Ocarina of Time – Ten Years Later

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Some people call it the best game ever released. It has topped many charts in 1998, including the prize for “Game of the Year” at the Interactive Achievement Awards, and it continues to do so today with first positions in charts ranging from “Most Influential Game” to “Best Game of All-Time”. It has been praised by magazines and websites, critics and gamers alike. But most importantly, it is one of these milestones games that have marked the industry and influenced countless developers in terms of gameplay and innovation.

The story of a young boy sacrificing his childhood to eventually save the world is one that has touched many of our staff members. This is why I have questioned them about a variety of topics, from their own impressions on the game to the legacy that Ocarina of Time left behind. The result is a rollercoaster ride of nostalgia, with fanboy moments and some surprising answers thrown in for good measure.

If you are an incorruptible fan of Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda in general, you are in the right place. Even if you disagree with everything I have said in the previous paragraphs, keep reading. You will eventually find a voice that resembles yours.


November 23rd, 1998

About ten years ago to this day, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was finally released. To say that the game was overdue is an understatement. After all, Nintendo had inadvertently built an aura of near mysticism around the game before it was even available to the public. Through a combination of delays and hype, the latest entry in the Zelda series had already achieved legendary status; the only thing left to see was if the game would be remembered for its qualities, or for being the most overhyped flop of all time.

If you are a fan of the franchise, you probably remember you first experience with the game. Most of us are familiar with the game because of its original release in 1998, but there are some gamers who never had a chance to play it until it was re-released for the Gamecube. One thing never changes though, no matter when you first tried the game: it rarely leaves people indifferent.

Here’s what our staff had to say about their initial impressions on the game.

Aaron Sirois: “Honestly, I thought it was too complex for me. You have to understand that I was a very poor child and the most complicated game I owned was Krusty’s Super Fun House. Of course, once I got over this I thought it was the most fun I had ever had playing a game.”

Matt Yaeger: “I missed out on the game during the N64 lifespan, but I played it with the compilation disk for the Cube. It was fun, but after playing it I couldn’t understand the whole best game ever gushing about the game.”

Charlie Marsh: “I found it was kind of hard to get used to the interface at first, with the A button doing so much and the C buttons being used for items. I don’t really know why, I guess it was just different than what I was used to. I was also blown away by the size of the first boss in the Deku Tree.”

Mohamed Al-Saadoon: “Escaping the Gerudo Fortress was my favorite. Duelling with those Gerudo Warriors was the closest Zelda got to a sword fighting simulation.”

Aileen Coe: “I was a bit overwhelmed at how much there was to do and explore. The button layout took a little getting used to as well, but I was able to get the hang of it quickly.”

Guy Desmarais: “The only thing I had time to do before having to go back to school was the preparation to the first dungeon. It means that all I could do was find the Kokiri Sword, cut grass and throw rocks to find some rupees and buy a shield. Still, just by doing these simple tasks, I was completely blown away. Super Mario 64 had been my first experience with 3D games, and while I had a good time with it, it was nothing compared to OoT. Everything was smoother, felt more natural in a way. I think the only other time I was so excited to first play a game was when I first got WCW vs NWO: World Tour, and it was only because I was amazed that a wrestling game finally included more moves than a suplex and a bodyslam for everybody.”


My Favorite Moment

Ocarina of Time provided many memorable moments over the course of its epic quest. Sure, nobody in their right mind would call the Water Temple their favorite part of the game, but the fact remains that ten years later, it is still one of the most famous level or dungeon in Nintendo’s history. On the other hand, has anybody ever complained about horseback riding? It was in fact so welcomed that Epona made it to the immediate sequel, Majora’s Mask, and to this generation’s entry, Twilight Princess.

The game is filled with superb dungeons, fun side quests and magnificent cut-scenes. More importantly, it was the last game before the introduction of every Zelda fanboy’s nightmare, the 35 years old fairy Tingle. Simply put, OoT is the blissful culmination of everything that has ever been right about the series (the dungeons, the items) that has yet to be equalled by any game that the franchise has produced since. With that in mind, I have asked our staffers to pick their personal favorite from the bunch, and here are their answers.

Charlie Marsh: “The cut scene when Link first wakes up in the Chamber of the Sages to find that he’s aged seven years. It was just so cinematic and so well done, especially the lead up to the big reveal of older Link; it wasn’t something I saw a lot of in games back then.”

Guy Desmarais: “When you first start a game, Link has a nightmare where Zelda is taken away on a horse, followed by Ganondorf on his black steed. Ten years ago, that was my favorite moment, as it introduced Ganondorf’s human form, which had never been showed in any game before. I like how they managed to craft a decent back story for what used to be nothing more than a blue pig. I think it adds a lot to the character, as I have always thought that a maniacal, lunatic human being is scarier than a deformed beast.

Nowadays, after playing finishing the game more times than necessary, I can tell that a constant highlight is the Spirit Temple. The dungeon’s design is pretty clever, with both young and adult Link coming into play, and the boss fight is still one of the most fun in the game, right along with Volvagia from the Fire Temple.”

Matt Yaeger: “When you get the horse.”

Aileen Coe: “The final confrontation with Ganondorf. As you got closer to his chamber, the organ music got louder and louder (which served to build suspense) until finally you entered. You’re greeted with Zelda in her crystal on top of this huge pipe organ. He just sat there all casual playing until the Triforce pieces resonated, then the epic showdown began. And of course, Navi can’t help you during that battle (but then, do you really need her help at that point?).”

Aaron Sirois: “Even though I can beat him in my sleep, the battle with Ganon on top of Hyrule Castle is still unbelievably epic in my mind. He was just so huge! Plus, whenever you’d get hit, Zelda would cry out in fear. It really added to the feel.”


The World Famous Water Temple & Other Challenges

While Ocarina of Time mostly built its legacy with its innovative features, there’s another part of the game that almost became a legend on its own. When I asked our staff “What was the most challenging part of the game”, I fully expected to receive a particular answer, and they didn’t disappoint:

Charlie Marsh: “Not the Water Temple itself, but getting far in it, only to die or get frustrated and turn off the game for a few days, then you go back to it and you have no idea how to get back to where you were. That dungeon wasn’t necessarily hard, it was just complicated.”

Aileen Coe: “Having to carry Ruto’s spoiled indolent self around while also having to fend off enemies. Why no, no I totally didn’t accidentally-on-purpose toss her into pits out of frustration a few times, why do you ask?”

Aaron Sirois: “The water temple is the trendy answer for this question and for good reason. I spent several hours on this temple on my first try. There were just so many keys and so many dead ends that I would get lost. It took forever before I realized there was a secret room in the inner chamber that you could only access when you raised the water level so that the giant rock covering the entrance would float up. Also, that boss kicked my sorry behind many a time before I stopped being dumb and moved out of his reach.”

Matt Yaeger: “Not sure, thought the whole game was pretty easy.”

Guy Desmarais: “If I look at the point where I have spent the most time during the many times I have played through the game, the Water Temple has to win this one. This dungeon single-handedly made me question my logic and intelligence as I struggled to get anything done the first time I entered it. I’m guessing that I must have wasted 3 or 4 hours in this one on my first try. The second time I tackled it, it went a little bit smoother but I still felt like it destroyed me. In fact, I don’t think I have ever truly conquered it. Each and every time, I feel more like a survivor than a victor once I kill that temple’s boss. I also used to struggle with Jabu-Jabu’s Belly and the Shadow Temple, but over the years, I have been able to learn their secrets, which is something I have yet to do with the Water Temple. I would also like to give an honorable mention to the second race against Ingo when you try to win Epona. During the first race, everything’s peachy, but in the second one, he goes psycho on you and tries to ram you into the fence all the time. Screw him.”


A Minor Break in the Ocarina-gasming: A Voice of Dissent
By Thomas Pandich

As probably one of the few staffers who didn’t like Ocarina of Time, I feel I need to put out a little bit of negativity into this discussion of Ocarina of Time. It is without question that Ocarina of Time is one of the highest critically reviewed games of all time. Additionally it is one of the most beloved games in the series shaping what fans thinkLegend of Zelda “should” be. Before you accuse me of not giving this game a fair shake, I’ve played it and every Zelda with the exceptions of the CD-I games and Oracle of Ages/Seasons. Also I’ve revisited this particular game several times over the years trying to get why others regard this as the best of the series. I picked Ocarina of Time on launch and have tried both Gamecube versions (the Zelda Collection and the Wind Waker pre-order disc with Ocarina of Time and Master Quest on it). I recently plunked this sucker in my Wii to revise my opinions.

I feel that Ocarina of Time did do some incredible things for the time and really brought Zelda into 3D well for the most part. It’s not a question of whether or not Ocarina of Time is a good game, it is a question of whether it is one of the best games ever. I feel like Ocarina of Time is just a good game, not a great game. The problems with the game start with the first chunk as Young Link is both incredibly unsatisfying and tedious especially on a second play through. Every 3D Zelda game has had at least two significant parts of playing the game (Wind Waker with the ship and land parts, Twilight Princess with the wolf and regular Link parts), and I feel that none is as weak as the sections of the game where you are Young Link. Young Link is an aggravating character to use especially after moving into the second half of the game as Old Link where you are “rewarded” with a better move set and a horse to make the painfully slow exploration move significantly faster. Young Link serves as an extended tutorial without being dramatically different from the main Link sections of the game to feel fully justified.

Beyond my problems with Young Link, I think there are some incredibly poor sections that have not aged well. Whether it’s the tedious stealth in the Gerudo Village or the insanely irritating escort dungeon inside Jabu-Jabu, a significant portion of the game feels like there is a lack of focus for the sake of adding diversity to the gameplay. Furthermore, some dungeons are very and unnecessarily frustrating. For example, the Water Temple serves as the lowest point in Legend of Zelda dungeon design to this very day. There are some excellent dungeons (like the Deku Tree or The Spirit Temple) in Ocarina of Time, but the majority of them are just average.

While many of the flaws can be forgiven, it’s easy to forget the most annoying part of the game, Navi the fairy. It isn’t that the actual character is annoying as much as the jarring voice in her sound effects coupled with the lack variety makes her the bane of my existence. In fact, while the physical soundtrack gets so much praise, the sound design for Ocarina of Time is rather atrocious. Between Navi’s “HEY” and the incessant beeping if your heart meter slips below a certain amount, I end up playing a considerable amount of the game mute.

I will not deny Ocarina of Time its place as one of the most influential games of all time. I will however suggest that Ocarina of Time was overrated at the time and is now defended by a mix of nostalgia and Nintendo fanboys failing to see the obvious flaws of their favorite game character’s “best” game. Listen, Twilight Princess was better. Look, A Link to the Past is still better than Ocarina of Time by a long shot. Hey, even Wind Waker is a better game than Ocarina of Time even though Wind Waker’s exploration ends up being more tedious than Ocarina of Time. I’m not saying Ocarina of Time is a bad game, it just isn’t as great as everyone proclaims it to be.


Epic Soundtrack

Ocarina of Time placed a lot of emphasis on music, from the title instrument itself to the different songs accompanying each location throughout Hyrule. The soundtrack developed by Koji Kondo features many brand new themes that would go on to become mainstays in the series, such as the now-famous Zelda Lullaby or the theme from the Lost Woods. The surprising fact is that the overworld theme from the first Zelda game for the NES, which is recognized as the games’ calling card and has been remixed in nearly every game to bear the Zelda name, is completely absent here.

The original soundtrack is pleasant enough by itself, but with the limitations of the Nintendo 64, it ended up being entirely sequenced. However, different arrangements and remixes are available all over the Internet, more often than not quite well done. While one could get easily tired of some of the high-speed techno remixes I have stumbled upon, places like ocremix.org offer better alternatives, and I don’t think that anybody could find anything bad to say about the Hyrule Symphony album. Featuring every memorable song from the game rearranged with violins, a harp and an actual ocarina, it truly is a must-have for any fan of the game.

Since the game gets so much praises for its music, I asked our staffers what was their favorite part of the soundtrack.

Aaron Sirois: “I love the Epona’s song. Marin sings it so beautifully when you first meet her that you can’t help but be enchanted by it. I often wonder why Link doesn’t go for the milk maid rather than the princess. Zelda’s a bit high maintenance after all.”

Charlie Marsh: “The variation of the Song of Time that plays when you first open the Door of Time. Just epic.”

Aileen Coe: “The whole soundtrack was an aural treat, but I really like the music that plays in Gerudo Valley.”

Matt Yaeger: “Don’t know the names of the songs. The soundtrack is fantastic though.”

Guy Desmarais: “I have always been a fan of the theme for Gerudo Valley. I don’t know if it’s the Spanish atmosphere that you get from the acoustic guitar or the clapping in the background, but there’s something in that track that makes it good enough for me to give it a listen in Winamp every now and then. I also absolutely love the Song of Storm, which might be short, but just might be the greatest succession of notes in history, at least according to me. It’s the only reason why I first tried to get my cell phone to accept custom ringtones. I finally found a way around the restriction, only to realize that having the Song of Storm as a ringtone didn’t sound that good at all because it wasn’t loud enough. So I went ahead and put Bret Hart’s theme instead, to make sure I still looked like a nerd.”

Mohamed Al-Saadoon: “It’s been so long so I’ve forgotten lots of the soundtrack but one piece sticks out in my head: The Temple of Time’s rendition of the Song of Time. I still remember walking into the temple of time for the first time and hearing the vocal version of that song. Simply haunting and beautiful especially for a MIDI music game.”


The Legacy

Many games can be considered classics. A smaller number can be considered as being influential on the industry. Ocarina of Time is one of the few games to belong in that last category. Because it was the first of its series to make the jump to a 3D world, the development team had to find ways of translating the gameplay that gained the series so many fans while maintaining the core elements of the franchise. At the same time, Nintendo already had a hit that helped define 3D gaming with Super Mario 64, even though that one was plagued with a couple of issues of its own. The challenge was to keep the series’ spirit while attempting to resolve the issues that were present in their previous project.

The result was more than satisfying to say the least, and it resulted in a couple of innovations: the most known of the bunch is the now-standard lock-on targeting, but let’s not forget the single action button that would become a staple of future Zelda games, as well as the smoother camera A.I. that for once didn’t look like it was trying to fight you. All of these innovations came together with improvements over things such as enemies A.I. and level design to produce a game for the ages.

Most of DHGF’s staff members agreed about the game’s influence, and thankfully, none of them pointed to the trail of bad Link cosplayers when talking about its legacy.

Mohamed Al-Saadoon: “Lock-on targeting, lock-on targeting, lock-on targeting. Lock-on targeting cannot be said enough. I was flabbergasted at how people loved the crappy dual analog, no targeting gunfights in GTA3 and GTA: Vice City. The first Grand Theft Auto game I liked was San Andreas because they finally included that very simple basic feature in that edition of the game. No targeting, no game.”

Matt Yaeger: “It contributed to future games for sure, hell even Twilight Princess didn’t stray far from the puzzle/level design that was in Ocarina.”

Aaron Sirois: “Look at a game like Okami and try telling me that this game had not influence on future games. I’ll laugh in your face.”

Charlie Marsh: “I wouldn’t say they were directly influenced from this game, but I think some of the more cinematic games we see today took a few cues from story-driven games like this and Final Fantasy VII. The direction and camera movement during the cut scenes really helped set a standard for what games could really do with cinematics.”

Aileen Coe: “Considering how much of a hit it was, what company wouldn’t want to try and capitalize on that?”

Guy Desmarais: “With my two favorite series being Zelda and Mario, I’m just glad that they managed to get the feel of previous games right on the first try when making the transition to that generation. The way they did it laid foundations for every other Zelda game to follow, including the portable versions that included some of the things introduced with OoT, like the bigger emphasis on narratives or the use of a fairy helper. Even Mario games seemed to have less camera issues after Ocarina of Time. Of course, I guess that most games that have included a form of lock-on targeting since then owe something to OoT, but I’m just glad that Nintendo themselves were influenced by their own game.”


Memories and Stories

Like any game that is starting to show some age, talking about Ocarina of Time now involves a healthy dose of nostalgia. No specific element of the game was being discussed here; I simply asked my colleagues to provide fun stories and amusing anecdotes of the time they spent playing the game. Get out the tissues and try not to get too misty-eyed as you read these heart-wrenching tales and laugh-out-loud moments.

Aileen Coe: “The first time a Skultulla dropped down on me I literally yelped and dropped the controller, earning me a weird look from my brother (yes, I’m a bit of an arachnophobe, shut up). I then started whacking it repeatedly with my sword until it turned and knocked me down because I didn’t realize I had to wait until it turned around. Then I got back up and whacked it some more in its soft side and vanquished it once and for all (well, until it respawned, anyway).”

Aaron Sirois: “Why is it that whenever you play Bombchu Bowling the chicken jumps right in front of the bomb at the last possible second? And why won’t it die?!?!?!?”

Charlie Marsh: “I moved from Chicago to Connecticut in the summer of 1998, and we went back and visited that winter. Obviously, my brother and I would go see our old friends, who we knew had this game, and we didn’t have it yet, so we promised each other we wouldn’t play it, we’d just wait until we got it ourselves.

So of course, the first thing I did at my friend’s house was start playing Ocarina of Time, getting through the Deku Tree dungeon. A few days later, on our way back home, my brother just looked at me and said, “You played Ocarina of Time didn’t you?” I said I had, and he said “Yea, me too.” ”

Guy Desmarais: “I got the game on the first day, and its arrival in our house started a competition between my brother and I over who would finish the game first. I thought I had an advantage because of a simple fact: my brother was only 13 and didn’t really know English back then. What I didn’t count on was the fact that he was a much more apt gamer than I was, and his abilities in killing monsters and solving puzzles more than made up for the time he spent wandering aimlessly around Hyrule because he didn’t understand smaller details. This got us all the way to Christmas, with my brother nearly finished and myself probably stuck somewhere in the Water Temple. My then-girlfriend also happened to get the game on Christmas, and decided that she would also enter the competition. I thought that there was no way she could catch up to me, but she was doing so at an alarming speed. In the end, my brother was almost finished with his second play-through by the time I made it to Ganondorf, while my girlfriend was a dungeon or so away. I still finished before her, but I nearly blew a month-long head start. I will forever remember this game as a demonstration of my lacking gaming skills.”

Matt Yaeger: “I had a memory card fail on me and I had to restart the whole damn game.”


Closing Words

Aaron Sirois: “Has anyone else wondered why Darunia gets so excited for Saria’s song? It’s a nifty tune and all, but he practically has an orgasm when he hears it. It’s creepy.”

Charlie Marsh: “I wouldn’t say it’s the best game ever or even the best game in the series, but it’s still a masterpiece, in every sense of the word, and is still fun to play 10 years later.”

Guy Desmarais: “I know I can’t speak for everybody, but in my opinion, this truly is the best game ever. For me, it represents Nintendo at it pinnacle as game designers. Sure, the Nintendo 64 might not have been the company’s high point in terms of sales, but when it comes to software, I think that they have yet to equal Ocarina of Time and other games from that era when it comes to creativity and pure fun. They have released sequels over the years that were more than adequate, but I think it’s going to be hard to top this one. It has the perfect balance between length and flow, between gameplay and storytelling. In my opinion, this is Nintendo’s masterpiece.”

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