Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ocarina of Time, 20 years on

Sometimes, I regret that I spent so much of my childhood playing video games; that I did not discover reading for fun until I caved in and finally read the Harry Potter series (5 books at that time) the summer after I graduated from high school.

That said, video games have always had a way of capturing rather than dulling my imagination.  Case in point, when I was little, my imaginary friends were all Nintendo characters, and I would have pretend adventures with them outside in the fields, woods and barns on our family farm; the adventures just happened to have a Nintendo theme to them.  So it is that the accusation of video games turning children into unimaginative couch potatoes never rang true with me--I managed to play outdoors and cultivate my imagination in tandem with--not in spite of--the video games I loved to play.

And even to this day, there are still some games that hold a special place in my heart.  Perhaps it is a different place than a beloved book holds, but it is still a special place nonetheless.

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of one such game.

In 1998, I was in 7th grade.  I had been late to the party with the Game Boy and the Super Nintendo, and had never known what it was like to look forward to the release of an upcoming video game.  By 7th grade, however, I was the proud owner of a Nintendo 64, which I'd gotten for my birthday the previous year.  It was the current generation of console in 1998, and so I subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine and began to search online for any morsel of information that I could on new games.

I'll never forget the first trailer I saw for Ocarina of Time.  It took an hour to load on our dial-up Internet, and was maybe 30 seconds long, but the image of a 3-D Link wielding a 3-D Master Sword against a 3-D Stalfos is forever etched in my mind.

After that, I began to count down the days until November 21, even talking my mom into reserving a copy ahead of time at Electronics Boutique.

I remember poring over preview screenshots in Nintendo Power with friends, and speculating on what the game would be like during lunch break at school.

Then, one gray November afternoon, we picked up the game, and my brother and I huddled around the instruction manual on the 20-minute ride home from Electronics Boutique.

Since I was older, my brother gave me (or more likely I demanded) first dibs.

I remember plugging the cartridge into the 64.  I remember the opening chords as Epona galloped across the field on the title screen.  I remember the breathtaking cinematic opening, with Navi flying from the Deku tree to Link's house.  I remember learning to roll, sidestep, lunge and backflip, all while collecting rupees to buy a shield.  I remember crawling too quickly through the crawlspace that led to the Kokiri sword and getting bowled over by a giant boulder.  I remember the moody atmospheric feel of the Deku Tree temple.  I remember the intensity of the boss fight with Gohma.  I remember the vast, unending feel of Hyrule field.

I could go on.  We played for hours that first evening, and made it up to Dodongo's Cavern.  It was like no game I had played before: it was immersive, like being in a movie.  The game's camera was much more cooperative and natural than the finicky camera in Super Mario 64, and the new Z-targeting mechanic was so intuitive that it felt like second nature by the end of that first evening.  The graphics were unparalleled, and Koji Kondo had outdone himself with a soundtrack that surpassed even that of A Link to the Past.

As luck would have it, Thanksgiving vacation was the following week, and Christmas vacation was not long after.  In those days and weeks, I enjoyed the feeling of experiencing something truly groundbreaking for the very first time.  I now know how rare that feeling is.  Few things, whether books, movies, TV shows or video games, become instant classics, and rarely do things that feel like they could be, actually end up becoming instant classics.

Did I know at the time that I was playing a game that would, twenty years later, still be considered by many to be the best video game of all time?

Maybe not in so many words, but even then, I had a feeling that this game was something special, which manifested itself in the shock at stepping out of the Temple of Time as Adult Link for the first time, and seeing the ring of fire around the peak of Death Mountain; in the haunting feeling of exploring the Forest Temple (still my favorite dungeon, by the way); in the cutscene of Kakariko Village burning, under attack by some invisible monster; in the mind-bending time travel mechanics of the Spirit Temple; in the harrowing escape from Ganon's castle, and of course, the final battle with Ganon himself.

Last year, I had the privilege to relive this excitement to some degree as I played through Ocarina of Time on my 2DS.  Sure, bigger games with better graphics and more features have come out in the years since, but they all in some way owe a debt to Ocarina of Time.

1978, two decades before Ocarina of Time came out, was a big year for video games with a wave of early classics hitting the arcades.  In 2018, two decades on, video games continue to evolve, and in some ways seem to have come full circle as VR arcades are beginning to gain traction.  Two decades from now, who knows what the video game industry will look like?  However, allow me to make one safe prediction: the 40th anniversary of Ocarina of Time will be a big deal.

Image taken from

No comments:

Post a Comment