Few games have built up the legendary status in terms of innovation and impact as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. From its long 5-year development cycle (long for its time, at least) it perfected how 3D action-adventure games should navigate through environments and target enemies. The Z-lock on system is still used today, over 20 years later! Together with Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time wrote the book on how to develop games in 3D, and, nostalgia goggles aside, it is still put on a pedestal from a games design perspective. Even in terms of music, story and enemy design it’s one of, if not the, best Zelda games. So let’s have a walk down memory lane, and see just why The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is so special.
Back in the mid-nineties, 3D videogames were an exciting prospect just on the horizon. It was the dawn of a new age in terms of how games were going to be played and the experiences that players could get out of software. There were problems though, Platforming in 3D wasn’t nearly as precise or tight as in 2D games. Also, camera control was a huge issue. Games like Castlevania 64 and Tomb Raider (despite its good reception at the time) were clunky and awkward to control. Nintendo solved these problems in a few ways. Firstly, Super Mario 64 introduced an actual character to control the camera, which could be moved with the c buttons and set directly behind the player’s avatar. Next, with Ocarina of Time, Z-targeting was introduced. Finally, in Ocarina of Time, an auto-jump was also introduced which made things a lot simpler.
So, in terms of gameplay, Ocarina of Time follows the pattern set before it with A Link to the Past. As Link, you explore an interconnected overworld filled with secrets and interesting (often strange) characters. There’s precise (thanks to the Z-targeting system) combat and diverse enemies that take inspiration from both European and Japanese fantasy. Then there are dungeons filled with enemies and puzzles that are well designed. These puzzles (as in most Zelda games) seem so intricate only a genius could have designed them.
There are so many dungeons (or temples, if you prefer) in Ocarina of Time that stands out as some of the best in the series. The forest temple, with its twisting corridors, eerie atmosphere and strange, haunting soundtrack make you feel like your wandering through a forgotten rural mansion. Then there’s the desert spirit temple, which you encounter late in the game, and is full of puzzles that require you to manipulate light. Again the temple’s soundtrack is superb and fits the setting.
Best 3D Zelda?
In general, it’s the diverse temples and atmosphere they create that make the temples of Ocarina of Time shine. Compared to Twilight Princess, which has some great dungeons (Snowpeak Ruins stands out here), the original N64 title is more consistent in the quality of both its mainline and sub-dungeons. Speaking of Twilight Princess, its overworld is large but empty and the fact you have to collect 5 heart pieces instead of four to complete a heart container feels like it’s watering down the experience.
As a kid, I was impressed by the story in Ocarina of Time. While it may be simple compared to later games like Majora’s Mask or Wind Waker, it is a typical fantasy adventure brought to life through text and in-game cutscenes. The ‘weirdness’ of the NPCs gives the world character, and Ocarina of Time is the game that introduced Ganondorf. Ganondorf is a great antagonist. He’s probably got the best design in the series (although his personality is explored more in-depth in Wind Waker) and the final boss battle is an epic, atmospheric fight. His transformation into pig Ganon, with lightning strikes in the background, shows just how powerful a system the N64 was.
In terms of sound, Ocarina of Time introduced some of the most iconic and most beloved tunes in the series. The song of storms has reappeared in multiple Zelda games and it’s also a tune that you learn for your ocarina. As many of you will know, it literally makes it rain as well as being involved in an interesting time paradox side quest in the windmill. There are so many other great tracks. The lost woods track, water temple song, the previously mentioned forest temple, and spirit temple tunes. Ocarina of Time‘s sequel, Majora’s Mask, reuses some tracks from Ocarina of Time but has plenty of unique tracks too.
Ocarina of Time brought Zelda games into the 3D realm and did with style and ambition. Zelda games have followed the formula that it laid down up until the recent Breath of Wild (which is a lot different from the old games). That means that Zelda games have followed in Ocarina’s framework for twenty years! Almost every 3rd party action-adventure or action-RPG have taken something from Ocarina of Time. General Zelda ‘clones’ like Okami, Blossom Tales, Oceanhorn, to other games like the Shantae series, Fable series, and Beyond Good and Evil. It is arguably the most influential Zelda game, but maybe Breath of the Wild will overtake it in that respect.
Remake or Re-release?
Given the limitations of the N64, it was great to see Ocarina of Time get a remake on the 3DS in 2011. You could now play the classic on the go, and it benefitted from much better graphics, including new models and textures. It was, in essence, the same game, which pleased purists. It did, however, include motion controls and a boss rush mode.
In terms of an HD remake, there have been rumors, but nothing has been announced. Would the fanbase want exactly the same game just with better visuals and an orchestrated soundtrack? Or would a Shadow of the Colossus style remake be better? A game that followed the same story, atmosphere, and style as the original but incorporated Breath of the Wild–style mechanics?
Overall, even if there isn’t a remake, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is many people’s favorite game of all time. All Nintendo needs to do now is release the original on the Switch! What are your thoughts? Do you have fond memories of playing the first 3D Zelda game? Let us know in the comments below.
Hi, I’ve played games since the 16-bit era and really enjoy indie games. That part of the industry has really blossomed in recent years and we’re getting different takes on established genres. I also really love Nintendo games. I’m currently studying for an MSc.