The first time in my life I was introduced to video games was when my step brother introduced me to the Game Boy. The first game I ever played on that system was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. That meant that the Zelda series was the first video game series I got into. That game was incredibly well made, so when I heard that the next Zelda game would be the first 3D game in the series and that it would be released for the Nintendo 64, it was the most anticipated game of my life. Little did I know how much of an impact the game would have on the video game industry at large.
The Zelda series was first introduced back in 1986 on the NES with The Legend of Zelda and it revolutionized adventure games. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the fifth major game in the series but it is by far my favorite. It contains everything I love about video games, the same way Star Wars contains everything I love about movies and ABC’s Lost contains everything I love about television.
Basically Ocarina of Time was an epic fantasy adventure game in which you played as a young boy with a fairy companion (who guided you and gave you tips on how to play the game) who learns about an evil warlock named Ganondorf who is trying to obtain a sacred power called the Triforce, which grants anyone who can obtain it a dangerous amount of power.
The boy you play as is named Link (although you can name him whatever you want before the game starts) and as he leaves the forest where he lives and ventures out into the vast kingdom of Hyrule, he is aided by Princess Zelda in his quest to obtain a sacred weapon that is said to be the only thing that can stop Ganondorf, the Master Sword.
The story takes many surprising turns from there and along the way, Link meets many interesting characters, fights a wide variety of monsters, collects many treasures, magical items and weapons, and you even have the option to participate in a few side quests, which can be a great way to gain power and currency, represented in all Zelda games by hearts (your life source) and rupees (the currency of Hyrule).
As in every other Zelda game, all the most important treasures in the game are hidden in dungeons and protected by bosses who you must defeat. It is the dungeons and temples in this game that are the most creative aspect. Zelda dungeons are known for containing complex and challenging puzzles (I’ve gotten stuck a few times).
One of the most important features in the game is the Ocarina that the game is named after. Depending on which song you perform, playing the Ocarina of Time gives Link the ability to teleport, turn day into night, cause rain storms, call your horse, and other things. Each button on the N64 controller that could be used to play the ocarina had a different note, which made it possible to memorize certain songs by memorizing button combinations.
Another one of the biggest aspects of this game that had never been seen in a video game before but had since become a mainstay for every 3D game was the ability to lock onto your enemies as you fought them, making it possible to stay on target while moving around your monsters.
It was incredibly rewarding to play the game because the kingdom of Hyrule is so huge and you are given so many options of where to go and what to do that it is highly improbable that any two people could play this game exactly the same, which contributed to the personal connection many people had with it.
I first watched my brother play the game and I loved it even when I wasn’t the one playing it, because like most Nintendo games, it is highly entertaining regardless of who was playing it. That’s how cinematic it was.
Before my family had even owned the game, I was excited about it because the video game magazines and strategy guides that my step brother had brought over made it look appealing. I had actually first seen still images of the game in those magazines, back when it was still in development and being called The Legend of Zelda 64.
First shown in 1995 as a technical demonstration video for the graphical power of Nintendo’s upcoming 64-bit system, both Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda 64 were the most anticipated N64 games at that time.
Zelda 64 went through a turbulent development process. It was originally going to be released for the 64DD (disk drive) but the commercial failure of that disk application and the superior data performance of cartridges changed that decision. It was also originally planned to be a first-person game in the vein of Doom, but when they came up with the concept of playing as both a child and an adult in the game, that changed as well.
Unlike Super Mario 64, which Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto directed, Zelda 64 was bigger and more complex so it required multiple directors handling different aspects, all under the supervision of Miyamoto.
It was Miyamoto’s intent to make a cinematic game but one that distinguished itself from films.
The game originated from a story by Miyamoto and Link’s Awakening script writer Yoshiaki Koizumi (Koizumi would later go on to direct The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the GameCube, in addition to Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii) and Toru Osawa created the scenario.
The dungeons in the game were all designed by future Zelda producer and the man who would later be in charge of managing the entire series Eiji Aonuma.
The music was composed by Koji Kondo, probably the most famous video game musician. He composed the famous soundtrack for the NES game Super Mario Bros. in addition to composing music for all of Nintendo’s best games (which also had the best soundtracks), including the NES games The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 2, and Super Mario Bros. 3, the Super NES games Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Yoshi’s Island, and N64 games Super Mario 64 and Star Fox 64.
Those who pre-ordered the game in North America received a gold-colored version of the cartridge.
Because the Sony PlayStation was largely thought to be the superior gaming system of the late nineties, Nintendo had a lot of pressure to deliver a great game, particularly because it was the most anticipated game of the year and there was a significant lack of hits in the first few years of the N64’s life.
Luckily, many people recognized how brilliant it was and the game became one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers, making over $150 million in U.S. revenues, bigger than any movie that season.
Critics praised the music, level design, gameplay mechanics and cinematics, and many called it flawless.
The magazine Nintendo Power said that it was a trailblazer for the 3D era, and Dan Houser, vice president of Rockstar Games and writer for Bully, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3 and the Grand Theft Auto series said that anyone who makes 3D games who says they didn’t borrow from Super Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time is lying.
I maintain after having played a countless number of games since Ocarina of Time was released back in 1998 that it is still the best video game ever made and that it still holds up significantly. I’ll never forget this game for as long as I live.