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

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

"Isn't it ironic how the "Greatest video game ever made" was supposed to put Nintendo back on top, but instead led them to their inevitable downfall? Despite becoming the most commercially successful Zelda game to date with more than 7 million copies sold worldwide, in addition to being mentioned on virtually every "best of" list imaginable from critic and gamer alike, not even Ocarina of Time could save the Nintendo 64 from suffering humiliation at the hands of Sony. The 'Big N' who once ..."

Isn't it ironic how the "Greatest video game ever made" was supposed to put Nintendo back on top, but instead led them to their inevitable downfall? Despite becoming the most commercially successful Zelda game to date with more than 7 million copies sold worldwide, in addition to being mentioned on virtually every "best of" list imaginable from critic and gamer alike, not even Ocarina of Time could save the Nintendo 64 from suffering humiliation at the hands of Sony. The 'Big N' who once ruled two successive gaming generations with an iron fist saw their reign finally come to an end. Their crumbling empire was on the brink of collapse!

You see, before the Wii and all of this casual gaming nonsense that the new Nintendo now embraces, they were originally famous for crafting epic adventure games. Their games involved richly themed fantasy worlds, a cast of memorable characters, a one-dimensional plot that gave the game its purpose beyond attaining a high score, and refined gameplay that encouraged players to explore and learn powerful new abilities. Soon these adventures would grow larger in scope requiring the necessity of passwords to keep track of gamers' progress. Later, a more convenient built-in game save feature was introduced. This forward-thinking is what got Nintendo to where they were. That was the age I grew up in. They don't make 'em like they used to anymore..

This day, on November 23rd marks the 11th anniversary of its release. If you are reading this and haven't played this game for ages or if you are one of those that have yet to play it, then what you probably wanted to know is, "Is this game still compelling to play eleven years later?" I asked myself this before I started playing it again this month. It would be almost a decade since I played Ocarina of Time from beginning to end. My gaming heart yearned for a revisit to Hyrule, in primitive three-dimensional fashion just like the olden days. So I dusted off my old Nintendo 64, popped the gold cartridge in the slot and let the beautiful intro sucker me back once more into its world.

What makes Ocarina of Time the definitive game in the series begins with its plot. Unlike past Zelda games where story and dialogue are kept relatively simple, Ocarina's plot boasts more lines of prose and expository revelations than all previous installments combined. The Oracle games can claim to be the earliest tales in the Zelda timeline, but Ocarina of Time is where the legend truly began! Here you will learn more about the seven wise men, the creation of Hyrule, the Triforce and the Sacred Realm that was alluded to in A Link To The Past. You will also learn the ill-fated relationship between Link, Zelda, and Ganon that inextricably link their destinies for all eternity. Ocarina of Time delves deeply into its mythology while providing enough fan service to keep long-time fans speculating. Those who are new to the series can still enjoy the story on a non-superficial level.

It's an improbable tale about a young boy named Link who goes from being a village nobody to become the unlikely hero. He couldn't fit in with the Kokiri children of the forest because he didn't have a guardian fairy like the others. Until one day, Link was entrusted with his very own fairy and in exchange was summoned to meet with the Kokiri village guardian, The Great Deku Tree. Sensing the boy's destiny, Link was brought forth for his first grave task. He must free The Great Deku Tree from an evil curse. The one who had plotted this was none other than Ganondorf, a wicked man conspiring to take the beautiful kingdom of Hyrule under his tyrannical rule. Link leaves the confines of the forest to meet the young princess Zelda and agrees to help her thwart Ganondorf's plans. His small role as a forest boy was over and all of a sudden the fate of Hyrule rested on his shoulders. Its a journey of innocence, self-discovery, and courage.

The plot wouldn't be as compelling without its stars and supporting cast. Link, the protagonist is much younger. He meets new friends and encounters many hardships along the way. By the end of the journey you will feel as if you had grown up with him. While Link is the main star of the game, it is Ganondorf's reinvigorating role as villain that makes him such a surprisingly menacing, yet commanding prescence in Ocarina of Time. Never before has he had this much onscreen time. From the outset, Ganondorf makes a personal appearance in Link's dreams then continues to haunt him in person during key events in the story. Princess Zelda reprises her role as the damsel in distress. She's younger, brash and won't take no for an answer when making a request. Some of the other colorful characters you will meet include a wise old owl, a mysterious gender bender named Shiek, the ranchers Talon and Malon, the marathon mailman, plus many more. You will also meet the different races that inhabit Hyrule: The Kokiri -- childlike elves hiding in the forests, The Gorons -- indigenous rock tribe residing in the mountains, The Zoras -- proud sea creatures swimming in the lakes, and The Gerudos -- notorious theives dwelling in the deserts. It is the diverse environments that give shape to the many faces that inhabit these places.

Perhaps the greatest character of all in Ocarina of Time is not a person but the living, breathing three-dimensional lands of Hyrule. Although its visuals, which were once state-of-the-art, now look like a blurry watercolor painting in motion. Its still a marvel to look at, due to it's effective use of color scheme which seemingly bursts bright at the seams. The moment you step out of the cramped woods and onto the vast open fields for the first time, you will feel like an explorer that has crossed into uncharted territory, which was true for its time. This was the first video game to create a convincing interactive 3D world complete with sunsets and sunrises. By comparison, Super Mario 64's environments is equivalent to playing in a tiny backyard, but here in Hyrule, the scope and size immediately feels a hundred times bigger even though the field itself is just a hub connecting to the various locales.

You will see old favorites like the ominous Death Mountain within eye-popping distance, the secluded Lost Woods, the majestic Hyrule Castle mixed along with new settlements like Lon Lon Ranch. There is still impressive depth to be had staring hundreds of feet below the surfaces of Lake Hylia or looking down the steep canyons of Gerudo Valley. You could still get a great view from the Kakariko Village Watchtower or at the peak of Death Mountain's crater. The great expanse will overwhelm you with its immensity that you could easily take a detour from your real destination. Walking on foot from one end of the map to the other could take you more than ten minutes, but riding on a horse is an even faster, exhilarating ride. Travelling through these same trodden fields in a completely new way and the liberating sense of freedom it entails, this is Ocarina of Time at its most thrilling moment. When you have finally reached the castle town of Hyrule, which is enclosed by towering walls and surrounding moats, night will have fallen and the drawbridge raises up in real-time to seal off the entrance. Most likely you will have to camp out until morning. However, don't feel bummed that you'll have to spend the night alone.

Mini-skeletons will pop up from the ground to crash in on your sleepover but don't expect it to be a huge welcoming party. The combat has shifted from the frenetic, enemy-laden arcade style action of top-down Zeldas in favor of more exaggerated one-on-one style combat with fewer enemies. Whether you consider this change or the omission of the sword-beam attack disappointing is debatable, combat nevertheless still entertains. Its similar to the swordfights of Zelda II: The Adventures of Link on the NES, but Link has more maneuvers this time around. He can strafe, dodge and backflip out of harm's way while slashing opponents vertically or horizontally, do forward stabs, jumping strikes, and perform his signature spin attack. Link also has many tools to use at his disposal which he can readily equip three at any time instead of one like the old days. Trusty favorites like the hookshot and bombs are back along with new gadgets like the slingshot and the Lens of Truth. All of this will come in handy when you go toe-to-toe against the many bosses throughout the game. Some of them make their glorious reappearance in 3D like Gohma and Dodongo from Zelda I and Dark Link from Zelda II. It is here where combat becomes less mundane and it'll take more than just brawns to fell these intimidating baddies. You must also use your brains! Ocarina plays host to some of the most epic boss fights in the series.

Action might not be its biggest strength but the puzzle-solving still is. Although they become easier with repetition, traversing these cleverly made dungeons at first is like trying to solve the Rubik's Cube. If you don't go through the areas in the correct way, you can get stuck. There will be moments where you will come across a locked door and find that you're missing a key to get to the next area. Even years later, revisiting these dungeons can still pose a challenge. Three-dimensions added a whole new level of depth to the typical Zelda puzzles such as lighting things on fire and moving blocks in a multitude of ways. To this day the dungeons in Ocarina of Time still have the best design of any Zelda game whether its the arty ambience of its themed Temples or the environmental puzzles within. Do you remember the twisting hallways of the Forest Temple? How about trying to figure out how to get past those cobwebs inside The Great Deku Tree? What about navigating a spectrum of light with mirrors in the Desert Temple? Or channeling the water with your ocarina through the multi-tiered Water Temple?

The integration of music into gameplay has been done before but never on a grand scale. In Ocarina of Time, the ocarina is the most important object in the game. With its magical properties you could do things like change time, summon your horse, or part waterfalls. You'll also need it to gain access to new areas. To do this you need to learn songs. Once you learn it, you will play them frequently. With enough repetition, they will become stuck in your head. The melodies themselves are quite memorable from simple 3-note patterns like Zelda's lullaby and Saria's Song to more complex arrangements like Bolero of Fire.

As I wind down towards its conclusion, Ocarina of Time is still a compelling and timeless affair. It has the great plot, memorable characters, the fantastic 3D world and dungeon designs, epic bosses, and the timeless music that holds up exceptionally well for its age. In the years following its release, nothing Nintendo has done has ever surpassed it, although a few have come close to equaling it. Metroid Prime and Super Mario Galaxy comes to mind. Twilight Princess could've been great. It tried too hard to outdo its inspirator, but instead became a refined clone with horrible pacing and cluttered design.

Fueled by the desire to create the perfect 3D game while still being rooted firmly in its past, perhaps that's whats so interesting about the timing of its release eleven years ago. The culmination of their creativity, the twilight of Shigeru Miyamoto's great career, and the last vestiges of the old Nintendo ended with their magnum opus, Ocarina of Time.


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Community review by jiggs (November 23, 2009)

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jerec posted November 25, 2009:

This was a very nice retrospective look at Ocarina of Time. You described so perfectly what makes this game so special. It makes me want to replay it again, though I've done so a fair bit more regularly over the years, so it won't quite be new again for me. But I certainly enjoyed reading this.
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jiggs posted November 25, 2009:

that was the intended effect i was trying to go for. thank you!
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Halon posted November 26, 2009:

you should sign up for the alphabelolympics. Still a few spots left!
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jiggs posted November 27, 2009:

i may consider it. hopefully i can have some free time to participate.
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jerec posted November 27, 2009:

Considering you have until January to produce a review, time shouldn't be much of an issue.
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Felix_Arabia posted November 27, 2009:

You should do it.
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randxian posted November 28, 2009:

I like how you pose the question "Is this game still fun today?" It's obvious you put some effort into describing how it was fun then and how it is still an enjoyable romp today. Reading this made me want to play the game again, perhaps on the Wii virtual console (I no longer own a N64). A 10/10 that makes the reader want to play the game again has certainly done its job.

However, I'm not sure what you mean by this game led to N's downfall, unless you meant the N64 is just a waste in general.

Also think the review perhaps drug on a bit too long. I know you are really passionate about this game and want to share all the game has to offer with the readers, but you don't have to include every single minute detail.
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jiggs posted November 28, 2009:

what i meant by it led to its downfall, i did't mean the N64 but Nintendo in general in the aftermath of its release. i meant it in two ways.

1.) Nintendo were counting on Ocarina to close the hardware sales gap between Sony. No matter how great the game was, Sony's lead got even bigger after its release. The notion of having a killer-app was important in those days but that trend started to reverse, beginning with OoT and because Nintendo wanted everyone to know their greatest game could only be made on cartridge, that idea too was defeated. that being said i liked the N64 and wouldn't consider it a wasted system, just a victim of time.

2.) After its release, Nintendo had been struggling creatively for awhile although with flashes of brilliance here and there. Most of their GameCube games were uninspiring which led them to shy away from creating traditional hardcore games in favor of more simple casual games..thus the "new" Nintendo as the reference there.

a part of this review reads like a lament of sorts on the way Nintendo used to make games. originally the review was over 3,000 words long. i thought about posting it in its entirety but decided to compress it down to a half. that was kind of hard to do.. in conclusion i thought an epic game should deserve an epic send-off. Ocarina is one of the few games that can get away with a lengthy review. =)

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