This post is part of a series exploring the history of The Legend of Zelda and its major entries. Be sure to check out the hub article on NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog for links to all the great retrospectives written by other bloggers, and to find out more about what makes this Nintendo franchise such a classic.
Image above courtesy of Pieter-Jan Casteels.
A couple of years ago, it seemed as if Minecraft had completely taken over my young stepson’s world. He talked about it non-stop for the entire time he was with us every weekend. He woke us up at 05:30 each day just so we could play it together (despite being told to go back to bed). He explained that we were exploring ‘Minecraft world’ whenever we went out to the park for the day; and all of his imaginary games involved enemies that looked suspiciously like creepers who blew up when hit with a sword.
You could say it was a childhood obsession but we noticed Ethan’s behaviour changing. After picking up the controller he’d start to get tetchy: he stopped taking on our suggestions for things to build because they were ‘silly’ and did the opposite of whatever we proposed when he asked what armour or weapon he should take on his adventures. This title about ‘creativity’ seemed to bring about a more aggressive side in my stepson that we weren’t expecting – but luckily, a green-suited hero on a sure-footed steed came to the rescue in our hour of need.
Ethan has always had a fascination with castles, knights and all things noble for as long as I’ve known him. It therefore wasn’t much of a surprise when he chose a Link Amiibo to go with the Wii U he received for Christmas that year. Other than a short amount of time spent with The Legend of Zelda on his dad’s old Game Boy he’d never had any contact with the character, but the sword in his hand and shield on his back convinced him that this was a mighty, powerful warrior worthy of spending his pocket-money on.
His slightly distorted view of Link may have been based on his imagination rather than the developer’s intended design but he came to like him so much that other characters featured in Mario Kart 8 stopped getting a turn on the track. It was therefore a sign when I heard Nintendo were making The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time available on their Virtual Console in 2015, and we decided to download the game as a surprise before we picked him up one Friday evening.
We were a little worried it might be too difficult for him or that the retro-style would put him off playing but my other-half and I both had such fond memories of the title that we thought it was worth a shot. I first experienced it back in the late 1990s after a boyfriend had cruelly broken my teenage heart and my brother invited me to play it with him to take my mind off things, and it worked: we spent hours in his bedroom just running around the fields of Hyrule and fishing in Lake Hylia. It was the first time we hadn’t had a sibling argument in years and I didn’t give that boyfriend a second thought.
It turned out that Ethan loved Ocarina of Time just as much as we had when we were younger. We raced on Epona while trying to get to Lon Lon Ranch before the skeletal Syalchildren came out at night. We became entangled in the Lost Wood on several occasions and drew maps on scraps of paper to help. We turned day-into-night and night-into-day more times than I can remember so we could learn the Ocarina notes. We befriended Kokiri and Gorans, found lost puppies, made staggering leaps of faith – and yelled at Navi to keep quiet whenever she nagged us to listen.
It’s proof you don’t need fancy high-resolution graphics, endless open-worlds or complicated gameplay to make an amazing title. An awesome video game will stand the test of time regardless of technological advances and this one still holds up since its release almost 20 years ago. Yes, the graphics may now look dated and yes, Navi can be really bloody annoying when she wants to be, but many people the world over still refer to it as one of the best titles ever made and you can almost guarantee its place in any new ‘top games’ list.
Its legacy is pretty clear to any gamer. As one of the first 3D action-adventure games, it introduced many aspects that would become staples of the genre in future years – just look at the lock-on Z-targeting and the context-sensitive actions as good examples. This is a game held in such high esteem that it’s sometimes easy to forget how ground-breaking its mechanics were, and how accomplished they remain all these years later.
Ocarina of Time also seemed to have a great effect on my stepson: he stopped being all about bashing everything in sight and filling Nether fortresses full of chickens (although that was pretty funny), and became more about saving the world. I think it was the actions-and-consequences element of the storyline that did it. If we didn’t help the citizens of Hyrule – even if it was only finding their lost puppies, reorganising their crates or selling them masks – the evil Ganondorf would triumph, and that was something Ethan didn’t want to let happen.
Link may not have turned out to be the ‘mighty warrior’ of his imagination but he now sees him as more than just the Master Sword and Hylian Shield. He’s also getting to have his own experience of playing and it’s sweet to think that perhaps he’ll end up showing Ocarina of Time to his own children one day. Those familiar notes will sound on the Ocarina, he’ll remember the battle for the Triforce, and he’ll be transported straight back to the beautiful land of Hyrule.