Friday, December 25, 2009
25 Days of Christmas - #1: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Although every single one of the games on this list is great in its own right, there is one that stands above the rest as my favorite video game of all time. It was released in 1998, a year that revolutionized the gaming industry. 3D graphics were still fresh and developers were experimenting with all sorts of new mechanics and modes of play. Amidst some of the best titles of the day, including Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Banjo-Kazooie, and StarCraft, there was a sequel released by Nintendo that redefined the series, as well as adventure gaming, forever. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a far cry from previous entries in the acclaimed series, but ended up selling over 800,000 copies in its first year.
I have been an avid fan of the Zelda series for years (it is the only series to have three entries that made this top 25 list), but Ocarina of Time is easily the best. The story is superb and takes a much darker look into the traditional Zelda story. Players are once again pitted against Ganon in his attempt to conquer Hyrule, but this time around he is disguised as a young Gerudo warrior named Ganondorf. He manages to convince the King of Hyrule into trusting him, a move which proves fatal for the entire country.
Link is initially introduced to players as a young Kokiri who is sent by the Deku Tree to meet with Princess Zelda in order to try and foil Ganondorf’s evil intent. Zelda sends Link out on a quest to retrieve the three spiritual stones, which will in turn unlock the door of time. Link, already granted one of the spiritual stones by the Deku Tree, heads of to seek the aid of the Goron and Zora people in collecting the remaining two. While the dungeons are the main focus of this entire section of the game, the characters Link encounters and the events he takes part in become crucial to the plot later on.
Upon returning to Hyrule with the spiritual stones, Link finds that Ganondorf has run Princess Zelda and her aide Impa out of Castle Town. Link then completes Zelda’s wish in opening the door of time to attempt to undo Ganondorf’s evil, but things go awry as Ganondorf uses the door of time to create his own monster-ridden version of Hyrule. Link awakens seven years later and is approached by the sages of Hyrule who present Link with a way to stop Ganondorf once and for all.
During Link’s time as a child, players will travel to three major dungeons: the Deku Tree interior, Dodongo’s Cavern, and Jabu-Jabu’s belly. These serve as a lengthy introduction to the game mechanics and story, but present a good level of challenge in their own right. Jabu-Jabu’s belly is primarily centered around solving puzzles, but the enemies Link encounters therein are incredibly unforgiving and do an excellent job of bridging the gap to the adult dungeons, preparing players for what lies ahead.
The major temples during the adult storyline are associated with a different element and tribe of people in Hyrule. Each of the sages Link encounters are characters from his past, and will reward him with a medallion of each element upon defeat of each temple boss. The Forest Temple is a bit of a mind trip upon first entry, and will force players to look at puzzles in a few different lights. The Fire Temple is heavily focused on fine-tuning Link’s combat skills and is one of the larger temples in the game. The Water Temple and Shadow Temple make excellent use of Link’s secondary weapons, while the Spirit Temple forces players to navigate its massive interior twice over – once as a child, and again as an adult.
Aside from the main dungeons, there are sub-missions critical to the story that Link must complete in order to progress the story further. Players can also collect more items, ammo, and weapons by competing in minigames like Bombchu bowling, and completing sidequests for characters such as the Happy Mask salesman and Malon of Lon Lon Ranch. Players can rescue the wild horse Epona from greedy Ingo. While riding horseback from place to place is not a core part of the gameplay, it does flow smoothly and saves players a lot of travel time.
Each secondary weapon is brilliantly designed, and despite the fact that there are so many, each is unique and has its own purpose. As a child, Link will rely heavily on his slingshot for distanced attacks, Deku Nuts for stunning nearby enemies, and the boomerang for both stunning faraway enemies and retrieving items from a distance. Adult Link, on the other hand, is much more equipped for combat with the Megaton Hammer and bow, but can also access different areas and solve puzzles with bombs and the Hookshot. His tunic can be changed to accommodate for extremely hot temperatures and breathing underwater. Likewise, Link has hover boots which allow him to temporarily hover over gaps and iron boots which weigh him down in order to scour lakebeds and portions of the Water Temple.
But the most significant tool used in the game is, of course, the Ocarina of Time itself. As Link progresses through the game, he learns various new songs that can grant him access to select areas, alter time from night to day and vice-versa, cause rain to fall, and allow him to warp to different temple entrances. To play these songs, players must hit different combinations of the C-buttons and A-button.
The boss fights in Ocarina of Time are nothing shy of epic. Morpha will lash out with tentacle-like appendages and trash Link about the room before flinging him into a wall and draining nearly half his health. Ghoma will crawl about the walls and pillars deep within the dark interior of the Deku Tree, and players must use the slingshot in order to bring the spider-like beast down to the ground level to deal any damage to the monster. The battle against Twinrova will force players to constantly watch their backs, as Kotake and Koume circle Link, throwing blasts of Fire and Ice at him. The final battle against Ganondorf/Ganon will take the most challenging elements of all these previous battles and pool them together, creating a truly fantastic finale.
The soundtrack, while comprised of MIDI files, is memorable and fits the game like a glove. From the Song of Storms to the theme of the Lost Woods, the soundtrack completes the experience, immersing players in the world of Hyrule. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time has been heralded by many gamers as not only the best Nintendo title released, but the greatest video game of all time. And while I do believe that every game on this list is brilliant in more than one way, Ocarina of Time reigns as my single favorite video game of all time.