Platform(s): Nintendo 64, Gamecube, WiiWare, also remastered on the Nintendo 3DS
Price: $250 (new), $25 (used)
Release date: November 23, 1998
Ocarina of Time has oft been called “the best video game ever” by fans of great diversity, and it’s really no surprise. The fame of Ocarina of Time is widespread, ending up everywhere from “Best Video Games Ever Created” lists, to “Ten Video Games to Play in your Lifetime” lists, to the much-coveted Game of the Year award in 1998. In fact, the game is so popular that it was re-released on the Nintendo Gamecube, WiiWare, and later remastered for the 3DS.
But for all its hype and esteem, is Ocarina of Time really that great? More importantly, how does its heavier spiritual content weigh up on the biblical scale? You know the drill. Read on for answers!
Deep in a corner of the kingdom of Hyrule lies the Kokiri Forest–home of the beings who forever remain children, famous for their green tunics. For as long as he can remember, Link has been living in the Kokiri Forest with no remembrance of his past, though his dreams are haunted at night by a black rider and the face of a pale girl fleeing for her life.
Link looks similar to the other Kokiri, and yet is entirely different in his ambitions. He is very courageous and humble, but has only one true friend in the whole forest. Much to the bullying and teasing of the other Kokiri, including the leader, Mido, Link is also the only boy in the entire village not to have a fairy.
…But things soon change. One morning, the Great Deku Tree (the father of the Kokiri) sends a female fairy named Navi to Link. She brings an urgent message to Link–one that will carry him far beyond the forest, and deep into the kingdom of Hyrule, to fulfill a destiny of legendary proportions.
As has become stereotypical of Zelda games, the lines are clearly drawn between good and evil. Link, Zelda, and a host of other honorable characters stand on the one side while Ganondorf and his minions stand on the other. It’s a classic confrontation between the dark and the light, with the light eventually prevailing over the dark. Good stuff!
Throughout his adventure, Link selflessly throws himself into all kinds of situations just to help someone in need (and he certainly isn’t afraid to take a blow for one of his friends, as a few cutscenes reveal). Though he is teased in his early childhood, he is never nasty back, even when the mocking seems to be too much. In the long-run, Link proves that sometimes it is the “boy without a fairy,” and not the seemingly important people in the world, who does the truly amazing things.
Throughout his quest, Link will encounter several people in need, usually in the form of a side-quest (someone has lost their dog, someone’s chickens have gotten loose, someone needs a medical potion, someone wants a certain thing from a store, etc.). If Link chooses to help others, he is rewarded.
Several characters are noble, self-sacrificing, and courageous. The friendships between Link and many other characters (particularly Saria) are very strong.
Link’s actions influence a grumbling, stuck-up character to return stolen property to its rightful owner. This character also becomes quite humble afterwards. A bully from Link’s childhood later tells a grownup Link (who he doesn’t recognize) to tell the “boy without a fairy” that he’s sorry for teasing him.
One character in the game makes the ultimate apology to Link for all of the evil that has befallen him throughout his quest and accepts full responsibility for it (rightfully so, too). This character makes up for their wrongs by giving Link a second chance at his life.
Spiritual content is no stranger to Zelda games. Ocarina of Time revolves heavily around a mythological, fantasy world, and, along with that, comes an assortment of gods, goddesses, and magic.
While the gods and goddesses are not mentioned as excessively as they are in a game like Wind Waker, a couple of major cutscenes talk a lot about them. According to Hylian legend, there were three goddesses who created the land of Hyrule, after which they came together as one, forming a golden power known as the Triforce. None of the characters go around worshiping the gods necessarily, but there is a cutscene at the end of the game where it is implied that the Sages call upon these gods to help them defeat evil. The mysterious Triforce is sought by the villain of the game because it is said to hold immeasurable powers and grant the wishes of the one who possesses it.
Magic is present in Zelda, but not overly so. Link is graced with certain “spells” when he visits the Great Fairies of Hyrule. I say “spells” in quotation marks because I don’t feel that they are at all stereotypical. Link doesn’t have to utter any magic words or perform any magic motions to get them to work. They just… work, almost like a super power. These spells allow him to defend himself, teleport, and cover himself with a temporary shield. Certain shops in the game sell “magic potions” that restore Link’s health and fill of his “magic meter.” Using special arrows, “spells,” and a certain item in the game called the Lens of Truth depletes the magic meter. There is one instance in the game, where two witches attack another character who claims that they are using “black magic.”
Several enemies in the game are undead creatures. One is a terrifying, zombie-like being called a Redead which moans and screams to paralyze Link when he gets too close. One is a floating skeleton head with wings. Two are walking skeleton creatures. One in a giant–… I don’t even know what to call it!–something between a zombie and a monster (Dead Hand) that seizes Link with its many hands and then attacks him while he can’t move. One of the enemies is a claw-like hand that descends unawares from the ceiling and seizes Link.
The Poes (ghosts in the Zelda world) are present. They come in several shapes and sizes. When Link defeats a Poe, he can scoop up its flame in a bottle and drink it (which may or may not damage his health). These Poes can also be bought (to drink) at a potion shop.
One character, who Link meets when Link is young, dies during Link’s transfer to adulthood. When Link returns to the Kakariko Graveyard, he can enter a grave and race the ghost of this character.
All of the dungeons in Ocarina of Time (or, at least, five of them) are referred to as “temples.” These “temples” don’t have any explicit spiritual ties, however, and are merely places that Link must travel through to complete his adventure. However, one place, called the Temple of Time, appears to be a bit more than this due to the fact that there is an altar erected at its center. It is also said to be the gateway to a place called the Sacred Realm. All the same, no characters ever worship in this building.
The Zora race worship a great whale named Jabu-Jabu, who they treat as their god. If Link talks to a few Zoras, he will be encouraged to take a fish offering to Jabu-Jabu. This later becomes essential to Link’s quest, and he is swallowed, along with the fish, in the process.
At one point in the game, Link enters Kakariko to find a large, foggy mass emerging from the village well. Sheik informs him that this is an “evil spirit.”
Some other various spiritual elements are the following: Ganondorf placing a curse on the Great Deku tree, a quest in which Link must find three Spiritual Stones, a place called the Sacred Grove, a boss in the game made up of two witch sisters, and various, sometimes very frightening, bosses who have the ability to take different forms.
Cutscene Violence. It shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that a sword-fighting game like Ocarina of Time has a few violent cutscenes, though perhaps not as many as most would think. Most of them are very mild, with a few exceptions near the end. Link is knocked over by Ganondorf’s magic attack. Sheik is caught in whirlwind and tossed around. Link is knocked out (off screen) by a foggy mass. Link is knocked over when a Goron “pats” him on the back. Ganondorf quickly coughs up fake-looking, green blood after his defeat. *SPOILER WARNING* After Ganondorf transforms into his final form, Ganon–a large beast-looking creature–Link finishes him off by slashing him twice (with wide flecks of green blood showing) and stabbing his sword into the creature’s head. It isn’t terribly graphic, due to the blocky 64 graphic style. *END OF SPOILERS*
Gameplay Violence. Despite its darker tones, Ocarina of Time has very tame violence. All of the enemies present in the game are creatures. The only human Link fights, is, of course, Ganondorf, and a few Gerudo thieves which he knocks out (but doesn’t kill) while sneaking into the Gerudo fortress. When enemies (or Link, for that matter) are hit, they briefly flash red with a starburst to show that you’ve scored a hit. Some enemies emit brief, almost unnoticeable, green flecks of blood/slime. I didn’t even notice this until I had been playing the game for several years, however. When defeated, enemies vanish in a puff of smoke. One lizard-looking enemies, falls to the ground and slowly vanishes instead, and the hair-raising Redead’s body remains on the ground for quite some time before it disappears. Bosses have much more elaborate deaths (i.e.–disintegrating, exploding, falling into a pit of lava, etc.), but even these are not graphic.
Aside from one-time uses of the words “heck,” “shoot,” and “idiot,” I doubt you’ll encounter anything. One bully in Link’s childhood calls him a wimp.
One race in the game, the Gerudo thieves, are a band of women who wear revealing, Arabian tops with bare midriffs exposed. One of these women plays a major part in the game.
On his adventure, Link is guaranteed to encounter at least one of the three Great Fairies scattered around Hyrule. These women are dressed in nothing more than vines and leaves, and the blocky 64 graphics emphasize their chest area. When Link first meets one of these fairies, the camera pans along her body, and she often poses in revealing stances.
One fairly central character, Impa, has a very full figure and wears a low-cut top.
Throughout his adventure, Link meets several girls who want to marry him–five total, if I remember correctly. One of these girls is led into thinking that she is engaged to Link. Fortunately, the romance never goes any further than this.
I never ran into any of this stuff in Ocarina of Time.
Other Negative Content
Ocarina of Time is a very dark, depressing game at times. The land is constantly in peril, and there are many disturbing areas scattered throughout the land of Hyrule. Two of the temples are more like crypts. They are dark, spooky, and filled with creepy music and ghostly enemies. One side-quest allows Link to enter a grave where he must sneak past a few Redeads to get a medley for his Ocarina. These areas are generally littered with skeletons (which Navi can disturbingly listen to and hear “whispering” things in the room). One room in the Shadow Temple has a bloody floor. Another area has an inscription on a wall that reads “Here is written Hyrule’s bloody history…”
I have played both the N64 and Gamecube versions of Ocarina of Time and both console control schemes work quite well.
Swordplay is the typical hack, slash, jump slash, spin attack, and thrust that the series has become famous for. All of these attacks work well, and they are aided by the lock-on button which keeps Link focused on an enemy and aids his accuracy.
Shooting with a bow or slingshot takes a little practice at first. Once you realize where your shots will land, however, and you have gotten used to the controls, it is pretty easy. Still, it is much harder than the simple aim-and-shoot gimmick used in the Wii version of Twilight Princess.
The world of Ocarina of Time is immense. Truth be told, it is impossible to ever get bored playing this game. There’s always a new area to explore, a new side-quest to do, a new item to get, a new mini-game to beat, a new secret grotto you’ve never found, a new person that you’ve never talked to (etc.). Also, because this game is a free-roaming adventure, Link can go into almost any area that he wants, any time that he wants to, without being pressed for time or being stuck on a routine “complete-the-level-to-progress” gameplay style. This means that, if you’re stuck on a temple, or are getting tired of your dangerous adventure, you can just take a break and go fishing or something.
Tons of new items make this Zelda adventure one-of-a-kind. The Ocarina of Time itself is perhaps Link’s most valuable tool, as it is vital to his progression. Players can play songs over the ocarina in order to warp Link to various locations, or cause it to rain, or unlock a secret door (etc.). Items like the Mirror Shield, which deflects light onto special switches, and the hookshot, which allows Link to scale high areas, are extremely useful and a lot of fun to experiment with. Various tunics give Link certain abilities, such as breathing underwater or surviving in unbearable heat. If a player is daring, they may want to go on an optional side-quest to get the Bigoron Sword–the most powerful weapon in the game.
What truly makes Ocarina of Time unique, however, is its emphasis on time travel. After Link reaches a certain point in the game, he will have the ability to travel back and forth through time, from childhood to manhood. Both phases of Link’s life contain unique side-quests and areas that are not available otherwise. Switching from one age to another is vital to completing the game.
Ocarina of Time also has a lot of playing value, as I have suggested above. Playing straight through the game with no heed to anything but the main story will take someone about a week. However, if a player chooses to tackle every challenge in the game (via themself or with the help of a strategy guide) they will be occupied for a month or two.
In the N64 days, Ocarina of Time had excellent graphics. Though the characters are very blocky-looking, they are still able to show appropriate emotion. The story and action pull the player in so much that, soon, they don’t even notice how pointy Link’s face is, or how flat someone’s hand is. Because the graphic scheme is so outdated, however, it is hard to go into much depth about it. Let’s move on!
The music in Ocarina of Time has become some of the gaming world’s favorite. As is typical of the N64, none of the music is orchestrated and sometimes sounds a bit cheesy (especially the choir) as a result. However, the arrangements are gorgeous. Medleys like the Gerudo Valley theme, the Fairy Fountain theme, and Zelda’s Lullaby have gone down in gaming history as some of the best-loved tunes ever. In simple terms, it’s a magical score.
Voice acting is limited to Navi’s few lines: “Hey! Listen! Look!” (etc.). Link’s combat screams have become classic, but are hard on the ears. Thank goodness for the mute button!
I didn’t notice any glitches in Ocarina of Time. It is a very stable game.
Ocarina of Time is one of the very few games that’s very name makes me feel good. When I hear the music or see a gameplay video, streams of memories come back to me of my childhood days. I can remember playing while my terrified sister watched me run past screaming Redeads… Good times.
With all of its replay value, massive territory to explore, and gripping storyline, Ocarina of Time certainly has the right to 1998 Game of the Year, among its many other awards and rankings. It was a game that turned the N64 console upside down.
Though it was a breakthrough for the Zelda series and the gaming world, however, Ocarina of Time is also rather a dark game at times. More than once, I just wanted to beat the game prematurely and get to the end so all of the evil would be gone. Nintendo’s more recent Zelda title, Twilight Princess, felt much, much lighter in my opinion. It’s possible that the spiritual content could disquiet some players, and young gamers may be frightened by the game’s nightmarish creatures and ghastly temples.
But there are no great shadows without equally great lights. That being said, Ocarina of Time is also a story of hope–the story of a young nobody who rises to manhood, dares to defy destiny, and saves the lives of countless people, along with their homelands. Themes of love, forgiveness, friendship, and courage drive this story forward. It’s a timeless hero’s journey that will continue to be cherished by gamers as long as video games continue to exist.
If you deem it to be content-appropriate, then Ocarina of Time is one game your Nintendo collection is incomplete without. And if you don’t own a Nintendo 64, no worries. The game was re-released on the Gamecube, WiiWare, and even remastered for the Nintendo 3DS. In other words: you have no excuse for not owning it.
The Bottom Line