Nothing in this world is perfect; everything that was, or is, has flaws. It is the law of nature; it is the law of life. This law also applies to video games as human beings who are hindered by these laws create them.
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 Nintendo 64, Ocarina of Time 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 at the time of release, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time manages to accomplish that, and more.
The Greatest Looking Zelda at the Time of Release
Graphically, one word is fitting when describing the game: Amazing. In 1998, Ocarina of Time was the greatest looking game on consoles bar none (okay, Banjo-Kazooie was good looking as well).
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: Ocarina of Time was in its glorious debut.
Sure, games like Shenmue, and Skies of Arcadia are powered by newer powerful engines and hardware. These games look better today, but for all of their bells and whistles, none of them have come close to creating that amazing magical feel that Ocarina of Time managed to exhibit from its very opening scenes in Kokiri Forest (even though Skies of Arcadia came somewhat close) to the end credits of its timeless adventure.
Games were not supposed to look that good on the N64, or any other machine at the time for that matter. Ocarina of Time was one of the first games to get rid of the ‘blocky’ look that plagued most video game characters of the era. It was also one the first games to show clear cut, real-time facial animations on characters. At the time, the character models looked like they had been taken straight out of an anime, and rendered to perfection in 3-D.
Link looked freakishly awesome, specially in his adult form. Ganondorf no longer looked like a pig, instead he was portrayed as a tall, and slender man whose presence was imposing and intimidating.
Because the game’s character models looked so great in motion (and the N64 cartridge had storage limitations), Nintendo utilized ‘in game’ cut scenes using the game’s engine, as opposed to the FMVs (Full Motion Videos) that the FF series and other games of time had turned into a popular form of presentation on CD based machines. OoT showed that real-time cut scenes, when done right, could have as powerful an impact on players as FMVs did.
Ocarina of Time probably inspired the great Skies of Arcadia, and Suikoden 3 to follow the same path, in that these utilized real time ‘in game’ engine rendered scenes instead of pre-rendered FMVs.
While the character models 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 green grassy fields, to the blue flowing rivers. Everything within the environment was colorful and full of smartly drawn textures as texturing wasn’t the N64’s strongest suit as the Cartridge’s memory limitations made it impossible to store large detailed textures on its games.
The first gloriously rendered real time day and night cycle
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 shallow pools of water when breathlessly, I first walked into Hyrule Field, and its bright sunny day slowly turned into a tranquil warm evening, and 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 then, and it remains difficult to describe now.
It must be noted here, that Ocarina was the first Nintendo developed game to actually use ‘real’ light sources during gameplay. Character illumination and lighting as a whole on ‘in-game’ objects and the environments themselves were realistically affected by light sources such as the sun, and torch lights.
The sunrise was perhaps even more spectacular than the sunset. The entire day/night in the game looked so natural, and felt so real, that it has probably never been done as beautifully in any other game, not even in the most recent 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 in order to simulate water movement. Waterfalls, even the small ones, were great looking too.
For the first time ever in a Zelda game swimming, and even walking underwater (provided that you had the iron boots) was possible. The underwater physics in the game were 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 OoT’s 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 OoT’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 within 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 far off in the distance, you can actually go visit, 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 everything in the world with the exception of certain areas like Market Town which uses sharp Pre-rendered backgrounds (like Resident Evil and the PS1 Final Fantasies).
As mentioned before, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was one of the first games to use real lighting sources, which is why Link’s character model’s 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 away 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” (except for some distant enemies), as you can see very far into the broad horizon. If there was any graphical flaw in the game it had to be some slight minimal slowdown caused by the limits of the N64.
To finish the review on graphics, the technical aspects of the visuals weren’t the only thing that impressed the masses. The art work and character design were top notch too.
Every nook and cranny in Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule was designed with care and precision. The attention to detail in the game remains 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 years ago.
An Aural Masterpiece
Moving on to the sound department, one thing should be considered: The N64 had (and still has) a reputation in 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 still lagged behind the PS1’s and the ill-fated Sega Saturn’s aural capacity. Thus, every N64 game was expected to sound pedestrianly right off the bat.
This was unfortunate news for any role-playing game that would make it into the system (not that there were many RPGs for the system), because it had to compete against the impossibly high musical standards set by Squaresoft’s RPGs and a few other games from other companies that were released either on the PS1 or the Saturn.
However, in every Nintendo console before the N64, Zelda had always featured great music, maybe not quite as great as the FF series’ music, but great nonetheless. In the sound the department Ocarina – again -broke the rules of convention by featuring a masterpiece of a soundtrack which was complemented by environmental sound effects that placed the players ears right in the middle of the action in Hyrule.
Even if the soundtrack wasn’t CD quality because of the limitations of a cartridge based system, the compositions themselves remain – by far – some of Koji 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 that 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 tunes themselves while lacking the majestic features of the music heard in the over world, possessed moody and reflective melodies of the dungeon in which Link found himself in. The music fit perfectly with every environment. Kokiri Forest, is a perfect example of this, as the theme that accompanies this area of Hyrule has a magical sound 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 the Ocarina of Time that Link can play to affect the game’s gameplay (but more on that on the gameplay section), it was only fitting that the tunes that you can play in the ocarina received as much care, as the rest of the soundtrack.
There are about twelve ocarina songs, including one that you could make up yourself, and the game would saved it for you (the scarecrow’s song). The Song of Time, in particular, gave me the chills when I first heard it.
The ocarina featured in the game 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 that you will ever play.
It would have been easy for Nintendo to forget about the sound effects when they had such a great musical score (some thing that Square is very proficient at doing), and yet, they did not leave the SFXs in the backseat.
Instead, Nintendo EAD went the extra mile to make sure that the game’s environmental sounds mimicked that of those that one would expect to hear if one were to be standing in the middle of Kokiri Forest at early in morning. The night owls, the insects, the sounds of the flowing water in a nearby creek, in short; every imaginable sound that one would expect to be in a fantasy world is 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 many RPGs – other than the two N64 Zeldas – that let you go underwater…so I guess Zelda: OoT won the category by default.
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.
Polished to Perfection
Now for the game’s gameplay… Where should I start? Ocarina of Time was the first game of its kind. By that statement I reference the fact that it let the player experience a coherent world where time (day and night cycle) passed in ‘real time’ and the player was free to use his avatar, in this case Link, to explore and go anywhere within the 3-D game world.
Sure, the Zeldas that came before it were also pioneers in freedom of exploration within a game world, but none of 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, bottle, in short; everything there was to get. And yet, even now, in 2004, I find myself picking up the game and happily wasting 2 or 3 hours, at a time, just running around, jumping into rivers, walking underwater, riding my horse, playing the archery game, fighting monsters, and even fishing!
In OoT, Link is controlled from a third person view behind his back. Just like Mario was in Mario 64. Like in Mario 64, you can control the camera pretty much at will, but this time by using the Z button on your controller, you will reset the camera directly behind Link at the touch of said button.
This gameplay dynamic was a big advancement at a time where developers were struggling with proper camera control in 3-D spaces.
Want to inspect the enviroments up close and in first person? No problem! By pressing the top C Button you can Zoom the camera in and look around 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 feature. When confronted by an enemy or a boss, all you have to do is press the Z button to automatically lock the camera to the enemy. With this design feature the enemy will always is within field of vision, and that’s make combat a very a enjoyable experience in the game.
Not only is the camera as good as it can be in an Action RPG, but the game’s controls are perfectly responsive. Running through the fields, swimming underwater and even riding the horse Epona is intuitive and becomes second nature within minutes of play.
Depending on how hard you push the analog stick, Link can either walk or run. Link was given a large variety of moves, besides running and walking of course. He can side step, jump – even though he can’t 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. Link can swim and dive underwater. He can climb objects, vines, and ladders and 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 can fight differently.
For example, the bow and the slingshot, as long range weapons, work pretty much in the same way. You can lock into an enemy and shoot it from the normal third person perspective, but you can also utilize your real aiming skills in the game’s cool first person view.
Link was not only made to be an offensive powerhouse, but he also was embedded with 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 the enemy strikes, (and in some cases reflect magic attacks).
Link has some many moves at his disposal, that the player can spend hours just playing around trying to see them all.
Going back to the weapons Link has many, if not all, of the classic Zelda weapons, such as the bow, bomb, sword, boomerang and Hammer in his repertoire. Some of these weapons, like the hookshot, are given a cooler new life in 3 dimensions.
As its name implies, the ‘hookshot’ is a hook attached to the end of a long chain, and it can be used to shoot at items that are too far for Link to reach to successfully on his own in order to pull said trinkets towards him. Also, Link can use the hookshot to shoot surfaces where the hook can stick (usually wood) to swing across gaps, and to reach otherwise unreachable places.
There are more accessories at Link’s disposal, some that are a necessary to continue progressing through the quest, while others are optional items that the truly dedicated player that takes the time to explore the game world can find.
The Ocarina of Time itself is, perhaps, the most useful item in the game. 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 quickly turn day into night or vice versa. Some tunes have to be played at the right time and place in order to solve some of the game’s numerous puzzles.
Ah yes! The puzzles! As I stated earlier, Ocarina of Time might possess the greatest level design on any game available on the market, even today. There are about ten brilliantly crafted gigantic dungeons. The puzzles and just the way that the dungeon layouts were designed is brilliant. These puzzles required some thinking to figure out, but they never get frustrating difficult.
The Bosses that await you inside 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.
Dodongo’s size, and the fear factor of facing such a formidable beast is amplified by the fact that you face him as ‘child’ Link early in the game.
The bosses, like everything that moves in this game are fluidly animated within the constraints of the game’s frame-rate. Their moves are quick and natural. Like in all the Zelda games, the bosses all have patterns that can be exploited to in order defeat them. Ocarina of Time also features an excellent save anywhere feature, as the game saves its progress directly into the cartridge.
But of course, no Zelda game would be complete without its share of minigames and sidequests. I can safely say that no other RPG game on the market offered the amount of minigames and side quests this game offered at the time of its release.
Yes, Wind Waker has way more things to collect, but the constant sailing and the lack of quality of its side quests, places it behind Ocarina of Time and even behind Majora’s Mask in that regard. And while there might be some other RPGs out there that might offer more minigames in terms of quantity, you will be hard pressed to find them.
Ocarina of Time has every single game beat in what replay value is concerned, simply because it offers both quantity and quality. One only has to play the fishing game. In which obviously, Link gets to fish, and the goal is to catch the biggest fish on the pond. It actually took skill and practice, but the entire game is so fun that the hours flew by quickly, as I attempted to improve my skills as a fisherman.
In fact, so good is the game’s fishing minigame, that calling it a minigame is very inappropriate, as the game could have stood (and sold) well on its own. If you have a rumble pack, then this might be the most fun fishing simulator on the market! The controls used for the minigame are perfect, every detail of it had been extremely polished, with the same care and dedication that went 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 that I have ever had. Epona is rendered and animated beautifully. 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 on this game.
Those two minigames I have described are just a few of the dozens of minigames available within the game. Like I’ve said before; all the minigames take place in real time. The feel “real” and the quality and effort that the developers put into each of them was mesmerizing on point.
The prizes earned for excelling at the minigames are also great. Anything from heart containers to weapon upgrades (for example a quiver that lets you carry more arrows) can be attained.
No game before or after Ocarina has matched the “polish” of its gameplay and the incredible replay value that the game provides. I could, possibly, keep rambling on how flawless the gameplay is on this game for 20 more pages, but we must move on into the last category.
Ocarina of Time has tells a better story than any prior Zelda, but it is a bit behind the times
Story lines have been the one weakness that has plagued the Zelda 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, and Link must save her. This has been the tale of almost every Zelda game to this point, 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 Dark Link (Zelda 2’s boss) and players did get to save the princess from Ganondorf (The legend of Zelda, and a Link to the Past).
Whatever it is (a re- telling or a different chapter), Ocarina of Time’s narrative easily surpasses those of its predecessors. The tale is not original, as the Princess has been kidnapped by Ganondorf before, but this tale has never been written as well as it has been penned in 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 said dream, he embarks on a Hyrule saving quest that takes him across the vast land and even through time. While it is predictable that the tale will end with Link saving Zelda and Hyrule, the events that happen in between are not.
A great deal of importance is 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 like-able, and in the end, you are driven to save Hyrule in order to save them.
Of course even NPCs that are not as important to the plot, as the aforementioned characters above, haves a great deal of personality and importance to the player too. How did Nintendo pull this off? Well, every character in Hyrule reads beautifully. All NPCs have something interesting to say, and most of them also have a role in getting Link an item or a heart container piece etc. This really gave me the sense that these characters were “alive”, and that they were not put in 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 was vastly different from the world of Link as an adult. There are areas that are off limits to the child version of Link while seven years later these areas open up for the adult version of him to explore.
It was very interesting to see how characters changed from one period of time to the other. This added to the story and made some events of the game have a heftier sense of important. This is something that this series’ plot has lacked in past editions.
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’s past, gives the story a more, should I say “legendary” feeling that seems 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 in.
The circumstances are the limits that Nintendo has implanted on the series. Limits that keep the series’ story from reaching its full potential. Nintendo obviously wants to keep one of its flagship series as a “KA” (6 years and older) game. However, RPGs stories have evolved since A Link to the Past. Lunar and FFVI began a trend of mature RPG storylines, and the FF series in particular has matured nicely.
In 1998, this (kid friendly story) was forgivable even after FFVII had opened our eyes as to how magnificent an RPG storyline could be, but the problem with Nintendo is that it has regressed from Ocarina of time into an even more childish approach towards this series with their latest Zelda in Wind Waker.
I believe that Ocarina of Time showed us that the story within the series has the potential for a much more intriguing much more mature tale, in which love and tragedy – though there is a lot of implied death – could take center stage. Hopefully, one day we will have a “ballsy” Nintendo scenario writer who dares to explore these possibilities within the world of the Legend of Zelda.
The Greatest Game of All Time
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 made this one an all time classic. It is a must play for anyone who is even vaguely interested in games.
Ocarina of Time remains 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 for anyone not to play this all time great. (Note: the gamecube version of Ocarina of Time is identical to the N64 one, except that the GC visuals look a bit sharper on the screen.)
No game has ever combined all of the things that you can do in Ocarina of Time together and made them so fun. The controls are flawless, the level design is 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 remains very a handsome piece of software.
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.
Replay Value: 10 –
Minigames galore. The fishing game alone is an addictive past time. The open end-ness of the game world and sidequests will keep you playing long after saving the princess, and Hyrule from the clutches of evil. Ocarina of Time has kept me playing for at least 6 years. Now THAT is replay value!
Simply put: Ocarina of Time is 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 a similar feat ever again.