Nobody in his right mind has ever been able to say no to a Zelda game. Even Zelda 2: Link's Adventure for the NES, which is without question the most lackluster of the series, offered an extremely solid experience for its time and is still a very enjoyable game on the occasion that I dust off my NES. Unluckily, Link's Adventure was ahead of its time - ahead of even its own system, and the next generation of systems after that, too. Shigeru Miyamato, being the gaming god he is, seemed to realize this after the cold reception Zelda 2 got. Luckily, the N64 is a system with a lot more potential than the NES or the SNES could ever hope to amass (no matter how rarely the 64 bit console actually achieves this potential) and OoT picks up where Link's Adventure left off.
"Let's get this out of the way."
TLoZ:OoT is, as far as story is concerned, basically a compilation of all that ever is or was in Zelda games. Many of the basics have shifted about, and some new ones are there, but it's what can only be called Zelda's story 5.0. Merely average, nothing amazing.
Luckily, as was mentioned earlier, the N64 is a pretty nifty machine when compared to earlier Nintendo platforms. So the story telling is a lot better than it ever could have been, and ever was, in OoT's prequels. Cinematics are integrated seamlessly, with lovely bits of foreshadowing and play. Little touches - like the way you start the game from a fairy's view, zipping about the Kokiri village like a bouncy ball with wings - really make the game come alive in your mind.
Still, this has all been done, and it's had a better story to back it up ninety-five percent of the time. I can only save a princess or a kingdom so many times before it all blurs together, and I have few worthwhile memories to claim after the deed is done. I really hope for a Zelda game in the future with more focus on story, more time spent fleshing out a few real characters for us. Unluckily, I very much doubt this will ever happen.
Some people pray to Jesus, some to Buddha, some to their N*Sync poster. Game designers, however, bless their loved ones through a very special godhead - Shigeru Miyamato. "Dear Mr. Miyamato," they say, "I've really been struggling to come up with a good idea, recently. They want me to come up with some sort of exploration based game with a radioactive cabbage as the main character, and I just can't get a clear picture of how it should work. What're his goals? How does he achieve them? Why do the gamers care? I'm just so confused! Please, bless my dreams tonight with an answer." A long, serene, contemplative silence usually follows. "Peace out."
They ask Miyamato because inside his head, he's got all the answers. Now that I've played OoT, so do I. Your goal in OoT is to (you guessed it) win. Oh, and you'll save a princess, and a kingdom. But honestly, the point is to win. You achieve your goals by exploring, and exploring, and exploring. Sometimes you'll do a side quest, often you'll just run around hoping to stumble upon a heartpiece or the ability to hold a few more arrows. You'll probably spend the most time in the dungeons, though. None of this is especially new or special, but then there's the reason you care: The Toys.
Never have I played a series that concentrated so much on playing with your environment as the Zelda series. This seemed to be reaching its limits on the SNES with the release of TLoZ: Link to the Past, when you could burn, lift, blow up, smash, and cut nearly everything in sight. But then 3D came along, and boy did things get exciting. Well, not for most games - one might even say environmental interaction has gone down rather than up with the advent of 3D, for no particular reason other than laziness. Miyamato knew better again, though, and now there's so much to play with you may even forget what the "point" of the game was to begin with. You can blow stuff up, thwack it, burn it, poke it, roll it, move it, lift it, throw it, cut it, shoot it, freeze it, weeeeeh! And you also get to ride a horse.
But there's the obvious drawback to 3D. It's SO 3D! Constantly, today's games are bogged down by the need to run around, swinging a sword or shooting a gun and just hoping that through some miracle you've aimed properly. You have all three dimensions to screw up in, and neither the graphics (no matter how lush or real they may be) nor the gameplay seem to offer much help. You have a joystick, a fire button, and a will to live. You're on your own, kid.
Yay! OoT wins again! Because, you see, as I mentioned, Zelda 2 was ahead of its time, and I'm willing to bet Mr. Miyamato was just itching for a chance to put its best parts to use. The best parts, in this case, were the duels one could have with a stalfos and the like. One on one, to the death, equal ground. You block, you jab, they block, they jab. In Link's Adventure you could both swing and block up and down, and these duels were frequently fast and frenzied. They were definitely the highlight of the game.
In the future, incarnations of Zelda would go back to the humdrum hack and slash of the original, but when 3D came along, Miyamato knew the time was right. Time for the fun of easy 2D targeting in a 3D world! If only OoT had been released earlier, to teach future 3D games how to do things right. You see, OoT features a "Z-Targeting" system, a system in which your fairy companion Navi zips over to objects that you can interact with, and then you target them by pressing Z. Now your movements are relative to them, and everything you do is aimed automatically at them. So you can dash about and duel at the same time - something not seen in a 3D game of Zelda's type, or pretty much any type, until OoT. The execution is flawless, with brilliant battles coming back into the Zelda mix.
Level design is brilliant, also, but I won't bother describing it - anyone familiar with the SNES and GameBoy incarnations of Zelda know exactly what I speak of - although now the element of a gigantic 3D world is added to the mix. It's just good old school design, is what it is, despite its dependency on puzzles, which don't necessarily make sense, and the old lock/key/switch routine.
You can (after a couple dungeons) play as young or adult link by traveling through time, and each has their own special weapons and abilities that the other cannot use. The majority of the dungeon crawling in OoT will be done as adult link (which is cool, because he's more fun to play with) but the exploration will be done mainly as young link. Obviously, anything you do as young link will have repercussions in the future, where you play as adult link.
There's any number of other subtleties to speak of, here, from the mini-games to the great little goals you can set for yourself, and I just can't say enough about them. So I won't. Merely know that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the most fun any adventure game has ever been, and definitely deserves your gaming dollar. If you don't own it, you're missing out.
You already have every reason to buy OoT, considering its marvelous gameplay. But I have to talk about the game's graphics, too, I even want to. Why? They're spectacular. Working around the N64's limitations, and getting every bit it can out of what the console has to offer, Zelda is a fantastic looking game. It does suffer from a little fog in a couple areas, and a bit of pop-up once or twice, but those are all the graphical bugs to be found. The character animations are great, and the textures both organic and moody. This game looks great!
"Nocturnal whisp'rings chill my soul."
Well, not really. The truth is, the N64 is NOT the best console for sound, and the instrument sampling is pretty darn bad. Luckily, the compositions are good - often very good - though lacking in any particular emotional content.
Buy OoT. Do it now. Or I will laugh at you. I will laugh at you very loudly. The world will laugh at you.
|The overworld is quite explansive, but it can get repititious traipsing around a lot.
|The ability to assign a third item to one of the buttons can be a lifesaver.