At the risk of demonstrating the very narrow road of my playdom, I have to admit that I’ve never played any of the early Zelda games. The Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, and Link’s Awakening. Nope, none of them. Looking back, it’s not all that much of a surprise that these games slipped under the radar. Sure, I played games regularly, but I don’t remember clamoring to my parents for each and every NES or SNES game that hit the market. But then again, my parents were also not the types to get us everything that we ever wanted. And more than likely, even if video games were on a Christmas list, we were more likely to get books, action figures, clothes, or some sort of crafty craft or puzzle thing.
I remember some of the early commercials for the Zelda games – maybe it was the graphics or the gameplay, but they never seemed all that appealing. Why the hell would I want to play a game that involved reading and role-playing when I could actively try to get Mario from Point A to Point B. Sorry to say, I paid these games every little attention during their heyday.
Fast forward a bit to the late 1990s. I’m out of college and on my own, and I have a brand new Nintendo 64 to cherish, and the newest entry into the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time (1998), is getting massive press.
Ocarina quickly became THE must-have game, but I didn’t rush out the buy it on release day. I was a little worried that the Zelda universe wouldn’t make sense if I just jumped into the middle of it (spoiler: it didn’t, and still doesn’t to me mostly), so I tried to do a little bit of research. Not by playing the games, but rather through the new-fangled internet. YouTube hadn’t been created yet, search engines were still working out all their kinks, and bloggers had not yet taken over the known universe. Before this, we had to find out about game via the TV, magazines, and word-of-mouth. Shocking. But with a computer at hand, I had hundreds, and I mean hundreds of pages of random content (mostly sports and porn, not because I wanted it that was, that’s just how it was – and still is) at my disposal. An early gaming site that I used to check out every so often was videogames.com (or whatever it’s extensive URL would have actually been. Yay Internet Archive!). I had learned about it through the occasional issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, Okay, so I didn’t really learn all that much about the old Zelda games except that they had a dedicated following, but the review I read made the game sound like a good investment. Over 30 hours of gameplay?! Wow! Snazzy “3D” graphics? Cool! Decent controls (that turned out to be a little less so)? Sure thing! I had immensely enjoyed Super Mario 64, so it seemed like Ocarina of Time was a good choice, even if I didn’t have any knowledge of who the hell Link was or his relationship to Zelda.
Ocarian of Time wasn’t love at first play, but it was quite captivating from the beginning. The story didn’t really make sense (to me), but maneuvering Link around Hyrule proved to be incredibly fun, and I came to love the world even without the series’ mythology. And I became a damn fine quester. I’d say Ocarina of Time definitely helped cement my nascent RPG foundation.
Ocarina of Time was also my first introduction to a modern action/adventure dungeon crawler. Instead of typical lands and levels like in Mario games and other platformers, Link had to successfully beat several stages (rather than true, creepy, dank, dungeons; though some were creepy and dank) that were strewn throughout Hyrule. For show, here’s the first part of a walkthrough of the Legendary Water Temple stage. Oh, the memories…and the reminder of why I dislike water (or ice) stages in any game. (You can check out more this walkthrough on YouTube or at Goongala’s Grumbles.)
One of the game’s best elements was that you got to play through as young Link and an older Link, and each version of Link has his own stages. The passage of time was unique to any game I had played up to that point – it was enjoyable and refreshing, and it made the game seem like “new” twice. Having to “play” the Ocarina to activate things was another welcome feature.
I really do wish I had something more to contribute here beyond “Ocarina of Time was great!” but (1) I don’t want to get too spoilery, even for a game as prevalent as this one, and (2) I really couldn’t recount the story in any way if I tried. Even after this and the other Zelda games I’ve played, as I alluded to above, I still don’t understand the relationship between Link and Zelda.
There’s the Triforce – some relic that Link has to retrieve. Ganondorf is the bad guy (and he’s probably one of the most frustratingly fun bosses I’ve ever played). And Hyrule is the mythic place where all the action takes place. Getting Link to fulfill his tasks is not as easy as getting Mario from Point A to Point B, and that makes for awesome play. There’s an annoying fly-in-your-ear “helper” named Navi. Oh, and there’s a horse! Once you get him, it’s, like, a million times easier to navigate Hyrule.
Another version of Ocarina of Time was yet again released recently for the Nintendo 3DS. I was mildly interested in the news last year, but it didn’t make me run out and get a 3DS. Reboots are all well and good I suppose (since everyone in the entire world who is making things for mass consumption has completely run out of new ideas), but Ocarina of Time had its rightful place in my world some 12 or 13 years ago, and there it will always remain.