To kick off an actual blog where I try to organize thoughts on various projects and games in general I wanted to start with a fun topic: my favorite game. Specifically, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And why!
It’s always fun to write about favorite games. Ocarina of Time has been written about in this capacity more times than possibly any other game. There’s good reason for that.
Coming of Age
Ocarina of Time tells a simple story. It never bashes the player over the head with its themes (beyond simple Good Vs. Evil). However, the most effective theme is that of coming of age. It is a theme not told by the plot, story, or characters. It is one told by gameplay. This is the central reason I think Ocarina of Time is my favorite game.
In Zelda, the player-character Link (as in the Link between the literal player and the world) is a voiceless champion of the player’s identity. You project your aspirations onto Link in every Zelda game; you become the hero of Hyrule vicariously through link. Every Zelda game features link growing in power. From the number of hearts he has to the available weapons in his arsenal. Ocarina of Time goes a step further in that you literally grow up when you play the game.
Still, every gameplay decision grows your power and maturity as a player. Around the time you get the hang of things, the world throws a curveball at you and is plunged into darkness. Your youthful naivety (that you could somehow stop Ganondorf) is proven to be just so and you inadvertently allow evil to thrive on the planet immediately.
Magic puts you in stasis for seven years for you to literally become an adult. Now the world is dark. Exploring Hyrule as an adult is creepy, much creepier than as a child. While there were some evil things as a child, nothing prepares you for the first step into Castle Town after getting the master sword. Zombies, ruined buildings, a volcano in the background, a castle surrounded by lava. It’s surreal, it’s creepy, and you’re not ready to tackle it yet. As a player, you don’t know what’s there yet. No story or plot reminds you of this, the simple fact is that you should be afraid of this brand new world.
Now you go adventuring through 5 dungeons. You assemble a huge arsenal. Dare I say, you gather your courage. Then you come back and prove what you’ve known and finally smite the baddie.
OoT never explicitly tells you how much you’ve grown. You demonstrate it through gameplay. No other Zelda game does it quite so well. Allow me to fanboy/guffaw a bit and say this is awesome.
Zelda’s core progression revolves around completing dungeons. The “formula” for each one is an amalgamation of puzzles wherein you find a special item in the first half of the level, then use said item to finish exploring the dungeon and finally defeat a boss at the end. Ocarina of Time’s dungeon design is remarkable. When you consider that it was the first 3D Zelda game, that it still stands up well to do this day is a huge accomplishment. I put a picture of the forest temple above as I consider it to be my favorite.
The forest temple is the first temple you tackle as an adult Link. I believe it to be the most unsettling of all the dungeons in the game. The music and ambiance set the stage for an incredible temple. The level revolves around you finding and defeating 4 ghosts (Poes). Inside the dungeon there are twisted corridors that you must untwist, labyrinths to traverse, and combat encounters to overcome. While reasonably straight forward in design, you must use a wide array of your abilities to beat the level. Unlike the usually single minded nature of the child dungeons, the forest temple ramps up in difficult and length.
Each dungeon has its high points. I don’t think OoT is the high point of dungeon design in the Zelda series either, but for as many dungeons as it has they are consistently high quality. You spend most of your time in the game beating dungeons so it’s a good thing that they’re all fun.
You spend all this time building up your arsenal so that you can save Hyrule from Ganondorf. You climb to the top of his tower and confront him. Finally, you strike him down. In Ganondorf’s last breath, he tries to bring the castle down on top of you. You must race down the castle before it collapses, Zelda follows close behind to help you.
You get out just in the nick of time and the castle crumbles behind you. Just as you and Zelda are about to relish in victory, a rumble from the rubble is heard and Ganondorf emerges and turns into Ganon. Not the king of evil, not a lizard monster, just simply ‘Ganon’. The final showdown takes place with lightning crashing around you in the rubble of a blown up castle. Finally, you plunge your sword into the pig demon’s skull and save Hyrule.
I’ve spoken about the coming of age bits and this is where it all comes to a head. Traversing Ganondorf’s castle forces you to use everything in your arsenal to make it to the top. Sort of a final test, each section of the castle echoes a dungeon from the past. The final battle itself is full of twists and turns. When I first beat Ganondorf I was ecstatic. To then have to escape a collapsing castle and then fight “Ganon” himself is a wonderful experience.
I could go on about why all the aspects of OoT are great. But these three reasons are the largest as to why it’s my favorite game. There’s a lot of reasons why the game is so well designed and made yet that pales in comparison to the memories and experiences I have of playing the game. While the game is not without its flaws, they are so minor when compared to what the game succeeds at. Ultimately, the biggest let down in Ocarina of Time is that you can only experience it for the first time once.