Let’s Talk Games – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

YUP. Deal with it.

I feel like every Zelda fan has their own personal story about how one of the games affected their life or influenced them in some way. Like too many others, I have one about Ocarina of Time. I don’t know why I feel the need to talk about this out of nowhere, but I’m replaying it right now and I guess it’s just something on my mind. But first, a little backstory:

Ocarina of Time wasn’t my first Zelda game. My introduction to the Zelda series began sometime in elementary school during the late 90s. My best friend at the time had a Super Nintendo, and one of the games we played was A Link to the Past. We really liked it, but we were kids and didn’t know what we were doing. We were more into games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong Country — games where you made your way through levels from start to finish. Zelda was one of our first experiences within the adventuring genre, especially before we received Nintendo 64s and the many games that gave you 3D worlds to actually explore.

Like I said, we really liked it but we got stuck a lot. I don’t think we put as much effort into it like we did with platformers. I received Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy at one point around the same time, and I played all the way through it but unfortunately I really don’t remember anything particular about it. Although to be fair, when you’re talking about a kid in the late 90s playing Game Boy, I’m sure most of their memories with it will have something to do with Pokemon. 🙂

It wasn’t until I received the first Super Smash Bros. on the N64 that I started to be able to identify Link as an actual character. Link doesn’t talk in the Zelda games, and I don’t think I knew his name was even Link until I saw it on the Super Smash Bros. character select screen. Which in hindsight, is pretty stupid considering his name is in both Zelda titles I’d played at that point in time.

I guess his appearance in Super Smash Bros., combined with seeing advertisements for the next Zelda game, Majora’s Mask, made me much more curious to play another Zelda game. In the fall of 2000, Majora’s Mask was released and I rented it from the video store. I have my own separate story for my first experiences with that game, so I’ll cut to my point before I hit 500 words without talking about the thing I was supposed to be talking about — I loved it, and asked for it for Christmas. I got it, and I also got Ocarina of Time. I don’t remember if I asked for that one too; I knew of its existence but I can’t remember how much I wanted to try that particular game out. Either way, I got both N64 Zelda games that year. Definitely one of my favorite Christmases.

I didn’t start playing Ocarina of Time right away, though. I got a lot of other games that year that I was more excited about, like Pokemon Silver and Rayman 2. I played through some of Majora’s Mask; I had the guide, and I wouldn’t rest until I figured out how to get the Pikachu mask that teased me the entire time I rented the game. “Oh, it’s called the Keaton mask? Huh.” 7th grade me was sure surprised.

Sometime soon after Christmas break, a big snow storm started moving in while I was at school. They sent us home early, and it was a Friday to boot, so I suddenly found myself with a three day weekend. I don’t remember why I wasn’t hanging out with my best friend next door, or why I wasn’t playing in the snow at all. Maybe it was so bad that our parents just wanted us to be home? Who knows. Whatever the case, I decided this was a good time to try out Ocarina of Time, to actually give it my full attention instead of just messing around like in Majora’s Mask.

And wow.

Most of my gaming experiences up until that point in my life had been very cartoony; I mentioned a few, but other games that stood out from my childhood were Mario, Pokemon, Darkwing Duck, Banjo-Kazooie, and Earthworm Jim — very kid friendly. And not that Zelda is a shining example of a “mature” game, but it was definitely more serious than what I was used to. And my first day playing Ocarina of Time really showed me that.

I still remember feeling awe-struck at the opening. No music, just introductory text that started off a large journey. Then followed a dream where Link is standing in front of Hyrule Castle Town as the drawbridge lowers, and you can hear the clank clank of the chains and the thunder in the background. And then the scene cuts to the Great Deku Tree talking to Navi using very poetic language that sets up a sense of impending doom in this world I’d never experienced before. The game was certainly more cinematic than anything I’d seen before, and combined with great N64 graphics and music, I had a feeling this was going to be a very different sort of game.

The snow was building up fast outside; I kept trying to break away from the screen to catch glimpses outside the window. It looked like our neighborhood was already buried, so I guess it was good that I was safe inside instead of being lost out there. All the white outside seemed to pour into my bedroom. You know when a lot of freshly fallen snow can sometimes give the illusion that the inside of your house is softly glowing when you’re looking at it from inside? That’s how that day felt to me. I was in 7th grade, bordering that weird line between kid and teenager, playing this new game that drew me into it in a way nothing had before, while outside time seemed to have temporarily stopped — it was an extremely surreal kind of day.

And after I finished getting used to all of the controls and how Link handled (which took me a lot longer than you might imagine), I entered the first dungeon and… God, it’s not really music per se, but whatever played inside it just added to that surreal feeling of the day. It was very atmospheric. This whole game was very atmospheric. Like I said, I hadn’t really played a lot of games that set up a world like this. It was wonderful experiencing it.

I don’t know how many hours I played that day. With no parents home, it could have been all day. But I remember stopping when it was dark outside. I got all the way to the Graveyard, which isn’t actually very far from the beginning of the game. But between getting used to everything, getting stuck inside one room of the first dungeon for an hour (the one you have to light a torch in; I didn’t know how to or that you even could 🙂 ), and just wandering around the game’s world, it felt like I made a ton of progress.

The rest of my experience with my first playthrough of Ocarina of Time doesn’t stand out as much, though. In middle school, there was a time when I had a lot of trouble falling asleep and I felt like playing video games (console games, anyway) stimulated me too much. So I usually just waited until the weekend to play console games, and unfortunately Ocarina of Time was introduced into my life during this time. It took me a few months, even with a guide, to completely finish the game, and when you’re only playing on Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday, it’s hard to remember specific “wow” moments, especially after I’d been so impressed with my first day playing it.

That doesn’t mean any subsequent playthroughs didn’t stand out to me, though. Ocarina of Time is one of those games that mix and meld with the rest of my childhood memories. I may not remember specific memories to attach to the game (besides the first one), but I still remember feeling awestruck and inspired whenever I played it. I carried the guide with me to school and when I went on errands with my mom and read as much as I could. Like many other games, I would open up the guide and draw from the official artwork scattered throughout with my best friend next door. When I was in class, I would constantly practice drawing Triforces, Master Swords, and even Link himself. Between him and Trunks from Dragonball Z, my middle school self kind of became a little obsessed with swordsmen and drawing them.

Our family also got Internet service around this time (and now suddenly I feel 10 years older than I really am). One of the websites I would frequent a lot was a Zelda fan site called The Odyssey of Hyrule. I don’t think it exists anymore, unfortunately, but I would spend many afternoons after school reading the content on the site. It would list a lot of cool glitches you could do, like Swordless Link and getting under Zora’s Domain when it was frozen over. I didn’t try a lot of them out, mostly because many of them only worked on the gold cartridge copies of Ocarina of Time and I had the standard one, or because many of them warned it could corrupt your game file.

But the one I thought was so cool and I would pull off a lot was getting underneath Hyrule Castle. When you get to the Great Fairy’s Fountain on the path to the castle, if you’re very careful, walk slowly, and constantly adjust your direction by going into first person and lining up the corner of the hillside with the center of the screen, you can actually get onto the hills surrounding the area. You’re not supposed to go up here; it’s sort of an out-of-bounds area, and you can see where the programmers stopped adding textures by the giant void over the hills. You can walk on those hills and approach the castle, and at one point you can jump “through” the castle and land inside. It’s nothing spectacular, just invisible water you can swim through (probably from the moat surrounding the castle), but stuff like this really impressed me back then. The only glitch I really knew about or exploited was the Missingno. glitch from the original Pokemon games, so this one really stood out.

There was also this fanfiction someone wrote that really stood out to me at the time. I printed it out and read it many times, and I credit it for providing me with at least some of the inspiration to start writing my own fanfiction, and eventually my own stories in general, which of course led to the path of whatever kind of writer I am today.

But the biggest thrill I got from the site was from all the Triforce rumors. Many people were convinced you could obtain it in some way (possibly because you could in A Link to the Past), and there were fans dedicated to finding out if it was obtainable. A lot of beta game screenshots showed things that were no longer in the game, and people (myself included) were desperate to see if anything was left in by accident. I remember a special fairy’s fountain people thought might still exist, and they thought it might have something to do with the Triforce.

Then there was the Running Man’s challenge, one of the stupidest and most pointless things in a Zelda game — you can race him to the bridge in the Lost Woods, but he always beats you by exactly one second. You don’t get anything from him and it’s impossible to win, so the whole point of the race seems completely meaningless. But your record for the race, along with other minigames, is on the wall in your house, and there’s a seemingly random, grand design of the Triforce in the tent where you meet him, so many people thought somehow beating him might be the key to obtaining it.

I don’t remember if it was a rumor or something I thought to do, but I thought maybe in the center of the castle courtyard where you meet Zelda held some secret grotto. I thought if you bombed there something might happen, but I don’t think the game would allow you to use bombs in that area. Then I thought, “Hey! A guard throws a bomb at you if you hit one of the windows with your slingshot! I can pick up that bomb before it explodes and use that!” Well either I could and it didn’t work, or I couldn’t and it didn’t work; the point is, it didn’t work. 😦

There was the theory that if you could throw a bomb into the center of the lava lake beneath Ganon’s Castle, something would happen; a secret path selection in the Lost Woods might lead you somewhere; a mysterious supposed pyramid you can see in the Haunted Wasteland might have something to do with it — trust me. There were a lot of theories. But a big one involved a lot of screenshots of a hidden dungeon, the Light Temple. It made sense, considering the only Medallion you received that doesn’t have a corresponding dungeon is Light. Someone had claimed they found it and provided a bunch of screenshots showing a bunch of areas on their TV, but they left a crucial step out so it would remain a mystery until… I can’t remember, honestly. It ended up being fake, but it seemed so real back then that many of us thought (or wanted) it to be true.

It wasn’t just playing Ocarina of Time, it was all of the stuff related to it that I did outside of actually playing the game. It really stuck with me for a long time. I even special ordered some Zelda merchandise through Nintendo. I got three small figures of Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf (the bigger ones I wanted were sold out 😦 ), the soundtrack to both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and a “bendable” Link keychain.

Yes. I WAS the cool kid in middle school :3

Yes. I WAS the cool kid in middle school :3

Despite all this gushing over my earliest experiences with Ocarina of Time, it’s still something I enjoy today. It’s not like I played it in my childhood and that’s it. Honestly, I make a point to revisit Ocarina of Time every year or so. I’ve played it a lot. People often criticize or praise the shit out of Ocarina of Time now. Some think it’s the greatest game ever. Some think it’s the most overrated Zelda game.

As much as I loved the game when I was younger, and even though I still enjoy it whenever I go back to it, I can’t help but feel some of the magic disappear a little more after each playthrough. Although I wouldn’t really contribute this to any faults the game has; it’s just honestly come to a point where I’ve replayed it too many times and it feels like I just play it when I feel like going through the motions.

People often hate that Ocarina of Time doesn’t allow you the freedom to explore dungeons in any order like the original Zelda or, to an extent, A Link to the Past. I don’t particularly mind, because while I don’t have much freedom to pursue the dungeons in any order, I can still choose which heart pieces, upgrades, gold skulltulas, and other sidequests to pursue and when. Do I use a new item to obtain an optional upgrade as early as possible? Do I wait until I pass an area before doing it? Do I wait until the end of the game, when I have all my items, and just comb the world at once and get all the optional stuff one area at a time? You can do this in any Zelda game, sure, but I think that’s enough to still make each playthrough feel fairly fresh. Not as fresh as Majora’s Mask, but still pretty fresh. Besides, I get a real thrill from trying to remember where everything is without using outside help. I just finished the game again this morning, and the only thing I couldn’t find without help was one of the gold skulltulas. One out of the hundred in the game. Not bad. 🙂

People say Hyrule field is too big and empty. And yeah, I agree. Although it doesn’t really bother me too much. Like I mentioned before, I find this game incredibly atmospheric. Seeing the big, open, green fields with the occasional trees, signposts, rivers, and fences scattered about it is just fine for me. I feel very content traveling through Hyrule Field. In this particular game, the openness of it is very comforting to me. I will say there’s a couple of places where even I think something could have been put there. Hunting for the Big Poes really makes you wonder if certain areas in Hyrule Field were originally supposed to have something there, like in the southeast and northwest corners. Maybe a random potion shop or mini game hut? Just a nitpick for me, though.

Some of the controls aren’t always user-friendly; there’s a lot of experimentation before some things become more clear to the player. For example, the Hookshot has a red dot that symbolizes that it can reach the spot you’re pointing at, but sometimes you can still reach something even if the dot isn’t there. The boomerang has an arc when Link throws it, and you might find yourself hitting the wall with it in tight places, even if you’re locked onto an enemy. Sometimes when you’re locked onto an enemy and continually using your sword, you’ll stay facing the same direction swiping at nothing if the enemy moved. But maybe since I practiced all this when I was a kid, I got used to it. These kinds of things don’t bug me like they do other people.

If you really want something I genuinely don’t care for in the game, it’s Rupees. You start off with a wallet that can carry a maximum of 99. Then you can upgrade to 200, and finally 500. The problem is this game practically hands money out to you. No matter what size wallet, I’m constantly finding it full. It takes the fun out of collecting and discovering Rupees. I think the game shouldn’t have given you so many, or should have increased the amount you could carry. I really hate opening a chest and getting 50 or even 200 Rupees when my wallet is full. This past playthrough, I actually used shops to buy as much stuff as I could just to make some space in my wallet. Yes, even recovery hearts. I bought recovery hearts to make space in my wallet to make collecting Rupees seem like it has a purpose.

But yeah. That was Ocarina of Time for me. A lot of memories, and part of the reason for revisiting it every year is to sort of relive those initial feelings. And even though it gets harder and harder to relive those feelings, I still have a lot of fun playing it. It’s not my favorite Zelda game, and I’ll even admit the game is a pretty standard Zelda experience that doesn’t have anything in particular that separates it enough from other games, but it’s still one of my favorites, both as a Zelda game and a game in general. Thank you for listening to me relive some of these memories, and I hope everyone’s having a great week! 🙂


5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Games – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

  1. I just bought “Oracle of Ages” for the Gameboy Colour this weekend at a used video game shop — it’s so much fun! Like you mentioned, I spent most of my game boy days playing Pokemon as I am hopeless at platformers. I missed all the great Zelda games until Minnish Cap for GBA. Lots to catch up on now though! Sometimes I just love a good game from a simpler time.

    • I only played a little of Oracle of Ages when it came out. I rented it from a video store for a couple of days but that was about it. I liked what I played, though, and it’s on my wish list. 🙂 That sucks you missed out on so many Zelda games, I hope you can catch up with some!

  2. Pingback: Let’s Talk Games — The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess | sometypeofartist

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