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SummaryOld goodness in a new dimension
The GoodOcarina of Time came out when 3D graphics were just beginning to flourish. Many franchises were stuck in transition, resulting in less-than-satisfying 3D adaptations of earlier gameplay concepts. Development was approached with hesitation, features were omitted, engine-related problems had to be faced, whole genres ceased to exist or suddenly sprang to fame. Ocarina of Time had loftier goals than most others, hearing the gigantic steps of classic Zelda games behind it. When it was released, the enchanted audience discovered that not only nothing was lost in transition to 3D, but the series had truly gained a new dimension.
There are perfectly good reasons why Ocarina of Time continues to receive almost unanimously high scores and enjoys immense popularity that overshadows even its venerable predecessors. It is an immaculate, carefully crafted recreation of everything that made Zelda games fun, with the huge bonus of the third dimension that makes it even more immersive and addictive. Ocarina of Time is pure gaming joy from the beginning to the end, a game that oozes and emanates the kind of happy, ultra-focused creative energy that has always distinguished the best Nintendo games.
Like the previous Zeldas, Ocarina of Time excels at balancing gameplay aspects. It has a perfect pace sustained by exploration and plot-advancing objectives. Even within the graphical limitations of 2D, Hyrule was always a great place to explore, because the developers created busy worlds where enemies, items, and places of interests were at every corner, encouraging the desire to stray from the proscribed path and have your own adventure. Ocarina of Time works exactly the same way, but its world is even more absorbing. You'll lose yourself in the vastness of the game world, but you'll never walk around clueless because there will be always tasks at hand. Main plot quests, hunting for items that would make Link stronger, sub-quests, collectibles, optional areas - everything is there at your service. Ocarina of Time is an awe-inspiring virtual playground with a coherent, tight design such as never seen before.
But Ocarina of Time is so much more than just an impressive 3D world. The gameplay transition to the new engine is astonishingly smooth, resulting in a technically flawless experience that refines and surpasses the limited mechanics of the past. Combat is handled as gracefully as it was only possible at the time, with a convenient lock-on option and just a bit of practice required to get the best out of the system. The integration of the third dimension is perhaps most evident in the game's excellently designed dungeons. Dungeons have always been the meat and potatoes of Zelda, and Ocarina of Time takes them to new heights. Full of puzzles, diverse obstacles, spectacular views, and intimidating, cinematic boss battles, these dungeons come to life, towering even over the intricate, fascinating 2D mazes of earlier Zeldas.
In general, Ocarina of Time is more of an exploration-oriented game with emphasis on problem-solving than the earlier installments. There is more to do here than in the previous games, which includes more varied puzzles, more interaction with NPCs, new weapons and special items, more collectibles. New abilities such as playing melodies on a musical instrument to solve puzzles enhance the gameplay even more. Only enemies have shrunk in numbers, and I was very glad to discover that. Zelda games were never dedicated to combat, and respawning enemies populating peaceful outdoor areas didn't add much to the games and, frankly, bothered me quite a bit even in Link to the Past. Ocarina of Time is more relaxed, but certainly not less intense. It simply eliminates a lot of filler material and focuses on what is truly fun.
Ocarina of Time occupies an important place in the history of video games, comparable to that of Tomb Raider: both games triumphantly illustrated the validity of the third dimension for genres that were conceived long before it became feasible. If Tomb Raider opened the gates to 3D for platformers, Ocarina of Time did the same not only for its own unique "Zelda genre" (action with exploration, puzzles, and a bit of role-playing), but also to full-fledged third-person action RPGs that were struggling to perform the same transition. Ultima IX is not just an upgrade of Pagan: it has been directly influenced by Ocarina of Time, and then itself served as the main inspiration to the free-roaming action RPG goodness of Gothic games.
I first saw Ocarina of Time in a friend's house about thirteen years ago. He was already well into the game and was eager to show me how rich its gameplay was and how, according to him, "you could do anything". Taking his words literally, I pointed at the horse the protagonist was riding and asked him if he could kill it. We spent the next hour or so doing everything we could to blow up the poor Epona. We hacked it with a sword, shot arrows at it, and poured showers of Deku nuts over its back. Since the horse refused to die, we grew exasperated and stuck three bombs right under its belly. A dreadful explosion followed, the screen got covered by smoke, and a few moments later an unharmed, undaunted horse was revealed. Even though we didn't succeed in our murderous endeavor, that incident clearly demonstrated what just might be the game's greatest asset: its ability to offer fun and excitement anywhere, anytime.
The BadIt takes a while to get used to combat, and while the targeting system is excellent, the absence of a freely rotatable camera may create unwanted difficulties, especially in some of the boss battles. Same applies to a few dungeon puzzles and generally any exercise that requires a good, unobstructed view. The optional first-person view is great, but you can't move in it. In populated areas the game even eschews true 3D and instead forces us to control Link from a bizarre bird-eye perspective with a fixed angle. I wish they'd stick to the same engine in every location.
The game's story is sparse and for the most part as schematic and as predictable as in the earlier Zeldas. It's not that I was expecting a philosophical tale with deep psychological observations, but at least a slight departure from the familiar "Meet Zelda - start collecting stuff - defeat Ganon" formula would have been nice. I felt the developers were a bit too careful to preserve the classic outlines of the story at all costs. In the upcoming Majora's Mask they became more creative and original in that aspect.