This week, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OOT) launched twenty years ago (November 21 in Japan, 23 in the US). Many titles during the early stages of 3D gaming didn’t have the same impact Ocarina did, an impact that is still felt in gaming today.
Ocarina of Time utilized the Z-targeting system, a mechanic that locked the camera onto an enemy. Prior 3D games had trouble with combat because players had trouble controlling the camera while fighting. Locking onto the enemy eliminates the need to control the camera, making combat more seamless. And it’s a feature that has appeared ever since from Star Fox Adventures to Devil May Cry to Bloodborne.
But the biggest influence Ocarina had was its game world. Hyrule Field might be small compared to open world games of today, but it was mind blowing to be able to walk around those plains on foot for the first time. The world felt endless. It echoed the same feeling of awe that 8-bit gamers had with the original Zelda on the NES. The feeling that they could explore a space at your leisure and go on an adventure. It gave players a chance to reflect on what they’ve done on their journey, and where they’ll go next. They weren’t in a level. They were in Hyrule.
Different elements that people associate with Hyrule and the Zelda series spawned from OOT. The dopey, but lovable Gorons. Zelda’s alias Sheik in her only canonical appearance. An “adult” version of Link, which has become the go to appearance for the character now. The Zora’s more fancy, angelic appearance. Link’s trusty stead Epona. Ganondorf, Ganon’s humanoid incarnation. The (MOTHERFUCKING) Song of Storms. Players experienced these different elements and cultures throughout their adventure. It made the game world feel like a living place that existed before Link decided to leave Kokiri forrest. People wouldn’t have many fond memories of this world if there weren’t interesting things to see and do.
My fondest memory of Ocarina of Time has to be playing it at my cousin’s house. I had a Nintendo 64 growing up, but I didn’t own Zelda at the time. I remember being blown away when walking through Hyrule Field. Having no idea where to go, I marched on aimlessly until nightfall when stalchildren bursted from the dirt and attacked me. I jumped back from the TV, his hands barely holding onto the controller. My stroll was ruined by these skeletons trying to kill me. I realized that this adventure wasn’t just fun, but dangerous too.
A lot of games have tried to capture OOT’s feeling of adventure since its release. Dan Houser, Co-Founder of Rockstar Games, said in an interview that anyone “anyone who makes 3-D games who says they’ve not borrowed something from Mario or Zelda is lying.” Oftentimes, those attempts fall short. A big problem with some open world games is they always want player to feel stimulated and empowered constantly. If they aren’t finding a collectible or doing a sidequest- regardless of the activity’s quality- the game is boring. Content trumps fun. Compared to modern open worlds, Hyrule Field is barren, and that’s okay. It’s a quiets intermission from the bustlings streets of Castle Town or the grueling pains of the water temple. The journey doesn’t need to be sprinkled with distractions, sometimes the journey itself is the reward (until Navi bugs the shit out of you. :p)
With all that being said, Ocarina of Time is 3D Zelda at its most pure. Games that followed it tried to change things up with different settings or new gameplay mechanics, but they built off the foundation of that OOT made. That purity of discovery didn’t really return until Breath of the Wild. A lot of game developers try to draw in people with talks of flashy graphics and a promise of content. But sometimes less is more. A warrior in green riding his horse can be all you need to get people to press start.
dw here. Thanks for reading! I made this thread because I wanted a dedicated space for people to talk about this game. What are your favorite moments or memories about Ocarina of Time? What are some of your least favorite moments? Did Navi make you hate fairies forever? How do you pronounce “Ocarina” or “Navi?” Discuss!