Is It Just Nostalgia? Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time is often considered to be the ‘best game ever’ but is it? Is it really? Personally, if anyone asks me what my favourite game is I will always say that it’s this one. Memories of stepping out onto Hyrule Field for the first time is something that will always stay close to me. But is the game still as good as it’s made out to be?
Note: For this, I’ll be looking at the N64 version of the game as it was initially released.
Ocarina of Time was released in 1998 to critical acclaim and instantly sent the benchmark for 3D gaming, while not everything it did was completely unique it did manage to take what it did and do it well, for a 3D game it was unheard of that just about everything you saw in the world you could access. While titles such as Xenoblade, Breath of the Wild and the Witcher 3 have almost perfected this in recent years it was something at the time that was unbelievable, that huge mountain in the background? You can reach the top! Previous titles such as Banjo Kazooie, Mario 64 and others had attempted 3D worlds on a smaller scale but this felt like a completely different level.
Not only this but everything in the world seemed to have a purpose, from the multiple items Link could carry to each corridor in a dungeon was integral overall, with very little going to waste. Even Hyrule Field, a large sandbox area was full of ghosts, skulltulas and heart pieces were hidden around every corner, mini games and side quests littered the world, ensuring you always had something to do and with the day/night cycle it allowed new and unique challenges based on the time of day. Z-Targeting was a new addition and adopted by a huge amount of games later, the ability to lock onto an enemy and with the single tap of a button, you would lock onto another enemy. Most games would adopt this in their own way and it’s still used now.
With each and every part of Ocarina having something to do it’s great that the storyline keeps up with it, while it’s not on the level of a title like Nier or Suikoden it fleshes out the world Link, Zelda, and the others are in, even turning Link from a simple sprite into a character we all know and love. Even minor characters were fleshed out, and with the time travel mechanic we would see characters grow up, become successes, fall from grace and even die. And most of them were relevant to the plot in some form from being part of a sidequest to simply dishing out hints to the player.
Looking at the puzzles and most of them were again, for its time new and unique. While previous titles had puzzles and a lot of other games did too no other game mastered it like Ocarina of Time did, quite often a puzzle in a 3D game would simply be too awkward or infuriating as the game attempted to dazzle you with its effects, however, lack the polish that was required on a game but Zelda managed this. Of course, there are some things that are too puzzling (water temple) but compare to other titles around the same time it’s hard to find much better.
The first thing looking back at Ocarina of Time without nostalgia, however, is while it may be the first for a lot of things. It is very much a product of its time. This is NOT saying the game is unplayable, or that there are huge issues, it still has a lot of great parts to it and flows rather well. But being the ‘revolutionary’ title it was pretty much everything it did has been done time and time again and ultimately done better since.
The biggest issue for me playing on the N64 was getting used to the controls again. While it’s not unplayable the N64 controller layout leaves a bit to be desired and I found myself quickly wanting for a second joystick just to fiddle with the camera, incidentally, I often wound up using my weapons while trying to shuffle the camera. Although it was fiddly I quickly acquainted myself with these controls once again. One issue I did find annoying was to be the inventory system. While it’s simple to press start to have all your items pop up and be there it really comes down to later dungeons when switching between the Iron or Hover Boots to regular boots become commonplace, most of my trek into the Water Temple was mostly frustrating due to having to pause the game every minute just to switch boots.
This is also an issue with the Ocarina of Time, the musical instrument that is used very often in the game. It will forever take up space on your hotlist C buttons meaning only space for two other items (usually the Bow and Hookshot for me) and will force you to access that inventory more often than usual. In this version you must also memorise all of the songs as there was no way to simply select the song you needed to play, thus requiring you to write down the buttons to input each time you want to use a lesser used song (for example the Warp ones).
And wow, looking back this game is short. Not as short as some modern day adventures such as Tomb Raider or Uncharted but replaying the game and getting EVERYTHING had me little over 20 hours, removing a lot of time for optional stuff like the Skulltulas and the heart pieces means you could easily have the game done in 15 hours or less. While this issue is down to me having a larger knowledge of the game and knowing a lot of it inside out I can’t imagine even the most casual of player managing to outlast 30 hours on this one. Compare this to later titles in the franchise (replaying Majora took me up to 40 hours while Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess had me up to nearly 50.) it’s safe to say that Ocarina is a little on the short side.
I found that saving the game would be quite infuriating especially mid-dungeon, some of which are laid out in a way that if you were to pause and turn the game off you would have to repeat some, if not a significant amount of the dungeon. This is especially annoying when it came to the Water Temple and really started to make me appreciate the autosave functionality of the modern day games. Another point for me is that this game is incredibly easy. I rarely found myself dying often and even allowing enemies to wail on me without input I would find myself tanking things out. It takes a lot to kill Link even on some of the later bosses. The fact that items like Faeries are overabundant in the world makes dying more of a slight inconvenience than an actual threat in the game. Even finding hearts is almost too easy.
Because Ocarina set the standard for titles a lot of the puzzles are now Zelda ‘classics’ (amongst other games) and it felt that I’d seen the puzzles so many times by now that they were all incredibly simple, even some of the more taxing ones were down to figuring out certain things (like, say, the Water Temple’s water level) took a few minutes before realising what had to be done, and even if you were struggling on a puzzle or an enemy your helpful ‘pal’ Navi will pretty much give you the answer to a lot of these.
Navi is also an annoyance through the entire game, however, that’s just a little niggle. The real annoyance comes from some of the conversations with the Owl. In which a whole heap of information will be thrown at you before asking if you understand. To which the game will automatically rest on yes. This usually ends up with you repeating a lot of the text over and over.
Overall looking at The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and asking myself. Is this a game purely for people with nostalgia or does it hold up? Honestly. I’m mixed. A lot of the game is pure nostalgia but the game isn’t unplayable, nor do any of the issues brought up cause a bad time, of course, but it does feel very outdated to a lot of modern games as most have taken what they’ve learned from Ocarina and improved upon it. The story is still a joy to play through and the characters are a lot of fun.
This is also a perfect time to point out that a lot of the issues I mentioned here actually were addressed in the 3DS version of the game, this version gave the entire world a graphical overhaul and fixed issues with the Water Temple and Item management. While the game is still on the easy side it has been noted with the inclusion of the ‘Master Quest’ mode which is a beefed up version of the game with a flipped world and more difficult dungeons.
Because the 3DS version of the game exists I would say to leave the N64 version of the title in the nostalgia and play the newer version instead and you’ll feel that the game manages to hold up a lot more than the older version does. The game will always be my favourite but honestly, a lot of that comes from nostalgia alone, but I do feel there is still a lot in here for any gamer to be able to play it and enjoy it, which cannot be said for everything.