A great game touched by age
Nostalgia can be a fickle beast. I recently purchased two remasters from Paul McCartney’s solo catalog and realized, much to my surprise, that each album held a new significance to me. McCartney, Paul McCartney’s first solo outing after the breakup of the Beatles, was one of my favorite albums to come out of the seventies. Its raw homemade production lent it a charm I was unaccustomed to hearing upon my first listen. As for the album’s predecessor, McCartney II, I felt nothing but bilious disgust. Whereas McCartney had proven itself through bare bones instrumentation, McCartney II seemed an exercise in the bizarre, wild with synthesizer and boasting an embarrassment of vocal effects. Coming back to these albums in their remastered state, however, left me confused. The homegrown simplicity of McCartney suddenly seemed cold and distracted, where McCartney II showed a completely different musician, one confident enough to experiment with his music, even if it meant disappointing his most loyal fans. Home is never the same as you remember it, and going into Nintendo and Grezzo’sm3DS remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a question stood out in my mind: “How can I objectively review a remake of what many consider to be the very best game of all time?”
I recently found that describing a Zelda game to someone unfamiliar with the series doesn’t quite get the point across, so for those unfamiliar with Ocarina’s source material, bear with me a little bit. Ocarina of Time begins by introducing players to the Kokiri Forest, a sanctuary where Kokiri children never grow older and are looked after by the forest’s guardian, the Great Deku Tree. When Link, the game’s hero, is called to the Great Deku Tree unexpectedly, he learns of a vast evil spreading across the kingdom of Hyrule, and of his impending role in the fate of the world. Link’s adventure spans Hyrule, bringing him to underwater palaces, burning mountaintops, and seemingly endless desert. The only keys to Link’s mysterious destiny seem to be wise beyond her years princess of Hyrule, Zelda, and Ganondorf, the dark leader of the Gerudo tribe.
Ocarina of Time is generally separated into two distinct gameplay styles. There’s a lot to see in Hyrule, and exploration of the game’s overworld can easily cover 60 to 70% of a single playthrough. Willingness to divert from the main storyline pays off, as players are rewarded through item upgrades, treasures, minigames, and more. Time spent outside of freeform exploration is spent in temples and dungeons, all of which follow a similar basic pattern. Each dungeon adds a new weapon to Link’s arsenal, and serves as a means to advance the story.
Before I start critiquing Ocarina of Time: 3D it’s worth mentioning just how important the game’s pedigree is. There are few games, if any, more seminal than the original Ocarina of Time. Its release continues to define the standards of polygonal action games, with mechanics such as lock-on targeting as well context-sensitive buttons that allow for a single button to perform multiple actions. I can’t critique the significance of the original Ocarina of Time, which is fortunate, because I haven’t been asked to. I’ve been asked to review that game’s remake, and specifically how it fits alongside modern games.
I feel relieved to say that Ocarina of Time 3D has helped its source material age with grace. Ocarina 3D has seen a complete graphical overhaul, with crisp new textures and models replacing the long-since dated graphics of the original Ocarina of Time. Mostly untouched, however, is the game’s soundtrack, which hasn’t aged particularly well. Except for the end credits, every piece of music is the same MIDI orchestration found in Ocarina’s N64 release. It’s frustrating, especially considering steps taken to improve both visual style and interface within the game, though it’s nothing to get up in arms over. Also included in the remake is the “Master Quest”, a sort of B-side mode with amped up difficulty and re-arranged dungeons, as well as a boss rush mode accessible close to the halfway point of the story. If you’re looking for a great portable version of Ocarina of Time, you simply can’t go wrong with Ocarina 3D. At first I felt like that could be the big argument of my review, that Nintendo had touched up one of their most cherished games, and that was that. But I stopped to consider the very real possibility that this would be some gamers first encounter with Ocarina of Time. It’s tough to look at a game outside of its original context, but it’s sometimes a necessary step. While its 3DS remake speaks very clearly to those familiar with its source material, Ocarina has limited appeal to those unfamiliar with how games were made and played in 1998. Hyrule Field is huge to players who were playing games in 98, but to those who weren’t, it comes big, bland and poorly arranged. I can’t assume that every person who buys Ocarina of Time 3D will be familiar with the original game, and those without that nostalgia are playing a completely different game. It’s still a very good game, mind you, but not a game worthy of being called the greatest of all time.
Ocarina of Time definitely deserves its place in the halls of video game legend. For every problem I have with Ocarina 3D’s barren overworld or flat soundscape, I can recall the thrill of solving a particularly difficult puzzle, or discovering the secret behind defeating a boss. But I can’t review a game from 1998 as if it existed in a vacuum. If you have ever played the original Ocarina of Time in any capacity, be it on a Nintendo 64, Gamecube, or even an emulator, this game is a necessary purchase. It lends a presentational polish to a game absolutely deserving of it, while still retaining what made it special in its day. For those without such memories though, Ocarina of Time 3D is still worth playing, but it may not offer the same appeal as it does to those already familiar with the Ocarina’s outstanding pedigree.