Legend of Zelda, The: Ocarina of Time (1998)
What a difference seven years makes. If I take a look back at my life seven years ago, it features me sitting in college doing nothing, after which I’d go to the pub or go somewhere to eat, then go home, play some games, harass a few women by text, and do it all again the next day. Now though? I go to work, do little… then go to the pub… somewhere to eat… hmmm, even the harassment still features. So maybe I have to be somewhat less profound here and conclude that, after seven years, nowt has changed for me. Which is just the way I like it.
Still, didn’t those years go by quickly?! They say there’s two reasons that time seems to speed up as you get older. One, because as you get older, one, three, five or seven years of your life becomes a smaller and smaller proportion overall. And two, as you settle into mundane routines (i.e. any job that isn’t Billionaire Playboy or Fetish Researcher), your brain just goes onto a sort of dreary autopilot from there on.
I’ll tell you what felt like they’d never end, though, and that’s the numerous delays that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time suffered. Look, I was a prepubescent boy, the internet hadn’t become widespread, and I had little else in my life. I wanted that Zelda game. I needed that Zelda game. I consumed all the literature I could about that Zelda game, which in those days was a propaganda-laden official Nintendo magazine. But in true Stalinist style, my patience began to wear thin very quickly as, month after month, Link’s 3D debut was delayed further and further.
It only made us all drool even harder like the feral, Pavlovian dogs that we were. But if you’re a younger reader, consider yourself lucky that you didn’t have to suffer guaranteed heartbreak with every monthly issue of the magazine. You’d open up the mag onto the Previews page (not much else in that section where the Nintendo 64 was concerned, I’ll tell you that for nowt) and there, almost hiding apologetically in the bottom right of the page, would be a sheepish notification explaining that Ocarina of Time had been delayed once again. And that was that, entire month ruined. Nothing else left to do either, except go back and play Turok and wonder if the Zelda environments would be any bit as foggy.
I know I harp on about nostalgia, but consider what I’ve been saying here. There’s a new, hugely anticipated Zelda game on the way, in just a few months time! Except no, the magazine tells me it’s been delayed again. I couldn’t just take my phone out of my pocket and Google this awful news (or have it delivered to me via a push notification even).
I was literally paying money to be devastated each month. Well, my mother was. It reminded me of when I subscribed to Dating Magazine. Guaranteed results, they said. The only result I got was a summons, but I did at least get a few prison penpals out of it.
The N64 wasn’t exactly bursting with games at the time either and certainly they weren’t cheap. I suppose in the very least it allowed me to practice my finesse on GoldenEye, and maybe try some 00 Agent levels in another fruitless attempt to unlock the last level.
But that was hardly much comfort – I wanted Zelda. I wanted the vast world, the colourful and lifelike graphics, the cool sword moves, the dungeons that I feared my little 7-year-old mind wouldn’t even be able to contemplate, let alone comprehend. I wanted to ride around on horseback, go fishing, talk to townspeople, chase after doggies. I wanted the epic adventure.
And on Christmas Day 1998, that terrible wait was over and we finally got just that. Although by this stage, believe it or not I was actually ‘over’ Ocarina of Time, in the same way that you eventually have to work up some self-respect and get over the woman that keeps you guessing, has you at their beck and call.
So I mainlined F-Zero X that day instead, even if I wasn’t very good at it. My brother embarked on the Ocarina of Time journey instead, and struggled. God, did he struggle. Initially I was happy just to watch him, even if he was mule at the game and died every 10 minutes.
His initial file from the day we got the game is still on my cartridge, shows only one Piece-of-Heart-gotten Heart Container, rather predictably starts from an unfinished Water Temple, and shows 43 deaths. Forty-three! If I died 43 times in a hectic online FPS game I’d pack it in, know what I mean?
There was nothing for it – I’d have to take over, and bring the daring adventure to its conclusion. As the opening cinematic sweeped (swope?) majestically across Hyrule Field to a beautiful ocarina melody, Link and his trusty steed Epona galloped by, and from there the tone was set.
I took control of Young Link and explored the vastness of Hyrule Field and its environs, including three perfectly toned dungeons, before finally witnessing the feature that I was most looking forward to seeing in action – Link drawing the Master Sword and ageing seven years into a young adult, an unprecedented piece of game storytelling at the time.
From there, the game really opened up. Five more huge temples, with a few more mini-dungeons thrown in. All kinds of interesting items, puzzles and equippable gear, mental characters that only Miyamoto or some similar nutter could come up with, terrific N64 MIDI soundtrack. And the horse controlled like a dream!
Then there’s the minigames, the Pieces of Hearts, the tightly packed slices of adventure to be found in every nook and cranny in the game. It follows moreorless the exact same structure as Link to the Past, and Twilight Princess later took most of its cues from Ocarina of Time. Oh, really? This wonderful adventure template is now seen as a bad thing? Come on.
There has been no better transition from 2D to 3D for a series, and that is taking into account fine games such as Super Mario 64, Metroid Prime, Metal Gear Solid, Bubsy, and others besides. It is the standard by which all other 3D adventure games can be measured. And invariably, against Ocarina of Time, they are going to come up quite short.
But these are some particularly rosey spectacles, aren’t they? At some stage, we’ll have to be brutally honest and say that the N64 game’s framerate is subpar, the graphics more err towards the side of early 3D realism (i.e. bad), the locales such as Hyrule Field, once seeming as grand as Yosemite Park, suddenly seem quaintly small nowadays and the combat and movement system have been built upon ever since.
But none of that conceals the fact that Ocarina of Time still stands as one of the finest adventures and experiences that gaming has to offer. If you’re one of the six people who hasn’t bothered with this game yet, then treat it as if it’s vital medicine and you’re on the cusp of death – pick it up and get it down you quick. But maybe do yourself a bigger favour and go down the 3DS road instead.
20 August 2018
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