Ten years. Ten years ago today. November 23rd, 1998. Wow. I was fresh out of high school and just getting my bearings as a freshman at the University of Scranton. November 23rd, 1998. One of the most important days in gaming history. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released. For anyone who knows me, it's no secret that Ocarina of Time is one of my all-time favorite games. And really, it's not just me. This game is still to this day touted by many as the best game ever. Like.....EVER. And it is still number 1 on Game Rankings.
So let's shove the Master Sword back into the Pedestal of Time and go back 10 years as I tell the tale "Vanishing Act: My Purchase of the Ocarina of Time".....
Autumn, 1998 - I was in my first semester as a freshman in college (holy crap…how long ago that seems. Damn, I'm OLD!). I played N64 games (loved Mario 64 & StarFox 64), but at the time I believe I was more into PC games. I was very much looking forward to "Zelda 64". My brudda, Christian, suggested I should pre-order Ocarina of Time (this particular part of the story might have actually been before college started, as I can't remember what day the pre-order was). Pre-ordering games was a new concept for me. I couldn't comprehend why I needed to pre-order. Up to that point, I had never really bought a game (or game system, for that matter) on launch day as far as I can recall. So I went to the EB in the mall here, and did the pre-order thing. It seemed easy enough and I actually wondered why I had to since there was no line to pre-order the game. Surely there would be enough copies of the game, right?
As launch day approached, the hype was building. Movie trailer-like commercials were on TV ("Have ye The Stones?"). Hands-on reviews were praising the game. Rumors and questions were flying: "I hear it takes 2 days to travel across the map!" "I think you can ride a horse!" "I heard Link actually ages and grows-up during the game!" "I read the game has night and day!" "What's an ocarina, anyway?"
Launch day arrived and I was pumped. Luck was on my side that day, as launch day fell on a day that I only had 2 early classes. Plus it was on the Wednesday that kicked off Thanksgiving break. It couldn't have been set it up any more perfectly.
My last class of the day, Public Speaking, felt like it took 5 hours to end. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. When 10:50am hit, I was out the door and flying right to EB in the Viewmont Mall. When I got there, I was slightly surprised to find that there were about 10 people in line ahead of me (keeping in mind I had never been at a launch before). After 10-15 minutes I was second in line. A mother (I assume) was in line ahead of me. I overheard her ask the sales clerk for "the new Zelda game for the N64", spoken in an automated style that seemed like it was burned into her head by the repetition of a 10-year old kid. She promptly got shot down (figuratively, this wasn't the PS3 launch) when she didn't have a pre-order stub. She stepped off to the side, only (to her credit) slightly irked. I sauntered up to the counter, flashed the pre-order stub, and asked for my copy of Ocarina of Time. The clerk turned to the box of games, removed my copy, and then started digging in another box and asked me my shirt size. He packed my game, and my Legend of Zelda t-shirt in a bag and I went happily on my way, passing by the lady in front of me earlier. For a brief second, I felt bad for her. That sympathetic thought was quickly replaced with the thought: "I have the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in this bag and I'll be playing it in 20 minutes!"
I got back to the house, ran right down to the basement where the N64 was located, carefully opened the box, and took out the shimmering, golden game cartridge. I called to any family members in the household to come experience video game history with me. The mom and the younger brother (who was 8½ at the time) were the only ones home (the sister still had classes, and the dad was at work), but they came down to watch. The little brother didn't last too long, as he had the flu and wasn't really in the mood for anything but sleep. The mom watched for a short while longer, and really got a kick out of the game. When the sister got home from classes, she plopped down on the couch to watch, and when her then boyfriend came over, he plopped down next to her and watched. They watched for a few hours. Every now and then the mom or the dad would stop and watch for 15-20 minutes while the sister, her boyfriend, and I were all on the couch in front of the N64. It was a whole family experience. The last time I saw the whole family collectively gather to watch a video game was when Christian and I played Doom over the modem together for the first time.
And I understand this wasn't a situation unique to me. My good friend, Frank, told me that his father – who possibly hasn't played a video game since Pong – sat and watched intently as Frank played Ocarina of Time, and was into it enough that he was offering Frank some "try this, try that," solutions to temple puzzles.
I had started playing Ocarina of Time around 12:00pm. I played it until about 2:00am, pausing once for about 15 minutes to eat and give the thumbs a break – almost 14 straight hours of playing. I believe that's a personal record. I couldn't sleep that night – the game was in my head. Four hours later, I woke up at 6:00am and went right down and played it more. Only this time I was forced to take a 2 hour break from it to spend time with relatives. Apparently, Thanksgiving is viewed as an important time to see family, or something. I did manage to bow out of dinner early and sneak my way back downstairs to the N64 with a plate full of turkey, corn, and mashed potatoes.
The rest of the break followed a similar pattern: wake up early, play several hours, break for food, play several hours, go to bed late, repeat. I always will remember this game as the game that made me disappear from society for 5 days. It's a shame that will probably never happen again, but then again, it was a unique experience that keeps Ocarina of Time in a special place in my collection.