Favourite is a very strong word. It surpasses love or hate in terms of strength. I love shortbread. I hate heights. There are loads of things I love and hate but to have a favourite of something means that that thing is at the peak for you. The crème de la crème. The dog’s privates to put it in PG rating terms. For me, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is my all time favourite game.
It’s the one that I always think about when asked what my top game is. It isn’t my most played and if I played it today I wouldn’t be as blown away as I was when I was a kid. However, it’s the first game I remember amazing me with its scope and scale. I didn’t have a PC growing up so I missed a lot of the earlier story driven games. For me a story in a game was an opening text saying your princess has been stolen or an opening text crawl explaining the state of the world and your mission. The main story was always in the manuals. I used to read those in the car while my mum went food shopping. Hoping she’d do a quick shop and not bump into a neighbour and get talking for hours. All so that I could play my brand new shiny game. Those minutes felt like hours and those hours were excruciating. Before I begin I just want to say that as you’ll see in what I write, Ocarina of Time was a first of many things for me. I believe that game is a masterpiece but a lot of my personal reasons for why it’s my favourite game is because it was the first to introduce me to many new experiences in gaming. A lot of these points will seem trivial now but back then it was the opening of many possibilities to me. Not in what I could achieve but in what gaming could accomplish and what the future could improve upon. Zelda was a technical marvel as well as an astonishing game to little optimistic me. With that said, let’s start at the very beginning.
One of the first things you see when loading Ocarina of Time is Link riding Epona across Hyrule field at sunrise. This sweeping music I instantly feel in love with. I would leave it on loop sometimes and just watch as he rides round the land of Hyrule. It just sets the tone perfectly. It’s whimsical, enchanting and you just get a fantastic sense of the vastness ahead of you during this brief opening. At this point I had only played a few 3D games. Goldeneye and Mario 64 being the ones I can definitely recall playing before Ocarina. When I saw Link riding across seemingly endless fields, my little mind was exploding. ‘I can ride anywhere. This is a full world.’ I was so use to levels in games that the concept of an open world wasn’t available to me. It’s weird to think of it now when nearly every game released is an open world game but back then games were mostly level based, their experiences broken into chunks and not one continuous venture. Sure in Ocarina you have loading screens disguised as area transitions but I always knew where I was heading. Before the loading of the next area Link would be running up a hill or onto a sandy area, when the scene re-opened he would still be on that hill or on a beach. In games with levels the 2 separating levels may share the same theme and world properties but I never felt like they were directly connected. I always imagined a short interlude of Super Mario World’s Mario walking a further 10 minutes or so till he got to the new level. And I know Mario 64 had a hub area but the paintings you jumped into were always wacky locals that would never be anywhere near the castle grounds. So the prospect of a world with free rein was almost unthinkable to me. Still, I hit Start and entered my name.
I never played a Zelda game before this so I had no idea Link was his real name. I hadn’t read the manual for this game as I believe it was a birthday present, one that I had repeatedly pointed out. I didn’t leave game choices to my mum and bless her she always made note of them rather than saying she’ll remember and buying Clayfighter 64 instead. When I unwrapped it I didn’t waste any time in tearing that box open and starting it up. I remember thinking Link was a weird name and that it was just a random default placement. I changed it to my name and my adventure began. Cutscenes are everywhere in games now, sometimes too many or too long like Metal Gear Solid 4 but I don’t remember full on cutscenes before Ocarina. Sure the sprites would move during a scene or the camera would fly through the map until it crammed itself into the back of James Bond’s head in Goldeneye but nothing on Ocarina’s level. The following happens within 5 minutes. We get told about the Kokiri, children of the forest who all live in a village. They each have a fairy as their guide in life, all except one. Link is then shown lying on his bed, seemingly crying! The hero of the game is a lonely sad child. I was so used to sprightly plumbers and the Contra men that a miserable child was not what I was expecting. Then the following scene is Link stood in the rainy darkness next to a castle. Hang on, he’s got a fairy now! Wait who are those 2 on that horse? Who’s this sharp nose scary guy with the malevolent music!? Navi? Talking tree? Evil sweeping the land? Then you have this jaunty little ditty as Navi sweeps across the village in first person yelling at the villagers before telling Link that the Deku Tree wishes to see him. There’s a lot to unpack there for a 9 year old.
Firstly, it does a great job of setting the scene and telling you the of the dangers ahead without really explaining what they are. There’s a lot of mystery in the air. We get our first look at Ganondorf and even though I didn’t know if that was a dream, past event or future occurrence, I knew he was bad news by the low angled camera and ominous music. Disney had trained me well in spotting evil incarnate. You have your first quest in the form of seeing the Deku Tree and learning about why he needs your help. Then you have the sweep of the village and it was only years later that I really appreciated how that tricked my mind. Not in a bad way! It shows the villagers going for a stroll, one guy attempting to lift a rock, a girl chilling on a rooftop. It conveys a sense of purpose. Each person is doing something rather than just standing there waiting for me to talk to them like NPC’s normally do. I thought all these characters had lives programmed into them. I didn’t think that in technical terms because as a 9 year old video games were the equivalent of science magic for me. But I believed that each person would go about their day as if it was real life. They wouldn’t, spoiler alert. That guy trying to lift that rock will continue to not lift that rock for hours but hey it fooled me. So on your quest you go! You get a sword, a shield some nuts and some sticks and you enter the Deku Tree as something inside of him is corrupting him. You go in and say hello to your first dungeon.
This was my first ever Zelda dungeon. I still wish I could erase all memories of Zelda dungeons and go back and play them as if it was my first time. Zelda dungeons are one of my favourite aspects of any games. Give me a good ole dungeon any day of the week. Locked doors, keys, mini bosses, treasure chests, a map, compass, a new weapon and a big boss. Salivating at the thought. It’s a tried trope but one I love. I enjoyed Zelda: Breath of the Wild but I still haven’t cleared it. I’ve one more Divine Beast to beat and I’m really struggling to go back to it. The game itself is fantastic and I spent so much time just wandering the world and exploring. But now that I’ve just got the main quest to do I’m bored. I found the dungeons and bosses to be really disappointing. They lack character, they lack that Zelda charm that I’ve loved for decades. I want the familiar in Zelda games. It sounds boring but Ocarina of Time set a formula that I absolutely love. Zelda for me represents comfort. Many complain that Zelda games need to update themselves and I disagree for the most part. When I buy a Zelda game I’m buying it because of that familiarity. I know I’m getting a simple story of evil roaming the land and something to do with a princess. There are people across the land that require help and by helping them I will gain access to dungeons which will give me the tools to defeat the evil once again. It’s not winning any awards for groundbreaking story but it doesn’t need to. I’ll let other games do that. New IP’s and games where a story is more of a centrepiece can reinvent the wheel but Zelda scratches that itch that I need scratching now and then. I want a good vs evil story, it’s a classic tale for a reason. There is beauty in its simplicity and I crave that now and then.
As I was saying about the dungeons though. Each dungeon is a highlight of the game. They will forever remain some of my most vivid gaming memories. They are all distinctive in their theme, their look and their music. Thematically wise, they are perfect representations of their surrounding areas. From the inside of a giant fish, to a spooky forest and finally the domain of an evil tyrant, Ocarina’s dungeons all feel unique and each tell a story of where you are. This is obviously accompanied by the visuals each dungeon showcases. The Deku Tree is old and decrepit, a tree on its last fall covered in spiderwebs. The shadow temple that exists at the back of a graveyard with its skull panelled walls and let’s not forget, a ghost pirate ship! Visually you can tell each dungeon apart just by looking at them. Even similar themed dungeons like the Dodongo caverns and The Fire Temple, both full of rock and lava but both with their own style. Then there is the music. My word, the music! I could talk for hours about the music in Ocarina of Time and frankly I may do in another post but today I’ll just say that Ocarina of Time has some of the all time greatest songs you will ever hear in gaming. I still to this day hum the Saria’s song for no other reason than it’s fantastic. Each dungeon has its own unique theme and even though I remember some less than others, if I heard 2 seconds of a dungeon theme I’m willing to bet I can name the dungeon and finish humming the song. The songs you play on the Ocarina are something else entirely. Each one a prelude to the dungeons you are about to enter and each song perfectly captures a taste of that dungeon. Nocturne of Shadow is beautifully haunting and then when you enter the Shadow Temple, you wish that Nocturne of Shadow was as scary as it got! The subtle slow drum beat is a great nod to the boss of this dungeon and ghostly wailing that quickly enters your ears and then seems to flee as if dragged back into the darkness. Oh I got chills big time. Speaking of……
Here is an embarrassing tidbit. Ocarina of Time is the earliest game I can recall that scared me to the point that I couldn’t progress for months. This game is scary! And it wasn’t the Shadow Temple as my previous paragraph would lead you to believe. No, it was the Forest Temple. This is going to be a bit of a personal tangent but I feel that it shows the strength of Ocarina of Time’s influence on me. I was petrified of this game but I desperately wanted to play it. With other games that scared me, specifically horrors I would just stop playing them. I remember my older brother got me good once. He had just got Silent Hill on the Playstation and I had no clue what this game was. He called me to our bedroom to show me this new game he’s got. I set my eyes on Silent Hill’s grey, murky screen for the first time, unsure of what kind of game it was but getting some unpleasant vibes. ‘Walk forward’ he says as he hands me the controller. ‘Why? Something’s going to happen isn’t it?’ I said innocently. ‘No, no just want to show you something. Pick up that radio.’. Me being stupid and feeling honoured to play big brothers new game I move a few steps forward and click on the radio. Giant bat thing jumps through the window and I jump out of my skin much to my brothers amusement. Back to Ocarina of Time though after explaining my scaredy cat level. So, I hate the ReDead’s. Hands down one of the scariest enemies ever. In Hyrule Castle Town when you play as Adult Link, the area is infested with them. Now if you play the Sun Song you can freeze the ReDead’s but I didn’t know this for a time so I used to close my eyes and run for the exit. I did it so often I had memorised the right path to avoid their grabs. It didn’t help to hear their shrieks but I couldn’t stand to look at them. As I mentioned above though, the Forest Temple was my nightmare and my inevitable downfall as I will get into shortly.
In the Forest Temple, there is a room where Navi abruptley says ‘Watch for the shadows of monster that hang from the ceiling.’. Excuse me, what?! You can’t just spring that on me Navi without an explanation! So, I jump in the room and I notice the shadow at Link’s feet getting bigger and a whooshing sound getting louder. Nope! Not happening. I leave the room and come back in. I just need to get to the other side of the room but I have terrified at this point. I decide to be brave and face my fears, after pacing in and out of the room for what felt like hours. So, I jump in the room and run around while the shadow gets bigger. Here’s where I mess up! The shadow got a certain size and I thought it was done expanding and nothing had happened. So, in my genius head, I decided to use to C button to look up. As soon as I did that, the Wallmaster grabs me! Well that was it wasn’t it. I couldn’t progress after that. I got so worked up over that damn Wallmaster that I actually asked my older brother to clear the temple for me. And here is where I messed up big time. See this was before I had access to the internet and before most people did. Accessing guides online wasn’t a thing then and I didn’t have enough money to buy a guide even if I wanted to. Too busy saving up my £1 a week for the next game. Took me a long time to buy games back then. The problem was that I didn’t watch my brother clear the temple because I was too scared. The boss of the temple is Phantom Ganondorf and the way you beat him is by hitting his balls of energy with your sword back at him. Like a game of table tennis. Fast forward to me getting to the final boss. Also, side note, the Shadow Temple, the horror themed temple, I got through that on my own somehow. No idea what happened but I suddenly got brave, go figure. So anyway, final boss, part one is Ganondorf. I don’t remember what Navi says, but she doesn’t give any hints as to how to beat Ganondorf. Now if you had beat the Forest Temple boss like most people would have at this point, you get explained how to beat it. It is the exact same method of knocking the balls back except I had never done this throughout the entire game. Cut to me trying every item I had. Switching to Iron Boots and thinking I could withstand the ball, trying to block it with my shield, launching arrows galore at every spot on his body. Nothing. I tried on and off for months, maybe even a year. It’s hard to tell as time as a child seems a lot slower but it felt like forever. One day I’m trying it again, desperately hoping that something would click when my brother pops in the room and starts watching me. ‘You not cleared this game yet?’, I told him no and that I couldn’t figure it out. ‘Can I try it?’ he says, so I hand him the controller, thinking that nothing would come of it after my months of failing. BAM! Ganondorf is stunned as my brother effortlessly knocks the ball back at him. My brother’s a genius! A gaming god! No he isn’t I later learned, after replaying the game and having a gumption to tackle the Forest Temple again I figured out why he knew exactly what to do.
Incredibly long life story over but I just wanted to show how much I loved this game. Most games I would have given up after days of trying but I really loved this game and needed to see it through to the end. I hadn’t felt that strongly about a game before and one of the main reasons for that is the story. This is the first game where I can remember a full on story full on submerging me in its world. Sure Bowser is evil and him kidnapping the Princess is bad news but it was just a little romp through the lands to rescue her back. Nothing major. In Ocarina of Time there is death, there is a malicious evil who intends to drown the world in darkness and enslave the world. The stakes are high in this game. This is also the first time I remember a plot twists and shocking revelations in a game. Sheik is Zelda?! Not only that but the villain, actually has a plan and wins for 7 years. He waits for you, as Link, to gather the 3 stones and the titular Ocarina of Time and waits for you to do his work for him. He then blasts a child with his warlock skills and leaves you for dead. This is grim stuff. I thought at this point in the game, that the game was over. I thought it was the beginning of the ending. Those 3 dungeons were essentially the prelude. I never picked up on the fact that Link in the opening before the game menu was Adult Link. I didn’t process that that was technically a spoiler. Seemed cool to me and I liked the music. Link then wakes up 7 years older and is told that he lost and that Ganondorf has plunged the world into nightmare. How often does that happen in games? Specifically before Ocarina? Where the good guy loses, against the big evil to such an extent. Sure an early boss fight sometimes happens where the villain is clearly superior to the main character. But I never experienced on this grandiose scale until Ocarina. When you leave the Temple of Time, Hyrule is still there but there are no dancing couple in the village or small dog following you around. Just those scary ReDead’s looking to jump on your shoulders and munch your brains.
As a 9 year old, I don’t think I was ready for the scale of Ocarina’s story. I don’t mean that in a bad way like it caused me harm or made me sad. Just at that age I was so used to light hearted stories. And I know things like the Lion King are bleak, the hero’s loss followed by his triumphant victory is nothing new but in gaming it was new to me. I had more of a connection with Link than Mufasa or Simba because I was playing him. I was that character and I just got bamboozled by Mr Warlock. 9 year old me was honestly flabbergasted when it happened. Then i realised something amazing. This game that I was loving and thought I was about to clear just told me that I had 5 more dungeons and the final boss to beat. I was…..to put ecstatic would be an understatement. Not only that but I got to play as Adult Link. A character ageing in a game was a completely new concept to me. Character growth was expected in a story but not a literal character growth. I wasn’t ever expecting to play another iteration besides Young Link. And the fact that this actually becomes a gameplay aspect is a superb decision in my mind. Only being able to use certain items as one version of Link and only being able to access certain areas as another adds a great deal of depth to the world. It’s why the Spirit Temple is such an amazing concept. You get to experience 2 sides of a story, 7 years apart but as the same mindset. Not only that, but being able to return to Young Link and see the Hylians, Zoras, Gorons and Gerudos enjoying themselves before their world is decimated by Ganondorf, it really ups the hero’s mission for me.
It’s funny, I set out with this article to point out the key aspects of Ocarina of Time that make it stand out and for half the article I’ve done that. The other half is just me reminiscing about what a brilliant game it is. I kind of went off track but I think that speaks higher for the game than me pointing out each reason why Ocarina is a masterpiece. I can’t seem to write an article about it without raving about my experience of it. Most games I can’t say that for. Not only that but I remember key moments and how I felt during those moments. This was close to 20 years ago! I don’t remember conversations I have with my partner sometimes or what I had for dinner on this day last week. Yet I can vividly remember the songs, the interactions of between characters, that GODDAMN OWL, the animation and facial changes of Windmill Man.
There is just so many things that I should have forgotten about Ocarina but decades later they are fresher than most things I’ve done this year. I have a lot of games I love and a lot of those games are constantly in my top 10 list. But depending on the day and how I’m feeling, they’ll swap places. Not Ocarina of Time though. It’s always my number 1 spot and I don’t think I’ll ever experience a game that’ll topple it. That sense of wonder and amazement has been filtered now throughout my years. Due to maturity and better understanding of how things are accomplished but also just because games have come such a long way now in terms of scope and story telling. I didn’t even touch upon how great Ocarina of Time plays and how the Z-targeting was revolutionary at the time or how the dual Lizalfos fight is one of the best representations of hype in gaming. I believe the gameplay is the least important factor of the game. While the gameplay is fantastic, the visuals, world, audio and story just elevate this game above all others for me. I do hope one day I’ll experience that feeling again and I have felt it with other games just not on the same magnitude as Ocarina. We tend to remember our first of something better than subsequent experiences of the same thing. Ocarina was a first of many things for me and those firsts remain the purest form of those experiences. It’s going to be hard for a game to best them but it’s a win/win situation if they do.
Thank you for reading my long breakdown/worshipping of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I hope you enjoyed the read and feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences on this game in the comments.