Video games often live and die by the reviews they receive within the first couple of weeks of their release. I can’t think of a single instance where a game was reviewed badly, but then, on reconsideration, was looked upon with less of a sore eye. The word that gets around the first couple of weeks after a game is released to the public is the label that it ends up with for the rest of its life. Naturally, this means that when a game is reviewed favourably, it is regarded as a favourable recommendation for the remaining life of the respective console. When a game is universally praised, it reaches another level: they are hailed as landmark achievements and are unanimously peppered with perfect scores. These are the games that are talked about for decades after their initial release, and the games that hold such an important place in the hearts of gamers all over the world. The game that we’re going to talk about today is one such game: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Keeping in with the theme of Zelda Month, we’re going to be looking at what is widely regarded as the best game on the Nintendo 64 and seeing whether, in the current paradise, it is an overrated experience or if it is just as good as nearly everyone who plays it says it is.
If you’re somehow miraculously not familiar with this game in any capacity, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a Nintendo 64 game released in 1998, and it was the game that marked the start of the 3D era for Zelda games. Coming a full 5 years after the much acclaimed Link’s Awakening , fans were hoping for an immersive Zelda experience that was worth the long, arduous wait. And boy, did Nintendo deliver. Ocarina went on to become one of the most successful games of all time, selling over 2.5 million copies in 1998 itself, even though it released on November 21st of that year. The game was praised for its detailed story and stunning graphics (which, for the time, were pretty advanced) and most of all, for its innovative gameplay and how it took a practical approach to combat that formed the basis for how most games in the adventure genre took after, in some form or the other. The sheer size of the game was also talked about extensively, and for good reason too, as the amount of detail Nintendo had paid attention to in the world of Hyrule was unfathomable for a video game at the time. Suffice to say, the game cemented Nintendo’s position as a gaming giant and ensured that The Legend of Zelda would only go on to reach greater heights.
Ocarina is one of those games that is frequently crowned with the title ‘the greatest of all time’. This is not light praise, as it means that no matter how many new games come out, Ocarina will at least be comparable to it in some fashion. In the past 3 years, gaming has seen a surge unlike anything its ever experienced before, with so many amazing games coming out for consoles like the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. With so many games being hailed as ‘the greatest of all time’, a common question among gaming circles is whether Ocarina truly deserves its ‘GOAT’ title or if it is overrated and out of its depth compared to later games. Today, we’re going to take a look at the things it did right, and if those things are voluminous enough to go down in history as one of the best video games ever created.
What Did Ocarina Do Right?
The year is 1998. Video games have just entered the 3D era with games like Super Mario 64 astounding gamers with the prospect of having every game look as detailed and pristine. The previous Zelda game came out in 1993, and the new 3D Zelda that the fans were excited for had been pushed back several times in order for developers to make a complete game. And then, when it finally came out, it was everything that the fans hoped for, and more. Ocarina of Time did so much right that its hard to list them out one by one, so I’m just going to go over the most impactful things Nintendo did in their claim to fame. Firstly, the expansive overworld; never before had a Zelda game looked this good and was this large. Hyrule Field was enormous to the point where travelling from Kokiri Forest to Hyrule Castle would take an entire day, an it provided a gateway to the other areas of Hyrule. Places like Hyrule Castle Town, Zora’s Domain, Goron City, and Lon Lon Ranch all had plenty of unique elements and a multitude of characters to interact with. You really never knew what you were going to end up doing in a place, which was refreshing and bold. The dungeons too, were absolutely superb; each had their own atmosphere that made the journey seem that much more real, and it kept the player engaged to the point where even the origin of the dungeon and the reason for it existing in the first place was something of interest. Couple all of this with graphics that were the best of its time, and its no wonder why people saw this as a visual masterpiece of a game. The 3D version of course, did one better by making everything much more pristine and neat, which looked superb.
Gameplay and game design were two other things that Ocarina hit right on the head of the nail: the Z targeting system was innovative and it allowed for streamlined and smooth combat that was both engaging and dynamic. It allowed you to focus on one enemy while making sure you could react to other enemies’ attacks at the same time, something that later became a staple in Zelda games and in video games in general. Lastly, the story is arguably one of the best that exists in any Zelda game. It was beautifully crafted, presenting the player with real stakes, made apparent by the effects of Link’s seven year jump forward in time to a now desolate Hyrule, and the interactions with the various characters created a real sense of attachment to them and the world of Hyrule.
So clearly, Ocarina did a lot right. However, if this is the case, then why is it called overrated?
The Overrated Argument And Why It’s Partially Right
Yes, you read that title right. I believe that Ocarina of Time is in fact, overrated, but only just. Rather, I think the correct classification for the game would be that its underwhelming. Saying this, however, does not signify that its a bad game by any means; far from it, actually. Allow me to explain.
Back when it released, Ocarina was unique because it brought so many new things to the table. No other game of that era had that much depth or complexity in it. However, in the modern era, all the things that made Ocarina unique and novel are just about normal for adventure games. What action-adventure game doesn’t have intricate details woven in to the graphics or a soundtrack with different background music for each level? What AAA game doesn’t have cinematic cutscenes and a complicated story? Games like Assassin’s Creed, The Last of Us, Uncharted and God of War all took elements from Ocarina and improved and made them work for different stories. In the grand scheme of things, in the modern era, Ocarina is just another action adventure game because everything that made it unique is status quo for video games right now. When you’re recommending Ocarina to a player who’s been exposed to so many games of this type, they’re not likely to see anything special in the game, hence its probably going to be underhwlmng for them. After hearing that it’s ‘the game that defined a generation’ and that it’s the ‘inspiration for the entire action adventure genre’, it’s not going to win too many people over as it is.
However, calling it underwhelming doesn’t take away from what its achieved and what it did for both the Zelda franchise and for gaming in general. It’s still a great game and one of the most quality pieces of entertainment out there; its just that calling it a life changing experience or labelling it as something more than a very influential video game is exaggerating it ever so slightly, and when people play it right now, they’re not likely to see that as its elements are common to most adventure games of this day and age. Nostalgia goggles aside, it’s another action adventure game that has stood the test of time remarkably well, even more so with the 2011 release on the 3DS.
In conclusion, Ocarina of Time can technically be called overrated, but I prefer to say that it may be underwhelming to people who are playing it for the first time. It’s only slightly overrated, and even that is only within the sense of it not being the definitive gaming experience that lasts throughout the ages. Its a magnificent game that shaped how adventure games were made and its extremely difficult to create anything that will have as big of an impact as it did when it first came out. It may not be the definitive gaming experience anymore, but it is without a doubt one of the best games created – both for what it gave to video games and what it meant for the future of 3D gaming.
See you next week for the next Zelda Month post!