When Nintendo’s Project Reality finally hit stores as the Nintendo 64, it blew people away with its new approach to old classic Nintendo franchises.
Bringing the world of Nintendo to life in 3D was no easy feat and Nintendo’s efforts are nothing but spectacular, particularly among them mascot-starring 3D platforming sensation Super Mario 64 and the action adventure title The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The game is an action, adventure game released in Japan and North America in 1998 and was published and developed by Nintendo.
One of the system’s most anticipated games, in a callback to the original NES cart, the N64 cartridge for the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was tinted gold as well in its first run with subsequent reprints put in the standard grey Nintendo 64 plastic. Development on the game was led by Japanese gaming mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto, the same man behind most all of Nintendo’s largest and most popular franchises.
Inspired by his childhood adventures, the Legend of Zelda seeks to simultaneously capture the wonder and magic of a fantasy realm while still making it accessible for a wide-ranging audience, from the role playing game hardcore to the more casual or youthful gamers looking for an epic experience. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the fifth game in the series, Majora’s Mask being its direct sequel for Nintendo 64. While that is the subject of another review, let’s just say the one-two combo of Ocarina of Time then Majora’s Mask running on the same engine gave gamers more hot Zelda games at one time than they could deal with alone – rarely does a company release not one but two of the greatest games on not only the Nintendo 64 but on any system ever made.
Among the most highly-regarded games across all systems throughout gaming history, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time gives players the ability to explore a 3D-based Hyrule for the first time in the series, blasting out the wide-open gameplay first presented in the NES classic and A Link to the Past in full polygons and 3D sprites. Just as Super Mario 64 made a powerful impact on the world with its brand new gameplay and presentation of Mario in a virtual world, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time similarly wowed audiences with immersive, bright graphics that mimicked the classic NES look and amplified it for a new generation with powerful hardware.
As with all games in the Zelda series, the player must find and defeat Ganon, rescuing Princess Zelda along the way. This game, like a Link to the Past, relies on time travel and playing the game as both youth and adult versions of the player hero, Link. Traversing through time in Hyrule, the Nintendo 64 alters the environments for each outing and transforms what was familiar before to something different depending on where the player is in the story.
One particularly memorable transformation was the metamorphosis of Hyrule Castle from a vibrant sanctuary to a post-apocalyptic nightmare-scape that actually instills horror in the player, a first for the series in many regards. While the old 2D sprites could be horrifically hard to deal with on the field, the ReDead of Ocarina of Time add a touch of horror that could only have occurred on the Nintendo 64. The immersive elements of Ocarina of Time are what catapulted it beyond its own generation and into gaming legend. Like Super Mario 64 it took something that was completely well-known and understood and altered it in such a way as to make it fresh for new audiences again.
While the music in Ocarina of Time is absolutely outstanding, representing one of the best scores for any Zelda game ever made. The later entries in the series clearly owe a debt of service to Ocarina of Time, the first game to explore a more adult, epic side of the Zelda legends than previously done on the NES and Super Nintendo. The music was produced by veteran video game music composer Koji Kondo, who also happened to manage compositions for prior entries in the series as well. There are character as well as setting themes throughout, tying each piece to a person and place in a way that was seamless and iconic, a audio signal that the player was in the right place or talking to a familiar person.
Audio has always played an important role in Zelda games, Ocarina of Time is no exception. The nostalgia many of us feel for the short ditties that Link puffs out on the ocarina is born out of this masterful use of layered audio to complement and enhance the visuals of the game, even unto the point of providing a gameplay mechanic using said ocarina.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time received multiple iterations, an URA version and a Nintendo 3DS port, but none are as fondly regarded as the Nintendo 64 original. URA Zelda was a title developed for the failed (and unreleased in North America) Nintendo 64 Disk Drive. The 64DD was a short-lived console add-on available only in Japan for a small time that expanded the functionality of the Nintendo 64, complementing its power and augmenting it to allow programmers a greater freedom of expression than they could squeeze out of a very limited N64 cart. Recalling the Famicom Disk System in many ways, the 64 DD’s major titles were to be a new Mother game and a remixed version of Ocarina of Time, which was eventually released for the Gamecube in 2002 in a version similar to the game filled with cut material planned for the original 64DD after the disk system’s ignominious failure.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a sensation upon release, racking up more than 500,000 preorders in North America alone before debut, a feat that saw the game triple its next highest competitor in the race for most preorders. Critics and gamers alike fell in love with the title and have lauded it to this day. It remains among the most highly rated Zelda games of all time and also one of the most highly rated games in general – a true legend in its own right. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a foundational piece, a touchstone for the gaming community and yet another notch on Nintendo’s belt for delivering one of the best gaming experiences any gamer could have.