Bit-History: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

Alright, this game is a no-brainer.  Ask anyone to put together a serious list together of what the best games of all time are, and this masterpiece will make the cut each and every time.  This game left quite an impression on me, and I’ll remember it fondly for the rest of my life… it’s THAT good.  I’ve even contemplated buying an N64 again, until I realized I could make a control scheme with a PS3 controller that works quite well for the game, meaning I can emulate it on my PC and play it whenever I want, and it will look much better with the program’s upscaling capabilities.

Before the N64 came along and introduced Nintendo fans to the reality of gaming in a world with three dimensions, Zelda was primarily a top-down adventure/RPG series, with the exception of Zelda II, which was more of a side-scrolling RPG.  Because of the original Legend of Zelda, Link was up there as one of Nintendo’s most recognizable icons/mascots, and he’s been a part of Nintendo’s important heritage ever since… even after the company began to show incompetence and failed to realize what the hell games actually wanted anymore.  So, you can only imagine how exciting it was to get our hands on Ocarina of Time, an adventure that would put us in control on the ground, and in third-person… but of course, there were some initial concerns how well the franchise would make the transition.

The answer was ‘incredibly well’.  Mario 64 was the first ‘three dimension’ game that most people had the opportunity to play, and it was absolutely mind-blowing.  That being said, there felt like a significant confinement in each world, even the castle ‘hub world’ which served as the portal to every stage.  Zelda was always more about exploring a vast and epic world however, and I wasn’t sure that Nintendo would actually be able to provide the series justice.  But, they’ve done just that – They made Ocarina of Time one hell of an experience.

For starters, there’s the story.  My oh my, there’s the story.  Usually, you’re just dropped in Hyrule, told you have to go to a bunch of different dungeons until you work your way up to the final boss.  The premise was simple, but the draw was always the ability to roam freely and figure out a bunch of different side stuff that would net you some handy items that would undoubtedly become useful throughout your quest.  Ocarina of Time actually managed to introduce a story that made this in-game world not only seem fully realized, but seemingly bursting at the seams with history that’s as ancient as time itself.  You were made to feel as if you were truly playing a role in an important time in the history of Link’s world, and with each ‘dungeon’ you visited, it was clear that your quest was serious business.  There was plenty of atmosphere, tones throughout that were incredibly fun and light, yet contrasted with intimidating set-pieces which were dark and even scary at times.  An incredible job was paid to every aspect of the game… the outer world and dungeons were all a pleasure to explore.

The game starts off light enough, as you find Link part of a funny little forest village, but things become a bit more serious as he tackles his first dungeon within the impressively large ‘Great Deku Tree’.  As a young Link, you visit some other dungeons along the way, and they quickly becoming increasingly difficult.  You come to a point where you think you just may have reached the end of the game, pulling the Master Sword from its resting place… but you actually flash forward through time, and that’s when the game really begins… after easily spending a dozen hours playing already.  Turns out as adult Link, you have MANY more dungeons to explore, and NOW they REALLY mean business.  They were much larger, didn’t feel  as ‘childish’ so they were definitely more ominous, and they were far more challenging.  Puzzles were cleverly thrown in each of them, and they were always difficult enough that you’d feel some grand satisfaction after you figured things out… but the water temple was something else.  Again I would say to ask gamers what one of the most difficult things they ever did in a game was, and they’ll probably say the Water Temple in Ocarina made them want to slit their wrists… you know, so they could take the easy way out.  But, this game was so fantastic, quitting wasn’t even an option.

One of the coolest things about Ocarina of Time though, was the fact that the entire world was interactive.  Everyone you came into contact with needed help with something, and Link could provide that help and gain cool little things… like jugs to hold potions, or hearts to gain additional health, and more.  This added HOURS upon HOURS of additional gameplay, and it made the ‘roam anywhere and do anything’ feel of the franchise fully realized for the first time.  True to form, Zelda didn’t feel linear at all… a trend which was broken with Twilight Princess.  Don’t get me wrong, Twilight Princess was amazing, but it just didn’t have the same ‘open world and do anything you want at any time’ feel to it.

It’s for these reasons and many more that this game deserves to remain one of the best of all time.  I could go on for days, but I really just wanted to give you the broad strokes as to why this game is a masterpiece classic, which I’d even say helped to define ‘modern’ open world gaming for the rest of all time.  Why Nintendo is putting such an expansive effort into giving Wind Waker the HD treatment is beyond me… it’s Ocarina of Time that I think most fans would give their left hand to see!

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