The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D Originally released for Nintendo 64, remade for the 3DS (and GameCube) Developed by Nintendo and Grezzo Originally released in 1998, 3DS remake in 2011
Back in the late 90’s I finally got a Nintendo 64 and one of the first games I played on it, after Super Mario 64, was Ocarina of Time. While games like Banjo & Kazooie and Super Smash Bros. were simple enough for my young brain, Zelda was a different beast and even back then I knew it. I felt I was too young to play it, a viewpoint that was aided by the fact that I couldn’t read, much less understand English. We just kind of made up a plot for this game and though I fail to recall many details, I am 100% sure we were convinced Ganondorf was Zelda’s father and we were saving her from her mean dad… don’t ask me how we came to that conclusion.
Either way, this game was a pretty big influence on my childhood, so I was excited to revisit it in 3D. Like… the modern kind of 3D… not the same 3D we were excited about in 1998.
The boy without the fairy
Ocarina of Time represented a shift in the Zelda series. While all the games prior to it focused on creating an explorable fantasy world where gameplay was key and storytelling minimal, it’s apparent right from the start that things have changed. For one thing, we have a lengthy opening cinematic where we witness Link having a nightmare where he is killed by an unknown man in black armor. We then learn that Link lives in Kokiri Forest, the home of a people that remain children forever and are guarded by a fairy. However, Link has no such fairy, until the guardian of the forest, The Great Deku Tree, commands the fairy Navi to seek out Link and aid him on a quest to save the land of Hyrule.
There is more dialogue in the first fifteen minutes of Ocarina of Time than in the entirety of the first two Zelda games combined, and it probably outclasses A Link to the Past before you get to the second dungeon. I apologize if that makes the game sound bloated, because that is not my intention. In fact, I found that compared to modern games, this one handles dialogue very well aside from two poitnless cutscenes; there are tons of characters to talk to, but their lines are quick and simple without feeling unnatural, and you are free to ignore most of the generic ones with little repercussion while you also have the option to call up interesting ones like Navi and Link’s childhood friend Saria at any time for extra commentary on your adventure.
After a tutorial stage and the first dungeon you are set out on a quest to explore Hyrule and, after meeting the princess, you swear to help her prevent the evil Ganondorf from reaching the mythical Triforce, a relic from the Goddesses, by gathering the sacred stones from each race in Hyrule and guarding them from him. This journey takes you to beautiful new areas and has you meet interesting characters like the prideful chief of the Gorons who bonds with you through the power of music or the dynamic family that runs the nearby ranch.
While Zelda games have managed to hit the right emotional strings before, Ocarina of Time‘s emphasis on creating fun characters and races to populate its worlds pays off in a number of ways. Never before has a journey to save Hyrule felt so personal as both you and Link grow attached to its people. It also feels more like you are working through a story rather than a video game, as dungeons you complete have a notable effect on the world and people that surround it. Characters thank you, sometimes elaborately, for doing what you do, and that all helps Hyrule come much more alive
Ocarina of Time also has an amazing scope, as you start the adventure as a young Link and end it as an adult, so you get to see how deeply Hyrule is plunged into chaos by the forces you seek to stop. Not all of it is exactly logical, in fact TV Tropes has a pretty hilarious page full of ramblings on plot holes, but none of that gets in the way of providing a grand adventure for all ages… assuming you are English and can actually read.
Story score: 10/10
The buttons! They changed!
The main reason for why I opted to play on the 3DS is that Nintendo 64 games are kind of a bother to play. That one, solitary control stick right in the middle is hardly comfortable or accurate and I have replayed it so often by now that I was curious to see how Nintendo spiced it up for the 3DS.
In terms of controls the game is fine. Link can be moved around with the control stick and the camera is kept in check by centering it behind our hero with the L-button, which can also be used to lock unto anything from foes and friends to points of interest, allowing you to keep it in view while moving Link. With the B-button you perform slashes and there are other moves to learn to make combat easier. New to the 3DS is that a lot of the clutter has been removed from the main screen and delegated to a menu on the bottom; here you can find your maps, inventory, and 4-buttons to map Link’s items to. Lacking the C-buttons on the Nintendo 64 controller, these are now replaced on X, Y, and two touchscreen-only buttons.
The game is a big action-adventure title primarily centered around temples; large, maze-like structures where puzzles must be solved in order to progress towards a boss-fight at the end. The puzzles you solve here are varied and sadly this means some are invariably going to be stinkers. I am really not fond of these puzzles that basically just have you shoot a thing on the wall. As in, you have a room with a locked door, you see a big eye on the wall, you shoot that and the door just opens up. I get that it was kind of fancy because sometimes you need to realize you can look around a 3D environment and this was fancy in 1998, but it’s just kind of lame compared to some of the really great puzzles. I am really fond of a temple early on where you are carrying a spoiled kid around that refuses to walk and you end up using the kid to hold down switches. That never ceases to crack me up.
Between temples you go on small mini-quests to unlock the way to the next one or you can just hang out in Hyrule. There is a ton of side-stuff you can do to get health upgrades, new items, new songs, and other similar rewards. These songs are part of the titular ocarina, a flute instrument that Link acquires early on. You can play five different notes and many of the puzzles require you to learn new songs on it. On the Nintendo 64 you had to memorize these when you brought up the ocarina, but on the 3DS you can play while keeping the songbook open. My favorite song is the Sun’s Song that allows you instantly shift between the day-to-night cycle and freezes undead foes.
Combat in the game can be surprisingly hard, especially if you are used to the shockingly easy Twilight Princess. While some foes would benefit from being slightly more aggressive to minimize the time you spend waiting to counter them, overall it’s pretty quick and requires you to memorize the subtleties of each foe. The Wolfos, for example, can be instant-killed if you backstab them in the middle of their combo. Lots of foes can do a ton of damage on you or bypass your shield if you are careless, but the bosses, especially early on, are generally pushovers.
Ocarina of Time is a big game that has an exciting adventure to it, whether you are in the temples trying to figure out a hard puzzle or helping the citizens of Hyrule in order to open up the next one. While combat is understandably unrefined, after all this was Nintendo’s first shot at 3-dimensional sword fighting, the game compensates for that by just having so much to see and do. Just like in previous games there is a lot of optional content I loved finding, but with the new perspective on Hyrule, it’s also just great to see what places you find and what kind of monsters will haunt you there.
Gameplay score: 9/10
Gaze upon the third dimension
Besides not wanting to dig through my collection to find which of the 20 Nintendo 64 controllers I got still works properly, another big reason to choose the 3DS (of which I have only 1) was the upgraded graphics. While it remains a matter of taste, fifth generation consoles were a tad too polygonal in my opinion and it’s kind of shocking how much more vibrant this version of the game is. While the character design is still as block-y as it always was, the textures are vastly more detailed and colors are a lot brighter than ever before. A lot of the pre-rendered areas are also completely redone, which looked out-of-place even back in the old days.
The biggest improvement Ocarina of Time brought to table in my opinion is that dungeons feel more contextualized. Whereas in A Link to the Past temples were just sort of there, here they feel like integrated parts of the world and that helps Hyrule feel more real. Dodongo’s Cavern is just a place where Gorons go to mine for food and once you enter you immediately feel like the place has character. That shot of the symmetrical bridges and that giant skull on the wall immediately sells it, and the other dungeons are not far behind.
To offset this, the world design of Ocarina of Time infuriates me and it’s clear that in this regard Nintendo was not ready for the third dimension. Hyrule Field is just that, a big blob of land with nothing of value in it. There are a few pockets of enemies, a few rocks and secret areas that yield negligible rewards, and every area actually worth visiting is shoved into one of the corners of the land. While it is somewhat fun to ride across the field on a horse, you’ll always find yourself making a beeline to the entrance of the next zone without seeing much else.
The 3D functionality of the 3DS is pretty rubbish too. It was annoying to keep on while playing the game because it requires you to look at the screen from a specific distance and angle, which all goes down the drain due to the integrated gyroscope controls. I tried switching it on for a few cutscenes and found it added very little. In fact, you really had to look out for it in order to notice, and it works best when Link receives an item and holds it up. Just play with the 3D turned off and and enjoy the improved textures.
As for the music… do I really need to explain this one? Ocarina of Time carries the name of an instrument in its name and Koji Kondo was in charge this time around, so of course it’s going to be great. Every song in this game sounds excellently from the character themes and ambient dungeon tracks to the adrenaline-pumping tunes that accompany the combat. There is a lot of variety on display and the playable ocarina is a great idea, which forced Koji Kondo to write songs with only a few different notes, which in turn meant that many of the tracks had to sell themselves on excellent rhythm. Needless to say Koji Kondo succeeded at that.
Presentation score: 9/10
I mentioned before that there is a ton to do in Ocarina of Time and man is that an understatement. Since the world is effectively divided in the Young Link part and the Adult Link part Nintendo got to fill up the world twice. There are a lot of mini-games to play and there are many side-quests you can undertake. Some of these are small, such as helping a lady in Kakariko catch all of her chickens and some are huge, such as selling all the masks or the trade sequence for the game’s best sword.
I also have to say that I can pretty much tolerate all of these. Some of the more interesting ones are the Epona quest, in which you get Link’s iconic horse, and the spider quest, where you must hunt down a hundred golden spiders and you get rewards for doing so at set milestones. You can also go fishing, bomb-bowling, hit up the shooting galleries, hunt ghosts, dive for treasure, tend to plants, and so many other absurd activities.
What I do dislike are the game’s attempts at secrets. There are a lot of obscure places you can find in the overworld, usually by bombing rocks out of the way, and without fault all of them provide the same useless reward for going out of your way. You fall down a hole and get a treasure chest with a few rupees in it. Note that this is the kind of game where you always have a full wallet anyway because there is nothing worth buying in the stores. Similarly, a lot of the early dungeons have secret rooms that house merchants that will try to sell you useless items like Deku Nuts or sticks.
Extras score: 9/10
Wow, what an adventure it was to revisit this game. Despite having replayed it a few times Ocarina of Time manages to stay a fun game thanks to its stellar presentation and impressive dungeon design, which features puzzles I get lost in no matter how many times I replay it. Combat is probably the game’s weakest link and it really could have done with more interesting places to visit in Hyrule Field. In fact, it sounds like the upcoming Breath of the Wild will focus on just that and other Zelda games would already make attempts at fixing this issue.
This is definitely a game worth revisiting and one of the few I would dare to recommend to newcomers, though Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are still better suited for that purpose. It’s a great action-adventure game with a moving plot and great characters.