Review by sneggid
13 Years on, Ocarina remains the timeless pinnacle of the franchise
Reviewing Ocarina of Time is fairly redundant. There is probably nothing that can be added with another review of such a hallowed game. It is most likely the most acclaimed game of all time. Topping Game Rankings, Metacritic, at least one of Gamefaqs best game polls, and coming in at least the top 5 of nearly every best game ever list since its release, the game has been praised to death. And there is arguably nothing that can be added of value, especially with yet another review as praising it as one of the greatest games of all time. Yet that is exactly what this is.
Continuing my playthroughs and subsequent reviews of games in the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time is my fourth game. Playing in no particular order with little structure in the choices, this marks either my third or possibly fourth run-through of Ocarina, and its incredible how it still blows me away, and the second half of the game especially continues to be without equal in terms of peerless level design.
If you don't know the story by now you never will. Very classical in its storytelling, the plot follows the young boy who grows from humble beginnings as a fairy boy without a fairy to the hero of time in a story that travels through time. It is the timeless and archetypal story that gives the game an ageless feel, ignoring its technical wearing. Because sure, on replaying it you remember it, and you will tire at the slow pieces of story; Navi will always be annoying, the Deku Tree will always be boring, but the overall story is so...perfect, in a simplistic way. It is a very simple tale, told straight. But as well as being told simply, it's told well. And that is vastly more important. Not just the over arching plot, which has surprisingly rich detail in comparison to all previous and a vast number of future Zelda titles. It's the little parts. You will always enjoy sheik's words, you are consistently amused by Darunia dancing, and Ruto will always slightly worry you with marriage.
And that is because of immersion. As long as you are not torn away by the graphical age (which while still impressive as an N64 game is very little else), the game will draw you into a world vast and colourful, interesting and soulful. I have no doubt that the recent 3DS remake would bring that to life even more, and if I wasn't cheap I would definitely be getting that with a 3DS. Regardless of age graphically, everything else has aged little. There's a reason that every single console game in the Zelda series since has followed the basic engine design of Ocarina of Time. The game created what is essentially the perfect gameplay model. A somewhat impossible but very clearly achieved task, one that makes the game immediately accessible, and draws you in as the Hero of Time. Very few games can take a formula created in the SNES era and reproduce it successively consistently for the last 20 years (although the upcoming Skyward Sword may change that).
It's hard to choose what to put in a review of such a discussed game. There's very little to be said that hasn't already been said. The game's design structure is flawless basically. The opening Deku Tree dungeon is the most well designed opening temple ever; allowing the player to learn about a variety of enemies, get accustomed to puzzles, weapons, layout of dungeons, with a fantastic opening boss with just the right amount of difficulty to draw you in. The following two dungeons continue the relatively simple difficulty slowly increasing, but more importantly, it accustoms you to the world, characters and locations, enemies and gameplay. So when the game shifts 7 years, the difficulty ramps up, but because of how the game taught you everything as a child, when you become a man you are prepared for anything and everything feels a lot less daunting. It is one of the finest designs of a difficulty curve ever conceived, no Zelda has matched it before or since (even LttP, which it stole this technique from, does it nowhere near as well as Ocarina).
There's so much that I could say about Ocarina of Time, because it does so many things so perfectly. No adventure game has used music in such a way that Ocarina does. Music is a living character in this game. Music directs the player through the lost woods, it symbolises races, feelings, characters, tones, moods, light, darkness. The fields turn silent at night and at dawn the sun rises and music lights up the world. Zelda's lullaby becomes the symbol for the game. It becomes a character, a clan, a family, a tool, a key; it becomes peace. Each warp song creates its own mood; coupled with the most interesting dialogue in the game coming from Sheik. Everyone has their favourite (Bolero of Fire is my personal joy) and the variety on display using just 5 buttons is incredible. While the game incorporates music better than any game in the series, and possibly every adventure game, I will note the game is far from my favourite soundtrack. Majora's Mask would take that, but Link to the Past and probably Wind Waker would also get mentions of an overall more memorable soundtrack. This game also lacks the main Zelda theme, which is questionable at best and blasphemous most likely.
One quick mention about the Water Temple, I think people sometimes misunderstand why it is "difficult". While I confess to finding it incredibly difficult the first time, on subsequent playthroughs I will still get at least temporarily confused (I only replay the game every few years, and my memory isn't great) every time. It's not because any individual piece of the dungeon is difficult. I believe that its the scale of the dungeon. When you enter a traditional room in a temple, traditionally you are only going to have access to maybe 3 rooms from your location tops. Yet when you enter the first room in the Water Temple, immediately there are 11(I think) other doors that you can choose from. Combine that with having to disorientate yourself with constantly going to the menu to change boots, and the varying water levels having to be investigated, the sheer scale on display here just overwhelms the player. And then has a depressingly piss easy boss fight after a stupid slog.
Looking at Ocarina of Time 13 years later you're going to either be in the camp that sees it as an ancient crippled game or a near flawless masterpiece. I lean towards the latter, although try to see its flaws as well. There are no major flaws, just some niggles. The mask of truth is an awesome look at various hints of the game, as well as offering sometimes interesting backstory. Yet the talking to the gossip stones is much more useful as an adult, when you're much more inclined to find some of the gossip stones, yet can only be used as a child. It could've easily been worn as an adult. The water temple is slightly flawed in design, although very intriguing, and some songs for the ocarina are underused regardless of their awesomeness. And of course, Navi is and always will be an annoying wench fairy.
Ocarina of Time, as much as I adore it, and I do regard it as probably the high point of my favourite series, I have to put into perspective various things. It wasn't my first Zelda, or my first completed; it's not my favourite, although it would make my top 10 games of all time (so would Link to the Past and Majora's Mask though). It's not my favourite soundtrack; it doesn't have my favourite boss's (although in terms of general consistency it has possibly the finest overall selection). What Ocarina of Time is, in simple terms, an undisputed masterpiece.
9.9/10, the closest game I'd ever nearly give a 10 to, and to be honest it might as well be a 10
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (EU, 12/11/98)
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