From 1986 to 1993, there were 4 Legend of Zelda games released. After 1993’s Link’s Awakening on GameBoy, fans were excited to see what Nintendo would come out with next for our hero Link.
1994 came and went.
Then 1995. 1996. 1997. Still nothing.
Then in 1998, after a 5 year wait, the next Zelda installment was released in all it’s 3D glory.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: unlike some others, I didn’t play Ocarina until about 2010. I borrowed a friend’s GameCube and finally experienced this classic rendition of Hyrule for myself.
So I can only imagine what original Zelda fans felt when they first saw Ocarina — from the first gripping and dramatic cinematic, to Kokiri Forest through Navi’s eyes, to stepping out onto the mind-blowingly huge Hyrule Field. Everything was a 3D playground you could explore. Zelda fans back then must have known that though the formula they loved had stayed the same, the game had changed. Even though the land of Hyrule was as familiar as ever, the scope was remarkable, beyond any game up to that point.
But I didn’t get that experience in 2010. 3D? Big whoop. The graphics were so dated in my eyes, and the initial wow factor was lost on me.
But I kept playing the game, and by the end I walked away knowing why this is largely considered the ultimate classic video game and arguably the greatest video game of all time. That’s how you know a game is timeless.
Even from my vantage point in 2010, it was plain. Though the game was ambitious — the game never stops giving the player new places to explore, new wacky characters to meet, new foes to battle, new gear and abilities to wield — it was so simple and inviting. And though epic in every sense, it never felt like Ocarina of Time was overstepping itself. Instead, it knew exactly what it was capable of and presented itself perfectly within its abilities.
But the biggest impression I walked away with after I played Ocarina was the obvious flow of everything about the game. Everything just fit together like puzzle pieces. Nothing felt out of place or strained. Everything felt natural, from the controls to the weapons menu to the temples to the story. And this natural flow, this ambitious simplicity that Nintendo poured into Ocarina, is why the game stands as the all-time classic video game. It moved the bounds of video games forever forward, yet felt completely familiar at the same time. I immediately felt comfortable and at home in Hyrule, yet the game spurred so much wonder in me that I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of the world, just so I could experience more of it. It’s story was ambitious (even in 2010, I was in total awe of The Temple of Time sequence) but simple and emotionally relevant, common things that make every Zelda game worthwhile. By the end, the game reaches a magnificently epic crescendo that strings every puzzle piece of the game together and satisfies the player altogether.
Whether you played it first in 1993 or experienced it many years later like me, Ocarina of Time has made it’s mark on time forever. In my mind it will forever be the most perfectly-classic video game of all time.