HEY LISTEN! 21 years ago today, a video game that is still widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time, hit shelves in Japan. That game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Ocarina of Time was the fifth game in the Zelda timeline, assuming you don’t count the forgettable Philips CDI titles – and why would you? Upon the game’s release, the RPG genre as we knew it was changed forever, setting a whole new benchmark that remains firmly in place, even today. This was Link’s first foray into the world of 3D, and it opened up Hyrule like never before. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Early on in the game’s development, legendary Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto had concerns about the sheer size of the game. He also voiced concerns about the aesthetic of Ocarina of Time, which is believed to have been closer to Super Mario 64 in its design than the game we ended up with. Originally the plan had been to centre the game around Gannondorf’s castle, using that as a base point in which Link could teleport to different areas of the game.
Mercifully this idea was scrapped in favour of the open-world concept we’ve come to know and love. The game structure is very similar to an earlier Zelda offering; Link to the Past which also utilised a tutorial arena followed by 3 dungeons that would serve as the main focus of the game. Upon completing these dungeons, players would then be treated to the final act, which really played up to Miyamoto’s dream of wanting to give his games a true film-like feeling. Unless you’ve been living under a Korak shaped rock for the last 21 years, you’ll probably recall how deceptive the Kokiri Forest opening sequence actually was. This was the tutorial, a how-to for any newcomers to the Zelda franchise, but it actually hid the sheer scope and size of the game that lay ahead.
By the time the shimmying little elf allows you to leave the forest, you feel prepared for everything still to come. This feeling doesn’t last once you walk out into the sprawl of Hyrule Field though. In front of you are numerous ways to proceed, a whole world opening up to you – gone is the linear videogame mechanic of old. Joining you on your quest is the annoying little fairy known as Navi (for navigator), a character voiced by Kaori Mizuhashi. Navi is a useful tool to help you find your way around Hyrule, but will forever be the reason this writer twitches violently every time anybody says “Hey listen”. Whether you chose to listen to Navi or not, you soon discover that the true way to navigate this world is to unlock or discover specific items. This was a genius way to stealthily drive you towards the next part of the game that we’d rarely seen before Ocarina of Time.
It is arguable that one of Ocarina of Time’s most enduring legacies is the water temple within Lake Hylia. Now we know that this is probably a trigger for many of you reading this, and was probably the cause of many a broken joypad over the years, but there’s no way we can celebrate 21 years of this game without covering it. Heck, even the game’s director Eiji Aonuma came out to publically apologise for just how difficult this section of Ocarina of Time was.
I remember the incredible feeling of frustration playing this Upon its release, Japanese fans lapped up Ocarina of Time, buying close to a million copies. This enjoyment would also be reflected in the press reviews, with almost every review landing at least a 98% score overall. Not bad at all.