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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 23, 1998 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

You've heard of this game before, right?

Hmmm. Yes.

Have you heard of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time before? It's quite likely that you have. After all, it's been considered by a significant chunk of the gaming community to be the best game ever created and the pinnacle of video gaming in itself. If this is completely new to you, then on behalf of we, the surface dwellers, I'd like to welcome you to the real world. You can visit us when you come out from under the rock where you've been hiding for so long. Let me get you up to speed. This game tells the story of...

Hey! Listen!

Oop... Hold on a second. It's that annoying fairy, Navi.

Er, uh, heyyyyy... Navi... I'm just trying to review this game. It's pretty difficult to cover, actually. After all, how do I truly do justice to the game that has brought joy, tears, and Goron Tunics to millions?

Hey! Listen!

Shut up, I'm trying to talk to the nice folks. Anyway, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time puts you in the comfortable footwear of Link, a young boy in a green tunic who, after much nightmarish unrest, is finally visited by a helpful fairy. He is summoned by the Great Deku Tree, who watches over all the Kokiri folk, and is advised of ill tidings at Hyrule Castle. If he can prove himself worthy, Link is to become the first Kokiri ever to leave the forest and see the rest of the world. After sneaking through Hyrule Castle's heavily guarded courtyard, Link meets Princess Zelda in person. She tells him of horrible dreams she has been having, similar to those Link has experienced, about the evil aspirations of Ganondorf, the Gerudo King of Thieves to be all powerful by capturing the Triforce from the Sacred Realm. Link's new journey begins: he has to follow his heart and stop Ganondorf from becoming the Evil King, even if it means... dare I say it... traveling through time!

It is indeed through both the cutscene-based storytelling that we see from time to time and the actual journeying involved that we get a greater feel for the world around us. Thanks to improved hardware, Nintendo was able to craft a more expansive depiction and associated history of the races; in Link's previous games, we were really only able to converse with people (and the occasional talking animal in Link's Awakening). We discovered more about the Gorons, the Zora, the Gerudo, the Sheikah, and more from here than any game prior (the Zora, in particular, are a lot of peaceful and less, you know, murderous than before).

Hey! Listen!

I'm not listening to you! *flick*

This was a huge change of pace for the Legend of Zelda series, mainly because Ocarina of Time finally puts our hero in the third dimension for the first time. and that certainly does help us see the grander picture behind the charm of Hyrule. It's about as large as I remember. As soon as Link steps forward into Hyrule Field, he and the player both know that a gargantuan-sized journey is about to commence here and now. Every location you visit looks unique and vibrant, from the grassy knolls of Hyrule Field to the bustling marketplace of the castle, from the mountainous caverns of Goron City to the rippling waters found within Zora's Domain, and from the lush greenery of the Kokiri Forest to the Middle Eastern flair of Gerudo Valley. The various dungeons also take on elements of their surroundings, though they typically end up being much darker.

Certain backgrounds are pre-rendered, such as the Temple of Time exterior shot; it's a shame that some backgrounds couldn't also have been rendered, as shots of land in the distance then looks blurry as heck. Other textures can also get pretty blurry, and there's a fairly wild amount of polygonal clipping going on, but that comes with the territory of being a Nintendo 64 game. I noticed quite the trouble in the Fairy Fountains where the triforce symbol under Link's feet would flicker and fade out horribly. The character models aren't too bad, though they can be a bit rough on the eyes up close, occasionally only a tiptoe forward from looking as though they were pulled from a bad PlayStation title. Kudos to Nintendo for making some seriously gigantic bosses, though -- most impressive.

The audio also plays a more pivotal role this time around. Each area has its own music, and it's usually rather uplifting, save for the dungeons where the somber nature of the situation takes hold (and, in some cases, you only hear atmospheric sounds rather than an actual tune). Ocarina of Time's soundtrack makes pretty effective use of the slightly saddening and limiting MIDI sound chip of the Nintendo 64, even using some instruments to simulate the singing voices of beings. And if that's not enough, Link gets to use that ocarina for more than just calling a duck out of a statue. It's imperative that Link plays the ocarina well, and you learn songs that either transport you somewhere easily or make special actions happen depending on your location, all by playing a combination of five different notes using the C-buttons and the A-button. It's fun to whip out the ol' okey and make the sun come up or cause brief bouts of unexpected rain for confused Hylian meteorologists. The only drawback in this department is the severe lack of the Legend of Zelda overworld theme song, to which we have yet to receive an official apology for its abhorrent absense!

Hey! Listen!

Wh... what do you want? Look, here's five bucks. Go buy yourself a falafel plate or something. I'm busy.

Link can get himself into all kinds of mischief from brawling with thieves to, uh... visiting the local milk ranch.

Now while graphics and audio are nice little tidbits and all, it's the gameplay that really defines Ocarina of Time. Adventuring in a 3D world wasn't exactly a new concept — Mario had been doing it two years earlier in Super Mario 64 — but Ocarina of Time still felt like a pioneer in its own right. Link typically carried a sword and shield, allowing him to stab and block as the need arises. What's new to Ocarina of Time is the concept of Z-Targeting, a method of locking on to an enemy to keep it in view and to assist in aiming. Z-Targeting is very novel and an invaluable tool for playing the game, as many enemies move quickly around you; this technique will also allow you to strafe in a circle around the enemy to help avoid taking damage. The camera also follows you closely while Z-Targeting.

Link can do a variety of other things, including riding a horse! Link will be able to tame Epona, a very special horse that he first meets in childhood and then again as an adult. After winning his ownership in a race, Link can call upon him using the ocarina while out in the field to ride, as opposed to walking everywhere he needs to go. (Hyrule Field isn't THAT immense, but Epona definitely cuts down on travel time.) You can also use a bow and arrow while riding Epona to shoot down enemies, but frankly, it is way too difficult to be accurate while moving. You can switch to first-person view for this, but it's still not that fun.

As in previous Legend of Zelda games, you build up an arsenal of tools in your inventory to whip out at any time. You can assign up to three at any time to your C-buttons: just press and use! Near the beginning of the game, you pick up things like Deku sticks and nuts and you start to wonder if you're ever going to stock up on something actually interesting. Worry not! Eventually, once Link starts picking up cool stuff like the Hookshot, the Bow and Arrow, and the Megaton Hammer, things start getting better and better!

Though Link has a pretty linear quest ahead, requiring you to conquer dungeons in a specific order, Ocarina of Time has its fair share of sidequests to distract him from the task at hand. Link starts out with just three hearts in his life meter, but it can eventually be expanded to 20. Some Heart Containers are acquired by defeating the game's bosses; the rest have to be found in pieces, scattered throughout the land of Hyrule. Some are just laying around, others you have to perform specific tasks. It's up to you to find them all, and that's a lengthy task in itself. Also hidden in Hyrule are 100 Gold Skulltulas, small spiders that just crawl around in place. A family in Kakariko Village has been cursed and turned into spiders themselves; the only way to break the curse entirely is to defeat every single Gold Skulltula in Hyrule. That won't be easy. They're everywhere, including in dungeons, and can be heard scuttling about from a fair distance. The more you kill (and retrieve the remaining token from), the more family members are revived. They'll give you some sweet rewards for working so hard! And let's not forget the mini-games in Hyrule Castle Town, good for some quick fun and equipment upgrades.

Hey! Listen!

Alright, that's it! I've had enough of you bothering me! I'll tell you one thing that nobody likes in Ocarina of Time: the constant pestering of Navi, the supposedly useful fairy! You're just walking along, fresh as a daisy, when all of a sudden, Navi just gets in your face with "Hey! Listen!" He may spout out some useful advice, but he shouldn't have to repeat himself over and over. I don't mind his commentary, but I just wish I didn't have to listen to him call me over and over again with his "Hey! Listen!" You could be more polite, Navi!

Hey! Listen!

No! And while I'm moderately enraged, let's talk about something else that grinds my gears: that forsaken Water Temple! Whoever designed that dungeon deserves to be sentenced to live there permanently! The requirement to raise and lower the water to access different sections is enough trouble, considering there are only certain places where I can play the ocarina and make it happen. But someone — we're not sure who — had the audacity to program devilish whirlpools, the most ill-conceived threat in the game. No matter what, they will do their very best to lure Link in, put him back at the beginning of the room, AND steal some precious health. And you HAVE to walk through a lengthy patch of them. Even with the trusty Iron Boots to hold you down, it's still way too much of a chore to get past them. It was a rough point in an otherwise excellent game.

Hey! Listen!

No, YOU listen! You should stop bothering me and go seek out The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time! More game developers should be taking a look at what Nintendo did RIGHT with this and making notes for their own work! Indeed, Ocarina of Time is a work of brilliance. It's not without its flaws, but they are relatively minor, but what has been delivered is a timeless classic worthy of having its own shrine built in the center of a large city. And with its open availability not only on the Nintendo 64, but via other avenues on GameCube, Wii (Virtual Console), and newly remade on the Nintendo 3DS, there's no excuse not to experience one of the highest points in gaming history.

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