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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: 25th anniversary

It's been 25 years since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time revolutionized the beloved action-adventure series, bringing it into the third dimension. Highly anticipated and critically acclaimed at release, it remains one of the best Zelda games ever.

Ocarina of Time is a prequel to A Link to the Past. The opening intro in that game told of the Imprisoning War, when Ganon used the "Golden Power" of the Triforce for evil. He was defeated by a valiant swordsman who wielded the Master Sword and commanded the Knights of Hyrule. After his defeat, Ganon was sealed in the "golden land" by seven sages.

The story in Ocarina of Time more or less tells of those events. Our pointy-eared hero meets each of the seven sages. Their names as established here have become part of Zelda lore: Rauru, Saria, Darunia, Ruto, Impa, and Nabooru. This game also introduces us to the Sheikah, ninja-like servants of the goddess Hylia, whose symbol is a stylized, hieroglyph-like eye. One such Sheikah (named Sheik) appears at key moments to advise Link and dispense cryptic wisdom about time and life.

We also meet for the first time four of the main races of Hyrule. The Kokiri, among whom Link is raised, are elf-like children of the forest. They are watched over by their "father," the ent-like Great Deku Tree. The Gerudo are Ganon's people, fiercesome desert-dwellers. The big, boulder-eating Gorons are friendly and live below Death Mountain. The merfolk-like Zora live in a domain connected to Lake Hylia. In the older games, Zora were simply water enemies. (The Rito do not appear; they were introduced in The Wind Waker).

The mysterious Sheik—who could they really be?

Ocarina of Time follows the formula laid down by its predecessor. You control the not-titular hero, Link, who must save the kingdom of Hyrule and Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon. To aim him in his quest, he obtains items and weapons found in dungeons and towns. As in A Link to the Past, Link obtains three magical spells: Din's Fire (attack), Farore's Wind (warping), and Nayru's Love (invincibility). Enemies, shrubs, and pots drop pickups, like recovery hearts, MP-restoring potions, arrows, and slingshot seeds. Each dungeon holds a critical item in a treasure chest, such as the iron boots, bow, mirror shield, and hookshot. A map and compass in each dungeon help Link find his way. Unlocking the door to the boss requires that dungeon's Nightmare Key. Slaying each boss earns Link an additional Heart Container (health). 

Link learns songs, which when played on the titular Ocarina of Time have various magical effects, such as making it rain, summoning his horse, moving time blocks, changing day to night, warping to each of the four elemental temples, or summoning healing fairies when next to a Gossip Stone. Songs are played by inputting a short sequence of buttons. Gossip Stones are weird, bouncy stones found throughout Hyrule with the Sheikah eye on them.

Because of the third dimension, the combat in this game is more advanced than in the 8- and 16-bit games. Z-targeting is introduced to the series. By holding down the Z trigger, Link focuses on one enemy, always facing it. This enables the control stick to move him tactically. Pressing A while Z-targeting allows Link to jump to the side. (Outside of combat, Link can only jump off ledges.) Combat works well, being neither too difficult nor too easy. With Z-targeting, shooting enemies with the bow or hookshot is a breeze.

Ocarina of Time is infamous for Link's fairy companion, Navi. She is given to him by the Deku Tree as a kind of advisor. When you target an enemy, she cries, "Hey!" or "Listen!", giving you the option to hear her advice about how to beat it. She calls out a lot. Sometimes she will fly to high-up objects Link can't reach. This is a clue that he should play the Scarecrow's Song, which creates a scarecrow he can hookshot onto.

The main gimmick of Ocarina of Time is that Link travels back and forth between two time periods. In the first, he is still a boy, at the time Ganon seized the Triforce from the Sacred Realm. The second timeframe is seven years later: Link is now an adult and Ganon has conquered Hyrule. Link fell asleep for seven years when he pulled out the Master Sword, because he was not yet old enough to defeat Ganon. Never mind that Link would need those years to study, train, and generally mature into a hero!

Playing the Song of Time at the Temple of Time allows Link to move between timelines. Each version of Hyrule is different. Young Link can't use certain items, such as the bow, because they are too big for him. Link can plant magic beans in dirt patches in the past. Later these produce magic leaves that let Link access areas he otherwise couldn't.

Ocarina of Time also introduces riding and Link's beloved horse, Epona. There are archery and racing mini-games Link can play while riding. There's an elaborate fishing mini-game as well. There are several side quests, such as an item trading sequence (similar to Link's Awakening) and finding gold Skulltullas. These are spiders that, when defeated, drop golden tokens. Collecting these tokens can save a family in Kakariko village that fell under a spider's curse, transforming them all into spiders. As a reward, the family gives Link bigger wallets for holding rupees (Hyrulian currency). Some Skulltulas are well hidden, so finding them is similar to the search for all the heart pieces. As in most Zelda games, every four pieces gathered become an additional Heart Container.

This is a Goron.

Ocarina of Time is an all-around well made game. Its main appeals are the same as any Zelda game: dungeons, items, combat, and puzzles. Each dungeon is unique with its own theme and boss. Dungeons involve a lot of puzzle solving and exploring and a little combat. As an example puzzle: in the ice cavern, Link must collect all the silver rupees in a room. To reach them, he must slide an ice block around in certain ways. The Water Temple has acquired a negative reputation because you have to keep changing the water level in the temple. If you set it to the wrong level, you have to backtrack to fix it. You also have to keep opening the equipment subscreen to take the iron boots on and off (the need for the subscreen was removed for the 3DS remake). In general, though, the puzzles are fun and not frustrating or obtuse.

N64 equipment subscreen

Ocarina of Time is a fantastic 3D Zelda game. The story is nothing special, but that's par for the course when it comes to video games. I like the cut-scenes with Sheik, even if her wisdom sounds trite. It's a fun game to play and explore, though Hyrule seems tiny by today's standards. The music is great. The puzzles are intriguing. The many items and upgrades are fun. The biggest shortcoming is how dated the 3D polygonal graphics look. I prefer the 3DS remake for this reason (especially with Super-Stable 3D on the New 3DS). This game began the 3D Zelda series that still dominates gaming in 2023. It's a Nintendo classic!

Grade: A+

Linked Review
"The game takes everything that was great about the Zelda series and somehow manages to bring it all into a 3D world without a single hitch on the first try."
— Corbie Dillard, Nintendo Life, 10/10

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