I’m going to say something controversial—The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time isn’t the greatest Zelda game ever made. In fact, it’s not even the greatest Zelda game on the Nintendo 64, an honor that I’d have to give to Majora’s Mask. Still, OoT is probably the most beloved entry in the entire series, and with good reason. Even if it’s technically not the best Zelda game ever, it’s still one of the best games ever made. From beginning to end, it’s full of unforgettable moments that are all but burned on the collective gamer subconscious. It’s also got some tentacle monster stuff, just in case you’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with a Japanese game. I love how willing people are to play into stereotypes.
This was probably the first game that showed me what “heart” in a game actually means. The story is pretty typical for a Zelda game, of course—find bottles, solve puzzles, smack monsters with swords until the princess is safe, and then be unappreciated by everyone you just saved—but there’s something beneath the surface that makes it more memorable than other games with similarly unremarkable stories. Part of that is how so many of the characters seem to have their own (often strange) personalities. Another part of it is how vast the world seems. The always-fitting music plays a role, as well. This was the first game I played where everything came together and, rather than just being a bunch of individual aspects added on top of one another, coalesced into a whole larger than any of its parts. Games that came along later (like the abomination that was Darksiders) duplicated many of its facets, but they also completely missed the point—in having everything existing for the sake of the game rather than trying to replicate something that worked in the past, Ocarina of Time took on its own unique identity, and that’s something that can’t be shamelessly copy/pasted.
OoT also has “great fairies” who look like prostitutes and appear to be wearing nothing but leaves. Or maybe it’s a tattoo design? I don’t really know. At any rate, they’re amusingly awkward-looking.
As you can probably tell from the title of the game, time plays a large role; after the first three dungeons that you complete as “young Link,” you can jump back and forth from two points in time that are separated by seven years. This mechanic makes it possible to see a before-and-after comparison of the world that really drives home the “Ganondorf is a bad dude” message. Switching between young Link and adult Link (and vice versa) is only really necessary on a couple occasions, and the few times you’re required to use this mechanic in order to progress are made less tedious by your ocarina.
Your ocarina plays a vital role throughout the game for a number of different reasons; you have your typical songs that can open passageways and that are often necessary to progress, as well as more optional songs that can cause rainstorms, call your horse, etcetera. Lastly, you have songs that teleport you to certain areas; these reduce the amount of running around you have to do and make a huge portion of the game really convenient.
Puzzles are my worst enemy. Growing up, puzzles in games were usually the barrier to my enjoyment, the “work” side of gaming from which I couldn’t derive the slightest amount of entertainment. Part of the trouble was due to using a guide and being absolutely awful at following directions, but puzzles in general can tend to be annoying. The puzzles in Ocarina of Time are okay for the most part, but around the Water Temple (the third dungeon that you tackle as an adult) they begin to get exhausting and wear thin. There starts to be such a slew of, “Hey, I’m so excited about these dungeons I made that I’m going to make you spend almost all your time in dungeons,” that they end up bringing the game down. The Gerudo Fortress and Spirit Temple near the end help alleviate this by being totally awesome, but there is a point mid-way through the game where the constant hunts for switches/invisible walls/whatever start to become a chore. It’s especially awful when you go through a difficult room and finally succeed in pushing through it, only to be rewarded with the dungeon map or compass instead of some awesome new item. Feels like a middle finger every time
Luckily, there are plenty of hidden things you can preoccupy yourself with when you start to burn out on the dungeons. Hidden magic spells, hidden ocarina songs, hidden heart pieces (collect four to get a new heart container), and so on. There’s a lot to keep you busy.
The graphics were absolutely stunning when Ocarina of Time was released, and they’ve actually aged quite gracefully compared to most games of the time. Of course, the Nintendo 64 isn’t exactly capable of outputting at high resolutions, but there are remakes and re-releases that should work better for that. Still, there’s nothing quite like playing OoT on a Nintendo 64 with a Rumble Pak in your controller; even if it’s a bit on the blurry side on modern televisions, it’s still pretty in its own way.
There’s no way you don’t know what the Ocarina of Time music is like; if you’ve played a Zelda game since, chances are you’ve heard versions of it. The music in OoT was so fitting and so memorable that it lives on in later games and fan-tributes. You can even find a dubstep remix of the Lost Woods theme. Needless to say, the music fits the game perfectly and to play OoT with the volume muted is to not play OoT. It’s a vital part of the experience. The only annoyance is when your stupid fairy keeps interrupting whatever you’re doing by going, “HEY, LISTEN!” Dumbass fairy needs to shut the hell up.
Here’s what you should do: