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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Master Quest (GameCube) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Master Quest (GameCube) review

"Zelda has long been Nintendo's flagship title, being universally loved by just about everyone. Though new installments have traditionally been few and far between, each has been a timeless classic which has far surpassed most other games in longevity and enjoyment. When the Ocarina of Time was released in 1997, it brought about a renaissance in the art of video game design, setting new standards for the adventure and action genres. It is nearly impossible to find a game which is not affected in ..."

Zelda has long been Nintendo's flagship title, being universally loved by just about everyone. Though new installments have traditionally been few and far between, each has been a timeless classic which has far surpassed most other games in longevity and enjoyment. When the Ocarina of Time was released in 1997, it brought about a renaissance in the art of video game design, setting new standards for the adventure and action genres. It is nearly impossible to find a game which is not affected in at least some way by the Ocarina of Time (and it‘s partner in fanboyism, Final Fantasy VII) and even more so to find a gamer who has not played it.

The Ocarina of Time Master Quest was originally a game designed for the Nintendo 64 Disc Drive, a peripheral for the Nintendo 64 which never reached the States. Featuring remixed versions of Ocarina's nine dungeons (most more difficult but others noticeably easier), those of us who had heard of the Master Quest but never got a chance to play it were ravenously jealous of the lucky few with the Nintendo Disc Drive. At last released as a bundle with the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the Nintendo Gamecube, we finally got a chance to experience firsthand just how “masterful” we had to be to complete the game.

The designers of Ocarina of Time made a wise decision when they first began planning the game: rather then completely reinventing the series, they took the incredible design of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (considered by many, including myself, to be the greatest Zelda and one of the greatest games ever) and presented it in a 3-D format. To say that they succeeded would be an understatement. It really cannot be described, you have to play it to understand - this is classic Zelda. The 3-D game engine doesn't change the feel of the game at all, while still dramatically changing its gameplay. Perhaps it is because A Link to the Past already felt very three dimensional thanks to its many-leveled dungeons and multi-tiered rooms, but to apply this graphically instead of using tricks of perspective was a a stroke of genius, however obvious that stroke was.

The dungeons are traditional Zelda fare - as long as they are numerous, nearly every room has a puzzle which must be solved to progress. The use of the numerous tools Link gains along the way (slingshots, torches, bombs, the Ocarina, and the quintessential Hookshot) is ingenious, and though many of the puzzles ultimately break down into which item to use where, the game rarely feel repetitive. Each dungeon has a traditional theme which is associated with it - ranging from the inner workings of a gigantic fish to an ancient temple choked by the forest which surrounds it. Giant spiders, goblins, lizards, skeletons, and all manner of beasties are hell bent on getting in your way, and no enemy ever feels out of place in their environment.

The reworked “Master Quest” dungeons, sadly, don't focus so much on enhancing the puzzles to make them more difficult but instead match Link up against more powerful enemies at an earlier stage in the game. The Deku Babas, for example, which do not normally appear in the original version of the game until Link is an Adult, are now faced by Link as a child in the very first dungeon of the game. Which isn't to say the puzzles haven't been redone - they've been reworked to give them new flavor and make the player take a different approach to solving it, but none are really more difficult to solve.

The bosses are great, and up to that point in time were the best seen in the series. A tradition in Zelda titles is for the bosses to be deceptively easy - once you figure out their weak point (most often glaringly obvious, but with some notable exceptions) then the boss is already dead. Ocarina of Time is no different. Each boss follows a general pattern, and memorizing the pattern and learning how to deflect and/or dodge each attack renders the boss relatively harmless. Luckily the bosses are just a joy to fight against, always being fun and never boring no matter how many times you have beaten them previously. They remain the game's highlight right to the bittersweet end.

A large overworld with plenty to explore and find has always been a part of any Zelda game, and once again Ocarina of Time is no different. Hidden pits, caves and tombs are uncovered just about everywhere, hiding riches, health upgrades and golden spiders within. If the overworld has a flaw, it is that it can be overwhelmingly large. Often times when traveling from place to place the distance can seem absurd, thanks in so small part to the massive Hyrule Field zone, which serves as a hub to other areas in the game. Hyrule Field wouldn't be that bad, except for the fact that it doesn't have much purpose. Until you learn about the numerous shortcuts which dot the overworld, journeying across it can be a wearying task. Fighting hordes of skeletons by night and hunting Poes on horseback was meant to give some purpose to the zone, but since the former can be (and usually is) ignored entirely and the latter is only a brief optional side quest, getting around can be wearisome.

The one place where Ocarina of Time steps apart from its predecessors is in combat. Previous titles had a simple fighting system - move with the D-Pad, attack with the Attack button. Ocarina of Time expands on this idea by adding the now constantly-copied concept of L-Targeting. In battle, Navi (your annoyingly helpful Fairy ally) floats from enemy to enemy. Hitting the L button will lock Link's attention onto that enemy, allowing him to dodge in all directions and execute a myriad of different attacks. In some kind of twisted form of chivalry, most enemies will not aggressively attack Link while he is targeting another enemy. The targeting system is also used in other ways - talking to far off people and focusing on points of interest being two examples.

As the title would suggest, the Ocarina of Time gives Link control over time. About a third of the way through the game, Link is put in a magical form of sleep for seven years. When he awakes he is now an adult, and the world around him has been ravaged by an evil man he failed to stop as a child. Though the mechanics of time travel are poorly used and even more poorly explained in the broad scheme of the game (replacing the Master Sword in the Future wouldn't restore the Past, for example), it is still cleverly utilized at some parts. Unlike games such as Chrono Trigger or Ocarina's successor, Majora's Mask, time travel is not a central part of this game. It is merely a mechanic used to place Link in an apocalyptic future, one which he must save.

Story has never been the Zelda series' strong point. Often times having only a barebones tale to follow with only one, if any, plot twist, Ocarina of Time isn't too far ahead of its predecessors but is still a step in the right direction. The game begins with Link, a young Kokiri (think Elves mixed with Hobbits). All Kokiri have Fairy companions, except for Link. At last, one comes to him named Navi, sent by the Great Deku Tree, a benevolent demigod who watches over his Kokiri 'children' and keeps them safe in the Kokiri Forest. It seems that recently the Deku Tree was visited by an evil man from the Desert, who demanded that the Deku Tree hand over the Spiritual Stone of the Forest. After refusing to hand over the stone, the evil man poisoned the Deku Tree. It seems that this man wanted the Three Spiritual Stones to open the doors to the Golden Land, where lay the Triforce. Anyone who possesses the Triforce will have all of their wishes granted. And so Link sets out on a journey as the last wish of the Deku Tree to gather the Three Spiritual Stones before Ganondorf, the Prince of Thieves, does.

Though it has a completely new storyline, the path the story follows is eerily similar to A Link to the Past. Link is tasked with gathering three sacred stones, and once doing so learns his journey has only just begun. But while A Link to the Past sent Link to a twisted, bizarre version of his own world in a state of hellish decay, the Ocarina of Time sends Link forward in time seven years to a twisted, bizarre version of his own world in a state of post-apocalyptic decline. It isn't the strongest story ever told, but as far as Zelda goes it is well fleshed out with unique characters and at least one plot twist that will take you by surprise.

The controls in the original version of Ocarina of Time were excellent. If they had one flaw, it was almost complete absence of camera control. The Nintendo 64 controls translate remarkably well to the Gamecube controller - B and A serve the same context sensitive functions as they did on the Nintendo 64. The C buttons are now mapped to the Y, X and Z buttons, as well as to the C-Stick. Z-targeting has become L-targeting. The Joystick still controls movement, and it has become far more sensitive to pressure. This is where the controls take a hit - in first person mode it is nearly impossible to make minute adjustments to your aim, a task which was very easy on the Nintendo 64. This is only a minor gripe, however; most of the first person aiming is only used in minigames, and they are easy enough even with the slippery controls.

The graphics have aged remarkably well, even though it has been nearly nine years at the time I write this review since the original game's release. Testament to their initial superior design. The port from cartridge to minidisc format has had a doubled effect - the resolution is now far crisper, and the game also supports the short-lived Progressive Scan Mode on some television sets. This enhanced resolution is a double-edged sword - far off objects are now much easier to see and there is much less 'fog' in the game (except where it is included as part of ambience), while close objects now have their polygons and outlines of their sprites considerably more noticeable. NPCs and monsters also have a tendency to suddenly appear out of nowhere, rather then gradually becoming visible as they did in the N64 Ocarina.

With arguably the best soundtrack of any Zelda game past or present (even with the unfortunate absence of A Link to the Past's legendary 'Overworld Theme'), the many different areas have independent soundtracks devoted to them rather then recycling the same music clip over and over. The game also makes some limited use of the Context Sensitive Soundtrack pioneered in Rare's Banjo-Kazooie - the pace of the music changes based on the things happening in the game. The music used while in combat is the same no matter where you go, so you hear it a lot. Luckily it is more of a subtle, tense song then blazing, blaring fanfare, so it doesn't get tedious quickly.

Despite the fact that Master Quest is now on compact disc, the game still makes use of the original MIDI files used by necessity on old Cartridge-based games. The musical quality is thus noticeably substandard compared to other games on CD - hollow, restrained and slightly dulled. This fact does not reduce the overall score any - the game is a port of an older game, and should be scored as though it were when the original game was first released. Scoring the game lower because of the technological limitations of its time is just unfair. The sound effects used in the rest of the game are great. Swords sound like swords, shields sound like shields, the ocarina sounds like an ocarina.

Collection games were all the rage when Ocarina of Time first debuted, thanks in no small part to the recent release of Pokemon in the states. Ocarina of Time has its own collection gimmick, in addition to the old Heart Piece collection which has been a part of the franchise since the original title. This gimmick is in the form of the Gold Skulltulas. Actually giant golden spiders which cannot be L-targeted and only appear at night (in most cases), collecting all 100 will yield larger wallets to hold money, heart pieces, and other miscellaneous items. Ultimately collecting all 100 proves pointless except as bragging rights - the reward for collecting 100 skulltulas is a joke.

Returning from A Link to the Past are the Shooting Gallery style games. Starting with a shooting range for the Slingshot, later another gallery appears for the Bow & Arrow and a third for Bombchus. This third one is arguably the most memorable minigame in Zelda history. Bombchus are mobile bombs which, when laid down, follow a straight path along floors, walls and ceilings. In Bombchu Bowling, the object is to send the Bombchu into the hole at the end of the course while dodging spike traps, chickens, and more chickens. It's great fun, if heavy on the wallet. A bevy of smaller side quests, including becoming a traveling mask salesman, a long trading minigame, 'liberating' a horse from a ranch, becoming an honorary thief, etc. etc. round out the game's extensive list of Optional Fun.

Though it does not contain the largest number of dungeons in a Zelda series (A Link to the Past still holds that record, beating out Ocarina by one), Ocarina of Time is still the longest Zelda game ever made, even ignoring all of the optional side quests and boiling the game down to only its base. The dungeons are long and enjoyable, and there's plenty to do outside of them to keep the game from getting too dry. Unfortunately once you've earned the rewards for the side quests there isn't much incentive to repeat them, as frequently the only way to earn the best rewards from the minigames is to get the highest score possible.

Ocarina of Time is only a game of average difficulty. Though some of the puzzles are genuinely tricky the first time through, most of them are pretty self explanatory just by looking at it. Combat, while fun and innovative, isn't very hard since for the most part enemies will only attack you one at a time (with a few notable exceptions) and you can spend most of the fight hiding behind the relative safety of your shield, waiting for the opportunity to strike.

It is on subsequent playthroughs that the game takes a hit. The game's slow pace at its outset and habit of steadily spitting out instructions, providing no option to skip them, can make starting over frustratingly tedious. The more times you play through the game, the less you'll want to start over again. Just sitting through Navi explaining how to push boxes one more time will put me in the insane asylum, and most others will probably agree with me. Luckily the Master Quest breathes new life into the game, giving veterans of the original an excuse to play through it just one more time. Additionally, since the game contains both the original Ocarina of Time as well as the Master Quest, players who missed the original (shame on you) will have twice the reason to beat it again.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10
Story: 3 out of 5
Controls: 7 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 4 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 8 out of 10
Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10

The Good: The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time Master Quest contains remixed dungeons, previously unavailable in America. Additionally it is one of the greatest adventure games ever, which in this generation of video gaming is a distinction normally afforded to the Playstation 2. The game has sharper graphics, thanks mostly to the transfer to minidisc and increased processing speeds of the Gamecube.
The Bad: The dungeons aren't always as hard as the “Master Quest” would leave you to believe, mostly pitting you against more and harder enemies early on. Most of the dungeons in the game feature new puzzles, but nothing that should challenge experienced players. Slippery controls makes precise aiming, moving slowly and playing the ocarina a slightly more difficult task then in the original.
The Ugly: We have yet another port from Nintendo, just giving ammunition to Nintendo nay-sayers. The painfully slow start makes playing more tedious with each subsequent start. Use of time travel in gameplay is minimal considering how large the game is, and most of it doesn't make a lick of sense logistically either.

Initially made available only to people who preordered the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, The Master Quest may be difficult to find as you will literally only find it at used gaming stores or in pawn shops. The price tends to not be cheap as a result, since the game is typically in such high demand. If you can manage to find this (or better yet, the even more rare Legend of Zelda Collection) then I strongly suggest buying it just to say you have it. Even after you grow tired of playing it, it still makes a worthy trophy for your shelf. It's pretty much guaranteed this game will gain value, and though it will never have the value of an original unopened golden cartridge of the Nintendo 64 version, this will become a valuable curiosity item in decades to come.

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Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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