Fair warning: This playtest is intended for people who have already completed Ocarina of Time. You’ll find lots of spoilers ahead.
A lot has happened in the years following The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s release in 1998. Just within the realm of Zelda games, we’ve seen eight new ones, ranging from whimsical to touching to grin-inducingly hilarious. Within the realm of video games as a whole, we’ve seen a collective move toward emphasizing characters and stories through customization and dialogue trees.
Ocarina of Time doesn’t play host any of the above traits, however. If I had to describe it to someone, I honestly don’t know how I would. Perhaps what I would say, is that it’s one of those games that grows up alongside you. That’s how I felt while playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, which gave me a very different feeling this time around than when I originally played it years ago.
More than anything, Ocarina of Time 3D felt eerie, partly because I’m now an adult and subtlety has more of an impact on me than drama does, and partly because we live in a post-Twilight Princess world. I should explain both those points as best as I can if I want this playtest to make any sense whatsoever. Let’s start with the former.
Once you get past a certain point in life, you start to gain an appreciation for the slow, lingering effect of subtlety more than the shocking, immediate effect of drama. Back when I was 18, I didn’t care too much for the former. That’s probably why I enjoyed every minute of Gundam Seed (minus the singing) and even (don’t kill me) Gundam Seed Destiny. Today, I don’t know if I’d enjoy them the same way.
The same goes for games. Watching Xehanort wiggle his fingers dramatically and give a long-winded speech on the Keyblade War is good, entertaining fun, but it isn’t the kind of thing that stays with you. Ocarina of Time, on the other hand, does. That’s because it’s a game of less words and leaves a lot up to inference, which makes it a much more personal experience for everyone that plays it. Nintendo have said many times that the reason Link doesn’t have a voice is so that players can relate to him better. Ocarina is a great example of when this approach works, but it’s for more reasons than Link simply not having any dialogue.
More than any other Link over the years, the one in Ocarina of Time is all alone. Playing this game now makes you feel like Link doesn’t make a single true friend throughout the course of the story. He starts out as an outcast in Kokiri, a blank canvas, completely alone and with no background to speak of, which immediately helps you step into his shoes. As the game progresses, he meets one character after another, but none who ever sound like they understand him.
His only childhood friend ultimately moves on to bigger, Sage-like responsibilities. Princess Zelda shares more of a professional relationship with him than a true friendship. Sheik, perhaps the only one who truly understands what Link is going through, prefers to ignore idle chatter and focus more on preventing the end of Hyrule. Finally, Navi, who possibly gets to know Link best, abandons him at the end of the game. And this is without counting the Goron king Darunia — Link’s “sworn brother for life” — and the ditzy Zora princess who gives him her engagement ring. Those two are even further removed from Link despite their alleged connections.
Perhaps this is because of Miyamoto’s well-publicized desire to avoid delving too much into story or character development. Either way, the end result is that every “bond” in Ocarina seems so superficial. By the time Link learns that he isn’t a Kokiri at all, and is of Hylian origin, his quest to save Hyrule is about the only thing he’s truly got any meaningful ties to.
Link has no partner in this game either. Well, no talkative partner, beyond Navi who repeats the same few lines. No Midna to ridicule him or Spirit Zelda to cower behind his back and poke fun at him when they aren’t fending off haunted pieces of armour. Effectively, this means you spend more time focusing on Link than on his partner, unlike the more recent Zelda games. As a player, it helps you connect to him better. Perhaps you’ll find yourself getting the impression that this is a kid who’s had to grow up way too quickly, and the game does a genuinely good job of expressing that point without forcing it upon you. I never perceived it this way while I was younger, but I do now.
Link’s growth is depicted in other ways as well. As a child, he sneaks past royal guards, goes adventuring in Dodongo’s Cavern, and runs about in the belly of a giant fish. But when he grows up, he walks through the twisted hallways of the hidden Forest Temple, and save files start you out in the mysterious Temple of Time. The music in these new areas changes appropriately to indicate a relatively more serious atmosphere as well. There’s never any blood and guts, but the change in mood speaks volumes.
This brings us to Twilight Princess, the most recent console Zelda game. Following less-than-thrilling sales of Wind Waker, Nintendo set out to emulate Ocarina of Time by creating a direct follow-up to the most successful Zelda game they’d ever made. Twilight Princess took place in a very similar Hyrule, and told the story of what happened years after Ganon’s imprisonment at the end of Ocarina. If you’re willing to entertain a little educated fan-speculation, it also tells you what happened to Ocarina’s Link — he ended up bitter and regretful, and you had to help his spirit move on.
Having knowledge of the events of Twilight Princess somehow makes Ocarina of Time seem more foreboding and ironic. Consider the fact that Ocarina of Time is also where the Zelda universe splits into two very distinct timelines, and that fact gives it even more weight in the series’ lore. Finally, there’s one last thing that Twilight Princess puts into perspective — pacing.
As good as it was, Twilight Princess was an overly long and drawn-out game. It took me somewhere in the range of 50 hours to complete, and I didn’t do as much as I would’ve liked to in those 50 hours. Ocarina of Time is a more compact, better-paced game overall. You never feel like there’s no end in sight, or that its world is needlessly large. Moving from one objective to the next feels relatively quick and efficient, especially now that the game is in a portable format, which lets you play it in a much more flexible manner.
The 3DS gives Ocarina of Time a few other convenient upgrades, too. The ability to move the 3DS itself around for aiming the bow and hookshot is very convenient. You can still aim with the analog slider of course, but fine-tuning your aim down to those last few millimetres is so much easier if you use it in conjunction with the gyro-controls. Phantom Ganon was much less of a pain with gyro-aiming. Having items mapped to the touchscreen is a nice convenience to have as well, and you have the option of playing the Ocarina of Time either on the touchscreen or using buttons. Having the touchscreen is nice for certain songs that require you to play the notes very quickly if you want them to sound right (even though they work regardless).
I also much preferred the 3D effect to the duller, non-3D look. It feels as though you’re looking into a different world, encased in a crystal box. In fact, there’s a very deliberate effort to not have things popping out of the screen. The text looks like it’s trapped at the very edge of the screen, with everything else happening behind it. Areas like the Kokiri forest which have fairy dust and trails sparkling everywhere you go look gorgeous. It’s an effective and interesting use of the 3D, and it made me think about all the different styles in which developers can use the 3D effect in their games.
I personally kept the 3D slider turned fairly high up most of the time, save for some of the more hectic boss encounters and puzzles (or when I was low on battery and didn’t want to get up to plug the system in). Stylistically, Ocarina looks like a modern Nintendo 64 game. Objects and certain characters have intentionally been left looking a little blocky to emulate the Nintendo 64 style, but the new textures and lighting are a very different story. I thought it was an interesting way to approach nostalgia because it works well without the game seeming outdated or — the other end of the spectrum — losing its identifiable look.
Link himself looks much more like the concept art for Ocarina of Time, and Princess Zelda actually looks human. (Impa, however, looks like she’d love nothing more than to wrestle you to the ground and beat you with a chair) The updated — but not re-arranged — music fits very comfortably in, too. I had to go back and listen to some of the original tunes on YouTube to be able to tell the difference. The Forest Temple music in particular is one piece that really helped set the mood while it played.
Food for thought:
1. I always forget how much the Ocarina of Time adds to the feel of the game. Playing the songs is still one of my favourite parts of Ocarina.
2. Playing Ocarina of Time is only making the wait for Skyward Sword a little harder. Up until now, Ocarina was the very first Zelda game, chronologically, but Skyward Sword will soon be taking its place as the story that kicked off the long-running stories of Zeldas and Links. I’m very curious to see how that game sets up the rest of the series.