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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64) review

"Like the Dark World in A Link to the Past, the grim future realized in Ocarina of Time is a mangled reflection of a once cheerful environment. In the future, Hyrule grieves as the Zora Domain is reduced to an icy wasteland when formerly it hosted a spectacular waterfall and swimming natives. Soulless creatures shriek when you wander the smoking rubble where once a bustling town flourished."

Deep in Hyrule’s cavernous bowels, a pool of molten lava belches briefly. Sparks lick rock outcroppings and steam rises upward in a shaft lit only by flames. An elven form balances precariously on a stone archway, a shadow caught at the center of a cyclonic wave of heat. An arrow is notched in his bow. As ember-tinted air undulates around him, the young Hylian blinks a bead of sweat from his left eye before releases an arrow. It flies directly to its mark. Metal clicks and the tomb-like corridor groans. A massive stone tablet rises to reveal the choking wall of smoke ahead.

For the casual observer, a thousand questions might spring to mind. What lies beyond that haze? Are there traps or maybe a fearsome dragon or two? How will the youthful hero leave this volcanic abyss? How did he find himself in such a tough spot in the first place? You’ll find the answers to those questions and more in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It’s the first Zelda game to grace the Nintendo 64 and it’s one heck of a ride.

As the game opens, you’ll meet a young boy named Link. He lives in a forest on the edge of Hyrule Field, a massive stretch of land interrupted only by towering pines and the rocky bowl that is Lon Lon Ranch. When you first see him, he’s just woken from a nightmare of a dangerous man astride a black stallion, galloping out of a castle with a mysterious damsel on the back of the horse. The dream feels so vivid, so real that the boy takes a moment to awaken despite the fairy tugging at his clothing. Her presence excites him because until that point, he was the only child in the village without such a companion. As he will soon learn, this is no coincidence. His new friend guides him to the nearby forest guardian, the Great Deku Tree, who reveals the history of Hyrule and Link’s role in its future. As it turns out, the fate of the entire world rests on his diminutive shoulders.

Saving the world means wandering through the shell of a rotting tree, the dark passages of Death Mountain and the intestines of a giant fish spirit. Those are just warm-up dungeons that don’t even begin to compare to the desolate temples you’ll visit once the story propels Link forward seven years into the future. It’s difficult to remember a dungeon before or since to rival the fortress constructed in the Lost Woods. Moss-covered parapets rise over forestation and halls that twist inward upon themselves like living creatures. There’s also a waterlogged maze and a desert fortress complete with towering statues and mirrors that reflect swirling sand caught in shafts of sunlight.

Like the Dark World in A Link to the Past, the grim future realized in Ocarina of Time is a mangled reflection of a once cheerful environment. In the future, Hyrule grieves as the Zora Domain is reduced to an icy wasteland when formerly it hosted a spectacular waterfall and swimming natives. Soulless creatures shriek when you wander the smoking rubble where once a bustling town flourished. The drive to restore the world to its former glory will drag you through eerie dungeons just as surely as the plot. Even when you’re not in one of the official dungeons, you’ll find yourself challenged in the form of an ice cavern, a fortress of thieves, or an abandoned well that plunges into the very earth’s bowels.

In such environments, Link almost always faces a boss monster. Defeating them requires varying degrees of strategy. Even the first boss you face—a giant spider and its offspring—forces you to think quickly. Link often gains a new weapon just in time to survive such encounters. You’ve only just barely acquired bombs, for example, before you find yourself face to face with Dodongo from The Legend of Zelda on the NES. He careens through the cavern and protests to explosive blasts just as he always has, yet the experience somehow feels unprecedented. You’ll practically feel the world rumbling around you as the beast rolls to a halt. Later on, watch as a phantom leaps between paintings that line a room around a pedestal, or creep around deep pools of water from which a giant sea serpent might emerge without a second’s warning. Each confrontation is as amazing as the one before it.

With an emphasis on cinematic encounters that often require the use of multiple items, it would have been easy for the game’s fights to turn into a jumbled mess. Thankfully, an intuitive control scheme lets you map your favored trinkets to the various ‘C’ buttons and averts that disaster. You can easily switch from arrows to bombs to potion without even pausing to think.

One item you’ll want to keep handy is the eponymous Ocarina of Time. Passed to Link at a critical juncture in the game, the musical instrument is so much more than it seems. While wandering through Hyrule, he’ll learn various songs he can play on the instrument that affect the world around him. Now it’s possible to calm storms or accelerate the flow of time. Because the buttons you’ll press to play a tune mimic the places you’d need to place your fingers if playing a real-life ocarina, you’ll feel like a real-life maestro.

The instrument isn’t the only newcomer to the franchise. Another addition is a horse named Epona. You’ll meet him when you first explore Lon Lon Ranch as a young lad, and he’s your ride around the expansive Hyrule Field of the future. It almost seems that the region was designed around the horse, rather than the other way around. Plenty of wide open places provide room to gallop all over without constantly being halted by a bend in the path. Enemies can’t catch you when you’re on the back of such a fine steed, though this can lead to gamer fatigue when the numerous rides across the rolling hills grow repetitive.

Whether you’re imagining horrors that lie in the shadows or the rush of wind against your face as you ride a horse over a vast prarie, Hyrule is a world full of wonder. As games go, Ocarina of Time is one of the very best for the Nintendo 64, or any system you care to name. Even when you know what lies through that door in the Fire Temple, you’ll want to pass through it again. Saving Hyrule never goes out of style.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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