By now, even the most diehard Nintendo-heads have accepted the fact that the Nintendo 64 represented a giant leap backwards for the company. It wasn't enough to just have 64 bits. The cartridge format discouraged many potential third-party developers, including the mighty Squaresoft. As a result, the N64 suffered from a terrible lack of decent RPGs, sports games, and decent games in general. Nintendo's popularity waned, and they lost the top spot in the gaming industry to up-and-coming Sony and the PlayStation (the fact that the PlayStation wasn't the brightest jewel itself is another article).
It could be argued that Nintendo was in danger of extinction-had it not been for an exclusive trump card by the name of Shigeru Miyamoto. It was Miyamoto's genius in game designing that made N64 owners feel they got a worthwhile deal. The new technology available for the N64 allowed Miyamoto's imagination to run wild. And, as a number of developers have proved time and time again, capable technology and imagination are a very dangerous combination in the video game world. So run wild, Miyamoto did, and thanks to him you'll find at least one of his Nintendo 64 masterpieces on almost every gamer's top ten favorites list. Star Fox 64, Super Mario 64 and both Zelda games (Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask) are among the N64 games with the Miyamoto mark.
In the wake of Miyamoto's latest Zelda, The Wind Waker, it's due time that everyone begin paying tribute to The Wind Waker's pre-order freebie: A Gamecube re-release of Ocarina of Time and a director's cut called Master Quest. And here I sit without a Gamecube. As I quietly seethed with envy over that fact, it occured to me that I've not yet reviewed the original version of Ocarina. So with every video game fanboy on the planet currently sick with Zelda-mania, I only found it proper to pay my respects to the one N64 game that made my fave list.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of those rare birds that was able to change people's view on gaming. Whether or not it changed the art of gaming itself is debatable, but you can't deny the impact it had on the people who played it. I myself have many fond memories of sitting in front of the television, unblinking and forever looking forward to whatever surprise the game threw at me next. I stared saucer-eyed in amazement the first time I saw the sun set. Encounters with that owl always tickled my funny bone. The fight against Dark Link was one of the great moments in all of video gaming. The true identity of Sheik, plunking down the money for the guide book after admitting I was stumped, ah memories...
When the game first begins, we see through the eyes of a fairy named Navi as she quickly flies to the bedside of a young fairy-less Kokiri child named Link. Navi was sent to bring Link to the Great Deku Tree, the guardian spirit of the forest. He's also been pretty sick lately, and he asks Link to go inside and remove the curse that's afflicting him. Being the hero, Link is of course victorious. But does the Great Deku Tree live out his long and prosperous existance for another thousand years or so? Nope, because if he did, he would have eradicated the forthcoming evil himself and in the process deprived us of a game. So he dies right after Link removes the curse, spending his last few moments blabbing to Link about how he's destined to move on to greater things. He also adorns Link with an expensive-looking jewel before sending him out of the Kokiri Forest. Link then goes off to Hyrule Castle to hook up with a nice young princess named Zelda, who expresses her distrust in an evil-looking fellow named Ganondorf. From there the story just keeps building and twisting right up until the final climactic battle against Ganon. And you even get to travel through time via a shrine and a big sword. All in all, it's one of the best stories I've ever seen.
The time-travel element is more than just another plot contrievance, though. Throughout the game, Mr. Miyamoto just kept working in more and more excuses to use it. Areas that weren't accessable in the future are accessable in the past. You need to revisit the past to pick up items that you'll be using in the future. Certain areas in the future can only be reached after you've done something in the past that can get you to them. The future is quite different than the past, and when you first get there, the first thing you'll be doing is wandering around, looking at how much everything has changed. I'll tell you right now, when you first go to the village outside Hyrule Castle in the future, you'll recieve an unpleasant shock upon seeing how much worse its gotten. Well, the same will be said for just about every other area too. Amazing, the things that can happen in a mere seven years.
Amazing, also, are the many ways in which day and night can differ. Time in Ocarina passes not only in the long-term type, but also the short-term, day-to-day type. If you decide to wait around for the night to come, you'll see many unexpected things. Ghosts roam, and cattle skeletons attack you. If you happen to enter one of the two villages during the night, you'll see them populated by different, somewhat more creepy types of people. The stores close down and the houses lock their doors. Day and night is as big a factor in Ocarina as past and future. And, with the help of a song on Link's ocarina, it rains. Naturally, the rain can play as much a factor in puzzle solving as the past/future and day/night factors.
Unfortunately, Ocarina of Time's first (and possibly only) problem lies within this sheer number of scenarios. While day and night and past and future are all vital in getting certain people to show up, most of these people aren't the types who usually keep up with the news. Many of these characters, however colorful, make mundane conversation. It's impossible to get any information about where to go next out of them because they don't know. Often you walk out of a dungeon with whatever prize you were seeking, and the only hint of where to go next is in a vague hint doled out by the owl or one of the sages. So instead of being able to just progress to the next area no questions asked, you'll often find yourself out in the middle of Hyrule field, staring at the map, wondering where to go and what to do next. But Zelda games were always about confusing puzzles, so this little insight isn't anything that will result in my giving it a score reduction. It does get annoying after awhile, though.
Long-term Zelda fans need not worry about aimless wandering being the only puzzles in the game. With Ocarina of Time being possibly the biggest Zelda game out there, the dungeons aren't the room-to-room, take ‘em as they come variety. Ocarina's dungeons are vast, sprawling mazes that connect, twist and leave you clawing your hair out. There are the small rooms that Zelda fans have become accustomed to, and giant, virtually endless chambers that require precise navigation to get from one end to the other. A dexterious mind is the biggest necessity for you to bring to Hyrule, because you won't get anywhere without one. But keep in mind that this isn't a complaint; it's just what we'd expect from a Zelda game. Every dungeon has a unique theme that emphasizes the use of one particular item over the rest, and part of the fun is figuring out how to use those items in order to get to the next room. Of all the dungeons, I found the Shadow and Spirit Temples to be the most interesting, with the ways they required you to utilize the Lens of Truth and Mirror Shield. The Water Temple, in which you can raise and lower the water level, is easily the most annoying. All the dungeons have one thing in common: They're all designed so that if you should fall off the beaten path at any point, you don't have to work hard to find your way back.
The main focus of Ocarina of Time is on the puzzles, so you'll quickly learn that the majority of your enemies are pushovers. You'll occaisionally come across an enemy that can block your attacks, but they're all deadbeats unless they attack in groups. But since the designers liked making up new kinds of puzzles so much, they decided it would be amusing if fighting the bosses or sub-bosses would be puzzles in themselves. And they were right. Ocarina's boss battles are hard on both Link's ability to withstand punishment and your ability to figure out how to attack. Most of these critters have to be temporarily disabled for you to even walk up to them. Aside from being challenging, some bosses are just plain bizarre. The big jellyfish at the end of the third dungeon is a strange-looking thing, but Bongo Bongo takes the cake for being possibly the most unique boss encounter ever. Ever fight a boss while standing on top of a beating drum? You will. The halfway point of the Water Temple is marked by a fight with Dark Link, a unique foe that mimics every stab, slash, perry, thrust and block you perform. Trying to use the kamikaze approach in Ocarina is akin to asking for your carcass on a golden platter.
Although Link goes about doing all the legwork on his own, his constant companion is Navi. Aside from summoning you to the Great Deku Tree, Navi is supposed to aid Link in various situations throughout his quest. Key word: Supposed. Aside from locking on to your targets, all Navi does is dish out bits and pieces of useless information that became obvious ten minutes ago. She's kind of like the tips given in Gamepro magazine, in other words. But the lock-on feature is good enough. If you're having trouble figuring out where to hit opponents, press the z button and the game will take on a wide-screen presentation as Link is given the ability to circle his enemy, walk backwards and flip.
Since this is a Zelda game, Link has plenty of other things to play with. First and foremost is the ocarina. Link recieves the Fairy Ocarina from his gal pal Saria in the early goings of the game, and the Ocarina of Time is bestowed on him around the first quarter mark. Both of these instruments have the ability to play magic lullabies capable of changing the weather and time of day, reveal hidden passages and transport Link from one area to another. Learning to use the right songs for the right situations is critical beyond the first dungeon. Nintendo gets points for not making the ocarinas into cheat items; in the hands of another video game developer, we might find a song of strength or regeneration or the like, which would have made the challenge plunge. So the ocarinas have the simple transportation and recognition uses. Link has a VERY limited number of magic points to perform some of those other functions with.
I'm dying to know when the developers decided to stop letting Link shoot swords when his health is full. It kinda sucks that they took that away from us, but Link has a number of other long-range weapons to make you forget it ever existed. A slingshot and a boomerang are found during Link's childhood, and you replace them with a hookshot (a weapon that allows you to grab ledges) and a bow and arrow when Link grows up. The classic, all-purpose bombs are still existant and never in short supply. Aside from the weapons, there are two alternate outfits, one that resists extreme heat and another that lets Link breathe underwater. Different pairs of boots allow Link to anchor down or walk on air. So while Link looks as wimpy as ever in the green pajamas, you may want to refrain from the insults a bit longer.
If you happen to get lost on the main quest (and you will), there are many ways to kill time until you find out what to do next. One is to look for the gold skulltula enemies and collect the tokens they leave behind. This will free a family from a curse, and they all have something to give you in return. Once you tire of looking, there are mini-games for both young Link and adult Link. There's a pond by the lake where you can fish and a group of frogs in the Zora's river whose songs you can mimic on your ocarina. A building in one of the villages tests your skills with the bombchu, a kind of bomb that crawls along the ground (and these skills will be needed later in the game). The mask salesman quest you can play as young Link doesn't reward you with anything significant, but it's a lot of fun to play. When Link grows up, he becomes eligable for a whole new set of mini-games, including ghost racing and bow shooting. On Hyrule field, he can hunt and capture ghosts and take them back to some weirdo in the castle village.
Ocarina of Time is an epic journey, and so the gorgeous fantastical graphics scream "epic". The colors are all bright and lively to accomodate the panoramic scenery, which stretches, from the field's highest point, from one end of the field to the other. The dungeons are all towering chambers with the graphics setting the mood for each one; the Fire Temple is a very bright, almost intimidating red, and the Shadow Temple looks flooded in fog at some points. The Spirit Temple is my favorite, with its dull yet majestic colors and beams of light shining through and off mirrors. It looks almost like a religious place. Whenever you enter one of these areas, the atmospheric color kind of fades in. While many other video games have attempted night-to-day transitions, nothing I've seen pulls them off this beautifully. Ocarina gives you all the colors of a warm, cloudless spring day, from the paling night sky to the bright midday and the crimson/yellow sunset. If you take your eyes off the ground long enough, you can even watch the sun move across the sky. The sprites are the traditional Nintendo 64 polygons used on every Nintendo 64 game from Mario 64 to Perfect Dark. In Ocarina, the geometric shapes are all as apparent as they ever were for the Empty Box 64. They get the job done, but they didn't cause any sort of graphics revolution.
First I have to get this off my chest: WHERE IS THE CLASSIC ZELDA THEME? There. Other than that, I have no qualms about the audio. The background music in the field sounds closest to the classic Zelda theme and is actually memorable. When you get into combat, the music changes into some sort of low-noted doom and gloom theme. It's a nice little addition, but it does get overused. The castle village has a cheery bubble gum theme that may cause the occasional migraine, and you may find yourself leaving town sometimes just to hear something different. There's outstanding area-related music everywhere you go. The Goron people have a comical theme that uses what I think sounds like high notes from a xylophone and African tribal drums. The Zora village uses what sounds like falling harp notes at one point, for their waterfall lair. The sounds have nice little touches, like the change when Link steps off a beaten path onto the grass. Sword clangs sound lifelike, the Gorons grunt when they get up, lava bubbles, and so on.
I would have preferred a friendlier menu interface instead of the four-screen one used in the game. it gets annoying having to switch screens a million times and thumb through items a million times until you get what you need. Other than that, the control is perfect. There are no delays for any kind of animation, and Link runs the same speed even going uphill or up a staircase. Link can climb in all directions and ever roll. The targeting system is a nice addition that helps you aim so you don't waste ammunition. The 3d aiming mode is useless, though, so avoid using it if you have the option. And the directional pad is as useless as it is in every other N64 game ever made.
What more is there to say? If you have a Nintendo 64 or a Gamecube, you better get this game. If not, tough luck. It'll be an extra 100 or 150 dollars. But it's worth it.
Pros: Gameplay, high replay value, graphics, music, everything Cons: Umm...I wish the world was bigger? (I like to roam) The Bottom Line: If you still have an N64 and feel nostalgic and never got to play this game, do yourself a favor and go play it. I remember when the N64 was cutting technology. Not so much anymore, but I'm too poor to buy a Playstation or Wii. But I'm content to continue playing games like Banjo-Kazooie … more
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time transports you into the fantasy world of Hyrule with vibrant, real-time 3-D graphics. With full freedom of movement, your quest takes you through dense forests and across wind-whipped deserts. You swim raging rivers. Climb treacherous mountains. Dash on horseback across rolling hills. And when you reach your destination, you delve into dungeons full of creatures that fight to the finish to put an end to your adventures, and your life. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of Nintendo's most epic challenges ever. With 256 Megabits of action, this is one game that you won't finish overnight.