The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

I was cautious when starting Ocarina of Time, a game heralded as the best of all time could not possibly live up to the hype, or so I thought. After playing the game I am not sure if I could say that is the best game of all time or even my favorite Legend of Zelda game, but I can say with confidence that is outstanding and certainly one of the most impactful games of all time. It is a quintessential action-adventure and the most classic Legend of Zelda game I can think of. If I were to recommend a Legend of Zelda title to a new player, I think Ocarina of Time is the most representative of what the series is about. I have to preface the rest of this article with the fact that I played the original Nintendo 64 version on the Wii U emulator, so a couple of the issues I will mention with the game were fixed in the 3DS remake of the game.

The first thing that really stood out to me about Ocarina of Time was the controls. For being released in 1998 on a console that time has treated unfavorably Ocarina of Time has pretty tight controls, even by today’s standards. This game introduced Z-Targeting, which allowed players to lock-on to enemies and move around them with great ease. Z-Targeting was a revolutionary advancement in video game controls and it is even still used in some modern games. Occasionally it was a little difficult to lock-on to the correct enemy in Ocarina of Time, but it usually pretty simple to cycle through different opponents until I had targeted the correct one. The sword fighting in this game was remarkably simple but it is some of my favorite sword play in any Legend of Zelda title. The only big issue with controls in this game was aiming. Aiming the Bow, Hookshot, and Boomerang was pretty rough. A single small tap on the control stick would send the pointer across the screen. There were plenty of instances of having to shoot at moving targets with extreme precision and it was usually more frustrating than fun. Even though aiming was unnecessarily difficult it was not so impactful or frequent that it significantly worsened the game.

One of my favorite features in Ocarina of Time was just how alive the world felt. Every area felt unique and it was interesting to see how the world changed from seven year gap between young Link and adult Link. The supporting casts of characters also were memorable and likeable. Watching the grumpy Darunia dance and smile when I played Saria’s Song was a joy and the whole game in general was just charming in that sense.  The world was very fun to discover and explore.  Whether it is uncovering Heart Pieces, finding Golden Skulltulas, or doing side-quests, there were plenty of extra things to do in Ocarina of Time. Everything felt very rewarding as well; it was properly gratifying to complete all of these optional objectives.

One of the core ideas in Ocarina of Time was using music and songs to manipulate the world around you. I absolutely loved this feature as it introduced a number of playable catchy songs on top of the already great soundtrack. Songs can be used to change the time of day, talk to your friend, access different areas, or even teleport to the major dungeons. The songs were such a vital part to the game and they were extremely useful and fun to play. I still occasionally whistle Saria’s Song unconsciously, that says a lot for how catchy these songs are.

The dungeons in Ocarina of Time were pretty stellar for the most part. The first three dungeons were played through as young Link. They were very simple, but rightfully so as they are the first 3D Legend of Zelda dungeons ever, so they are meant as an introduction. I was not a huge fan of the third dungeon, Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly. The aesthetic was unappealing, the design was a bit repetitive, and I had to carry around an annoying companion, these factors led to a mediocre dungeon. Luckily most of the following dungeons were so amazing that it made up for it. Most of the adult Link dungeons had great themes, puzzles, enemies, and bosses. The Forrest Temple, Fire Temple, Spirit Temple, and Inside Ganon’s Castle in particular were my favorites. All but one of the adult Link dungeons I would describe as phenomenal, the one outlier is the Water Temple.

I could write an entire thesis on how much I hate the Water Temple, but I will attempt to keep it brief. The biggest issue with this dungeon was the frequent use of the Iron Boots. In order to sink in water you have to equip the Iron Boots, and to rise to the surface you need to take them off. This would not be a big issue if you could assign the Iron Boots to a button like most other major items, but you have to go into the menu every time you want to equip or unequip them. This slows process to a grinding halt whenever you want to descend of ascend in water. Often times I would have to go into the menu twice within three seconds just to use the Iron Boots. The dungeon’s design in itself was an interesting concept but it was poorly executed in my opinion. There were so many branching paths that could be accessed and made this dungeon an incredibly confusing affair. The combination of the Iron Boots and the confusing nature of the dungeon made it incredibly tedious and slow. The mini-boss and the boss of this dungeon were also pretty bad in my opinion as they were ridiculously easy and felt like they were just a formality instead of actually interesting bosses. The Water Temple is a pretty big stain on the otherwise clean Ocarina of Time.

While I may not think Ocarina of Time is the best game ever I cannot deny its greatness and the magnitude of its achievement, especially considering its age. It is the best representation of what the Legend of Zelda series is all about. It still holds up pretty well today, although I recommend getting the 3DS version as it fixes a number of the flaws in the original game. It was definitely an enlightening experience for me, getting to see the roots of one of my favorite series was great. Ocarina of Time is the highest rated video game of all time, and I am certain that it deserves a playthrough by anybody and everybody.

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