As 2011 passes for the Zelda franchise, it will be remembered for a number of reasons, namely the long-awaited release of Skyward Sword and the 3DS remake of the classic Ocarina of Time. For me, though, 2011 brought the concept of flea markets, with all their nostalgic appeal, into the spotlight.
Some of my prized retro possessions I gained this year include Metal Gear Solid, the N64, a still-working 3DO with Dragon’s Lair…and what is universally considered the immortal Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64. We all know of Ocarina of Time‘s reputation as the “highest rated game of all time”. The question is, does it still deserve that title, after over a decade and multiple re-releases?
First things first, for those who haven’t ever played Ocarina of Time in their lives (a terrifying thought) or who haven’t played it in a decade or more (like me), here are the basics: Ocarina of Time is a 3D action-adventure game where you, acting as the silent hero Link, travel across the fantasy land of Hyrule, undertake many sidequests for many interesting characters, hunt for special items and treasure, and defend the land from evil.
I’ve heard this game referred to as a “walking patent office”, and I agree. Name a modern convention of action-adventure games, be it a lock-on mechanic during combat or shifting day-night cycles, and it links back to Ocarina of Time. This game also features the removal of certain other abilities, such as jumping, and compressing all interaction functions to the N64’s A-button, but it doesn’t detract from gameplay. If anything, it enhances the gameplay ten-fold: players can worry less about how to do something and more about what they want to do.
Speaking of what to do, there’s plenty of content to keep you going. The main quest will take a good chunk of time, but there are collectables like Gold Skulltulas and Heart Containers to be found, the former of which provide players with useful items in a certain quest and the latter increases the player’s health for every 4 found. Every dungeon is full of enemy to fight and treasures to uncover, every town and village has a wide range of interesting characters with tasks for players, and there are even minigames to simply mess around with, like fishing and a musical game with Skull Kids.
Now, to the actual plot. Without giving away every aspect of the magical experience that Nintendo expertly crafted, suffice to say Link is destined to once again save Hyrule and the eponymous Princess Zelda from his long-standing foe, Ganondorf. The story is simple in theory, but in execution, it’s an endearing tale of loyalty and courage as Link faces conflict after conflict in his quest to thwart the evil that is Ganondorf’s desire for world domination (typical of manical villains with such creepy demeanors).
This game also introduced, or brought into the mainstream, the idea of cinematic gameplay, where the player would become invested in the game world while experiencing a thrilling, action-driven story. There are twist and turns in the tale, with time travel playing a factor in the form of the titular, playable Ocarina of Time (not to spoil it, but it’s important), and it manages to engage and entertain to its conclusion.
Finally, the presentation of this package. Yes, there is a noticeable difference in graphics and sound between this and Crysis, that was to be expected, but this game is about more than just outer beauty. The shallowness of modern society floods out of you the moment you truly stop and take in this game’s massive scale.
Imagine, for a moment, that you playing this game and are standing in a field and you see a mountain in the distance. When you eventually reach this mountain and climb to its peak, and you look out and see that very field where you once stood mere hours ago, it hits you: that this game isn’t just a great game, it’s a masterpiece that defines masterpieces. It’s a message to the world, not just gamers, that gaming is an expression of emotion and soul, a true art-form. Every area you travel to, including that very mountain, has its own sense of scale and emotion, with a wide palette of colours and light that fits each and every one.
As for sound, Ocarina of Time trades speaking characters for a truly moving soundtrack and well-implemented atmospheric effects. Every instrumental blends perfectly with its associated area, truly immersing the player further into the experience. The weather and other sounds are commendable and Link’s grunts are simple but likeable.
Six years ago, Roger Ebert began his “Video Games aren’t Art” speeches, preaching that an interactive experience, no matter how popular, could never achieve the greatness of its cousins in film, literature and television. That is a complete and utter lie.
If there was any game that could act as the ultimate rebuttal for this, Ocarina of Time would surpass even that game. Its massive variety of quests, its simply elegant storytelling, its well-crafted items and control system, and its awe-inspiring scale and atmosphere ensure that it is, almost unanimously, the single greatest achievement in this industry’s long history.
Play it on the 3DS or the Wii if you must, but if you truly believe that videogames are so much more than sheer entertainment, this is essential for anyone labelled a gamer. This is a game for the ages. This is…Zelda.
Very rarely will I ever give so much praise to a video game. But this is so much more than a game, it’s an experience that defines the essence of gaming. It will challenge and entertain you to no end. This is a true classic and I would recommend it without a doubt.