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

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

"The Nintendo 64 console has gained some infamy over the years for having quite possibly the worst lineup ever seen in a successful console. This is due partially to the fact that Nintendo severely limited the number of third-party developers that were able to make games for the system, and largely because Nintendo opted to stick with a cartridge-based format in an age where everybody and their dogs had made the transition to compact discs, which hold about 10 times as much memory as the largest ..."

The Nintendo 64 console has gained some infamy over the years for having quite possibly the worst lineup ever seen in a successful console. This is due partially to the fact that Nintendo severely limited the number of third-party developers that were able to make games for the system, and largely because Nintendo opted to stick with a cartridge-based format in an age where everybody and their dogs had made the transition to compact discs, which hold about 10 times as much memory as the largest N64 cartridge and are far more inexpensive to manufacture as well.

This led to the N64 having a much smaller library than its competitors-between 1996 and 2001, only around 200 games were ever released for the system, and approximately a dozen of those games are worth owning. However, a few of those dozen cemented their place in the ranks of the most critically-acclaimed games of all time. Super Mario 64 was the first, and carried the system for months on end after its release. Next up was Rare's Goldeneye 007, which set the bar for console first-person shooters and was the N64's first (and one of its only) multiplayer killer app. The third (and some might say final) of those games is none other than The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When it was released in November of 1998, it received perfect ratings across virtually every gaming publication in existence at the time. Some reviewers didn't even hesitate to call it the best game ever created. The game was so popular that the Zelda series' place within the Nintendo hierarchy skyrocketed. It began to rival, or even slightly surpass, Mario himself in terms of popularity. Seven years later, Ocarina of Time is revered every bit as much as it was on its release date. When you look into it, it's not hard to see why.

Prior to Ocarina of Time, most 3D games took heavy inspiration from Super Mario 64, regardless of genre. SM64 made three-dimensional movement fast, easy, and most of all, fun. It was only when developers attempted to use Mario's innovations in other genres that things began to fall apart. Virtually any 3D third-person game that wasn't blatantly an SM64 clone was disastrous prior to Ocarina, due to terrible camera views (this was even an issue in SM64), horrendous platforming segments, clunky controls, and the difficulty of close combat in 3D.

The most incredible thing about Ocarina of Time is that it eliminates all of these problems. Single-handedly. I don't know how Nintendo did it, but somehow it manages to make all of OoT's solutions to the issues with 3D gaming so obvious in retrospect that you really have to wonder how nobody had ever thought of them before.

The first bullet point on the list is camera control. Ocarina of Time finally offered a better alternative to manually switching and locking camera views. In OoT, all the player must do to get a clear view of the scene is press the Z button. When this happens, the camera swings directly behind wherever Link is facing. It's that simple. In fact, it's so mind-blowingly basic that you have to wonder why it took all those years for a 3D game to implement a such a useful feature. No other camera control is necessary, nor does Ocarina of Time even provide any other way to adjust your view. But what's here is so superior to previous camera systems that it doesn't matter a single bit.

The second issue with 3D games, that being the annoying and imprecise jumping segments that were all too common (actually, they still are) in them, is also deftly avoided by Ocarina of Time. That's because all the jumping in OoT is done automatically. Simply run off the edge of a cliff, a wall, or just about any other surface, and Link will leap out in that direction. This ensures that there will never be any controller-throwing moments from instant deaths (of which Ocarina has none, by the way) because you were taking a long jump and the lousy camera wouldn't let you see what you were doing.

Ocarina of Time's third major innovation lies in its superbly utilized context-sensitive button system. In other words, the function of the A button varies widely depending on where Link is and what he's doing. That's not to say that multitasking buttons didn't exist before Ocarina, but it was never anywhere near as extensive as what's been achieved in this game. At any given time, pressing the A button will make Link roll, pick up objects, drop objects, throw objects, read objects, grab onto objects, climb onto objects, put away any items he's holding, dive underwater, jump to the side, backflip, perform a lunge attack, talk to people, and more. The fact that Nintendo made sure that no area would ever trigger two functions at once is just incredible.

However, despite all the brilliant ideas I've discussed so far, by far the most significant new gameplay feature in Ocarina of Time is its ingenious targeting system. You can lock onto almost any enemy or character you encounter, and any object that Navi (your fairy partner) flies over. While locked on, Link will circle-strafe around whatever the object in question is (usually enemies), will always face in their direction, and can consult Navi for info about the baddies he's fighting. This is absurdly useful in combat situations. The fighting in the Zelda games prior to Ocarina of Time had (and still is, for that matter) always been about simple, deliberate actions, and the Z-Targeting system continues that tradition without a single hitch.

Ocarina of Time upholds and advances the Zelda formula so much that it makes it predecessors look almost laughable (though still excellent) in comparison. The quest is much, much longer than any of the previous games, and its world is far larger than any of theirs (though it is, admittedly, a bit difficult to compare the size of a 2D gameworld to a 3D one.) Ocarina also has about five times as many sidequests as any of the Zeldas to come before it.

It seems only natural that Ocarina would have far more variety in its gameplay than its predecessors as a result of its larger world. At the start of the game, you'll be a kid living a simple life inside the Kokiri Forest. By the end, you'll be a fisherman, ghost hunter, Skulltula collector, archer, member of the Gerudo thieves, horse jockey, musician, badass swordsman, mask salesman, a delivery boy, and the legendary Hero of Time. In short: there is a ton of replay value in Ocarina of Time. This game will keep you occupied for a long, long time. Between collecting Skulltula Tokens to riding Epona to fishing to trekking through dungeons, there's something for just about everybody here.

Events in the game will unfold similarly to the other games in the series, but make no mistake: while Ocarina of Time clearly borrows some of its elements from A Link to the Past, calling it tired or rehashed would be ludicrous. There's enough new content here to satisfy even the most cynical of gamers. One of the coolest new gameplay mechanics in the game, aside from the more technical ones that were explained earlier, is the titular Ocarina of Time itself. Basically, you can play notes with it by using the C and A buttons. The main purpose of this is to play quest-essential songs that you learn throughout the game, but you can also use it to learn whatever other tunes you want to play. Having music as such a central element to a game is unusual outside of, well, music games, but it works strikingly well here.

Another interesting risk taken with Ocarina of Time is the new emphasis on puzzle solving throughout the game. Puzzles have already been a part of the series, but starting with Link's Awakening and expanded upon in OoT, they started to become much more prominent and complex than in the first three games. This doesn't hurt the gameplay at all; if anything, it even enhances it. Ocarina of Time's labyrinths requires a perfect balance of brain and brawn to be completed; I'd even go so far to say that it has the best dungeons the series has ever seen. Who could forget trying multiple times to break through the cobweb in the Deku Tree? The giant stone Dodongo head in Dodongo's Cavern? The fleshy, slimy interior of Jabu-Jabu's Belly? The twisted hallways in the Forest Temple? The creepy chanting of the Fire Temple? Being stuck for months on the Water Temple? Finally BEATING that go!@#$! ****ing Water Temple? Solving the Boss Key room in the Shadow Temple? The cool young/adult interplay of the Spirit Temple? All the classic moments are here, people.

Likewise, the boss battles in Ocarina of Time are second to none. While they aren't all screaming with originality (King Dodongo...), they all feel like there's been a ton of effort put into them, and they're all among the most memorable I've ever had the pleasure of playing. Everyone remembers the awesome effect with the paintings while fighting Phantom Ganon. All of us recall the awesome atmosphere while fighting Dark Link. And no one will ever forget the epic last encounter of OoT, which will forever go down in history as one of the finest final bosses ever to grace a video game.

The epic feel of Ocarina of Time really adds a lot to the game. It always feels like there's tons for you to do, and that you're the only one who can possibly stop the evil encroaching upon Hyrule. You have many choices about where to go and what to do next, though much of the game must be completed in a linear fashion. There's just a living, breathing feel to the game's world that hasn't often been duplicated in other video games. I also took a liking to the day-and-night feature in the game, which is a nice touch and adds to OoT's atmosphere, if nothing else.

Ocarina of Time's controls are about as good as they could possibly be. Your sword and shield are always equipped (unless you manually take them off) and can be used at any time with the B and R buttons. The A button, as explained previously, has many, many different functions. One inventory item can be equipped to each C button, excluding C-Up, which is used to listen to Navi's hints. The Z button is, of course, used for the aforementioned Z-Targeting system.

It doesn't hurt that Ocarina of Time had quite possibly the best graphics in a console game ever back in 1998. Even seven years later, they're passable. The framerate, while a bit choppy by today's standards, almost never suffers from slowdown. Animation is excellent and varied at that; Ganondorf's lightning attack impresses me to this day. Environments are detailed and expansive; just look at how huge Hyrule Field is, for God's sake. The game does have a few prerendered areas, namely in the Castle Market and inside most houses, but they look great and the real-time environments vastly outnumber them, so this is completely forgivable. Character models look rather blocky compared to what we have today (Link's nose is like a spear coming out of his face), but is anyone honestly going to have a serious issue with this?

Ocarina of Time's audio is extremely well-done. Link's grunts and battle cries work very, very well with the game, though a couple of other voice samples (read: Ganondorf's laugh) sound a bit grainy. The classic puzzle-solving chime also makes a welcome return. Everything else complements the game perfectly.

The game's soundtrack is also excellent and varied. The game borrows a fair few tunes from A Link to the Past, though the classic Zelda overworld theme is oddly absent. The Spanish acoustics of the Gerudo Valley, the infectiously catchy Song of Storms, the epic Hyrule Field main theme, and the aural masterpiece that is the final boss music are notable standouts. The Ocarina songs are well-composed and never become annoying. I really enjoyed OoT's music, overall.

Even if you're specifically looking for it, it's hard to find fault in Ocarina of Time. You could argue that it's too easy, but the same complaint can be lobbied for 90% of games out there, since any game becomes too easy after playing it for a long time. Besides, I don't need to be ripping out my hair in frustration every minute to enjoy a game. You could also complain about Hyrule Field being so big, but that's just being anal and nitpicky. If you completely despise adventure games or need to be scoring headshots every 2 seconds to have fun with a game, then there's isn't much in Ocarina of Time (or any of the other Zelda games, for that matter) to change your mind.

I don't think I can give a higher recommendation to Ocarina of Time. The game is virtually flawless. It's one of the greatest masterpieces of video games, and an absolutely awe-inspiring, incredible experience throughout. Absolutely, hands-down the best Zelda game yet. If you have even the slightest hint of interest in video games, you owe it to yourself to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You won't regret it.

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Community review by phediuk (March 22, 2006)

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