Original Release: November 21, 1998
Platforms: Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube, Wii, iQue Player, Nintendo 3DS (2011 re-release)
Played on: Nintendo 64
There was a time almost twenty years ago when my brother came home with Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. I remember sitting down next to him as he put it in after showing off that he got a copy with the gold cartridge. I thought it was so neat, and after a while I wanted to play it myself. So one day while my brother was working on some other things, I sat down and started my own save file. I couldn’t tell you what name I went with at the time, but it was probably something like the usual Link. It’s not all that important, but it does make some cutscenes unintentionally funny if you go with something weird. My younger sister usually goes with “Cantalop” for that reason…well, that and “Cantaloupe” doesn’t fit.
Anyway, the story of Ocarina of Time begins with a prophecy regarding a boy among the Kokiri who is without a fairy. As it turns out, that boy is Link! It’s the middle of the night, and he’s having a nightmare as has been the case recently, and before long he’s summoned to speak with the Great Deku Tree by his new companion, Navi the fairy.
Now if you’re familiar with Zelda, you know what to expect: a variety of dungeons across the land of Hyrule that each contain treasures to find, puzzles to solve, and a boss to destroy. It’s been an oddly satisfying gameplay loop for years now, and Ocarina of Time has a special place in my heart as the first Zelda game I managed to beat on my own, followed some time later by A Link to the Past if I’m remembering correctly. My revisiting it all this time later was both to gauge how it’s aged and to evaluate if it stands up as a good game. And I feel safe in saying it hasn’t aged all that badly! The N64 controller is always going to feel weird if you go back to it after recent control schemes, but I had a good time with it all the same. At least once I got the cartridge cleaned up and working.
This is a bit of a problem with used games. Depending on where you pick them up, some of them are cleaned just before they’re sold to you, others sell them as they are, and if you buy them online your guess is as good as mine. I usually buy from Lukie Games myself and a majority of the time they’ve sent me games that work just fine, but man I’ve had some weird adventures with this particular cartridge. There was actually one time where I opened a chest and Link warped back and forth with a blast of static noise before he disappeared into the void and the game crashed. I think I actually lost my save progress after this, so it was a while before I picked it back up and on checking it, I found that I got the rainbow test screen of doom (patent pending) so I thought about taking it out to my local game shop to get cleaned, but I looked over and realized that I’d gotten a 1up Card from Too Many Games a couple of years back that I’d never opened and it seems to think very highly of itself. Lightly coat one side in 99% isopropyl alcohol and gently rub it against both sides of the contacts, then buff it with the dry side and let it sit for five to ten minutes or until the contacts are dry, but that shouldn’t take too long. And then I saw this:
At first I thought it was a problem with the game itself, but after two more cleanings I took a screenshot with my capture software and that came out just fine. So it hit me: I had this same problem with Diddy Kong Racing, it’s just that the capture software needs restarting. Once I restarted the software, everything looked the way it was supposed to and the game handled just fine. So I think it’s safe to say that my 1up card worked just fine and earned its high opinion of itself. If you don’t have one you can use a Q-tip and it should work just as well, but it’s your call.
*Please note: I am not associated with either Lukie Games or the makers of the 1up card, I’m speaking purely from my past experiences here*
Anyway, I decided that since I know this game as well as I do after many many playthroughs in the twenty-three years it’s been out, maybe it was time to go for 100%. All heart containers, all gold skulltulas, everything of note basically. I figured this would also be a good time to try some speedrunning tricks I’ve seen over the years just to see whether or not I can pull them off. I managed the Infinite Sword Glitch a few times, and I’ve been able to pull off the Superslide no problem, so that was a resounding success. But I’ll get back to that in time. How does the game itself hold up?
Honestly? Pretty well! Even coming back to it after enjoying games like Resident Evil Village, I found the controls pretty intuitive. One dedicated button for the sword (my biggest peeve about Minish Cap, but I also understand why that was the case), three buttons for your tools and sundry items, and one button for assorted actions. I could be speaking based solely on two decades of muscle memory, but to me it made a lot of sense. There’s almost always someone to talk to in order to figure out where to go next, and if they can’t help you, Navi will be more than happy to give you a periodic reminder.
So that’s the controls down, and a portion of the gameplay by proxy, what about the meat and potatoes of it? How are the dungeons? After all, what’s a Zelda game without dungeons? Aside from Hydlide. Don’t worry, I’ll get to it eventually. Well, the dungeons are pretty neat! Yes, I will discuss That One, don’t worry. Each one feels different enough to make it a unique experience while preserving the mechanical flow between them. And there’s a grand total of eight dungeons here, so that’s a lot of work. Nevermind the sheer number of puzzles that had to be made for each. How on earth does Nintendo manage to keep us on our toes for thirty-five years at time of writing? How do you keep it fresh and mix it up? Maybe I need to play more Zelda games. I’ve played at least ten of them to date.
Regardless, you start out in the interior of the Great Deku Tree. It’s a simple enough dungeon: a few floors, a handful of simple puzzles to get your feet wet and learn how the game functions, and some gold skulltulas to hunt! I’ll cover them in time.
The subsequent two dungeons aren’t all that bad either. One of them even has a biological theme and I love that kind of thing! Why don’t more games have fleshy dungeons? I’m rambling though. I had so much fun going back through this part. And if you’re at all familiar with Ocarina of Time, you know why I specify talking about the first three dungeons as “this part.”
See, Ocarina of Time happens at two different points: The present day when Link is a child, and seven years into the future when Link is an adult. Or at least a young man. Obviously with eight dungeons (closer to eight and a half, really), that’s a lot of time to spend as adult Link. That makes sense though, since the future of Hyrule is more of a post-apocalyptic wasteland for plot reasons. But after you clear the first dungeon as an adult you’ll be able to switch back and forth between the two whenever you want! There’s a lot to do in both time periods. Like hunting down those gold skulltulas I said I’d talk about earlier.
There are a total of 100 gold skulltulas throughout Hyrule in both the past and future. Some are found in dungeons, others out in the field hanging out on buildings at night or digging around in soft soil waiting to be flushed out by much smaller bugs. Maybe they’re insectophobic? I’d relate in that case. Anyway, for every ten of the first fifty, one of the folks in the aptly named House of Skulltula will reward you with something good. A bigger wallet, a special item that uses the rumble pack to tell you when you’re near secrets, even a piece of heart at one point! It’s definitely worth your time to hunt them down. Not absolutely necessary to beat the game, but the rewards are nice and you’ll find a lot of them. And once you’ve cleared all of them out of a dungeon, you’ll see the icon for the tokens they leave behind on the map next to the dungeon name. It’s a really nice way to keep track of which dungeons you’ve cleared and which ones you haven’t. And if you’re going for 100%, you’re going to need that. Trust me.
Some things are also locked behind one time period or the other as well. As an adult, you can engage in a fairly lengthy trading quest that ends in a pretty sweet reward (which is nice considering that you’re timed during some portions of it) and I would argue is absolutely worth the time investment. As a kid, you get to sell masks! After a certain story beat, you gain access to the Happy Mask Shop in Hyrule Castle Town, and if you’ve seen anything of Majora’s Mask, you know who runs that particular shop.
There are a grand total of four masks that you need to sell before you get your reward for this one. Each one has a specific character associated, so you can’t just go up to the lady in the market with her dog and convince her to buy all four. Rather, your goal is to bring happiness to these people by helping them with a particular mask. The first one is a bit of a gimme since they tell you that they’re looking for said mask, but the others are a bit more subtle. You’ll need to wear them and talk to people in order to sell them, but you’ll know when you find who you’re looking for. You’ll hear one of the puzzle jingles and they’ll buy the mask from you then and there. It’s neat, and your reward can actually help you learn some neat trivia about the world at large! It might even give you some clues if you don’t know where else to look!
There are plenty of other activities to find if you know where to look, both as a child and as an adult. You’ll need to explore, but they’re around and well worth the time. They aren’t too hard, but again I could be speaking from years of practice as opposed to a newcomer’s first experience. It’s part of the trouble with some of these games I’ve played a lot before, I know so much of what I’m doing that it’s hard to be objective. Especially when it’s a game I like. I mean I played Azurik a lot when I was younger, but never finished it legitimately and going back through it really exposed all of the warts revolving around the gameplay. Going through Ocarina of Time again didn’t do any such thing, at least for me.
It’s not without its problem areas though. It’s time to talk about the Water Temple. Now, as a kid I remember being stuck here for days on end trying to figure out where to go. I always seemed to be shy at least one key and there weren’t solutions anywhere. I’m not the only person who ended up having this problem if the internet is to be believed, but I didn’t miss the key everyone else seemed to. I managed to pick up on that visual cue. Rather, I missed something on the middle floor because I was young and didn’t look for it all that hard. But coming back to it, I came up with a system. At least I call it a system, really you can call it just checking each floor before I do anything else.
My brother says that the Water Temple is just really poorly laid out, and maybe that’s true. Maybe I’m going to bat for it and saying it isn’t that awful because I know from experience that level design is really hard. I could be wrong, but it really sticks with you all the same. But there are things I like about it. The music is pretty good (though not as good as the Fire Temple’s chanting prior to the change in the 1.2 release and subsequent ports), and the interior is probably the most temple-like of all of them.
I’m never going to chide people for struggling with this part of the game, it wouldn’t be fair. There are some very easy-to-miss visual cues relating to where some keys are related to. A hole under a floating block that I only found because I wanted to see what was underneath, a small change in the brick color on a destructible wall, or even a spot in the ceiling leading to another room entirely. Everyone is going to miss something and it’s a lot more fun when you don’t have to go back through every room with a fine-toothed comb thinking you missed something small. I’ve played many games where that’s been the case and I’m sure I’ll cover them at some point. But even years apart, I find myself kind of enjoying the Water Temple for a new reason each time I head in there.
Is everyone going to have the same experience? Not at all! Is that a bad thing? Not at all! With three floors and an adjustable water level that changes puzzles is going to make it really hard to keep straight. Like I said, I struggled a lot with this place for many a playthrough over the years. It wasn’t until the second or third most recent go at the game that I realized “Wait. I just need to check each room before changing things,” and once I had the dungeon map in hand that was made exponentially simpler.
At the end of the day, the Water Temple can be cleared legitimately. It might be a headache, but you can do it. I believe in you. Heck if you time it right, you could probably Superslide up the ramp in the above screenshot once you get the hang of the setups. And that serves as a nice segue for the next part that I want to talk about: my trying out speedrunning tricks for this adventure of mine.
Ocarina of Time is one of those games that’s been so thoroughly broken that there is now a 100% No Source Requirement category for the game. What this means is that you simply have to collect everything in the game, but there’s no constraint on how you do so. In fact, at AGDQ 2020, runner ZFG got to show this off on stage and explained as he went. It was a wild three hours and really shows you how much work has gone into deconstructing every aspect of the game. Maybe I’ll try a No Source Requirement run someday. For now, I’m happy with learning to Superslide.
And that’s the beauty of a game like Ocarina of Time. It’s a game that so many hundreds of thousands of people have fond memories of it on one system or another. And with that many people you’re going to have all sorts of weird and wild experiences. And because of that we have so many different ways of playing the game with people like me learning new ways to mix it up for themselves. Like the aforementioned Superslide. To my knowledge, it works by rolling into a bomb and trying to pick it up as it explodes while holding the shield button. As long as you hold that button, you’ll slide pretty darn quickly across the map.
I think it’s fair to say that I genuinely love this game. Why else would I play it every couple of years? Trust me, my nostalgia isn’t powerful enough to say that an objectively bad game is amazing. There’re a few games I grew up with that I genuinely do not like. Azurik is obviously one of them. I’ll get to the others in time, but for now all you need to know is that Ocarina of Time is one of those games from my childhood that absolutely deserves its reputation. It’s the first 3D Zelda, it was ambitious as heck, and it held its own at the time of its release. Heck, why else would I have done a 100% run?
Yeah, this is one that I’m going to happily recommend. I’m only speaking for the original N64/Gamecube/Wii release, I have no experience with the 3DS release and will cover that at a later time (the same goes for Majora’s Mask 3D), but as far as Ocarina of Time is concerned, it’s got my seal of approval.
If you’re a collector like I am, get a copy of Ocarina of Time if you don’t have it. It’s not my number 1 Zelda game (that’s something I need to think about), but it is definitely in my top 5 at the very least.