Has there ever been a game as universally beloved as this Nintendo 64 classic? There’s a possibility that its younger Nintendo Switch sibling The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might someday be able to claim the same level of adoration, but even that isn’t quite held up to the same heights as the series’ first foray into 3D. The fifth generation was a time of redefinition for many video game franchises as they stepped out of their 2D worlds and grappled for the first time with 3D visuals and wide open spaces. Some, like Sonic, have still never quite found their footing, while others took relatively smoothly to their new dimension, like Mario. That said, no matter how easy the transition felt at the time, few of those early explorations of the third dimension hold up today. That was never made more clear than with the release of the Super Mario 35th anniversary collection. While many of us have magical memories of Super Mario 64, playing it nowadays feels like a battle as much against the controls as the enemies. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time however, is an entirely different beast.
Ocarina took the elements of 2D Zelda, the items, the dungeons, the overworld and worked them brilliantly into a brand new experience. In the wake of how influential Ocarina was, it’s easy to overlook how original and inventive it was in its day. The Z-targeting for instance, now a staple of video games was a new addition here. The levels are designed brilliantly – the dungeons are varied, ranging from the inside of a fish, to the remains of an old torture dungeon. The amount of raw ambition on display here is stunning, and totally palpable when you play the game. You, the player, aren’t just impressed by how great the game plays, but also how much the developers weren’t content with simply creating the best Zelda game yet, but wanted to make something that would revolutionise the genre, if not the industry.
My own experiences with Ocarina came a long time after its launch, actually, even after the release of the Nintendo Wii and Twilight Princess, the game that introduced me to the Zelda series. I always had a Nintendo 64 growing up, but I had never really known much about games beyond Pokemon Stadium and Super Mario 64. After I fell in love with Twilight Princess, I looked into other Zelda games and found out about the Ocarina of Time, then went out and found a copy at my local game store. I went home and plugged the game into the system and immediately fell in love as Link rode Epona across the screen. You immediately know that you’re in for a magical experience. Even as I was writing this retrospective, I was talking to my mum, a strong non-gamer, who has only ever enjoyed playing one game (Pokemon Snap), who went ‘Awww, Ocarina of Time, I loved the music in that!’. Not many games have the magic to enrapture not only the player but the people around them. Ocarina of Time has that power.
Following Link on his journey through time as he tries to fight against the evil Ganondorf, you cross deserts, climb mountains, run across fields, become friends with fish people and rock-eating Gorons. From beginning to end, you’re hooked, and you constantly find yourself thinking that everything is so… cool. I remember being so excited after collecting the three spiritual stones, racing back to the Temple of Time to place them on the altar and finally claim the Master Sword, only to be greeted with that cutscene of Zelda and Impa escaping the castle, Ganondorf close behind. It felt like such a viscerally cinematic experience, one that is even more impressive when considering the limitations of its hardware. Never before had video games felt so magical, and many would argue it never has again.
A few years later, Nintendo rereleased the game on Nintendo 3DS with a few small updates, but no real changes to the core game itself. That I had so much fun playing the game once again, and still felt the same magic on a small handheld screen, speaks volumes to the brilliance of the game itself – it doesn’t need tech to make it shine, wherever you play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you are sure to have a great time.