The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the greatest videos of all time. Whereas past entries in the series were top-down or side-scrolling adventures, Ocarina of Time turned the Zelda world 3D. For many of us gamers now in our 20s and 30s, Ocarina of Time was the first adventure we ever embarked on in video gaming.
Who could forget that great feeling of completing the first dungeon in the Kokiri Forest and entering the Hyrule Field; you follow a narrow path and all of a sudden your eyes take in this massive land. From there, the world opened up, leading the player to extraordinary places.
Ocarina of Time is one of the most influential video games in all of gaming history. Just like the hero of the story, we will be doing a little time traveling ourselves today; returning to the magic and wonder that is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, we will embark on a journey of celebration for a 20-year classic.
You play as Link, a young boy called to adventure by the great Deku Tree. The former learns that a terrifying evil threatens the world and that he must travel to the kingdom of Hyrule and help Princess Zelda. From there Link takes off for a journey full of danger and thrills.
One of Ocarina of Time’s most exceptional qualities is the 3D world; whereas Zelda was already a fantasy adventure driven game, these graphics brought a whole new feeling of immersion for players. As you run about the small Kokiri Forest, it’s a joy to do simple things like jumping from ledges, climbing up ladders, or running. Having the 3D space to partake in such a fantasy-oriented world at this time in gaming was breathtaking. It was a much more profound sense of participating in an adventure; through these movements, and choice of where you wanted to go, Ocarina of Time is a predecessor for larger sandbox games.
Like all Zelda games, Ocarina of Time comes with an enchanting score; whether it exudes a sense of serenity or tension, the music’s composition is captivating across its spectrum. This use of music is another element that feeds into the adventure as the player moves about Hyrule.
Upon leaving his village and entering the Hyrule Field, the land laid before Link is expansive and majestic. This field acts as the game’s world hub, allowing the player to go to different areas throughout the journey. As the game progresses, traveling becomes an essential element in Ocarina of Time. Later on, you receive a horse (Epona, who has become a staple across Zelda titles), adding an extra sense of excitement to the traveling.
The story is quite general; boy gets a call to adventure, the boy must go out and fight evil and save the land and princess. However, Ocarina of Time is unique with its use of time travel; at the halfway point of the game, you discover that you will need to travel through time to beat the game’s main antagonist Ganondorf. Upon going to the future, not only do we get to play as an adult Link, but we also see how Hyrule has changed. What was once full of life and color becomes desolate and defeated. It’s a nice switch up to the Zelda style players have experienced in the past, adding more emotion and depth to the world.
In his journey to fight evil, Ocarina of Time has Link venturing into numerous dungeons. The use of dungeons has become a significant element in Zelda titles (influencing countless other video games). Of the nine dungeons, each one provides a brand of uniqueness, weaving in fascinating gameplay mechanics and puzzle intricacy.
Take the Forest Temple for example; as you enter there’s this haunting chill lingering in the air. The rooms provide a sense of unease, with one corridor twisting itself as Link travels down it. This one example is a superb visual trick the Forest Temple uses on the player, establishing a creepy appeal. Even its final boss, Phantom Ganon, is an incredible reflection of the atmosphere. You fight him in a small room with numerous copies of the same painting on the walls. Phantom Ganon makes his way to attack you through the paintings; it’s up to you to move fast enough and find out which one he will appear from. Even more interesting, however, at one point he begins to mess with the player; you’ll see him start to make his way to you through one painting, but then he turns around, appearing out of another.
Intricate details like this find themselves throughout the dungeons of Ocarina of Time. From the anxiety of puzzles found in the Water Temple to the horror elements of the Shadow Temple, Ocarina of Time presents players with a plethora of challenges and environments to progress through.
Besides the fantastic level design, another amazing quality of Ocarina of Time is how one feels during this adventure. While previous Zelda games put you in the role of a hero/adventurer, there is a much higher sense of putting yourself into this story. Link is a largely silent protagonist; save for some small grunts and shouts at times, he doesn’t say anything (not even through text). With this in mind, this makes him a “blank avatar;” while you may control him, his lack of voice (and even personality), allows the player to put themselves within his shoes. Through this, there’s an incredible feeling that it’s you riding your horse across the land, that it’s you fighting all these monsters and saving the day.
You’re also given a cool range of equipment to help you fight and solve puzzles. The hook shot, another staple in the Zelda series that allows you to climb places, has become a significant tool copied throughout gaming. Then there’s your Hyrule shield and that of the Master Sword; for those of us who grew up playing this game, there are few words that can describe the awe and excitement of first pulling the sword out of the stone.
For a story with such a simple premise, the game delivers upon perfect pacing. There is always something pushing you towards your next big step, with room in-between to explore. Every monumental moment of Ocarina of Time shines as well; while it’s a game with some particular high points (e.g. getting the Master Sword and fighting Ganondorf), Ocarina of Time keeps the player in awe. Whether it’s the massive scale of a dungeon, the grotesque look of a monster (the ReDeads and the horrifying Deadhand come to mind), or the adrenaline that pumps during a big boss fight, from beginning to end is pure joy in Ocarina of Time.
As someone who grew up with video games, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time holds a very special place in my heart. Video games are a huge reason I love to write and a big component for why I fell in love with stories. Ocarina of Time was my first real experience being blown away by video games and what they could accomplish. I remember being young and taking turns with my brother while playing; our mom would sit in and watch as we traveled Hyrule together. To this day, playing as Link and thinking about the different dungeons, is all still fresh in my mind. And this intimate feeling of mine is also shared with millions of others who have been touched by this game all around the world.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time forever changed video games. Hundreds of games owe their design in thanks to Ocarina of Time, for it was one of the first titles ever to establish such a grandiose feeling of adventure. Even considering all the massive gaming experiences we have today, Ocarina of Time competes with them; maybe not in graphical power, perhaps not in the realm of realistic gaming mechanics, but in the emotional sense of empowerment a truly masterful video game can imbue players with.
For 20 years The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has been in the heart of many gamers; its story and achievements make it a classic that will stand throughout time. For some gamers it is their first significant gaming experience; for others, like myself, it stands as an emotional experience. But for all of us who played it, I think what makes this game special, is how it made us all feel like a hero.