which includes among other titles Ocarina of Time.
As you can imagine, I was beyond ecstatic. Forget turkey, stuffing balls, roast potatoes and, yes, Die Hard. I had my weekend, my week, hell, probably the entire next six months sorted. In the end, however, I finished Ocarina of Time in two days. But in those all too brief 48 hours, I realized Ocarina of Time has yet to be bested, despite twelve years of visual, technical and gameplay-related advances. But how has Zelda stood the test of time? Just what makes it so endearingly special? Read on, as I once again reminisce on Nintendo's finest hour(s).
Simple? No. Simply Good
We're all familiar with the classic Zelda formula; the humble beginnings, the dungeon-solving gadgets and heart-pounding boss battles. Heart pieces. Master Swords. Triforces. All that jazz. Little has changed, and yet somehow it has never become stale, never become all-too-familiar or repetitive. It's endearing. It's wonderful. It's like returning home for Christmas, only to find its a bit dusty but you still love it.
And remember, before I received the Zelda Collection I'd just come off Fallout: New Vegas, Black Ops and AC Brotherhood. Fantastic, big-budget titles. So, as I loaded up Ocarina of Time on the squat purple Gamecube nestled between my sleek black 360 and PS3, I was expecting a little re-acclimatising was necessary. Oh, how wrong I was! It might be technically dated, but Ocarina of Time's art style has stood the proverbial test of time. No game can match its atmosphere, its ambiance, the palpable sense of place each region possesses. Whether it's the carefree sing-song of the lush, verdant Kokiri Forest, or the somber grey chanting of the Temple of Time. It's not just catchy. It's indelible.
It's smart, too. Despite the limited power of the N64, Ocarina of Time has more depth and diversity than most contemporary titles. You can hop back and forth in time, planting seeds as a child and then climbing the resulting shoot as an adult to reach previously inaccessible areas. It has sprawling, dungeon-wide puzzles that require not just a keen mind but a calm hand. It also has some of the finest boss battles in history, forcing you to study patterns and identify weak-points rather than hack aimlessly at glowing orange blisters. You do some of that, too, though! But it never overwhelms you. It's brutally fair. It literally took me months to complete it the first time, twelve years prior, but that's because its a fifty hour adventure packed with side-quests and secrets to discover. A far cry from the current trend of releasing games but amputating content for profitable DLC further down the line.
Music Is My Weapon
In Ocarina of Time, Link wields the legendary Master Sword, a variety of gadgets from a bow and arrow to a boulder-crushing hammer. He can summon balls of fire, unleash magical charges from his blade and even tread thin air on hover boots. But his greatest weapon is the titular Ocarina of Time, which can open ancient time-locked doors, teleport Link from area to area, summon rain and shine and even persuade frogs to reward you with Rupees.
It's a deceptively simple concept, as to my basic brain memorizing multi-note tunes was a daunting prospect. But, in fact, with the limited face-buttons and eight-note limit, the ocarina songs were easy to remember and wonderfully empowering when executed. Not to mention the songs were great, from the classic Zelda's Lullaby to my personal favorite and steed-summoning Epona's Song. Oh, and on the subject of Epona. Best. Horse. Ever.
It's a typically Japanese move to pit a fragile-looking hero against monstrous foe and make his most powerful tool an instrument. For some reason, despite the limitless possibilities a virtual, fictional world offers, our Western developers seem so afraid of creating anything other than brawny warriors or space suit-clad soldiers. And as Soul Caliber proved, Link can throw down with the best of 'em.
Ahead of its Time
Like I said, Ocarina of Time is dated. Visually, it's an N64 title, so it'd be cruel to fault the low-res textures and simple polygon count. But the lack of checkpoints, the drastic difficult spikes, and the lack of proper direction can be frustrating. It can also be argued the - admittedly wonderful - dungeon formula is repetitive, as you wander the labyrinthine environments, gathering keys and finally finding the respective gadget which allows you to advance and finally vanquish the boss. Oh, and Nintendo struggle to make their water-bound excursions both complex and fun. Mostly, they're just annoying.
But, in many respects, Ocarina of Time is groundbreaking. The open-ended nature of Hyrule, with its sprawling field interconnecting the disparate regions, wasn't revolutionary, especially not for Zelda, but it was perfectly executed and far more rewarding than, say, the original Grand Theft Auto's go-anywhere-chaos. Trekking across the vast expanse of land was a bore until you obtained Epona, who was a joy to ride. Ocarina of Time is also packed to the brim with hidden treasure. The amount of content, and how you obtain said content, is frankly staggering.
The element of 'time travel', too, I don't feel has been approached, let alone matched. As an eleven year old, it truly shocked me to emerge from the Temple of Time as an all-grown-up Link and see the land of Hyrule in ruin. It wasn't just a gimmick, nor simple technical posing on the part of Nintendo. It's a profound concept, as evidenced by your love for Epona. You meet her as a timid foal in Lon Lon Ranch, then rescue her from the evil Ingo. You develop a bond, however virtual or basic. We'll be seeing a new and improved Ocarina of Time on the 3DS. I wonder if Nintendo can strike gold, twice.
Is Ocarina of Time, like us, your favorite game? Or are you more of a Majora's Mask man/woman? As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below!