By: Cole Henry
It is storming incredibly hard outside, thunder and lightning break through the sky, rain taps at the window, and there is a young boy staring at an old CRT TV in his room with the biggest smile on his face. That young boy is me circa 2002 when my mind finally wrapped itself around the simple yet complex greatness that is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It is a game that, throughout my whole life, has had a profound effect on me. As a child, it enraptured my imagination and immersed me in its world, and as I have grown it has enraptured me in numerous other ways. I find myself marveling over its beautiful soundtrack (a staple of any Zelda game), appreciating how it influenced and changed 3D gaming forever, and wanting to break my controller every time I have to play through the dreaded water temple. There have been thousands of articles about why Ocarina of Time is so important to gaming which is why I want to elaborate on why it is so important to me, specifically.
Games, as an art form, have progressed immensely since 1998 when The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released for the Nintendo 64 but, in my opinion, Ocarina of Time is still the most beautiful game ever made. Its visuals are a sign of the times in that they are very simple, blocky, and the color pallet is rather constricted. Yet, that adds to the charm of it for me. Every time I go to play it, the visuals transport me back to being 8 years old in my pajamas playing it on a Saturday morning right after breakfast. Also, it is a game that relies heavily on constructing a visual narrative due to the fact that the game has no voice acting and minimal text-based dialogue, and even with early 3D console graphics, the geniuses at Nintendo pulled it off so well. The visual narrative on display in this game is deceptively simple yet full of complex themes that are bound to move anyone who plays through the game.
Music, for me, can make or break my enjoyment of almost any game. The music in Ocarina of Time is masterclass, and on a completely different level than almost any other video game music. It truly transports you into the video game world and, for me, it once again transports me to the rose tinted nostalgia of youthful innocence. The soundtrack at once fills me with immense joy and also a slight melancholy in the form of longing for the youthful memories when life was easier and I didn’t have any real worries. When you first gain control of Link and walk through Kokiri Forest the music is lively, excited, and fills the player with a sense of carefree adventure. It begs for you to enjoy every ounce of the game with a smile on your face, and once the game truly opens up the player is treated to the Hyrule Field theme. That theme, specifically, will always be burned into my mind because I have heard it for 13 years, and because it is such a beautiful piece of music. In the daytime it is filled with wonder and enthusiasm, and the night time version is filled with suspense and dread. The dichotomy is truly beautiful. Ocarina of Time also has more ominous music, mainly in the dungeons, that fill the player with a sense of urgency. Also, despite the positive nature of the game, there is an air of sadness that lingers heavily over the whole game, and the Song of Storms exemplifies that sadness perfectly. Without the music, for me, the game would not be the same. It truly is that important.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time also features some of the best and most addicting gameplay I have ever experienced in a game. Link, through the use of the awful N64 controller (it works well for this game and Mario 64), is easily controllable, and all of the button/analog stick movements just feel so natural. It makes traversing the land of Hyrule a breeze and a blast. The combat is great too thanks to the innovative Z-targeting system (a one button lock on mechanic) that makes fighting any foe, no matter how big or small, manageable for the young hero, Link. The best part of any Zelda game, gameplay wise, is the dungeons and the challenges they offer. The puzzles in these dungeons range from easy to pretty hard, and completing every puzzle is rewarding in its own right. I enjoy the puzzles in Zelda games because they truly make you think, and nothing is more rewarding (and frustrating) than having your sense of intelligence put to the test. Unlike many modern games, this game does not hold your hand. It rarely tells you where to go, and if it does it is in the vaguest terms. It is left to the player to truly find out what to do, and that truly adds to the sense of adventure in making Link’s adventure your own.
In the end, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will always hold a special place in my heart because it is a great game, and a key to unlocking some of the best memories of my childhood. I play it, and many other Zelda games, all the time because they all mean a lot to me in their own ways. Yet, Ocarina of Time will always be extra special because it introduced to the world of gaming, for better or for worse depending on who you ask. When life is doing everything it can to fuck me over, whenever I have a bad day, or whenever I need a temporary escape from my reality I’ll always have Ocarina of Time to turn to. Thanks for reading, play this game if you have not, and I hope everyone has their own version of my Ocarina of Time whether it be another game, book, movie, song, or place. Everyone needs somewhere they can send their imagination to get away from the real world every now and again.