Format: Nintendo 64 Genre: RPG Released: 1998 Developer: Nintendo
I could probably write an entire book listing all of the reasons why this is one of the best games (if not THE best game) ever made. However, I expect you’re one of the 7.6 million people who bought Ocarina of Time the first time around, so I needn’t bore you by listing things you already know. (And if you haven’t played it yet, what the hell’s wrong with you?)
Having said all that, it’s going to take all of my willpower to restrain myself from gushing pages of half-formed sentiment and multilayered superlatives, such is the impact this game had on me. Bear with me, and I will stoically try not to sound like a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl who’s just seen her first boyband concert.
Long before Ocarina of Time was released, I remember hungrily devouring the first news about a new Zelda game for the N64 – and like most people, my first thought was: “What the hell’s an ocarina?” Of course, back in the 1990s I didn’t have Wikipedia to pump for information like some kind of coin-flipping, roll-up-smoking, police-informant cliché, so I’m not sure how I found out. There’s a strong chance that I may have even looked it up in a book. Now there’s an odd thought.
Brilliant, I found an ocarina! So... what's an ocarina then?
However I found out, I knew I wanted one immediately, but it wasn’t until I lived in Japan many years later that I achieved my goal of owning one of these mystical instruments. Sadly, the reality wasn’t quite as exciting as the game led me to believe. Playing my ocarina didn’t turn day into night or summon a horse to carry me across the plains of Hyrule, it just made a noise like a broken recorder. Although having said that, is it possible to tell a broken recorder apart from a non-broken one? If my memories of primary school band practice are anything to go by, recorders sound bloody awful whether they’re broken or not.
Of course, I didn’t really expect my ocarina to be magical, but the fact that I went out and bought one many years after playing this game shows just how much of an effect Ocarina of Time had on me (and a lot of other people too – famously, ocarina sales skyrocketed after this game was released).
Good old Epona - there's nothing quite like riding a video-game horse.
In terms of the actual game, whenever I think about Ocarina of Time the same image always sticks out in my mind – riding Epona (Link’s horse) across Hyrule Field. There was something really magical about being able to gallop across the entire game world – it gave me a sense of freedom that I’d never experienced before in a video game. Giving Link a horse was a stroke of genius: suddenly, getting from A to B was as much fun as actually arriving at B. In fact, often I’d be having so much fun just riding around and exploring that I’d forget about going to B entirely and end up stopping off at C before finding some kind of secret passage that led me to D, and before I knew it several hours would have gone by, my horse would be knackered and I’d be galloping towards Z and wondering where to go next.
There should definitely be more horses in video games, they’re so much more entertaining than cars. I mean, look at Shadow of the Colossus and Assassin’s Creed – some of the best bits involved galloping around on horseback, smiting your enemies.
Of course, the irony is that in real life I hate horses.
Anyway, like I said, Epona is one of the major reasons why Ocarina of Time is the wonderful game it is. Just have a look at the opening sequence above (make sure you have the sound turned up for the moody scene-setting music). Doesn’t it send shivers down your spine? I love that image of Link riding across the hills – there’s a sense of majesty that’s diametrically opposed to the cheap cinema thrills that are offered up by so many other video games. It’s like the game’s saying: “Yeah, we could show you lots of explosions and sword fights and that on the opening screen, but we’re better than that. We’re going to show you a horse galloping across a field, and you’re going to feel a sense of wonderment. Because that’s what we do.”
Fishing has never been so much fun.
Right, let’s leave off horses for the time being and talk about something more interesting – fishing.
The amazing thing about Ocarina of Time is just how much effort and polish has gone into every last nook and cranny of the game, from individual lines of dialogue to the many varied and interesting subquests – including the addictive fishing minigame. It’s a mark of the game’s quality that even something as seemingly throwaway as a fishing subgame had so much thought and effort put into it that it could probably have been released as a game by itself. (I was going to make a terrible pun about it getting me “totally hooked” there, but I managed to pull back from the brink at the last moment.)
(Actually, I just realised I made exactly the same joke in the post on Sega Bass Fishing, so not only would it have been a terrible pun, it would have been repetitive too. Phew, that was a close one.)
See? It's not all just horses and fishing.
It’s not just the polish that makes the game stand out though – it’s the innovation. The rumble pak functionality for example – Nintendo had only released the rumble pak the previous year, and Ocarina of Time was the first game to truly use it to its full potential (the pad would vibrate if you were near treasure or if you got a bite in the fishing game). Then there’s Z-targeting, which allowed you to lock onto enemies in fights and circle around them – this concept was so radical and intuitive that it’s made its way into hundreds of 3D games since 1998, but it cropped up in Ocarina of Time first. And what about the day/night cycle? That was pretty damn clever too, and way ahead of its time.
As I said at the beginning, I could write a book about how fantastic this game is, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. Instead, just have a look at the video below and remember how this game changed the gaming landscape forever.
(Screenshots from http://www.gamefaqs.com/)