Uh oh! Get your hands on the close-window button! This one is gonna make some people mad!
It’s been a hot minute since I’ve talked about Zelda. The last time I did, I was marathon reviewing them to prepare for the Link’s Awakening remake, much like I did with the Metroid series to prepare for Prime 4 (I’ll wait until the end of time!). Unfortunately, I stopped talking about them pretty early on for various reasons. The release of the Link’s Awakening remake has long since passed me by, making the original intent of reviewing the series pointless.
Luckily, I’ve still got plenty of time until Breath of the Wild 2 comes out! So I’ve still got an excuse! Woohoo!
Today, I’m going to pick up where I left off! At long last, I’m going to review the Zelda game that has stood at the top of the heap ever since it came out! Let’s discuss the game that starts internet flame wars wherever it goes! It’s time for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time!
Story: A Link to the Past… IN 3D!!
Tell me I’m wrong. I fucking dare you. Tell me I’m fucking wrong.
You play as Link, or whatever monstrously inappropriate name you decide to give him, a young boy living in the forest. One day, after meeting with the worst thing to ever happen in a video game and speaking to the Deku Tree, Link is sent on a grand quest across Hyrule. His mission? Stop the evil sorcerer Ganondorf from getting the Triforce, an ancient and powerful artifact left behind by the three Goddesses.
Also, there’s time travel. It’s kind of an important thing. But it doesn’t really do much for the plot.
Let’s be real here: it’s a Nintendo game on the N64. These guys have never been known for deep, thought-provoking stories. Especially not in this era of gaming! The plot is used purely as a vehicle to take the player from one bit of gameplay to another.
Which is good. Because if we analyzed this game based on its story, it wouldn’t be very good. The characters are all flat and one-dimensional with no depth or development. The world feels shallow, with very little world-building put behind the various settings or cultures of the various peoples. From a writing perspective, this game is an absolute disaster.
But so was every game from this era. So let’s be real: who fucking cares? It’s a Zelda game. We all knew what we were getting into when we picked it up.
Visuals: 1998 VS 2011
Currently, there are two versions of this game that are officially available. The first is the original N64 version, the original game that became a classic. The second is the 3DS remake, which irons out a few issues, both in the visuals and the gameplay, from the original. So, which one shall I be reviewing?
Both. Because I’ve played both versions numerous times. So let’s tear them both a new asshole!
Let’s start with the N64 version. Honestly, what can I do here but laugh? There is not one game on the N64, not a single one, that still looks impressive to this day! Ocarina of Time is no exception! I’m sure this game was mind-boggling when it first came out. But playing it now, in 2020? Not so much.
The textures are all muddy and hardly identifiable. The character models are jagged and lacking in detail. The animations are stiff but effective and the framerate has a tendency to drop quite a bit. Honestly, the only thing that hasn’t aged like a dead cow is the music! And even then, it’s still held back by the N64’s limited hardware!
The 3DS version is better off, but not by much. The character models have been improved dramatically, giving us the best the 3DS can offer. The animations are much smoother, as is the framerate. Some of the environments are still rough, but they’re much more clear and detailed than before. Yes, it’s still a 3DS game, and an early one at that, so don’t expect a visual masterpiece. But it is a definite improvement!
In more ways than one. Which leads me to the most important segment:
Gameplay: Hey! Listen!
If you’ll excuse me a moment. I need to go deal with a quick PTSD attack. That damn fairy won’t stop haunting me…
The gameplay loop of Ocarina of Time is simple. You explore the available areas around you, pick up various items to help you on your quest, talk to NPCs, all to reach the next dungeon. After clearing the dungeon’s various puzzles and killing the boss, you get a special plot-relevant-item and go back to the beginning of the loop. Rinse and repeat until the credits roll.
It’s the classic Zelda loop. Only this time, there are a few changes to help it work in 3D. The first and biggest one being the Z-Targeting system.
See, wildly flailing around at enemies in a 3D space would be a huge pain in the ass, as you’d likely never hit anything. To alleviate that problem, Nintendo created Z-Targeting. With this, you lock onto a certain enemy, which ensures that your sword swings will always reach them so long as you’re within the right range. This does lock the camera, so you’ll have to be careful not to back into a wall and lose all of your vision completely. But with this system, combat is fully functional!
However, I hesitate to call it fun. See, combat in Ocarina of Time falls into a repetitive, long, and boring loop. With some enemies, you need to wait for them to expose some kind of weak spot. Which means that all you can do is stand there, shield raised and locked on, until they expose that to you. This makes most combat encounters into a waiting game. Rather than a test of skill or tactics, it’s a test of patience. One that quickly stops being much fun.
The boss fights are, unfortunately, the same way. Each one has a specific weakness that you need to exploit three times. After you hit them with their weakness (usually the item you find in the dungeon) you beat the shit out of them with your sword until they die. Again, it’s a waiting game. Wait for the right moment to use the item, use the item, bash them and hope they die. They’re still a welcome change of pace! But rather than changing from a walk to a dash, it more changes from a walk to a brisk walk.
Exploring also isn’t all that thrilling either. The world map itself is wide and almost completely barren! If you want to find something, then you’ll need to go to a city/village/dungeon. It’s in these areas where exploring becomes fun because there are actually things to find! Hyrule Field is so blank and boring that it makes the Sky from Skyward Sword look like a map in Witcher 3!
And that’s coming from someone who fucking loves Skyward Sword!
Now, I do want to be fair. I think the dungeons are a ton of fun! The puzzles, while not super difficult, are a refreshing change of pace and are just challenging enough to be enjoyable! Plus, exploring these dungeons is usually rewarding, especially when you find secret rooms! And you often get to fight some unique monsters that don’t appear on the world map! Some of these monsters are even fun to fight!
Unfortunately, this is where the N64 version really starts to lag behind. See, a lot of dungeons, especially in the late game, require you to switch between items. You can only have a few items equipped at a time, so you’ll need to go into your menu to switch between them quite a bit. This means you’ll need to pause the game, wait for the menu to open, equip the item, unpause the game and wait for the menu to go away, use the item, then go back and equip another item for the next puzzle. It’s a huge pain in the ass that makes me want to tear out what little hair I have left!
It also doesn’t help that the controls have aged about as well as an Easter egg left out all year long. The aiming is stiff and imprecise, maneuvering with Epona at high speeds is basically impossible, and the N64 controller itself is a nightmare to use! Playing this game on the original hardware is entirely possible, yes. But it is far from fun!
Luckily, all of these issues have been ironed out in the 3DS version. You can swap items on the fly by tapping the touchscreen, which is a total godsend! The gyro-aiming is ultra-precise and super easy to use (even if you look like a fucking clown while doing it)! Maneuvering at high speeds is much easier thanks to the circle pad! On the 3DS, this game is a total delight to play!
Even if Navi still makes me want to shove dynamite into my ears like a fucking Loony Toons cartoon.
This game is definitely a little rough around the edges, especially in its original state. However! I can’t deny that I had fun with it each time I played it! It’s an enjoyable and satisfying experience! As the first step into 3D for the Zelda franchise, this game did an amazing job!
Even if all the 3D games to come later would do an even better job. Cough cough Majora’s Mask.
If people didn’t want to make my head roll before, they sure will after reading this closing statement.
Is Ocarina of Time the best game ever made? Hell no. Is it the best Zelda game ever? Also no. It is a classic in every sense of the word, an incredibly important milestone in video game history! Without it, games like Witcher 3 and so many other games wouldn’t exist! Even if it’s janky and horribly aged, it’s still an irreplaceable game!
If you still haven’t played Ocarina of Time, I’d recommend doing so! However, I cannot recommend playing the original N64 version. If you’re gonna do it, go for the 3DS remake. Trust me, that one is a much better experience.
Now, if you’ll excuse me. I need to go finish my next review. Which will definitely make some people angry!