Casper: Of all the ideas we had written down for debates, this is probably the one I was dreading the most. A Link to the Past, a beloved classic from the SNES era and perhaps the most beautiful 16-bit game ever produced versus Ocarina of Time, the most lauded fantasy adventure in gaming history.
While A Link to the Past is a game I can respect, in many ways it is not a game I actually like to play. Ocarina of Time is simply a more entertaining ride, featuring more engaging combat, interesting characters, and a streamlined approach to doing the temples that just works really well. Everyone’s favorite Super Nintendo game, by comparison, feels really plain and unexciting.
What makes you feel that A Link to the Past is the better game here, Stian?
Stian: Well, before I begin, I should perhaps also quickly elaborate on my relationship with the series. I love the Zelda-series, and while I try to be as critical as I can be and there are certainly games in this series I dislike, I have been playing them since my first Game Boy for a reason.
A Link to the Past is one of my favorite games of all time and I feel somewhat opposite towards Ocarina of Time (still enjoy it though). I can start off with perhaps the first reason: traversing through the world. The world itself is big with two worlds to explore similar to Ocarina Of Time, but thanks to the much quicker ways of traversing through it, with the Pegasus Boots being acquired early on, it feels like a game that does not get stale. Ocarina of Time is big too, but even with Epona as a support, it feels like a drag traveling all around. Especially, when the horse is restricted and can’t travel everywhere.
Secondly, I love that it is not as straight-forward as Ocarina of Time. You are told where to go in both games, sure! But the freedom in how you get through it feels grander, thanks to a more coherent world and more consistent secrets. We can see the entire world and how every piece connects, and with more secrets that are easier to remember, it makes downtime rare. With Ocarina of Time, it feels more like portals to each area from Hyrule Field, that are somewhat restricted to their respective map-parts, and while there are secrets to find (golden skulltulas especially), it feels more like it tries to be atmospheric, due to the less consistent secrets and more a focus on vibrant towns and such. Thanks to this however, Ocarina of Time has more colorful characters, but I never really cared for most because they don’t help me in my quests (certainly some clear exceptions of course).
C: I made a similar point in my reviews that A Link to the Past has amazing world design and that is definitely where Ocarina drops the ball, but I feel that you are exaggerating a bit. You can almost completely ignore Hyrule Field after the first trips back and forth as you get the warp songs from Sheik, cutting down on a lot of the travelling. I also felt that enemies were much more of a bother when walking around Hyrule in A Link to the Past, especially the soldier guys that run away while firing arrows. Just leave me alone, I am trying to get somewhere.
As for secrets… yeah, sure, I much prefer how these were handled in ALttP, but it’s not like secrets are the meat of the Zelda experience. Whether you prefer the older games or the newer ones, that has always been the temples and puzzles you solve. That is where Ocarina of Time shines: even its worst dungeons are more enjoyable than those in A Link to the Past, featuring more elaborate puzzles and better designs. A Link to the Past always makes me feel like I am commuting from one dungeon to the next with no filler and once I get there it’s just a plain labyrinth.
S: I will admit: the warping ability that you will get in Ocarina of Time for traveling to certain areas is a good reward for actually getting there once. But it is such a drag as a child; I find myself sidestepping a lot and I felt A Link to the Past, gave you this ability to travel around much quicker earlier on. The enemies I usually found easy to avoid in both games actually, unless a room required you to deal with them. In A Link to the Past, I could simply run from them and I had my sword out to attack if they were near me. In Ocarina of Time, I just keep rolling or use a deku nut.
Speaking of the combat: Here is something I am split on: Ocarina of Time has a much more dynamic combat system with Z-targeting, dodge, jump attack, normal attack and defense. But A Link to the Past, while simpler, had encounters that died easier or had weakness to certain weapons, making them more of an obstacle that needed quick thinking. It was simple, but enjoyable in my eyes, and using your sword to parry is fun. Again: things are faster here.
This is an interesting point you bring up: “The meat of a Zelda-game”! I grew up with the older ones, where the focus was on exploration and secrets such as in the original Zelda-game, but the later ones had different focus indeed! Ocarina of Time has definitely fantastic design to its temples (despite some being a drag), with puzzles and well use of the 3D-environment to give them more distinguished design. However, I enjoyed ALttP‘s focus on finding secrets, because there was always a visual clue or some kind of an obstacle that needed to be solved. Even some enemies had to be killed in more specific ways. I also enjoyed the labyrinth-design (except for the Ice-temple), due to a map being available, but you still had to explore. I mean, think about it: finding secrets due to visual clues without spelling it out, is incredibly rewarding compared to puzzles. At least in my eye, but that can be my inner Myst fan speaking too. And despite being more labyrinthine I feel just about anything in OoT takes so much longer compared to ALttP, from finding heart-pieces and traveling, to completing dungeons.
One thing that I also notice more with dungeons, is the use of items. ALttP has more consistent use for items and optional ones, are quite the beast. Some have limited use, such as the magic mushroom, but I notice it much more in Ocarina of Time, with the Megaton Hammer, Golden Gloves and the fire-tunic. (although Red is my favorite color, so I used it a lot) and I feel it could have gone further with more secret uses or against enemies. Surely, some get a great upgrade, especially the aiming- ones like the Bow and Arrow or Boomerang, but shouldn’t they all get similar upgrades?
C: I don’t feel like there is any finesse at all to combat in A Link to the Past. Sure, it’s quicker, but never does it come close to fighting Iron Knuckles as Child Link or some of the complex bosses of OoT. You just have to awkwardly swipe and “fencing” just means ridiculously bumping into your opponent. Sure, you can use items, but without the C-buttons of later games, using items almost always means having to open a menu, select what you need, exit it, and then use it. At that point your regular attacks could have already done the job much quicker.
I will admit that in many things A Link to the Past was faster. The mirror was a neat way to switch between light and dark worlds and getting the boots as your first item helps navigating a lot, plus I love how swiftly you charge through grass with it. I can’t really grasp why you keep hyping up the secrets of all things, however. The original Zelda was about exploration, that much I agree on, but in later games it really isn’t that spectacular. Areas containing secrets are so heavily telegraphed I honestly don’t feel that surprised by it, but then again I’ve been bombing shifty-looking walls for like 16 years now so maybe the untrained eye wouldn’t notice.
How items are used is one of Ocarina’s design weaknesses, absolutely. The hammer and tunics are great examples of that and Nintendo could have planned this a lot better, though you can use the hammer in the final battle if you don’t have the Biggoron Sword. However, you are ignoring just how relevant the dungeons in this game are, especially compared to ALttP where they are just random buildings with no functional use to the world around them. Sure, some of these are a tad hard, but while everybody loves to rake on the Water Temple, finally beating it feels extra rewarding as you then warp outside and see Lake Hylia filling up again. Ocarina of Time is a journey about making friends and bonding with the land of Hyrule in the first half and the second half shocks you by showing how torn the land is, but allows you to fix that by taking on the temples and the bosses hidden within.
A Link to the Past has none of that, but at least it has a rock shaped like a turtle.
S: I wont deny that the battles in OoT could definitely be intense, but I loved the bosses more in AlttP. I mean the third boss in the dark world, for example, was a dangerous beast. I also died at times in AlttP, but never in OoT (don’t even remember if I used a fairy). I found Alttp more demanding in skill, which I enjoyed. I never found the swiping off either, since I could attack enemies that came from a different angle, as long as I remembered that Link is left-handed (like he is in most entries). I liked the bumping, it is cute. Until you learn that shooting arrows or boomerang is a better way for dealing with them
It is not just the obvious crack in the wall, but also due to finding odd-looking objects that may require an item or two (kinda like in a metroidvania). I felt those were much more common here. And the original Zelda could be an incredible ass when it came to its secrets at times, so I much prefer this way.
I never found an issue with the menu, especially thanks to the dedicated run, map and lift-button, and how much quicker you could select a weapon. But I will say equipping items was better in OoT, but is it actually better when you wont be using any item often? Maybe AlttP and OoT should have traded controls (the D-pad would be insufferable though). BTW: in OoT , the Light Arrows work a bit better to take down Ganon, as it is not as slow (you can even use deku nuts…. So underrated) What you say about the temples is actually true though: the temples are simply temples in Alttp. The OoT-temples have, for the most part, a clear connection to the world. I do like to see Death Mountain at peace, Lake Hylia filled up and even getting Ruto out of Jabu’s belly. I will still say finishing the water-temple was more a sigh of “it is finally over”, but your argument still stays strong. I still enjoyed the setup in AlttP, but maybe it is more due to tradition and oddity than anything else. The temples were more mysterious, why where they here, for what purpose, who build them, is it something the goddesses gave us? Sure, more elaboration would have gone a longer way, but they felt much more powerful because of this. This I will admit, however, is highly personal, since what is not told can either lead to interesting discussions or be downright boring for others.
C: Your last few questions I can answer easily: because that creates gameplay. Games back in those days were significantly less concerned with storytelling, so I sincerely doubt Nintendo was at all concerned with the broader implications of their world design. They are just levels for the gamers to beat and as a reward you get an extra item and your avatar gets stronger, that’s what gamers like. I feel, in that regard, that gamers have changed. We are more inclined to latch unto storytelling and especially for Zelda games the fanbase was ripe with speculation before the Hyrule Historia came out.
To give an example, Skyward Sword probably wasn’t the best game in the series, but people freaking love Ghirahim. I have seen so many comics of the guy, both comical and serious, providing him with bits of background and exploring his relationship to Fi. In comparison, I don’t really see much about A Link to the Past at all. We can sit here and back and forth about whether small features like equipping items makes a difference or in what game you move faster, but it’s undeniable that A Link to the Past just doesn’t have an interesting plot, because in those days we didn’t expect that from a game.
Incidentally, people adore Ravio from Link Between Worlds. It’s almost similar to A Link to the Past, but with a bit more charm and character you suddenly have a game people in this day and age are passionate about. Still, we didn’t go into this debate trying to convince each other that our game was better, that’s simply not going to happen. In my eyes, some older games you need to have experienced back in those days to compensate for what they lack compared to newer ones, and I didn’t get that for A Link to the Past. Ten years from now people might not understand why we loved some games either and we’ll be arguing with our children over why Goldeneye is perfectly fun despite not having full-body VR support.
S: Quite true… although to be honest, there were some fantastic games that could tell a grand story for the SNES (Chrono Trigger and FF6 anyone?) so it could definitely be done. But this is quite true: story has been more important for later Zelda-games and even the upgrades to the combat to give more meat to the titles. And no, the story of A Link to the Past is not interesting. It is adorable and nice, but it is about as deep as Dragon Quest (no hard feelings DQ-fans, am one myself!)
I think you have a good point though: OoT needed a remake due to its gameplay, while AlttP rather needed a re-imagining for achieving more atmosphere and story. I tend to be more in touch with gameplay, since I feel interactivity is what defines games, but won’t deny just how important stories can be. From the aforementioned RPG’s to today’s Visual Novels and “Walking Simulators”, there has been a great focus on stories in games, just like certain titles focus more on gameplay, such as Shovel Knight. I guess it comes down to expectations and how we feel things have aged, like tank-controls in old horror-games!
C: I really like that as a closing argument, so I am going to leave it at that. There are indeed many different flavors of games and especially with series like Zelda it’s fun to see how design has changed over the years, to the point that two fans can’t even come to an agreement over what makes a Zelda game good to begin with. Story or gameplay, atmosphere or game feel, the answer really depends on the kind of person you are and what you value in game design.