The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most important and iconic video games of all time! It helped to revolutionise action-adventure games with its terrific world, varied gadgets and puzzles. Ocarina of Time was also an exceptional example of a video game franchise transitioning from 2D to 3D. The likes of Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim and Mortal Kombat struggled with this – at least initially – whereas The Legend of Zelda took huge strides forward.
For 1998 Ocarina of Time was a huge landmark in video game history. But what about in 2021? Recently, I replayed the Nintendo 3DS version of the game. I already have the game, and even so, it is much easier to get than the Nintendo 64 version (and cheaper), and aside from graphical improvements, the game has very few changes, meaning it is still very authentic. So, how good is Ocarina of Time, and does the 3DS version improve upon the classic?
Mentioning the graphical improvements from the N64 to the 3DS, they helped to bring Ocarina of Time into the modern era. Most locations look even more beautiful, some characters have more personality, and the lighting is improved. There is a greater variety of textures and colours than the original, which lends every location more of an identity. Kokiri Forest is a great example of this. It is more vibrant in the remaster, which feels fitting. In the original, some of the textures also look strange in Castle Town as Adult Link. The 3DS version fixes this minor issue.
While I believe the graphical improvements are good overall, I have a fondness for the N64 graphics. I did not even grow up with the console, but I enjoy the retro feeling. I think in places the N64 graphics create a better atmosphere, especially in combination with the music. The Forest Temple is darker and feels grittier in the N64 version of Ocarina of Time. It adds to the eerie and mysterious nature of this popular dungeon. I think the same applies to the Shadow Temple. In the original, blood stains occupy the floor, implying a dark nature to the location. Sub-boss Dead Hand is also toned down, a change I dislike because the original is a fantastically horrifying enemy.
Moving away from version comparisons, I want to discuss the general aspects of Ocarina of Time, that are the same regardless of the version you play. The most notable aspect is the vast world created. By today’s standards, Ocarina of Time’s world is not enormous. Games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V and Just Cause 3 make this world look tiny by comparison. Unlike some of these larger games though, the quality and depth of the locations is fantastic. The six main locations are all significantly different from each other, all with different NPCs and characters. Every location also has secrets, such as the Golden Skulltula’s, breakable objects and more.
An important element of Ocarina of Time’s locations is their balance. What I mean by this is the significance of the main six areas. For example, they all have a sizable dungeon you play through as Adult Link. Obviously, some locations are more significant than others (I wish Gerudo Valley was more expanded upon), but you spend considerable time in each one. This keeps the game from getting stale due to the variety of landscapes and puzzles.
Even with many modern open-world and RPG games, you will see places in the distance you cannot explore. It can be disappointing as you imagine what could be beyond the horizon. Ocarina of Time does not suffer from this. If you can see a location, you can explore it in this game. Giving the player freedom to explore anything they can see greatly helps in the immersion. Some games, such as Grand Theft Auto V, deal with this well by having San Andreas surrounded by water. Another game, such as Skyrim, has rocky walls that, yes, make this map feel like just a small part of a huge world, but they also make the player wonder why the game stops there.
Every location in Ocarina of Time seems to have some significance to the story. In other words, everything happens for a reason. Hyrule Field can at times feel empty, but the six areas have their purpose. Even sub-locations fill some sort of role in the grand scheme of the game. Most locations have a temple that Link must complete, whereas other places hold items you will need in future adventures. This all effectively connects the world and makes every location feel important.
In any The Legend of Zelda game, the most significant locations are the dungeons and temples. These lay host to important items and tough challenges and are integral to the experience. In Ocarina of Time, there are plenty of fantastic dungeons. The Forest, Spirit and Shadow temples are all beloved by the fanbase due to their aesthetics, enjoyable puzzles and music. All three of these temples are great examples of 3D Zelda dungeons and remain some of the best 3D dungeons in the series. There are other great dungeons, including Inside the Deku Tree and Ganon’s Castle, but some are not so fondly remembered.
The Water Temple is a dungeon that divides Ocarina of Time fans massively. For the original version, I can somewhat understand this. It does not look particularly special, and the mechanics of the temple slow the game down to a snail’s pace. In addition, it can be very confusing and frustrating. However, in the 3DS remaster, I believe some of its biggest problems are solved thanks to improved mechanics and graphics. Unfortunately, there are a couple of dungeons that have very few interesting elements about them. Dodongo’s Cavern is very basic, and compared to other dungeons in the game, it is not very inventive. Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly is also mediocre at best. Apart from these two, the dungeons are consistently decent, with some obviously standing out.
What makes a dungeon unique and engaging in The Legend of Zelda is when it incorporates interesting items and mechanics into its design. In Ocarina of Time, this is done fantastically. Even in the least interesting dungeons, there are key items that are fun to use and become crucial later in the game. Most items are very interesting and are creatively implemented to suit specific dungeons. The Hookshot, Lens of Truth and Ice Arrows, among others, are fantastically fun to play around and find secrets with. Sure, items like Deku Nuts and Hover Boots have little purpose, but they still play a part. The best dungeons incorporate many of the items found throughout the entirety of Link’s journey. Ganon’s Castle does this well, and most items remain relevant throughout the game, especially the Ocarina (for obvious reasons).
Using a musical instrument to open doors and solve puzzles is still an incredible concept, even now. You may question the abilities of a little instrument, but this is the fantasy genre after all, where anything magical can happen! It serves its purpose in the narrative too, and I think the game has a solid story. The basis of most The Legend of Zelda games is simple: Link (sometimes with the help of Zelda) must defeat a big, bad enemy, often being Ganon (or Ganondorf).
Ocarina of Time is the game that introduced Ganondorf to players. He looks mischievous and menacing as he should, and he desires to conquer the world in stereotypical villain fashion. It is no Oscar-winning narrative, but it is more than good enough. Link must travel to dungeons to free innocent people, collect important items and bring the seven sages together to stop Ganondorf. There are plot holes for sure, but they do not interrupt the flow or effectiveness of the story too much.
Throughout the game you see glimpses of Ganondorf’s power as he saps life away from nature and destroys those who oppose him. A perfect example of this is the difference between Castle Town as Kid and Adult Link. Castle Town is vibrant and full of life when Link is a child. It makes the drastic changes when Adult Link steps into Castle Town for the first time even more devastating. It is a depressing sight but one that raises the stakes. My main negative of the story is that it gets off to a slow start. After the first dungeon, the game has a minor pacing issue, but it is resolved before long, and the game is back on track.
So, this is the main story of Ocarina of Time, but The Legend of Zelda games are renowned for their side quests and sub plots. Ocarina of Time is no different as it has several smaller quests to complete. While they do not impact the ending of the game, they offer insights and challenges that flesh the game out even more. It is these side quests that allow for player freedom and expand the world even further. Side quests in many games offer repetitive tasks at best, but Ocarina of Time does well with its range of optional content.
I am very glad that Ocarina of Time received its 3DS remaster. It adds some important tweaks that improve the game, for the most part. As for the general game – remake or not – Ocarina of Time is a fantastic video game that holds up even now. While there are games I prefer to play, I appreciate everything Ocarina of Time does. Despite some pacing issues and frustrating moments in some dungeons, as well as a couple of odd mechanics, the game is still pretty good. Most of the dungeons, alongside items and puzzles, are fun, and the story more than fills it purpose. Ocarina of Time is truly a fantastic piece of video game history.