The Legend of Zelda series has wowed fans and critics alike for decades. First released in 1986, the genre-defining game has since evolved, going from eight-bit minimalist adventures, to 16-bit epics, to enormous 3D worlds with stunning graphics, all while retaining the core gameplay elements that made it great in the first place.
The series is defined by its sense of adventure and child-like joy of discovery, which is why the series as a whole has some of the most well-aged games in any gaming franchises. Despite this, certain games have become obsolete in the eyes of many gamers due to tedious and outdated game mechanics. The first two titles are perfect examples of this. However, the same cannot be said about Zelda‘s first 3D entry, 1998’s Ocarina of Time.
Many of the early 3D games of the late 90s and early 2000s have not aged particular well, such as the original Tomb Raider and GoldenEye 007. Games like Final Fantasy VII and even Ocarina of Time, as the first 3D entries in their respective franchises, have since been followed up with graphically superior games. However, setting aside the dated polygonal art of the late 90s, Ocarina of Time has aged surprisingly well. At its core, it retains the adventurous and curious feel from the first Zelda, while still having game mechanics that, even in the 21st century, feel enjoyable but not tedious.
Ocarina of Time was given the monumental challenge of translating the Zelda formula into the 3D realm. While other franchises (such as Castlevania) struggled with this transition, Ocarina of Time did more than just succeed: it pushed forward some of the biggest innovations in gaming. These innovations weren’t just trends that have since fallen out of fashion, but rather genius ideas that are still in use today in games beyond the Zelda franchise. The target lock-on system, day/night cycles and riding horses are all features of modern-day games that were originally introduced in Ocarina of Time.
Revisiting this game now feels like playing a modern game, and it’s exactly because of the massive influence this game commands over the adventure genre. One might even argue that we are still living (or lived until Breath of the Wild) in the post-Ocarina age in which all successive games were designed with the mechanics it introduced in mind. And even if it has been overtaken by Breath of the Wild as the definitive Zelda game, its mechanics are not obsolete like those present in the original game.
Ocarina of Time tells a tried-and-true tale of a hero’s journey mixed with a coming-of-age story, thus creating a game that is a timeless classic. Even now, while many modern games are aiming for bigger and bigger worlds with sparse content and repetitive gameplay that involves little more than shooting or hacking, Ocarina of Time managed to outdo those games twenty years earlier.
Even now, Ocarina of Time‘s gameplay feels fresher than most generic triple-A titles from the last decade. The game involves clever puzzles and level designs, enemies with require more than just slashing at them and an overworld which, while small in comparison to most modern games, is rich with many interactive objects and NPCs. Walking through the endearing and hearty Kakariko Village feels more engaging than trudging through the empty spaces of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Other games may have more up-to-date graphics and character models, but Ocarina has a distinct personality and soul that only the best games possess.
Is Ocarina of Time still the best Zelda game like many nostalgic fans have claimed for years? Perhaps. But whether is is or not is only arguable because of the sheer number of masterpieces this franchise has shown itself capable of producing. What is not arguable is Ocarina of Time‘s status as a timeless classic. No matter how advanced modern-day graphics may get and how dated the polygonal aesthetic becomes, this wonderful game still has a lot to offer in 2020. Revisiting the game now proves that its excellence isn’t just a nostalgia-fueled childhood illusion.
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A milestone of the early years of 3D gaming, Ocarina of Time is still worth playing in 2020 due to its excellent gameplay and revolutionary mechanics.