In the days of the Super Nintendo and Genesis/Megadrive, it could be argued games were simpler. 2D games created with sprites instead of full 3D graphics were less thematically and conceptually complex (in most cases), so when the technology was there to create full 3D games this would obviously have had a huge impact on the industry. It’s easy to look at the industry in the mid 90’s and see how different developers were trying to conquer the 3D realm (Sonic Adventure and the N64 Castlevanias come to mind).
Nintendo entered the fray with the N64 and a game called Super Mario 64. The N64’s analogue controller along with the insanely accessible Super Mario 64 revolutionised the way 3D environments were navigated. At this point, people were excited for the new Zelda game, especially after numerous delays. It didn’t disappoint and received critical acclaim. There’s not much praise or superlatives I can give Ocarina of Time that hasn’t been said before, but for me everything from the opening screen of link riding across Hyrule field to the end credits were magical. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the game, and for a lot of people their first Zelda is also their most nostalgic. Anyway, if we look at the video game industry today, Breath of The Wild has redefined what a Zelda game (and probably action adventure game) is yet again. Because of this, I feel it’s time to look back at a classic and see what made it so great.
Ocarina of Time was developed concurrently with Super Mario 64 and first shown off at a trade show in 1995. In fact, Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 are actually based off the same game engine! The difference between the two games, in terms of development, is that Mario is a platformer and Zelda is an action adventure (although it’s notoriously difficult to define Zelda). Because of this Nintendo introduced the Z-targeting system. This system allows the camera to lock on to an enemy and pivot during combat. This feature is used in games to this day! It allowed for the combat to be fluid and intuitive. In fact, I think the combat in Ocarina of Time (and Majora’s Mask) are superior to Twilight Princess and Wind Waker because they are more simple. How cool is it to dodge an enemy attack with a backflip and then strike when their guards down. The thing that I find with Nintendo is that every aspect of gameplay (usually) is so polished. In terms of fluidity of movement, Ocarina is much more efficient than a game in the same genre such as Starfox Adventures.
As a kid playing Ocarina of Time I remember the dungeons being really difficult but the mini bosses and bosses were amazingly cool. Not that difficulty in a dungeon is a bad thing, but I think having puzzles as being optional, such as in Breath of The Wild, makes the game more accessible for new players. The dungeons that stand out the most in Ocarina are, for me, the forest temple and spirit temple. The twisted corridor and eerie music of the forest temple remind me of being a kid exploring an old building or run down park out in a dilapidated part of town. In regards to the spirit temple, after making an epic trek across the desert and seeing Nabooru being taken by some shady witches, the whole scene just screams epicness, particularly for games at the time. The fact that you complete a portion of the dungeon both as a child and adult adds to the importance of what you are doing in that game world. Of course, you can’t talk about dungeons in Ocarina without talking about the water temple. Yes, the dungeon is hard but is it really a ‘bad’ dungeon? It has the best mini boss in the game, dark link.
The flow of the game is almost perfect. There’s never a point where you feel that something is included just as filler. I could compare it to the empty world of Twilight Princess, where you even have to collect five heart pieces instead of four to fill a heart container. Why the extra piece? It dilutes the experience. Another low point in the series for me are the silent realms from Skyward Sword which were stealth portions (not that I generally have anything against stealth portions in Zelda games) that were extremely annoying and not fun.
By the end of the N64’s life cycle Ocarina of Time sold over seven million copies making it one of the highest selling Zelda games ever. The game has been re-released many times, on the Gamecube and Virtual Consoles for both Wii and Wii U. There’s also a 3ds remake with improved graphics, stereoscopic 3D and motion controls.
To sum up, Ocarina of Time is still a masterpiece. The game world is so polished, the puzzles are clever and the combat is intuitive. Now that Breath of The Wild has redefined Zelda, it’ll be interesting to see what template the new games follow. No matter what happens Ocarina of Time will be looked on as a classic.