Nothing in this world is perfect; everything that was or is has flaws. It’s the law of nature; it’s the law of life. This law also applies to videogames because humans who are hindered by those laws create them.
Not even the legendary Final Fantasy VII could escape this fate, that game as amazing as it was and will always be, had a few clear flaws: Its characters were squatty and blocky, they were not as polished as they could have been on the system, the translation was pedestrian and the final disc felt rushed.
That being said, something very special, in fact, something quite extraordinary (some would say nothing short of a miracle) must have been happening at Nintendo’s headquarters in Japan, during the 5+ years that it took for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to be conceived. By the time the game was released in 1998 for the N64, Ocarina had managed to break the laws of nature, and life itself. For the first time in history there was actually something in this world worth calling perfect.
Now, calling a video game perfect is a mighty big statement, but as this review will explain in detail, calling the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time anything less than perfect would be a crime.
My definition of a perfect game is, a game that is as good as it can be in every department, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time manages to accomplish that, and even more.
The Greatest Looking Zelda at the time of release of all time
Graphically one word is fitting for describing the game; Amazing. In 1998 this was the greatest looking game on consoles bar none. Today in 2004, I have yet to see a game that is as visually pleasing and as visually an eye-opening experience as The Legend of Zelda: OoT was in its glorious debut.
Sure games like Shemue and Skies of Arcadia are powered by more powerful engines and hardware so they look better. Yet for all the bells and whistles that all of these newer games have, none of them have come even close to creating that amazing magical feel that Ocarina of Time managed to exhibit from the very opening of the game in Kokiri Forest (even though Skies of Arcadia came somewhat close).
Games were just not supposed to look that good on the N64 or any other machine at the time for the same matter. Ocarina of Time was pretty much the first game to get rid of the ‘blocky’ look that plague most video game characters at that time.
It was also the first game to show clear cut facial animations on characters. At the time the character models looked like they had been taken out of an anime, and rendered to perfection in 3-D.
Link looked freakishly awesome, specially his adult form, while Ganondorf no longer looked like a pig, instead being portrayed as a tall, slender man whose presence was imposing, and intimidating.
Because the characters looked so great in motion, Nintendo utilized in game scenes using the game’s engine as opposed to the FMVs (Full Motion Videos) that the FF series and games of time used. This game showed that in game scenes, when done right, can have as powerful an impact on players as FMVs can.
Ocarina of Time probably inspired the great Skies of Arcadia, and Suikoden 3 to follow the same path, in that they chose to use in game scenes instead of FMVs.
While the characters all looked amazing, the environment in which they lived in, was even more breath taking. Even today, you won’t find better-designed environments in any game on any system.
From the grassy fields, to the flowing rivers, to the gigantic field of Hyrule. Everything on the environment was colorful and full of smartly done textures (texturing wasn’t the N64’s strongest suit as the Cartridge format’s memory limitations made it impossible to store large detailed textures on its games); you really got to feel of an incredible sense of freedom in the game.
I have seen a lot of impressive things in videogames during my 15 or so years of playing them, but nothing will ever quite match the way my jaw dropped, and the way my eyes became pools of water, when breathlessly I first walked into Hyrule field, and the bright sunny day slowly turned into a warm evening, and then into a clear skied night.
The way the colors in the sky changed, and the way the light of the sun realistically changed the view of the landscape, and even the lighting on Link’s character model was too fantastic to describe in words.
It most be noted here, that Ocarina was the first Nintendo game to actually use ‘real’ light sources during gameplay. By this, it means that characters and illumination as whole in objects and the environments were realistically affected by light sources such as the Sun, and torch light.
The Sunrise was perhaps even more spectacular. The entire cycle – of sundown and sunrise – in the game looked so natural, and felt so real, that that it has probably never been done as beautifully in any other game, not even in the more modern Zelda: The Wind Waker.
The water effects while flat (no ripples) were amazing thanks to the use of different moving textures on top of one another to simulate water movement, and the waterfalls, even the small ones, were great looking.
For the first time ever in a Zelda game swimming, and even walking underwater (provided you had the iron boots) was possible. The underwater physics in the game are amazing, I must have wasted at least 30 hours of game time during my first 5 months with the game just “playing” around, and exploring the underwater scenery.
I remember using my iron boots to walk on the bottom of the rivers to see how far I could go and to see where the rivers lead to. That is the kind of freedom and excitement that this game’s environments provided. The entire visual package incited players to explore every possibility in the game.
I don’t think I can overstate how important (and revolutionary) the freedom that the game allowed for in a 3-D space was in 1998.
The other great thing about this game is the fact that everything that you can see on the screen, you can actually go to and explore in detail because the camera can be controlled by the player with ease and at will, so yes you can easily zoom into every thing in the world with the Exception of Market Town which uses sharp Pre-rendered backgrounds (like resident evil and the PS1 Final Fantasies).
The Legend of Zelda OoT was also the first game in history to use real lighting sources, which is why Link’s character model lighting changes depending on whether he is carrying a torch, walking inside a dark cave or wandering in the middle of Hyrule’s field when it is a sunny and clear day. In contrast if you play Mario 64 for example Mario’s character model always has the same lighting on it regardless of what environment he (Mario) finds himself in.
Zelda: Ocarina of Time was also the first title to really break that “pop up” and “fog” phenomenon that plagued most N64 titles (Turok I am looking your way!). One only has to venture through Hyrule’s expansive field to know what I am talking about; there is really no trace of “fog” or “pop up” as you can see very far into the distance. If there was any graphical flaw in the game it had to be some slight minimal slowdown caused by the limits of the N64 so it wasn’t really a flaw and it was barely noticeable.
To finish the review on graphics, the technical aspects of them weren’t the only thing that impressed the masses, the art work and character design was top notch too, every nook and crany in Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule was designed carefully and expertly. The attention to detail in the game is damn near impeccable. Since 1998 a lot of other games have come and have visually surpassed it. Skies of Arcadia being one them, yet I am still waiting for the game that combines great visuals with the amount of freedom of exploration that Ocarina of Time so easily pulled off.
Moving on to the sound department one thing should be considered. That being the fact that the N64 had (and still has) a reputation among gaming circles for having the most primitive aural technical capabilities of its time. While the sound processor of the system was quite a leap over the SNES’s, it was still badly behind the curve from the PS1 and the ill-fated Sega Saturn’s aural capacity. Thus every N64 game was expected right off the bat to sound bad.
This was unfortunate news for any RPG that would make it into the system (not that there were many RPGs for the system, you could pretty much count them all in one hand) because it had to compete against the impossibly high musical standards set by Squaresoft’s RPGs and few others from other companies that were released either on the PS1 or on the Saturn.
However in every Nintendo console before the N64, Zelda had always had great music, maybe not quite as great as the FF series music, but great nonetheless. Well in the sound the department Ocarina again broke the rules of convention, by crafting a masterpiece of a soundtrack, and creating some still unrivaled environmental sound effects that puts the players ears right in the middle of Hyrule.
Even if the soundtrack wasn’t CD quality because of the limitations of a Cartridge based system, the compositions themselves remain today by far some Kondo’s (Zelda series composer) best work. The over world theme that plays while traversing the green pastures of Hyrule Field is simply Majestic. While some old time fans complained that the “classic” Zelda music was absent, that was the only thing they could complain about, because the soundtrack in Ocarina of Time is stellar, great care went into composing every piece of music in the game.
The dungeon music itself while lacking the majestic features of the music heard in the over world, possesses an aural quality that is moody and reflective of the dungeon in which you are in. The music fits perfectly with every environment, Kokiri Forest is a perfect example of this, as the theme that accompanies this area of Hyrule has a magical feel to it that echoes the feel of the forest.
Nintendo didn’t stop there in what the music was concerned. Since the game’s tale deals around an Ocarina of Time that Link can play to affect the gameplay (but more on that on the gameplay section), it was only fitting that the tunes you can play in the Ocarina received as much care as the rest of the soundtrack, and indeed they did received such care.
There are about twelve Ocarina songs, including one you can make up yourself and the game saves it for you (the scarecrow’s song), the Song of Time in particular gave me the chills when I first heard it.
The Ocarina in here is a very versatile and beautiful instrument, capable of playing many notes for those who take up the task of mastering it, I definitely think that the ocarina is vastly superior to the wind waker as a musical instrument to play.
Zelda Ocarina of Time is one of the most musical RPGs you will ever play.
It would have been easy for Nintendo to just forget about the sound effects when they had such a great score (some thing that Square is very proeficient at) and yet they did not leave the SFX in the backseat, instead they went the extra mile to make sure that the game’s enviromental sounds mimic that of those that one would expect to hear if one would be standing in the middle of Kokiri forest at three in the morning for example. The night Owls, the insects , the sounds of the flowing water in a near by creek, in short; every imaginable sound in a fantasy world its here. Also the game nailed down the underwater sound effects better than any other RPG that I have ever played….even though there aren’t any RPGs other than the two N64 Zeldas that let you go underwater…so I guess Zelda wins by default anyways.
That Ocarina of Time managed to accomplish so much Aurally on a cartridge system is more of a credit to the dedication of the developers to assure the quality of the sound in the game than a credit to the N64’s sound processor.
Now for the gameplay… where should I start? Ocarina of Time was the first game of it’s kind, in that it let the player into a coherent world where time (Day and night cycle) passed in real game time and the player was free to use his character to explore and go anywhere. Sure the Zelda’s that came before it were also pioneers in freedom of exploration with in a game world, but none them ever took this concept to the extreme that Ocarina of time did. I mean talk about longevity, it’s been six years since I mastered the game, meaning I got every heart container, every skulltula, every bottle, and in short everything there was to get and yet even now in 2004 sometimes I pick up the game and happily waste 2 or 3 hours just running around, jumping into rivers, walking underwater, riding my horse Epona, playing the archery game, fighting monsters, and even fishing! And the list could go on forever if I wanted to.
Link is controlled from a third person view behind his back, like Mario in Mario 64, and like Mario you can control the camera pretty much at will, by using the Z button your controller you will position the camera directly behind Link. Want to inspect the enviroments up close and in first person? No problem by pressing the top C Button you can Zoom in and look all you want. While most action games of this kind seem to run into trouble when the camera does not follow the action during battles (Castlevania 64), that problem is non-existent in Zelda thanks to the (at the time) revolutionary Z targeting. When confronted by an enemy or a boss, all you have to do is press the Z button to automatically lock the camera into the enemy so that the enemy is always with in your sight.
Not only is the camera as good as it can be in an Action RPG but the controls are perfectly responsive, running through the fields, swimming underwater and even riding the horse Epona will only take seconds to become second nature to the player. Depending on how hard you push the analog stick, Link will either walk or run.
Link can perform a large variety of moves, besides running and walking of course. He can side step, Jump (even though he can’t really jump at will, you have to run into a ledge or a gap for him to automatically jump, this might sound bothersome in theory but it actually works out perfectly while in gameplay), he can swim and dive underwater. He can climb objects, vines, and ladders; he can push or pull blocks.
He also has a variety of action moves for fighting, such as the usual stabs, the jumping slash and the powerful spin attacks with his sword. Of course depending on the weapons equipped Link will fight differently.
For example the bow and the slingshot work pretty much the same you can lock into an enemy and shoot it from the normal third person perspective, but you can also use your real aiming skills by using them in the cool first person view.
But going back to the moves, Link is not only an offensive powerhouse but he also has some pretty slick defensive moves. He can roll, jump and even back flip himself out of the way of danger, he can also utilize his shield to block (and in the case of the mirror shield even reflect magic attacks) the enemy strikes.
Link has some many moves at his disposal that the player could spend hours just playing around trying to see them all.
Going back to the weapons Link has at his disposal many if not all of the classic Zelda weapons, such as the bow, bomb, sword, boomerang and Hammer. But he also many new tools to aid him on his quest, for example the cool and useful Hookshot.
As its name implies the Hookshot, is a hook attached to the end of a long chain, he can use this to shoot towards items that are too far for him to reach and successfully pull them towards him. Also he can use the hookshot to shoot into surfaces where the hook would stick (usually wood) to swing across gaps and reach other wise unreachable places. There are dozens of more accessories at his disposal, some that are a necessity to continue your progress during the quest while others are optional items that the truly dedicated player who takes the time to explore the gameworld will have to find.
The Ocarina of time is perhaps the most useful item in the game, as you can play a variety of tunes that affect gameplay, for example one tune has the power to invoke a rain storm, while another can quick turn day into night or the other way around. Some tunes must be played at the right time and place in order to solve some of the puzzles.
Ah yes the puzzles! As I stated earlier Ocarina of Time might possess the greatest level design in any game on the market, this is never truer than in the fantastic dungeons. There are about ten gigantic dungeons that are brilliantly crafted, the puzzled and just they way they (the dungeon layouts) are designed is brilliant. The puzzles take some thinking to figure out, but they never get frustrating as they did in the excellent Alundra 1 for PS1, there is so much to do and see in the dungeons that you will be wandering and exploring for hours in them. Not only does this game feature the most dungeons in a Zelda game ever (10) but that number can increase to at least 15 dungeons if you count the small mini dungeons you usually have to complete to get a key item to enter the “big” dungeons.
The Bosses that await you in the dungeons are huge and graphically impressive, nothing will quite match the shiver that went through my spine when I first met face to face with King Dodongo. When he roared at the beginning of our battle I knew I was in big trouble, and to think that he looked so cute and inoffensive in the Legend of Zelda for the NES. The bosses like the rest of anything that moves in this game were smoothly animated, so their moves are quick and natural. Like in all the Zeldas the bosses all have a pattern that can be exploited to defeat them, is up to the player to figure it out. Ocarina of Time also features an excellent save anywhere feature, as the game is saved into the cartridge.
But of course no Zelda would be complete without its share of minigames and sidequests. I can safely safe no other RPG game on the market offers the amount of minigames and side quests this game offers.
Yes Wind Waker has way more things to collect, but the constant sailing and the lack of quality of it’s side quests, places it behind Ocarina and even behind Majora’s Mask. And while there might be some other RPGs out there that might offer more minigames in terms of quantity, you will be hard press to find them.
Ocarina of Time has every single game beat in the replay value simply because it offers both quantity and quality…one only has to play the fishing game. In which obviously Link gets to fish, the goal is to catch the biggest fish in the pond, and let me tell you now it is not easy. It actually takes skill and practice but the entire game is so fun that the hours will fly as you attempt to improve your skills as a fisherman. In fact so good is the fishing minigame, that calling it a minigame is very inappropriate, as the game could have stand (and sold) well on its own. If you have a rumble pack then this might be the best fishing simulator on the market! The controls for the minigame are perfect, every detail of it, has been extremely polished, with the same care and dedication that went on to the rest of the game.
The same can be said for the Horse riding games. In fact riding Epona through Hyrule is one of the most pleasant experiences I have ever had. Epona is rendered and animated beautifully and the controls once again are dead on accurate, the fact that you can play shooting games with the bow and arrows while riding adds a whole new level of fun to the riding segments.
Those two minigames I have described are just a few of the dozens of minigames available on the game, and like I said before all the minigames are done in real time so they feel “real” and the quality and effort the developers put into each of them is mesmerizing. The prizes you earn for excelling at the minigames are also great, you can get anything from heart containers to weapon upgrades (for example a quiver that lets you carry more arrows.)
No game before or after Ocarina can really match the “polishness” of it’s gameplay and the incredible replay value the game provides. Perhaps the best word to describe the gameplay in Ocarina of time is “freedom”, because that is exactly what the player feels once he or she is in control of Link.
I could possibly keep rambling on how flawless the gameplay in on this game for 20 more pages, but we must move on into the last category.
The Story…the one weakness that has plagued the series since its birth. A lot of people believe Ocarina of Time is a retelling of the first Zelda, and they would be right to a degree…The princess gets kidnapped by Ganondorf after all and you as Link must save her. But this has been the tale of almost every Zelda, so I think Ocarina of Time is not a retelling but another story maybe even a summary of the series after all you do get to fight a shadow link (Zelda 2’s boss) and you do get to save the princess from Ganondorf (The legend of Zelda, and a Link to the past).
What ever it is, Ocarina of Time’s narrative easily surpasses its predecessors, no the tale is not original the Princess has been kidnapped before by Ganondorf , but this tale has never been done as well as it was done here.
There is a sense of impending doom from the very beginning of the game, when Link is introduced to Ganondorf in a dream while he sleeps on the forest, every single piece of dialog in the game is sharp and to the point, Nintendo has some of the best translations in the business.
Of course after Link awakens from the dream he embarks on a Hyrule saving quest that will take him across the land and even across time. And while it is predictable that the tale will end with Link saving Zelda and Hyrule, what happens in between that is not. A great deal of importance was given to support characters or NPCs (non player characters) such as Zelda, Malon, Ruto and Saria. All of them have their turn at the center stage, they become likeable, and in the end you will want to save Hyrule to save them.
Of course even NPCs that are not as important to the plot as the aforementioned above, have a great deal of personality and importance to the player too. How did Nintendo pulled this off? Well every character in Hyrule reads beautifully they all have something interesting to say, and most of them also have a role in getting you an item or a heart etc.
So you will constantly be interacting with different NPCs, giving you the sense that they are “alive” and they were just not put there for the sake of being there.
The story of course also revolves around time, time traveling to be more specific, the world of Link as a child is vastly different from the world as link as an adult there are areas that are off limits to the child while seven years later those areas will open for the adult Link to explore. It is very interesting to see how characters changed from one period of time to the other. This adds to the story and makes some events of the game a bit unpredictable…something that this series plot has lacked in past editions. I can assure you there will be a couple of scenes in the game that will have you scratching your head, because you didn’t foresee that the event you witnessed was going to happen.
Link’s origins are finally explained in this game…well at least part of them, the game also finally explains how Hyrule was created, the fact that this game includes a lot of lore and historic references of Hyrule, gives the story a more, should I say “legendary” feeling that seemed to be missing in past games of the series.
In short the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time’s tale is as good as it can be under the circumstances in which the series has been and its in.
The circumstances are more like limits that Nintendo has implanted on the series, limits that keep the series story from reaching it’s full potential. Nintendo obviously wants to keep it’s flagship series as a “KA” (6 years and older) game. However RPGs stories have evolved ever since Link to the past, Lunar and FFVI began a trend of mature RPG tales, the FF series in particular has matured nicely.
In 1998 this ( a Kid friendly story) was forgivable even after FFVII had opened our eyes as to how magnificent an RPG story could be, but the problem with Nintendo is that they have regressed from Ocarina of time into an even more childish approach towards the series with their latest Zelda in Wind Waker.
The Themes of love and death are really never played in Ocarina of Time, you know there is potential for a love Triangle between Link, Malon and Zelda, but it never happens, Ganondorf is the king of evil, yet you never see him murdering anyone. Link while likable because of his cool character design, has a mysterious personality, because like in every Zelda he doesn’t talk.
I believe that the Hyrule Ocarina of Time’s shows us, has the potential for a much more intriguing much more mature tale, in which love and tragedy could take center stage, hopefully one day, we will have a “ballsy” Nintendo scenario writer who dares to explore the possibilities of the world of the legend of Zelda.
Nintendo, I think its time this series follows Final Fantasy in to the “T” (teen) rating. While the narrative in Ocarina of Time is the best in the series there is still much work to be done, to bring it up to speed to classic story lines like FFVII’s and Alundra’s. Plus while Ocarina of Time made the “Kidnapped Princess” concept work, I think I am getting tired of Princess Zelda getting kidnapped and rescued Etc. In seventeen years since the first installment in this series, that hasn’t changed for some reason.
While the plot is much better done in Ocarina than in any other chapter in the series, the lack of mature themes and the same old Princess gets kidnapped and must be rescued plot line is the only complaint I have with this otherwise perfect game.
Ocarina of Time is undoubtedly the greatest playing game of all time, a long quest, a huge world, flawless gameplay mechanics and a captivating adventure makes this one an all time classic, that is a must play for anyone who is even vaguely interested in games, Ocarina of Time is the only game in the market worthy of being called perfect. Now that it has been re-released in the Gamecube (in two different promotional discs) there is no excuse to not play this all time great. (Note the gamecube version of Ocarina of Time is identical to the N64 one, except that the visuals look a bit sharper on the screen on the Gamecube.)
Gameplay: 10- No game has ever combined all the things you can do in Ocarina of Time together and made them so fun, the controls are flawless, the level design impeccable, the puzzles are brilliant, and Hyrule feels real. You can pretty much do anything you want in this game; the sense of freedom is incredible.
Graphics: 10 –No other game in 1998 looked as good as this, this is as good as an N64 game with out the RAM pack will ever look, the fact that you can control the camera at will only adds to the visual spectacle that is Ocarina of Time. Today 6 years after the fact, the game is still very handsome.
Music: 10 -Beautiful compositions, unparalleled sound effects, The song of time still gives me the chills.
Story: 9.0 –As good as the Zelda series can be with the hindering KA rating.
Addictiveness: 10 –Minigames galore. The fishing game alone is an addiction, the open endness of the game world and sidequests will keep you playing long after saving the princess and Hyrule from the clutches of evil. It has kept me playing at least for 6 years, Now THAT is replay value!
Overall: 10-Simply put the greatest game of all time and perhaps the most influential 3-D adventure ever. This game was and still is Nintendo’s finest hour and I doubt anyone will ever pull the feat ever again.