Zelda 25th Anniversary: Remembering Ocarina Of Time
I was not sold on the idea of a 3D Zelda. By 1998, both Sony and Nintendo had some strong 3D offerings out on the market, but Zelda? That was sacred and not to be messed with. The earlier games in the series were almost a genre in and of themselves – nothing else matched the thrill of exploration and magic that characterized The Legend of Zelda. It’s fair to say I was wary of the big changes on the horizon.
Cut to a few months later, and I was happily touting Ocarina as one of my favorite video games ever, even daring to declare that maybe, just maybe, I liked it more than its predecessors.
Nintendo nailed the 3D experience. It was, in every way I could have imagined and several that I hadn’t, better than I expected it to be. The context sensitive actions, the auto-jump, the lock-on combat system – Ocarina was years ahead in quality with the way it presented what would become the dominant camera view in the coming decade.
However, the things that made Ocarina of Time really work were extensions of what I had always loved in the series. From the first time I broke out onto Hyrule Field and heard the music swell, to the excitement of saddling up on Epona, and on through the wonder of entering the Temple of Time and uncovering the magic of the Ocarina’s music, Zelda’s first N64 outing was a grand journey of discovery. Hyrule felt like a true fantasy world, filled with a deep and storied history, charming characters, and strange creatures; the power of that world was all the more remarkable because the wonder and excitement lasted so long. My time with Ocarina stretched from hours into days and then weeks – how big was this game?
There’s plenty of praise to heap on this particular Zelda entry. It remains one of the most critically lauded game titles in history. However, if I’m to distill my love for the game into one moment, it has to be Link’s startling transformation. In Hyrule, it takes just one short sequence to see our hero enter as a boy and exit as a man ready to wield the Master Sword. But like many of the great fantasy stories, that moment represents something greater. It’s the experience of growing up from a child to an adult – the way we see the world differently, the way things get darker and more dangerous, but simultaneously more thrilling and rewarding. Just when I thought I’d seen everything this Hyrule had to offer, it all felt new again as I rediscovered it seven years into its own future.
Video games get a lot of flak for being all about escapism, as if all anyone gets out of them is a break from the real world into some implausible illusion. Undoubtedly, games do give us that thrill. What’s lost in that equation is another aspect of why we love games. Amid these fantastic backdrops and unusual characters, the best games touch on the realities we all understand. Ocarina certainly deserves credit for its technical mastery and its trailblazing approaches to everything from combat to puzzles. However, it also holds a place as one of the great coming-of-age stories, and proof that the interactive medium has its own ways to represent and talk about that universal experience.
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