A Year of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

My (and very many others’) first Zelda game, Ocarina of Time has a special place in my heart. From watching my neighbor playing it when I was a little kid, to playing it myself at 14, the game always sparked a sense of wander in me. It was the stuff of my dreams, a magical fantasy world for me to explore. I wanted to live in Kokiri Forest and have my very own Epona. Without Ocarina of Time, I might not even have this blog, or be writing this series.

Playing it again now, in the context of my playthrough, gives me a very different perspective. People can’t seem to separate the concept of nostalgia from this game (nothing wrong with that), but I’m trying to look at it from a ‘this is how Zelda is developing over the years’ point of view.

The first four games, The Legend of Zelda, Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, and Link’s Awakening all feel very distinct from each other. Ocarina of Time is the first time I feel like a game is borrowing quite a lot from the past, A Link to the Past to be specific. Of course, each game borrows from previous games, but I’m really thinking about the overall feel or atmosphere of the game. The stormy opening feels similar (although Ocarina‘s is a brief flash forward), and you’re sent almost immediately into the first dungeon of the game. The quests are almost identical – collecting three pendants/stones, getting the master sword, and then rescuing sages/descendants. Suddenly it feels like there’s a ‘Zelda formula’ shaping up. But make no mistake, Ocarina of Time is no A Link to the Past 3D.

Ocarina of Time establishes the Zora, Gorons, Kokiri, Gerudo, Sheikah, and even the Hylians as distinct cultures with their own towns spread across Hyrule, making the game that much more lively. Dungeon design is overhauled for 3D sensibilities while keeping the basic skeleton of key collecting, a dungeon item, a mini boss and boss.

Because the world is now three dimensional, we’ve got different camera angles and z-targeting to help us navigate and aim. All your items have to work in another dimension, and many of the puzzles rely on aiming upwards. If you’re using the bow, hookshot, or boomerang you can z-target or use a zoomed in ‘first-person’ view to aim, and you might not always hit moving targets. You have to work the get the right angle for shooting an arrow through a torch, that also needs to hit a target behind it. Other height-based puzzles and mechanics are featured prominently, with climbing and the auto-jump showing up in every corner of Hyrule.

A Link to the Past gave us the first alternate world with the light world and dark world, but Ocarina of Time made each of its ‘worlds’ mechanically different with an adult and child Link who have different capabilities. Child Link can fit into small areas necessary for entering the Bottom of the Well and the Spirit Temple. A few items are exclusive to each version of Link, including the Boomerang and Fairy Slingshot for child Link, and the Hookshot and Fairy Bow for adult Link. Some of the items function about the same, but have small differences which makes for different puzzle solving experiences. I do wish adult Link could use the Boomerang, as it gives you more distinct puzzle options with its angled throw.

Ocarina introduces a huge mainstay of the series, the companion character, in the form of Navi. Companion characters are a bit divisive. Many tire of constant harassment and unavoidable, repetitive dialogue and the beginning of ‘handholding’ in Zelda. Navi’s ‘heys’ and ‘listens’ are memed more than any other companion. Others welcome their various personalities and just overall charm they give to a game. I just think she’s cute.

Classic characters return in new, more developed forms. While Ganondorf is technically introduced in A Link to the Past, he’s only seen in his beast form, Ganon, and here we see Ganondorf as a Gerudo with a slightly more evolved personality. Impa finally makes an in-game appearance! She sets a precedent of the Sheikah Impa for 3D Zelda, leaving nursemaid Impa in the 2D games (maybe we should mix it up a bit). We also get the first Zelda disguise/alter ego in the form of Sheik. I never got the big impact of the Sheik reveal because I was so young when I learned that I don’t remember, but I’m sure it was quite the reveal for some.

Ocarina takes many of its musical cues from Link’s Awakening. Link’s Awakening introduced songs with functions other than teleportation, and Ocarina of Time expanded on it, really leaning into the musical direction for the series. Though many of the Ocarina of Time songs are teleportation songs, these are the less important ones and you may not even use most of them. Zelda’s Lullaby is played many times throughout the game and functions in different ways, from changing water levels in the Water Temple to summoning Great Fairies at Fairy Fountains, and it becomes Zelda’s theme through the rest of the series. Some of the songs are associated with features brand new to the Zelda series.

The Sun’s Song comes alongside the new day and night cycle. NPCs are in different locations and have different behaviors depending on whether or not the sun’s up. And if you need the sun up (or down), you can play the Sun’s Song to move things along instantly. The passage of time becomes important as well with things like cucco eggs hatching and biggoron sword crafting. You can speed things along with the Sun’s Song. Though Ocarina of Time‘s most famous time gimmick, the jump seven years into the future is iconic, it’s the smaller consequences of passing time that have a greater influence on the series.

Epona’s Song arrives with the series’ first mount, your loyal steed Epona. One of my favorite ocarina songs, it’s used by child Link first to befriend her, and then summon her as adult Link to gallop around Hyrule. I must admit, Epona herself, was a huge draw to the series for me, as I love horses. Though she’s actually optional in the game, I wouldn’t dare playing without rescuing her from the evil Ingo, and she certainly inspires different methods of required and optional transportation through the rest of the series.

Mini-games and side quests continue to become more and more established, with tons of each added in Ocarina of Time. Fishing returns from Link’s Awakening and there are several new games that make use of Link’s various items, such as Bombchu Bowling and Horseback Archery. I personally enjoy rounding up the cuccos in Kakariko Village. There are tons of side quests, including a trading sequence and gold skulltula collection quest taking notes from Link’s Awakening, and a Happy Mask Salesman quest that is hugely expanded on in the next Zelda game, Majora’s Mask. There’s even an optional mini-dungeon (which I’ll talk about next week) with the Gerudo Training Grounds.

Ocarina of Time takes many of its fundamentals from A Link to the Past while establishing a huge precedent for future 3D Zelda games, and I’m excited to explore how the series evolves from here on out. I’ll wrap up this post with my favorite and least favorite things from Ocarina of Time.

Least Favorite: As much as I see where they were going with more strategy-based enemy fights rather than ‘slash at enemy until defeated’ fights, I don’t think it was super well implemented. I’m not particularly of ‘wait until the enemy does this’ to attack kind of fights. This doesn’t apply to boss fights for me, maybe because I’m doing more than just z-targeting and waiting

Favorite: Ocarina of Time really feels like a grand adventure to me. I definitely don’t think every Zelda game needs to be like this, but to me it feels like the first of its kind. And maybe the first grand Zelda adventure was an earlier game for some people, but for me, Ocarina of Time just has this epic-ness that I didn’t experience while playing the earlier games.

Thanks for reading! Next week’s post is an Ocarina of Time dungeon ranking!

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