Picture the scene. Hyrule Fields, a barren plain of grass and scrub, the moon above grinning wickedly. Link, a green tunic-clad Elf chosen by a glowing bulb with wings and a Lord of the Rings reject, is jogging towards Hyrule Castle, silhouetted against the virtual horizon. Far off, a wolf howls, the Castle’s bridge retracts, and Link is alone, with only a stubby sword and wooden shield for protection. Suddenly, a skeletal creature emerges from the soil and staggers towards Link. Cue instant terror.
I can remember this exact moment, when I was denied access to Hyrule Castle and set upon by zombies. It’s an indelible landmark in my memory, as are many moments from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, an unequivocal masterpiece and, in my opinion, the classic of all classics.
The Great Deku Tree
Ocarina of Time’s story isn’t Oscar-worthy, by any means, but it remains a solid fable. Essentially, it’s good versus bad, but musings on time and power are subtly injected into the narrative. It begins in the Neverland-esque Kokiri Village, a leafy enclosure populated with childlike denizens, the Kokiri. Each Kokiri has their own fairy, all except one, Link, who suffers alone in his tree-house home.
But when the Great Deku Tree, guardian of the forest, falls ill, he calls upon his loyal servant, the fairy Navi, to awaken Link and order him to vanquish the evil festering inside his roots. Link, despite the odds, succeeds, slaying an enormous and pregnant spider, but he cannot stall the inevitable. Before he dies, the Great Deku Tree instructs Link to find Princess Zelda, and warns him of the “wicked man from the desert”.
The Spiritual Stones
Link eventually succeeds in finding Princess Zelda, hidden away in Hyrule Castle. The Princess is worried about a new courtier, Ganondorf. She believes he seeks to obtain the Triforce, a mystical relic capable of bestowing god-like powers. Zelda tells Link about the three Spiritual Stones which, once together, allow access to the Triforce. Link, already possessing the Kokiri Emerald, sets about collecting the remaining two.
In order to find them, however, he must befriend two races, the subterranean Goron and the aquatic Zora. Link’s quests drags him from the peak of Death Mountain to the depths of Hyrule Lake, deciphering puzzles and defeating monsters, as Ganondorf’s shadow across Hyrule grows.
The Master Sword
Link, once he’s finally obtained the three Spiritual Stones, returns to Hyrule Castle. He manages to access the Sacred Realm and discovers the Master Sword, a legendary weapon of great power. However, Ganondorf has followed him inside, and claims the Triforce for himself, imprisoning Link in the Sacred Realm.
Seven years pass and Link, now a tall, lean adult capable of wielding the Master Sword, is freed from the Sacred Realm by Rauru, one of the Seven Sages. Now, Link must awaken the five other Sages, trapped in their own temples by Ganondorf’s monsters. Link’s quest spans the length and breadth of Hyrule, meeting old friends, new enemies and witnessing the destruction Ganondorf has cast across Hyrule.
Redefining The Genre
The story of Ocarina of Time is indeed epic, but it’s helped along by some truly inspired gameplay mechanics. For instance, Link’s ability to target specific objects in the game, be they characters or signposts, with the camera tracking Link and his point of interest, streamlined the combat and is now a staple of third-person adventure games. The context-sensitive buttons, too, were a pioneering feature.
The concept of time-travel heavily influenced the game, as Link could voyage back and forth from his days as a boy to a man, with his exploits in the past mirrored in the future. For example, he could plant a beanstalk as a boy, travel to the future, and find the plant fully grown and granting him access to a new area.
The eponymous Ocarina is Link’s most valuable asset. With it, he can open locked doors, befriend suspicious creatures, and even summon his faithful steed, Epona. Link must manually input the notes for each song, so the player actually feels some involvement instead of watching an automatic rendition.
The music in Ocarina of Time is wonderful, despite being obviously artificial. It’s a testament to the designers, crafting such a compelling ambience from virtualised sounds and notes. Each area, from Hyrule Field to the Marketplace, has a distinct theme, some longer versions of a specific song you can learn on your Ocarina.
A Lasting Impact
Ocarina of Time’s legacy – it has an average rating of 99/100 on MetaCritic – as a certified classic is unequivocal. To this day, I have yet to taste an experience as long-lasting nor impactful. Recently, I played it on the GameCube, and despite the archaic graphics and simplistic A.I., I found myself, once again, hooked.
I cannot justify a perfect score, but I can attest to Ocarina of Time’s perfect experience. From the humble beginnings of outpacing a boulder to obtain the Kokiri Sword, to finally facing Ganondorf in his castle, Ocarina of Time is an experience I’ve yet to see matched.