The Legend of Zelda is one of the two most beloved Nintendo gaming series that were born during the reign of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). There was already a great deal of existing history in the Zelda games before the appearance of Ocarina of Time but none were so groundbreaking or successful. It’s not easy to review this all-time classic without exhibiting some element of bias. A few years have past since the release of Ocarina of Time and time is a good thermometer for objectively measuring the true effects of any videogame. The critical reviews at the time of its release were nothing short of positive, and many considered (and consider) Ocarina of Time to be the best single videogame of all time. All this has to be mentioned because this classic review is years after the game (many Zelda games have arrived since), and it would perhaps be unprofessional to attempt a review as though it were from the time of the original release. The main question to answer during this review is: After all these years, is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time still one of the best videogames ever?
Graphically Ocarina of Time is amazing, its visuals considerably richer and broader than that of another Nintendo classic: Mario 64. Both were groundbreaking games for a not especially popular gaming system, and both boasted the best 3D graphics available in any videogame of the time. There are some minor quibbles in the graphics, but they don’t ever detach the gamer from the overwhelming visual experience of Ocarina of Time. A good aesthetic ?trick’ used at the time through the graphics (it isn’t really a trick – more of a style) are the pre-rendered backgrounds, allowing for beautiful looking graphics without using too much of the system’s memory because the backgrounds remain static, like a painting. This, ironically, is seen more as a flaw in the graphics than a purposeful visual style. Videogames are supposed to be full of life, each game more lifelike than the last. Ocarina of Time achieved, even with the graphical limitations of its time, the distinct feeling of being inside a fairy-tale book. A simple flaw actually made the style of the game match the genre of the game, thus making the experience more cohesive. But, the game did suffer from the ailment of almost every N64 game – blur and pixelation. When viewing objects up close they being to blur as a minimum effect, and pixelate as a maximum. The graphics are not perfect by today’s lofty standards, but when Ocarina of Time first burst onto the scene, its graphics were unparalleled. The general graphical ?feel’ helps OoT add more visual quality and gamer immersion to its gameplay.
The N64 system was not famous for the quality of its sound output. Some games did try to excel in this category (e.g. Rogue Squadron) but few made that ambition an aural reality. However, Ocarina of Time got the sound right early on in the system’s life. It is one of the few N64 games that possesses amazing ambient quality, a quality that still to this day captures the gamer perfectly. The graphics and sound are a powerful motivating duo in favor of the experience of playing Ocarina of Time. Compelling examples start from the very beginning of the game, the pre-game story, and Link’s subsequent wandering through the village of the Kokiri. No other opening level or starting point of a videogame has been so full of visual life and audio detail. The village is inside a forest and everything is built around trees and plants. The artwork for this level is incredible. You actually feel as though you’re inside a fairy-tale, though that, obviously, is the idea. Ocarina of Time has the option for Dolby Surround sound; turn it on and you will hear the forest speak to you. If you’ve ever been in a forest you will be amazed at how closely the sounds of the Kokiri village resemble those of real-life forests. Why mention only the village? Because, aside from the fact that the main adventure starts there, it’s also where the game first encapsulate the player. You are amazed from the very outset, and you will remain that way throughout the ensuing adventure. And it’s an adventure that is truly epic, where no two places are alike. Ocarina of Time also sports one of the best gaming soundtracks ever, we’re not just talking about videogame soundtracks here. Zelda’s Lullaby, The Song of Time, and fan-favorite, Gerudo Valley. Overall, Ocarina of Time does an outstanding job in the sound and music department, even more so taking into consideration the limitations of the N64 in that respect.
Few videogames can flourish the attribution of leaving an evolutionary mark on the improvement of gameplay. Over time, almost all games improve through better graphics and tweaked sound, but only a select few offer improved gameplay. Many games appear to look good and sound great, especially through today’s immense hardware power, but they often play horribly. Ocarina of Time is one of the lucky few to score in every department. The inclusion of the lock-on system for battles, and overall free roaming exploration, made ensuing 3D games easier to play and also more fun. Few would argue that the first great 3D game was Mario 64, it offered great exploration but suffered from erratic camera angles. Efficient camera angles in 3D games prevent the players from ?loosing themselves’ in the game world.
A brief digression in the review here just to mention that the term “3D games” may sound obvious to today’s players, but there were largely only 2D games before Mario 64, and Ocarina of Time was the first resulting title to make 3D games more accessible and playable.
Technically speaking, the game’s lock-on system is, without doubt, the best gameplay contribution given to the industry. Why is it such a good gaming tool? Because it helps the player to achieve better camera angles during battle, and also provides the strategic ability to move around a locked enemy or object. In Ocarina of Time the lock-on system provided Link with a definite pivot to move around, and that pivot existed as an object or an enemy. This system made fighting and exploring in the game even more enjoyable than ever before. Indeed, a simple yet effective slice of gameplay genius – now used so prolifically in today’s market as though it had always existed.
A Prodigy of Videogaming.
This review is as objective as possible considering it covers an undeniably monumental title that has left its indelible mark on videogame history. Not to mention that it’s a game close to the hearts of many, many gamers. But an examination with the numbers must also be given. Certainly, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not perfect (is any game?). But its beauty lies in the fact that some of its blemishes are not readily apparent until after a deep and thorough examination, and other flaws actually turn into advantages. The player will be drawn into the Zelda fantasy world from the moment the opening sequence bursts onto the screen, and the game won’t let go – not even after finishing the quest. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an evergreen experience that shouldn’t be missed by any genuine lover of videogames. And it is a shining beacon that exists as an exemplary example of the reach – in terms of stirring emotions – that a videogame can have.