The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
The realm of Hyrule is on the verge of death. It doesn’t look that way at a glance; it’s a massive, brightly-rendered place filled with life. The lush fields seem to stretch into infinity, and its rich variety of flora and fauna is unmatched. The kingdom is home to several races of sentient beings, and they get along surprisingly well. The citizens of Castle Town live in prosperity, spending their days in drunken, good-natured revelry. This is the time in which Hyrule is at the height of its prominence and glory…and it’s about to fall. No one seems to realize that something evil has seeped into the foundations of their idyllic wonderland, and that everything they know and love about their precious kingdom will soon be rendered asunder. Only Princess Zelda has an inkling of what’s going on, but even she can’t save the world alone.
Hyrule needs a hero.
Instead, it gets Link. He doesn’t seem like much of a savior; at the beginning of the story, he’s little more than a ten year-old boy with a crappy sword and wooden shield. What he lacks in strength, however, is more than made up with his incredible courage. He’s brave (and gullible) enough to embark on a dangerous journey just because of the hunch of a paranoid princess. Her assumptions were correct – Ganondorf is so obviously evil that it’s almost comical – but they still make for a rather shallow plot. Despite its flaws and simplicity, the story is surprisingly dark and endearing. The kingdom has a hidden and often sinister nature, and you’ll have to contend with everything from thieves and ghosts to demons and zombies along the way. What begins as a blatant homage to Arthurian myth quickly evolves into an epic quest that spans across all of Hyrule and into very fabric of time.
Link’s journey is designed as a cycle. His overall goal is to find a dungeon, discover an item or weapon, kill a boss, reclaim some kind of trinket to further advance the plot, and begin the process anew. You’ll have to explore tons of rooms and solve all kinds of puzzles along the way. It usually involves hitting a switch, moving blocks a certain way, lighting all the torches in the room, collecting coins, dodging traps, killing anything that moves, and all the other stuff that has become the staple of any Zelda game. There’s little challenge to be found in these obstacles; as long as you pay attention to your surroundings and understand the capabilities of your items, you shouldn’t run into many problems. If you’re thorough enough to access every part of a given dungeon, you’ll eventually cross paths with some kind of behemoth that requires your most recently-acquired weapon to beat. Aside from Ganondorf (and maybe Bongo Bongo), they don’t pose much of a threat once you’ve figured out how to beat them. The battles are more fun than they are difficult, and remain satisfying throughout.
The process is made even easier thanks to the superb implementation of the touch screen and button layout. In the original version, you had to pause the game to look at the map, switch items, and equip gear. This time, everything is relegated to the bottom screen; you can toggle among the various menus much faster. You can organize your inventory and assign items to the various buttons, which lets you adjust to a given puzzle or situation quickly and efficiently. It may not seem like much, but it makes a huge difference in some of the later areas; the infamously tedious Water Temple is made much more tolerable thanks to the handy touch screen commands. That goes for the Z-Targeting and basic attack functions as well; the controls and aiming are responsive and easy to handle. It’s not as complex or demanding as other three-dimensional games, but it’s still remarkably polished and streamlined for what it offers.
It’s not just about fighting, though. What makes Ocarina of Time so interesting is the amount of stuff that you can do on the side. Hyrule is crammed with several kinds of side-quests and secrets designed to encourage exploration. There are pieces of heart scattered in every far-flung corner of the kingdom, and collecting them goes a long way toward boosting your health bar. The same goes for killing all of the hidden Skulltulas, which require an obscene amount of dedication to find. Not to mention the strangely addictive fishing game – you can waste days in that little pond – or the lengthy trade sequence that eventually grants you the Biggoron’s Sword. That’s aside from all the hidden grottos, fairy fountains, and all the little puzzles that require you to travel back and forth through time to complete. These little features and distractions provide a great way to let off some steam during the main quest and learn more about the in-game world.
While all of that was present in the original Ocarina of Time, this version makes things even better by letting you fight previously slain bosses in a gauntlet-style challenge. Those monsters are much more challenging when you have a limited amount of health, no recovery items between battles, and only the bare minimum of weapons needed to beat them. It’s a great way to keep seasoned gamers coming back long after they’ve completed everything. The most important addition, however, is the inclusion of the Master Quest. Originally released as a preorder bonus for the Gamecube, it’s been revamped as an unlockable gameplay mode. Not only are its puzzles harder and enemies stronger, but it completely mirrors the entire game; everything from the landmarks to Link’s dominant hand are switched around. If you think you’ve mastered Hyrule, this second quest ought to be a good test of your memorization skills.
Even if you never make it that far, you’ll still be able to see one of the biggest improvements: the graphics. Several locations have been redone to give the game more atmosphere and style. Anyone who was traumatized the original Bottom of the Well and Shadow Temple are going to be in for nightmarish visions of mass graves and the scaly, rotting flesh of so many zombified foes. The updated visuals of the Great Fairy Fountains, the sunsets on Hyrule Field, and the entire Temple of Time are stunning. All of the dungeons have been touched up with more intricate decorations and better lighting. The character models have been more fleshed out; even if they are pushovers, the bosses look intimidating. Not everything is perfect, though; some of the buildings and overworld areas would have benefited from better texturing. The newly-added Sheikah Stones practically dance and flash neon lights to get your attention and display hint videos, but they’re too flashy compared to their surroundings. It’s unfortunate, considering how little attention was placed on the audio effects. Yes, all the classic themes are still there and the titular ocarina sounds more realistic, but the soundtrack should have been updated along with everything else. There’s only one orchestrated track in the game, which is disappointing considering the 3D’s capabilities. It was a missed opportunity, regardless of the nostalgia.
That’s the thing about Ocarina of Time 3D. It’s easy to assume that people will want to play this solely for the sake reliving old times, regardless of how well or poorly things have aged. Nintendo could have simply rereleased it without improving a thing, and people would have eaten it up just as well. But once you look past all fan-worship and hype, you’ll discover just how well the game stands on its own. It addresses the numerous flaws of the original version, and remedies it with a vastly improved control scheme and item menu. The puzzles and enemies aren’t challenging, but the unlockable boss gauntlet and Master Quest certainly are. The updated graphics add plenty in terms of atmosphere and setting; it makes Hyrule come to life in your hands. The story might be shallow, but it is still presented well. Besides, there’s nothing quite like watching Link approach the Master Sword and remove it from its shadowed pedestal for the first time. Those kinds of moments are what define a gaming experience, no matter how old they are.