The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a legendary game in more than just name. The original game for the Nintendo 64 regularly features at the top of “best of all time” lists and remains one of the best reviewed games in existence. All Nintendo really had to do was port it, make it 3D and send it out and it would have got accolades.
Fortunately they didn’t just do that, and while they didn’t go the whole hog and remake the game (some would argue they already did that five years ago but they would be wrong), they did spend considerable energy doing a few things that are very welcome: they enhanced the texture quality, ensured a stable frame rate, added an in-game hint mechanism, made equipment changing much smoother via the touch screen interface, and implemented gyro-sensor aiming. Some other minor tweaks were added: a little more detail in the geometry in places and, for example, some subtle guiding markers in the Water Temple. But for all intents and purposes this is the original game. And it’s still awesome.
The story starts in Kokiri Forest where a young boy has finally received his guardian fairy. That boy is the main character of the story and, for want of his real name (which you give him), I’ll call him Link. Unlike more recent console Zelda games, you get thrown into a dungeon within an hour (or within 10 minutes if you’ve played before and know where to find that flipping sword), and the action never really lets up. For a while the world seems like a happy place (other than the dead Great Deku Tree and a depressed Goron King), and young Link has the time of his life exploring Hyrule Field and Hyrule itself. Soon things go bad, stuff happens and Zelda (she of the title) is not happy (I’m trying not to spoil things). Now the world is a difficult place, even Kokiri Forest is not a haven any more. The atmosphere of the game is superb – more plot comes through in the feel of places and the way they change with time than any exposition could convey. The plot is not particularly remarkable but the mode of story-telling is still one of the best examples of story in this medium.
Ocarina of Time is best described as an action adventure. Link must venture forth into the great wide world to find artifacts that will repair something that has broken. These artifacts are universally known to be owned by giant creatures that live in dungeons, so Link must enter the dungeons and find his way to the giant creature and destroy it if he is to save Hyrule. There is always some difficulty in getting to the dungeon: first you must find it, and then get the new equipment needed to get to it. All this takes place in the
“overworld” – the living, breathing world of Hyrule and surrounds. While running around this overworld there are many little intriguing nooks and crannies to be explored, such as Lon Lon Ranch, or Lake Hyrule. There are also activities to take part in; fishing, horse-riding, sharp-shooting or rounding up Cuccos are some. You can while away hours just looking around town or Kokoriki Village, shopping, collecting rupees or talking to inhabitants. Those activities are all fun and relaxing, but they’re all in preparation for the next dungeon and that eventual, inevitable boss fight.
Dungeons are multi-layered, many-roomed places and involve all kinds of ingenious puzzle solving and fighting of creatures. In every dungeon there is a new, unique piece of equipment that opens up a whole new set of puzzles to be solved. Without the overworld the dungeons of Ocarina of Time would have no context, no world to save, but without the dungeons it would cease to be a Zelda game. It is one of the most thrilling moments in gaming when you finally arrive inside a dungeon and the camera pans to reveal this new realm and displays its name. This is only matched (or even, perhaps bettered) by the moment you enter the lair of the dungeon boss, see its incredible form and are shown its name.
Leaps of Logic
The pacing of the game is near perfect – you are always achieving something, always discovering new things, and always learning. However, even after playing 5 or 6 Zelda games I still find there are some leaps of logic in Ocarina of Time that are completely non-obvious; hence why I say “near” perfect. It’s a very difficult thing to get the balance right in a game that involves exploration to such a great degree. If you guide the player every step of the way there is no exploration and the sense of discovering things for yourself falls away, but if you don’t guide the player at all they are left looking through the entire world for a very small thing. A few times I’ve been at a loss for what I’m supposed to be doing even though I was paying very careful attention, so I feel Ocarina sometimes falls on the side of too little help. For reference, I felt Twilight Princess to be perfect in this regard, the DS games a little too guided, while in the Wind Waker I felt lost at sea a lot of the time.
Fortunately there are a few guides to help – you can call Saria, your friend from Kokiri Forest, via the ocarina she gives you (not the Ocarina of Time, just a regular one), and she will sometimes say something useful. An owl also appears every now and then and tells you important things. Some flashing dots on your map (on the touch screen) show you what areas are current places of interest. Finally, you can visit Sheikah Stones to get “visions” which give you glimpses as to what you can do. These don’t tell you directly, but hint at things through short video clips. This is a new feature in the 3DS version and they’ve been added as Zelda’s version of the Super Guide from the Mario games – a way to help stuck gamers.
Even so, sometimes things are just not at all obvious. In one place you try talk to someone to help them and she rejects you, you talk again and she rejects you again, so naturally you move on and try and figure something else out. It turns out you needed to talk to her a third time and she would let you help. In another place a really fundamentally important item is secreted away underneath one of about 30 unmarked graves, almost all of which have nothing under them. Neither of these solutions are given by the Sheikah Stones, so unless you are patient enough to explore everything and love the exploration aspect you might want a guide handy to help you along when you get tired of visiting the same people and going through the same areas still not finding what you’re looking for.
The best version so far
I should talk a little about this 3DS version of the game. It’s fantastic. The textures are much higher quality, the music is much higher quality, the frame rate is stable and everything feels better. It’s in 3D too, of course, and it works really well with the Zelda formula, adding atmosphere and a sense of weight to things. I especially enjoyed the way the Spiritual Stones and other artifacts seem to pop out of the screen when the “victory” animation plays. The touch screen inventory management is superb – not only can you assign items to X and Y, but you can put them in icons on the corners of the touch screens for easy access. This is great for less commonly but regularly used items such as the Ocarina or bottles of potions. Some equipment has been changed to items to make them easier to put on and take off at the press of a button. Changing your tunics, swords or shields is only a few quick clicks away and the inventory is perfectly usable with your fingers.
I just wish I could write notes on maps like in the DS Zelda games, but I made do with the 3DS’ note-taking feature. The gyro-sensor controls are great too. When you aim a projectile weapon you can move the DS around to get fine control over your shot. While in my opinion the circle-pad is a near-perfect substitute for analog stick, the gyro-sensor adds a level of fine control that is needed. Other additions to the 3DS version are the Master Quest and the Boss Challenge. The Master Quest only becomes available once you finish the game, which is odd because there are millions of people who’ve already finished the game on the Nintendo 64 and should be able to access the Master Quest on their first play-through of the 3DS version. The Boss Challenge allows you to re-fight boss battles, recording your best times. All Zelda games should have this.
I’m going to stop now, although I could probably write about this game for at least another few thousand words. I’ll give some quick summaries: the music is superb (although it is still midi, it is very high quality midi and the compositions are still top quality); the controls are as perfect as always; you still start with the stupidly sized wallet and you still find treasure that just gets lost because it can’t fit in your wallet (what a letdown that is when it happens); riding Epona is marvelous; other people can’t watch because it’s on a handheld; even if you save your game in Kokoriki Village you start in Kokiri Forest when you load; a word of warning: watch out for your 3DS’ power light – I had it die on me with only about a minute’s warning; there is the odd moment once in a while where things in Ocarina of Time feel like they could be 13 years old, and Nintendo have since used all six axes more effectively in gameplay (and look to go even further in Skyward Sword), but The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still one of the best games I’ve ever played, and this is the best version of the game.