The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 11/21/1998
    • US 11/23/1998
    • UK 12/11/1998
Score: 95%

This review was published on 07/23/2013.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a 3-D action adventure game originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It's the fourth main console release of the Zelda series, and the first 3-D game in the series. Similar to the first Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo Entertainment System, this game was initially released on a golden cartridge. This is one of the most hyped games in the history of mankind. Many avid fans of the series were closely following the game via issues of the Nintendo Power magazine several years prior to its release. The game received countless delays, which only added to everyone's anticipation. When it finally came out, it was an overwhelming success. It won many game of the year awards and was lauded as one of the best video games of all time. There is a good reason for that; it's pretty darn good. It pioneered a lot of concepts that would become standards for many 3-D games to come. Not only did it pioneer these standards, but it practically perfected them right on the spot. Ocarina of Time was a momentous occasion in gaming, and for good reason.

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Despite being the fifth Zelda game released, Ocarina of Time is actually a prequel. Back then, it was said that this game was supposed to take place at the very beginning of the timeline, making it the first Zelda game chronologically. That has changed with the more recent release of Skyward Sword, though. The Zelda timeline is an absolute mess, so I won't be going into that here. Our adventure starts in Kokiri Forest, a place inhabited by a bunch of children. The children of Kokiri Forest don't age, essentially granting them eternal youth. I'd sure like to know their secret. This is probably inspired by Neverland from Peter Pan, now that I think about it. In this forest lives a young boy named Link, who is the destined boy of destiny. The denizens of Kokiri Forest all have fairies following them, except for Link. On one fateful day, however, Link is awoken from a nightmare by a fairy of his own. The fairy asks him to meet the Great Deku Tree, a humongous, sentient tree that acts as the forest's guardian. Upon meeting the tree, Link is informed that the tree has been cursed and is dying. The one that placed the curse is none other than Ganondorf, a powerful warlock with wicked intentions. Before dying, the Great Deku Tree tells Link of his destiny in thwarting the evil desires of Ganondorf, and sends him on his way. The young boy then goes on an epic quest of a life time to acquire the mystical artifacts he needs to become powerful enough to challenge Ganondorf. Ocarina of Time's story is very well presented, with advanced cinematography befitting a master director. Most of the cutscenes in the game are short and sweet, quickly setting up the atmosphere without wasting too much of the player's time. However, the intro cutscenes are a bit long winded. A Link to the Past had a more gripping and concise intro, though the story in Ocarina of Time is better presented.

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This is the first Zelda game with an advanced combat system. All the previous Zelda games were rather simplistic when it came to the combat mechanics, but Ocarina of Time changed that. Something known as the "Z-targeting" system was devised specifically for this game's combat, a feature that quickly became standard for combat in almost every 3-D game after this one. Whenever the Z trigger is held on the N64 controller, Link will target the nearest object. This can be friend, foe, or even inanimate objects like signs, though you'll mostly use this to target enemies. Link will focus on anything that has been targeted, allowing you to quickly and easily circle around the target, never losing sight of it. Your controls change a bit when you're in targeting mode, giving you access to more sophisticated combat maneuvers. As far as sword attacks go, you can do a horizontal swipe, a vertical swipe, a stab, and a jumping slice attack. It's also possible to perform a spinning sword slash, much like the spin attack from A Link to the Past. What's truly brilliant about the Z-target system is the dodging ability it grants you. Link can hop to the left or right sides to quickly avoid attacks, and even do an impressive back flip move. I'm not too sure what the back flip is for, but it looks cool and is fun to do. Besides evasive maneuvers, Link can also hold up his shield to block attacks. Not all attacks can be defended against, though, so there are times when evasion is preferable. You can, however, block most attacks in the game, both projectile and melee. It might seem complex at first, but the combat in this game is actually quite simple. The depth of the mechanics can be seen when facing off against the game's more challenging foes, like Stalfos, giant skeleton knights. These guys come equipped with swords and shields of their own, so they're able to block your attacks and retaliate accordingly. Dispatching these foes is very satisfying, as it requires you to use every move at your disposal. Fighting enemies in Ocarina of Time will always put a smile on your face, because it's so much fun.

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Hyrule Field is the main hub that connects to all the other areas of the game, just like in previous Zelda games. It's got tons of different locations to see, like towns, dungeons, a castle, and even a farm. The field itself is rather small and barren, but that's kind of a good thing, as it makes travel from the different locations fast. A nice flow is established between exploring Hyrule Field, talking to folks in a town, and solving puzzles in a dungeon. That general structure is kept throughout the whole game, for the most part. The downtime between dungeons is made more enjoyable thanks to this cycle, as you're given time to unwind between dungeon excursions. Dungeons are great and all, but doing too many of them too close together can get tiring, so Hyrule Field provides a nice place to rest. Travel in Hyrule Field gets faster when you acquire a horse later in the game. One of the most enjoyable experiences in Ocarina of Time is riding around on the horse, Epona. Horseback riding is kind of a big feature of the game; big enough to get teased in the game's title screen. Sometimes I'll find a senseless excuse to visit Hyrule Field just so I can ride around on Epona. The tamed horse can jump over small fences, too, and that's fun to do. If horseback travel isn't fast enough for you, you do get the ability to teleport to different locations as you progress through the game. All in all, the world map in Ocarina of Time is big enough to give you the sense of a large, contiguous world, but not so big that exploring it is a chore. And riding Epona is a fun enough activity on its own.

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Dungeons are the bread and butter of the Zelda experience, and Ocarina of Time has some of the best in the series. The dungeons in Ocarina of Time are heavily reliant on puzzles, much more so than any of the previous Zelda games. There is usually one puzzle to solve per room, which establishes a nice flow to dungeon navigation. The puzzles tend to be of the logical sort, like pushing blocks onto pressure plates, shooting eye switches with arrows, light torches to open a door, and so on. You can usually figure out how to solve a puzzle by merely observing it and using simple logic. Some of the puzzles later in the game can get really complex, however, such as the infamous Water Temple. The Water Temple has earned its reputation as one of the most complicated Zelda dungeons ever, and for good reason. It's a multilayered dungeon that requires you to change the water level in order to navigate its many multiple floors. The reason this dungeon is so complex is because its design is very three dimensional; the 2-D mini-map at the corner of your screen doesn't do it justice. Generally the map works well for most other dungeons, but you start to realize its limitations when tackling stuff like the Water Temple. I don't consider the Water Temple detrimental to the game, though. If anything, the challenge of such a complicated dungeon is welcome, especially given how easy Zelda games can be. The fact that so many people still talk about this dungeon is a testament to how memorable it is. Love it or hate it, the Water Temple is an intelligently designed dungeon that requires an intelligent mind to solve. There is also a lot of combat to break up the puzzle solving parts of dungeons, as many rooms will require you to trounce a number of foes before letting you progress. A perfect balance of well thought out puzzles and exhilarating combat is what makes Ocarina of Time's dungeons a really awesome part of the game.

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After beating the first three dungeons and acquiring the Master Sword, much like what happens in A Link to the Past, the game truly begins. Unlike A Link to the Past, however, something else happens. For whatever reason, grabbing the Master Sword in Ocarina of Time transports Link seven years into the future, with his body aging through this process. As a result of that, Link transforms from a child into an adult. That's not a very good form of time travel, if you ask me. Link can return to his childhood at any time by putting the Master Sword back into its pedestal, but the primary part of your journey takes place in the future, so that's something you seldom will be doing. A lot of things can change in seven years. Cities can fall to dark forces, new things might be built, and people will be older. There are a lot of things Link can only do when he's older. These things generally involve other townsfolk. People don't treat child Link with much respect, but that changes once he becomes an adult, thus opening up a new world of possibilities. In a lot of ways, the seven year time jump is kind of like the parallel worlds in A Link to the Past. Both allow you to explore two similar worlds, switching between the two as needed to accomplish whatever needs accomplishing. Ocarina of Time, however, doesn't focus as much on transitioning between the two worlds, though there are instances when you'll have to go back in time to when Link was a kid. The focus in Ocarina of Time is more on the symbolic side. It's about a journey in which a child slowly grows up to accept the responsibilities of an adult, albeit in an accelerated manner. Ocarina of Time has deep undertones to its design. That said, I will say that the parallel worlds in this game aren't as good as in A Link to the Past. The differences between the past and present here are rather minimal, which kind of lessons the impact of it all. It's still a cool mechanic, but the two worlds could stand to be a bit more different.

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Like in previous Zelda games, you tend to get a new item in each dungeon you do. The items are hidden inside of giant treasure chests about halfway through the dungeon, sometimes with a mini-boss guarding it. Items like the boomerang, bow, and hook shot can be used in battle as long range attacks. Thanks to the Z-targeting system, it's very easy to hit enemies with long range weapons. In addition to supplementing your combat capabilities, items help you solve puzzles. There are almost always puzzles in any given dungeon that require the item found within that dungeon to solve, so it's essential to find the item first. The more gear you have in your arsenal, the more puzzles you can solve. Your scope of exploration increases as you gather more tools, because you'll be able to do stuff like bombing cracked walls that bar your path and use the hook shot to get to faraway places. A rather odd design decision is that Link can only use certain items as a young boy and certain items as an adult. For example, Link can use the slingshot as a kid, but can only use the bow as an adult. This doesn't make much sense. Is Link just too embarrassed to pull out a slingshot as an adult? I'm guessing he can't use the bow as a kid because it's too big for him to wield, but I don't really buy it. Because of this, some items are different versions of the same thing, like the slingshot is essentially a kid's version of the bow. By no means does this have a negative impact on the game, but it is a little strange. The majority of the game's tools are exclusive to adult Link, and that's a good thing, because you'll be spending the majority of the game adult form. In the end, Ocarina of Time has a ton of fantastic items available, most of which are really fun to use.

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Boss battles in Ocarina of Time are like interactive puzzles waiting to be solved. You almost always need to use the special item you got in the dungeon to defeat its boss. For instance, you get the slingshot in the first dungeon of the game, and the boss is a one eyed spider beast of some kind. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you're supposed to use the slingshot to hit the thing right in the eye. Even though it's always obvious what item you'll need to use on the boss, it isn't always obvious how you're supposed to use the item on it. A good example of this is the giant Dodongo boss. Unless you've played previous Zelda games, you probably won't know how to defeat this thing. You'll know that bombs are its weakness, because that's the item you get inside of its dungeon, but how to use the bombs is the tricky part. Essentially, you need to stuff the bombs down its throat to inflict damage on it. In any situation where you are unaware of how to defeat a given boss, you'll have to do a bit of your own experimentation. It all comes down to trial and error, though the bosses will often drop clues on how they can be defeated. A really cool boss fight later in the game is one against these two elemental witches. Fire and ice are the elements of choice, and each witch casts offensive magic according to their element. To defeat them, you use a mirror shield to reflect the magical beams of one witch onto another, damaging the opposite element. That's brilliant boss design right there. I would also like to make special mention of the final boss fight. This game has one of the best final confrontations in Zelda history for sure; a final battle so good, you'll want to do it again and again. I can't go into any specifics without spoiling it, but it's a battle for the ages. The expert cinematography and stellar soundtrack really come into play here, as these are the main reasons this fight is so epic. Ocarina of Time has excellent bosses, no doubt about it.

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an absolutely fantastic game. It's got a cinematic story without being overly intrusive, lots of atmosphere, incredibly well designed dungeons, intelligent puzzle design, exceptional boss fights, and plenty of optional goods to gather. The combat system really helps keep the game interesting throughout, as any dull moments in the game tend to be filled with fun foes to face. In a way, Ocarina of Time is kind of like a 3-D recreation of A Link to the Past, as it recreates many of the wondrous moments of that remarkable game. Ocarina of Time gave birth to the modern Zelda formula by which all new Zelda games are forged from. Almost all the mechanics pioneered in this game become standards for the entire rest of the series. Perhaps Ocarina of Time is a bit on the overrated side, but that doesn't take away from how good it is. Without a doubt, this is one of the best games in the series.

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