"...a fond trip down memory lane sure to spark nostalgic feelings about classic game design."
It's hard to believe that nearly 13 years have passed since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT) hit the N64. Yet, as I played OoT 3D, it felt like no time had passed at all - the experience was fresh as ever. In fact, the most interesting part is how developers haven't often been able to match the magic of Ocarina over time. This game truly knew what it meant to challenge players, taking them on a journey of stunning visuals with varied environments, interesting enemies, and an open world with more exploration than you'd ever expect in a game out in the late 90s. There's no doubt that OoT is one of the best Zelda games, but the sad thought I couldn't get away from is how many games don't successfully replicate Ocarina's strong points or build on its innovations.
At the end of the day, your experience will likely come down to two things: if you haven't played OoT, you're going to want to experience it with the enhanced 3DS visuals and for those who previously found love in Ocarina, the 3DS experience is going to remind you why you did. This game is a fond trip down memory lane sure to spark nostalgic feelings about classic game design.
This is Growing Up
OoT begins with Link having a terrible nightmare, foreshadowing an upcoming force he will have to face: Ganondorf, riding a black stallion. In his dream, we see Princess Zelda - terrified - atop a white horse. Black stallion? White horse? The imagery is painting the good versus evil battle at the get-go. During this time, the Great Deku Tree (who presides over Kokiri Forest) is sending out Navi the fairy - who will be sure that you are listening - to guide Link through his colossal journey. Time is of the essence as the Great Deku Tree is on the last leg of its life and must see Link immediately. And so this is where the journey begins; this is a tale about a boy with a destiny larger than he ever imagined.
The plot is quite simplistic, but that's not a bad thing. There's something menacing about Ganondorf that he truly captures the heart (or lack thereof) and soul of a villain: he gets under your skin and he's easy to hate. And while you won't find lengthy dialogue or exposition in OoT, it's really the smaller parts that matter. Sometimes less is more, and that's exactly the case with Ocarina's lack of complex dialogue. For instance, there's a scene after the Forest temple with Link's childhood friend Saria - there isn't much said, but it's an intense, powerful moment. It's hard not to get emotionally invested and feel for Saria, who is sacrificing to better the world, and, in the end, she cements why she’ll always be Link's friend. Powerful scenes like this appear when you least expect it - and that's part of the magic.
Another place OoT succeeds is that each dungeon is tied to a specific character. These characters continue to matter even after you complete these dungeons, because they reappear later in the game. This creates a sense of familiarity and attachment to these characters - a bond that deepens throughout the course of the game. In fact, there's such depth to the world that there's an underlying story waiting to be discovered if you're playing attention. So while the story may not be anything groundbreaking, there's so much in Ocarina to hold dear, especially with the characters. Less truly is more, and there's not much to complain about here.
OoT Will Challenge You - In the Best Way Possible
First, I dare you to play OoT and not be inclined to explore the world that's awaiting you. As someone who was playing this for review and wanted to get fly through the game as fast as possible, I couldn't stay on track. I stopped often to take everything in. Whether it was mini-games, a new location, or exploration for better items, the world offered me everything I could possibly want and more. In fact, playing OoT reminded me why I enjoyed Dragon Quest VIII so much: there is a wealth of new discoveries awaiting you around every corner. Who can resist finding all those pesky chickens, horse racing, or firing off bows at the shooting gallery? The atmosphere will draw you in, leaving you to uncover the world to your heart's content.
Exploration aside, OoT's focus is puzzle-heavy dungeons. However, you'll have a myriad of tools at your disposal: your bow, hookshot, magic, bombs, and even more. None of the puzzles are too difficult, as with most Zelda games, the answer is often hidden in plain sight. That's not to say the puzzles don't come with their frustrations, such as carrying around young Princess Ruto through a dungeon (she's quite the brat.) Should you happen to miss a jump, expect to backtrack - there's a lot of rinse-and-repeating. The same goes for death: when you die in a dungeon, you'll restart at the beginning with the puzzles still completed, but the enemies have respawned.
Still, I can't remember a game that really challenged me and made me think quite as much as playing OoT - many modern games depend on having tough enemies in dungeons to provide the challenge. Ocarina's challenge comes from both puzzles and enemies, as you have to use your head just about everywhere. Bosses are as much of a challenge, if not more, as there's always a strategy to taking them down and it's never easy to execute. I can't remember the last time boss battles had me on the edge of my seat - I felt the sweat forming on my forehead and my hands got a little shaky almost every time. For those looking for a game that will challenge you with unique solutions to every obstacle, you'll revel in OoT; between dodging, deking, and other tactics, OoT captures action combat perfectly.
However, as often happens with action games, the movement of the camera prevents the player from fully enjoying the game. OoT is no different as the camera isn't perfect, but the camera is still a whole lot better than many other titles. I'm looking at you, Kingdom Hearts. It would have been nice to have entirely dynamic camera angles for different points in the dungeons, as the manual camera can be difficult to get just right. I will admit if you're not quite familiar with the 3D Zelda games, the controls do take some time to get used to - there's a learning curve involved as sometimes you absolutely must take control of the camera. One addition to the 3DS version is the use of the gyroscope to move the first-person camera. In all honesty, this is fairly awkward, as you must keep your head in the same spot if your 3D slider is on. The 3DS control scheme, on the whole works well and, if anything, the controls have been improved since we first saw OoT on the N64. So I urge those who have any trouble mastering the controls to be patient - it will come to you, young grasshopper.
The most significant control improvement in the 3DS version is the inventory screen. There's even an extra equip slot to assign to buttons - four now, opposed to the three you could assign in the N64 version. If anything should have been improved for the 3DS version, however, it is the save system. When you turn off the 3DS, you're booted back to your base of operations and have to locate the village or dungeon where you've journeyed previously. For a handheld title, this is inconvenient and the only way to get around it was to put my 3DS to sleep, which could have been avoided with a quick save option. Other than that, the lack of an option to restart boss battles is troubling. Sometimes you have to repeat a little content to get back to them, sometimes it's a moderate amount, but at least it will teach you to take your boss battles seriously. Other than that, this version doesn't have much holding it back.
OoT a Sight for the Eyes, a Tune for the Ears
Probably the most noteworthy addition to OoT is the serious graphical facelift. There have been touchups in just about all the locations, dungeons, and characters to refine the detail. It's extremely noticeable and looks fantastic - there's a crisper, cleaner, more colorful aspect to every part of the world it seems. What remains refreshing is that the dungeons all look vastly different from one another, and this also extends to bosses and villages. OoT gets it right in variety, and it amazes me that more games haven't caught on to making each location and dungeon feel new and different. As for playing in 3D, it adds a new feature to the experience, so it's definitely worth turning on especially for the cutscenes. I didn't keep the 3D on for any other parts of the game, though.
Nostalgia plays a huge factor in the music and how could it not? Zelda fans will get giddy upon hearing the classic themes, and the flute-infused music returns in OoT, capturing the spirit of the series fantastically. You won't come across voice acting in this game, but the music sure does its job about setting up the atmosphere of the heroic journey. In addition to the music, sound effects abound, and they do their job well. Link's scream when he gets hit is just as entertaining as ever - even once you've become an adult, these effects prove that he's still just a big kid.
3DS: Buy Alert!
With the 3DS's lackluster library, this is easily the best game available - and still might be even if the rest of the lineup was stronger. Those who haven't played OoT are in for a treat, while diehard fans will be thrilled to experience it all over again. OoT is heralded by many as the best Zelda game, and it's not hard to see why it's regarded as such. That's not to say Ocarina hasn't aged at all, but it's still a firm reminder that more games aren't going the distance. OoT provides a worthy challenge, and I can't say many games today are making players think as much as they should. It's telling that the game that brought Zelda into the 3D world would bring it to the 3DS.