There may be no quicker way in the world to get under the skin of a Zelda fan than saying something negative about Ocarina of Time. As the most well-known and critically acclaimed title in the franchise, as well as the winner of numerous “greatest game ever” awards, Ocarina of Time is essentially the face of the Zelda series. So when ZI writer Brian expressed his belief that Ocarina of Time is actually the least impressive of the 3D titles, some negative responses were to be expected.
It’s absolutely undeniable that when Ocarina of Time released it was one of the most monumental and incredible experiences ever achieved in a video game. This was simply something that had never been done before, and it changed video games forever. Looking back on Ocarina of Time now, with the way video games have advanced, is it fair to still hail it as “the greatest game ever made?” Is the game really that good, or are we all just looking through nostalgia glasses? Let’s look at some of the areas where the previous article suggested the game may pale compared to modern games.
Lack of Storyline Depth
Ocarina of Time sticks to the traditional “Zelda forumula” we’ve become accustomed to over the years. The first half of the game sees Link, armed with a limited knowledge of the evil that is afoot, beating three dungeons. After this, a plot twist happens, and more of the story is revealed to Link. From there he tackles five more dungeons before finally receiving one last revelation, and heading off to fight Ganondorf.
This is all pretty basic Zelda stuff. The only difference is that later Zelda titles added in a little more pacing. A few more tidbits of information might be revealed after each dungeon, instead of just three big clumps. Other games also have the advantage of superior hardware allowing for more frequent and longer cutscenes. In general, I can agree that Ocarina of Time’s plot is very simplistic when compared to later Zelda titles, but it still fits into the same mold and accomplishes the same purposes.
In fact, Ocarina of Time’s plot limitations actually add to the game in two ways. The first is that part of the reason the plot is fairly simplistic is because it’s based off of the backstory of A Link to the Past. Relating Ocarina of Time so closely to another Zelda title may limit what they can do with the story, but it provides great fan service to long time fans of the series. There was just enough plot deviation and just enough surprises along the way to keep Ocarina’s story feeling fresh, while still giving us a great nostalgia trip.
Secondly, the lack of an intricate and structured plot allows for more freedom. From the moment you leave the Kokiri Forest, you are told where to go and why you should go there, but the vast majority of Hyrule is yours to explore. I’m a big fan of a great story, but I’m also a fan of having freedom to explore your game world. Too often in games a detailed story forces linear gameplay. Ocarina’s story may be simple, but it accomplishes what it needs to, and does it without restricting your adventurous side.
Insufficient Character Development
For the most part, I agree in this regard. There are a few key places, such as Lon Lon Ranch and the mysteries surrounding Sheik, where Ocarina does a good job of keeping me interested in Hyrule’s citizens, but overall there was a general lack of depth. This is not an issue that can just be seen as something that hasn’t aged well, as Majora’s Mask has the greatest character development and interaction of any game in the series.
Still, I have never found myself playing Ocarina of Time and noticed this as a glaring issue. Similarly, I don’t fault Majora’s Mask for only having four dungeons. Ocarina opted to focus more on the main quest, and Majora’s Mask opted to focus more on the side quests. Both games felt complete to me. Could Ocarina have benefited from a slightly higher level of character development and interaction? Absolutely. Was it shallow enough to be a major shortcoming? Everyone has their own opinion, but mine is no.
Combat Is Simple By Today’s Standards
This is a fair and valid point for the most part. Every Zelda game sine has tried to come up with ways to make combat more interesting. Stealing weapons in Wind Waker, Hidden Skills in Twilight Princess, and Wii Motion Plus controls in Skyward Sword all show Nintendo’s constant mission of upgrading the combat experience.
With each change, there’s going to be people who like it and people who don’t. I know I personally fell in love with Skyward Sword’s controls. I’ve also caught myself trying to do a Hidden Skill or two in Ocarina of Time 3D. In general, I’ve liked every direction Nintendo has taken with combat in 3D Zeldas. As Miyamoto and Aonuma themselves have addressed, others have not. This one all comes down to personal preference, and I personally prefer the more evolved controls of later Zelda titles. Ocarina’s controls felt fantastic at the time, and they were pretty easy to go back to, but they aren’t quite as enjoyable for me.
Hyrule Field Is Empty
As I addressed in my earlier article about the five things I’d like to see in future Zelda games, I don’t feel that any 3D Zelda has yet to truly accomplish the interactive and engaging feel that 2D Zelda overworlds provided. Ocarina of Time is no exception to this.
This comes as win/lose scenario, however, as a largely empty Hyrule field led to one of the game’s most iconic gameplay elements: Riding Epona. Traversing Hyrule field as a child can be tedious, as it seems to go on forever with very little to do, but many players instantly fell in love with Epona. Had the overworld been more interactive, like its counterpart in Skyward Sword, one of the most memorable parts of Ocarina of Time could not exist.
First of all, I’d like to note that I didn’t address the topic of “It has nothing that the other 3D Zelda titles don’t” as this is an obvious point. It came before them, and they borrowed most of its positive elements and took them in new directions. Of course, only Majora’s Mask retained Magic, and that is a personal favorite Zelda element of mine.
Secondly, when comparing Ocarina of Time to newer games, it’s a no-brainer that it’s going to come up short in some aspects. New hardware means better graphics, more room for cutscenes, and more time to try and perfect the Zelda formula. Each new Zelda game has been bigger and “better” by general gaming standards.
However, complexity and scale do not necessarily make a better gaming experience. Why do simplistic 2D Mario games always sell better than more involved 3D Mario games? The number one important thing about a video game is how fun it is. Controls, graphics, and story are all pieces of a puzzle. The most important thing is the end result. Did you enjoy the game? With Mario, it’s just generally accepted that most people find the simplistic choice to be more fun. While the same is not entirely true of Zelda, the concept is still applicable.
I can play Ocarina of Time and without a doubt admit that it is simpler, has less depth, and doesn’t offer as much gameplay as all the titles that came after it. But I cannot say that it’s less fun. I don’t enjoy it less. It easily holds my attention and keeps me coming back time and time again more than any other 3D Zelda title with the possible exception of Skyward Sword. In fact, I’ve act actually recently postponed all of the video games I was playing through to sit down and beat Ocarina of Time 3D…for the third time.
Ocarina of Time is fourteen years old, and in a lot of ways, it shows. To me, that doesn’t make it any less of a game. Ocarina of Time has stood the test of time for me, and it will always be a great game. Given that Ocarina of Time on the 3DS has achieved an average review score of 94/100 on Metacritic, I’d say I’m not the only one. I think its fair to say that Ocarina of Time is perhaps the least impressive or epic of the 3D Zelda games, but that doesn’t detract from its greatness.