Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Games: #1—Zelda: Ocarina of Time

A perfect game. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was perfection in a cartridge. Surpassing hype and transcending to something more is a rare occurrence in the gaming world. Few games can live up to the expectations; even fewer surpass them.

What’s funny is I only had a passing interest in Zelda when I was younger. I had only played a little of the original on the Nintendo. And I’d spent less time with A Link to the Past. Granted I didn’t own a SNES and I didn’t get a Nintendo until way past it’s lifespan—as a kid having the newest most badass thing was what being in elementary school was all about—so I never went back to play the original Zelda.

Since I didn’t play A Link to the Past years later (after I played Ocarina of Time in fact), my outlook on the Zelda series is centered on Ocarina of Time. It was my first in the franchise; so when someone says “Zelda”, Ocarina of Time is what I think of first.

When the Nintendo 64 was first released I had read articles and magazines about how it would revolutionize gaming. And how the next Zelda was going to be a sight to behold, a once in a generation moment. Now we’re talking 1996 here so even the Internet wasn’t up to speed when it came to delivering up to date info.

It would take weeks, or months even, to here what Miyamoto was cooking up with the next installment in his beloved Adventure series.

Yeah, Epona did control like a Tank. At the time it was awesome though.

I bid my time with other games on the Nintendo 64, but in the back of my head all I could think about is what the next Zelda had in store. Why, really? I wasn’t a fan of the Zelda series at that time. So why did this game peak my interest so much? Even today I can’t truly answer that question. Sometimes people buy a sequel to a game or watch the third movie in a franchise without seeing their predecessors…it’s just what people do.

Maybe Ocarina was put on a pedestal as the greatest gaming experience even before it had released. It was said to feature the best graphics, the best sound, and a classic re-telling of the Zelda story—during a time when the Zelda story was still relatively fresh.

Finally, it released in 1998…and I didn’t get the game for about a year after that. It was literal hell for a 12 year-old kid. Hearing all your friends talk about how great it was, and you had to wait. That was the way of things though. Did it lessen my longing to play this game? In a way…. Hell no! Waiting and hearing everybody talk about how utterly awesome it was made me only want it more…you know how kids are!

I actually feel bad looking back on it. When I finally got Ocarina of Time for my birthday; I ignored all the people I had invited to my party, and just stayed in my room for the rest of the day playing Zelda. What an asshole, right? Ah, screw it I still remember that day fondly, even if I was a jerk to my friends!

For 4 days solid I skipped school and only ate enough food to keep from dying. It wasn’t dramatic or anything, but I didn’t each or sleep…or use the bathroom until I absolutely had to. Ah, those were good times! 

The visuals are dated, of course, still I find them so inviting. It takes me back!

Zelda Ocarina of Time had the classic hero’s adventure down to an exact representation. Every kid at some point dreams about saving a damsel in distress, or saving the world from some monster. OOT was this classic story told in a masterful way.  

Maybe it was the scope; maybe the graphics, or sound design. No, it was the story. Or it had to be the gameplay! No, it wasn’t one of those things, it was all of them together that made this the total gaming experience.

I remember when you first step out into Hyrule field for the first time. I was thinking, “Damn! This bitch is huge”. Haha, that really was my reaction. I mean all this is my playground? This is the game? It’s massive!

Going from mountains, to lakes, wide open fields, vast barren deserts, and even the inside of a volcano. The scenery of each locale was breathtaking. I felt a certain obligation to help the people in each area you visited; sure it was actually what you had to do. But I really did feel something every time I completed a dungeon or temple and purged the area of evil. OOT made me feel like a savior, and that I was a true hero to the people.

There was so many innovative game mechanics. Nowadays you can find many third-person action games that zoom into first-person when using a gun or just aiming. OOT was the first game that did that. Whenever you needed to aim your slingshot or bow the game would cut to a first person view, I’d never seen anything like it. The blending of first and third-person elements is something that many games now feature thanks to OOT.

The lock-on system during combat was also a fantastic idea. Sure other games up to that point had done something similar—like Tomb Raider, if you want the worst example of targeting in a third-person game—OOT’s targeting system for combat is such a simple elegant concept, that made swordplay easy.

Having each item Link wielded assignable to a button on the controller was another great idea. Yeah, it’s a little clumsy by today’s standards. Yet it’s commonplace to find this feature in most third-person action games; another thing OOT can be credited for.

Gotta go back in time!
Traveling back in time isn’t a new idea, even in video games. There was a weight to it in OOT. You felt like all the evil that had befallen the world was your fault, and you had to set things right. Being trapped in time for seven years to find that your world has been turned to utter chaos has to be a jarring experience. I was taken aback by the tone shift in the second half of the game.

Ocarina really was like two separate games in that regard. You’re a child at first, in this whimsical land trying to be helpful and make a name for yourself—only to be swept up into something bigger, and before you know it the world is thrown into a tidal wave of destruction. All the things you had accomplished while you were younger were dashed. Now an adult, the real game begins!

As you progressed the game steadily became harder, but larger as well, as more of the world opened up. I loved the pacing: OOT wasn’t too easy, or too hard that it made you throw your controller across the room. It was challenging, and it made your brain work.

Each dungeon and temple you ventured into had a unique—for the time at least—theme and set of puzzles that wouldn’t be physically taxing, but still made your think on your feet.

I really think that’s why I enjoyed Zelda Ocarina of Time so much. There was something new around ever corner. With each area I gained access to and new lands I uncovered, there was also a task to be done. And more often then not it was something I’d never done in a video game ever before.

I’ve said in previous posts that I’m not really a Zelda fan. I only like two games in the series, but those two games are special in ways that words can’t even describe. 

Not if I...oh, wait. That actually happens!

Zelda Ocarina of Time was just a perfect, perfect video game. One where my expectations were sky-high, and those expectations were fulfilled mightily. Only Mass Effect 2 has come close to the hype-fulfillment that OOT accomplished. Yet still as games become more complex and have more features they become more scrutinized. Ocarina is in it’s own time frame. It’s untouchable as my favorite game ever. And no matter how pretty games become or how massive their worlds, nothing will match what Ocarina of Time meant, and still means to me.

A truly great game stands the test of time. Even now if it’s supposedly so good, Zelda Ocarina of Time should be just a fun as the day I slotted its cartridge into my Nintendo 64. And it has been for me. Each system that Nintendo has released has featured some re-make of Zelda Ocarina of Time. And each time I purchased it and enjoyed it like I was twelve again.

It’s that undying love I have for this game that makes it my favorite of all time. Strand me on a deserted island, and give me the choice of only one game to play. Of course it’s Superman 64…nah, you already know the real answer. And I could play Ocarina until my dying day and still be in love. That’s perfection to me.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome top 10 dude. I gotta play Chrono and (any) Dragon Quest some time.

    On OOT, That Forest Temple freakend scared me man. Stupid hidden spiders.