|Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
IGN64 reviews the biggest game of the decade. Does
Zelda 64 live up to the hype?
by Peer Schneider
November 25, 1998 - The new benchmark for interactive
entertainment has arrived. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,
the fifth official installment in Nintendo's popular action-RPG
series is finally here, and like its NES predecessor in 1987 it
is a game so enjoyable, it has the power to pull videogame
players into its imaginative worlds -- and refuse to let go for
days. Call us crazy, but when the final version of Zelda 64
arrived in the IGN64 offices, we stopped working, locked
ourselves into a room with a big-screen TV and a surround system
and played 17 hours straight. After only a few hours of sleep,
we were back for more and we couldn't stop until we finished the
game. Then, we started over again to find all the secrets.
Rarely is there such a perfect mixture of graphics, sound, and
gameplay that even the most cynical players will admit that
Zelda 64 is poised to shape the action RPG genre for years to
Like all games in the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time follows the
adventures of a young Kokiri named Link. After a nightmare
involving a certain young princess and the evil thief Ganondorf
(who eventually turns into the horned creature known as Ganon),
the elven boy wakes up in his home village tucked away behind
the mysterious Lost Woods. The only Kokiri without a fairy, Link
soon meets up with his new traveling companion, the winged Navi,
and sets out on the adventure of his life. The quest, which
inevitably turns into a rescue mission for Princess Zelda, leads
players through dark dungeons, picturesque villages, into the
heart of a volcano, to the bottom of a lake, through a haunted
desert, deep into a magical forest, into a giant tree, the belly
of a beast, and even through time. To say that this game is huge
is an understatement. Every time you discover a new corner of
the Kingdom of Hyrule, you'll be amazed at the detail, the
richness of scenery, the many things to do, and the amount of
thought that went into designing it all. For example, players
can spend hours just exploring a village, talking to the
inhabitants, solving puzzles, and looking for hidden items.
As soon as you pick up the controls for the first time and start
to explore the vast universe that makes up this latest creation
from the hands of Shigeru Miyamoto and team, you know you're in
for a treat. At first, the control is very reminiscent of Super
Mario 64, the game that single-handedly invented 3D platformers
as we know them. But Ocarina of Time is not a platformer, a fact
that takes some getting used to when trying out Link's various
actions. There is no jump button. You can still jump at certain
points in the game, but it is not integral to the gameplay that
players actually control the jump themselves. Instead, Ocarina
of Time introduces an auto-jump feature where Link will jump the
last possible moment when running toward a ledge. It sounds
annoying in theory, but it works very well for this type of
The gameplay objectives will be instantly familiar to friends of
the series. Push walls to find hidden rooms, use bombs to
uncover secret passages, shoot arrows at certain objects to open
doors, and so on. But Ocarina of Time doesn't only imitate its
predecessors, it innovates at every corner. With the use of the
ocarina (a clay flute), players need to play certain melodies to
solve riddles or warp to new places, and even engage in numerous
games of "Simon Says". When you bring out the ocarina, the
controller's button layout actually mirrors a real ocarina, with
the Z button acting as the bottom hole on the flute. To allow
for a little more fun, the designers also added a pitch bend and
modulation option via the analog stick. Compare Zelda 64 to
other titles and you will find that even one single dungeon has
more puzzles than all the levels in many other games combined.
Things really take off once Ocarina of Time introduces the
ability to travel back and forth in time (very much like light
world/dark world gameplay). Without giving too much away,
consider this one: at one point in the game, you talk to a
character as adolescent Link, who tells you that a young boy
with an ocarina did something seven years ago. Then you go back
in time and actually do it. Or how about a fully functional
fishing game, with Rumble Pak support and realistic fish
behavior? This mini-game is so good, any other company would
have released it as a game of its own. Then there is the ability
to ride a horse -- it's so addictive, you'll catch yourself just
galloping around and jumping fences. Or how about involving
sword fights with a multitude of enemies that block your attacks
with their shields? A shooting gallery? A super-cool hookshot
that lets you traverse deep ravines? Secrets involving the use
of sunlight and mirrors? Want to light some torches? How about
catching the spirit of a slain ghost in a bottle? Changing
daylight and weather conditions that affect the gameplay? The
ability to wear different masks? Rumble Pak vibrations that give
away the locations of hidden caves? It's all there. Oh, and
let's not forget about teasing chickens... No matter which way
you look at it, Ocarina of Time is simply unmatched when it
comes to the variety and diversity of actions and puzzles. Do
yourself a favor and play this game without the use of a guide!
It's a lot more rewarding when you finally get your hands on
something that you've been looking for for days than to read
about it in a guide.
The camera follows Link in a style similar to Mario 64. Like in
Mario, the camera also zooms out to reveal Link's surroundings
at times -- but that's where the similarities end. In order to
give players more control over the viewpoint and enable better,
more focused 3D fighting, Nintendo reached deep into its bag of
tricks and came up with an innovative feature. First of all,
tapping the Z button will force the camera behind Link, no
matter where you are. Incredibly, clipping is kept to a minimum
and the camera logic almost always guarantees a good view of the
action. But there is more.
When you see a character or an object that interests you or
you're being attacked by an enemy, press the Z trigger. This
will bring up a rotating yellow cursor that locks onto your
target. Now, as long as you don't press the Z button again (or
turn away to break your lock), the camera will stay on your
target, retaining its over the shoulder position. This allows
you to circle your enemies and slash at them while
side-stepping, back-flipping and shielding yourself from the
onslaught. While you are locking on to a target, the screen will
become slightly letterboxed to let you know that the target mode
is active. To additionally help you keep track of your
attackers, your fairy Navi will hover over the target's head.
There is also an alternate camera setting that requires you to
hold down the Z button to keep a lock, but your fingers will
probably get tired after a while. Needless to say that the Z
button feature works impressively well and is sure to find its
way into future 3D games. Ingenious.
The upper C button will let you either switch to an alternate
camera angle (inside houses or towns), or zooms in to let you
The attack system is equally impressive. Pressing B will make
Link draw his sword. Press it again to slash at your enemy once.
Press it three times to swing the blade from the bottom to the
top. Press forward and B to slash downward. Turn the 3D Stick in
a circle to do a roundhouse slash. And once you found the proper
"power-up", press and hold B to charge your sword and make it
glow, then unleash a nice helicopter slash that's sure to turn
any stinking skeleton into a heap of bones. Similar controls are
available for the other items, which can be distributed over any
of the lower three C buttons. Press the corresponding key once
to draw the weapon or item, then press it again to attack. For
the projectile weapons (such as the bow or the boomerang), the
designers also added an optional first-person perspective, kind
of like the sniper mode in GoldenEye.
But the crowning feature is the context sensitive A button. If
you stand close to a ladder, the A button display at the top of
the screen will change to climb or descend, if you run around
freely, it will change to jump, stand next to a sign and it
turns into read, and so on. Simply pressing the button will
activate the function. Some of the available functions include
open, pull, push, dive, check, talk and crawl. This A button
feature is Nintendo's way to keep things simple and to deal with
the limited selection of buttons on a standard console
controller. Once in a while, the automatic selection will cause
you to do something you weren't trying to, but 99% of the time
it works perfectly fine.
Once you get used to the radically different camera system and
button control, navigating the environments and fighting against
enemies becomes second nature. Many of the problems that plagued
Mario 64 in the camera and control department are a thing of the
past, and there is virtually nothing that distracts from Zelda
64's immersive gameplay. Being able to explore the wide
environments, climb hills, fight monsters, pick up and use items
and discover new areas becomes second nature fairly quickly and
soon you will feel right at home Hyrule. Add to that an
interesting quest, tons of mini-games, hidden items (how about a
two-fisted sword that doesn't break?) and enemies (100 hidden
spiders, anyone?) and a compelling storyline with plenty of time
travelling. Sure, you can probably blast through the title in
around 30 hours, but it's easy to see why some gamers are
spending in excess of 80 hours to complete the title.
There is absolutely no question about it. Ocarina of Time is the
best game on the N64 and we can't think of any game that we'd
rather play on any other system.
The Zelda 64 cartridge, which is also available in a limited
gold edition, comes with a built-in EEPROM that lets you save
three different files on the cart. There is no need for a
separate memory pak.
Remember how impressive it was when you jumped around in the 3D
environments of Super Mario 64 for the first time back in 1996?
With Zelda 64, Nintendo is raising the stakes considerably. Once
you step into the Hyrule fields, blinded by the early morning
sun, you will be mesmerized by the incredible scale and depth of
the landscapes. Rolling hills extend all the way to the far
horizon, with Hyrule Castle barely visible in the hazy distance.
After a few minutes, the sun will set, it will get dark, and the
moon slowly rises in the sky. Far, far away, a wolf houls and
skeletons with red glowing eyes ascend from the earth.
The graphics are incredible. Whereas Nintendo concentrated on
framerate and speed with F-Zero X, Zelda 64 is all about detail
and visibility. There is no fog. The towns are highly detailed
with elaborate wall textures that are directly affected by
Link's glowing fairy, Navi, and the beautiful day/night changes.
Characters animate fluidly and display several different
expressions on their faces. While the framerate and texture
design is not always up to par with Rare's Banjo-Kazooie (the
blurry marketplace scene comes to mind), the polygonal
environments, colors, and visibility are the best yet seen on
In addition to the many wonderfully designed enemy characters
roaming the dungeons and levels, Zelda 64 also pushes the limits
of the console with oversized bosses. If you heard a loud thud
on Monday, November 23, then it was our jaws hitting the floor
when we first laid eyes on Ganon. Stick with this title and you
will see temples and dungeons that seem to have jumped right out
of an Indiana Jones movie. Add to that minutes of real-time
rendered cutscenes that shape the story and you have one of the
best looking console games ever made.
Koji Kondo returns to deliver a whole songbook full of marvelous
melodies. Some of the eerie dungeon tunes recall the work of
minimalist composer Phillip Glass, others are vintage Kondo with
sweeping string sounds and melancholic guitar picks.
Unfortunately, there are a few stinkers with annoyingly dated
synth samples (it's time to update your libraries, Nintendo!)
and the legendary Zelda Overworld theme is NOT in the game. Boo!
Luckily, there are plenty of returning melodies, such as the
Adagio in Kakariko town and familiar ocarina tunes. But what
really makes this game are the sound effects. Every location has
a multitude of ambient noises, from the clanking of a windmill,
the subtle trickling of water to the howling of the wind. The
sound effects are brilliant. Depending on what you hit with your
sword, you hear a cool metal clank, the bow and arrow are as
convincing as the real thing, and the screams of the Dodongo are
downright scary. The overworld is alive with bird calls,
chirping crickets, animal noises and footsteps. In certain
locations, thunder can be heard and it will start to rain -- and
here's the kicker: the game is in full surround sound. Zelda is
probably the first in-house developed Nintendo title that makes
examplary use of the rear audio channel in addition to the L and
R stereo channels. The sound virtually engulfs the player,
drawing you completely into the world of Hyrule. A world, that
players will be so content to live in while the game lasts that
we can't put it any other way -- Zelda succeeds on every level.
I have to confess that I'm a long time fan of the Zelda series.
Ever since Link to the Past, I have been waiting for another
adventure with the same sense of freedom and interactivity.
Although games like Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, and Metroid
filled the void, I had to wait six years for Zelda's jump to a
next generation console. The wait was very well worth it.
Ocarina of Time is easily the best in the series. Sure, the game
has a couple of little flaws (the annoying Navi "hey" messages,
for example) -- but unlike the hundreds and hundreds of
uninspired gaming sequels that find their way into console and
PC owners' homes every year, Ocarina of Time takes some basic
gameplay and story ideas from its predecessors and rolls them
into a completely unique experience.
I don't know how many games I have played in my life where you
see some cool scenery in the background and you're thinking
"wow, wouldn't it be great if you could actually go there?"
That's what Zelda is all about. You see something and you're
thinking "wouldn't it be cool if you could..." -- and you can.
The fighting system is fantastic, the new camera system unlike
anything you have ever seen. Apart from a little slowdown and a
few blurry textures here and there, the graphics are insanely
beautiful. The sunsets and rain sequences, the projectile and
smoke effects, everything is displayed in vibrant colors and
with much attention to detail. Although the lack of the
overworld theme is a bummer, the many returning Zelda melodies
(such as the glissando announcing a secret or the fanfare when
finding an item) and the moody dungeon scores are only outdone
by the amazing surround ambient effects.
In the gameplay department, the gap between Nintendo's in-house
development and third party titles becomes painfully clear. The
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time should be recommended playing
for ever aspiring videogame designer and programmer out there.
If you're making games and you haven't played this game, then
you're like a director who has never seen Citizen Kane or a
musician who has never heard of Mozart. If you're a gamer
looking for your next title to buy, then take it from me, this
is as good as it's going to get for a looooong time.
A break-through title from Nintendo that deserves all the hype
and praise it's gotten. The limited gold edition is just the
icing on the cake. My highest possible recommendation.
Another Take from Matt Casamassina
Sometimes you play a game and you think to yourself, "You know.
It would have been really cool if the game designers had
implemented [x]. Or, what if it were possible to do [x]?"
And then there's Zelda.
It's a game that enables players to go anywhere and do just
about anything in an immense 3D world. A world so vast that it
takes literally minutes to walk across a tiny portion of it.
It's huge. In fact, in the history of videogames, I've never
played a piece of software that compares with Zelda's raw depth.
But there's much more to Zelda than size. Spanning a period of
three years, Miyamoto and his 200-man development team had
molded a game with so many details -- subtle and otherwise --
that it's almost mind-boggling. Zelda's fishing game, for
example, is so well executed that it could have been released
separately as a game of its own. There are tons of little extras
like that, whether it be the title's endless secrets or enormous
selection of characters, weapons, items, spells, and the like.
And there's always something new. Trust me, the first time you
ride the horse you'll be absolutely overjoyed. If your anything
like me, you'll spend an hour just riding around Hyrule in awe.
Everything, from Zelda's Z-trigger lock-on system to the game's
in-game cut-scenes and well-balanced story advancement, is
perfect. Zelda 64 is well worth the wait. It is a game that
comes along once a decade; it's the crowning achievement of
Nintendo 64's life-span. To sum things up, if you own a Nintendo
64 you must own Zelda. It's that simple. And if you don't own
the system, Zelda is reason enough to make your purchase --
Well done Nintendo. Nobody does it better.
On to the ratings. As always, the final score is not an average.