Before getting any further into this article, please note the date that this was published, and use that to inform yourself as you read through the following text.
Of all the popular games I'd never played, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was probably my most onerous omission. I tried playing it once when I was younger, but got stuck somewhere in the Deku Tree (I think in that room where you get the slingshot -- I couldn't figure out how the hell to get out of that room), quit out of frustration, and never went back. When I mentioned this to a friend recently, he immediately thrust a GameCube disc into my hands and told me to play it.
Now that I've finally played through it, I have to say I don't get what the big deal was all about. This game is so crude and primitive that it was a struggle for me to find any enjoyment in it, and many aspects of its design are just downright bad. How did this game leave such a big legacy behind? Is this really what people have wanted every subsequent Zelda game to be like? Because I gotta tell you, the newer Zeldas are a hell of a lot better than this one, and even the ones that came before it were better. More of my thoughts on this overrated game in the full article.
I know you all are accustomed to my articles being massive tomes of wisdom, but this game has left me so frustrated and disappointed that I don't think I can string my thoughts together into coherent, flowing paragraphs. Or maybe I'm just getting lazy, and this is a sure sign of the declining quality of content on this site. Either way, I'll just throw out a bulleted list of criticisms as they come to mind. Here we go.
♦ The plot and gameplay progression is practically a copy-pasted ripoff of the plot from A Link to the Past. Meet Zelda, collect three special items, get Master Sword, rescue Sages from an "alternate world," fight Ganon, win game. Instead of coming up with something new and original, they just recycled the exact same plot from the last game. How is this considered so brilliant?
♦ How come such a large majority of the map is completely useless? Seriously, like 50% of the map consists of Hyrule Field and Lake Hyrulia where there's practically not a single thing to see or do. Oh sure you can kill some skull kids in the field as Young Link, but then there's literally NOTHING out there as Adult Link. And basically all you can do at the lake is go fishing. Big whoop.
Hyrule: Land of the Great Nothingness
♦ For that matter, the story is filled to the brim with content padding. Expecting a riveting and compelling story here? Sorry, it's just a bunch of tedious and repetitive item-fetching. "Collect these items to get the Master Sword. Now collect these items to fight Ganon." They just threw out a bunch of obligatory items to collect for seemingly no other reason than to extend the game length, since they contribute next to nothing to the actual plot.
♦ Or how about the fact that, whenever you rescue a Sage and receive their unique Medallion, the game says "So and so adds his power to yours," when in actuality, these items do jack diddly squat for you and don't make you any stronger. That heart container I got for killing the dungeon boss was a lot more useful than those stupid things.
♦ Also, was it supposed to be some big surprise when each sage discovered their powers and revealed this to me? Every single one of them says something in shock and disbelief like "Hard to imagine someone like me turning out to be a sage." And there I was thinking "You're like the only Kokiri / Goron / Zora / Sheikah / Gerudo in the entire game who actually has a name, and you were obviously involved with the conflict of this dungeon. Who else was it gonna be?"
♦ Most of the characters in OOT are basically cardboard cutouts that only exist to stand around occupying space. They generally don't contribute much to the atmosphere or your interaction with the environment. They've got no personality and no reason to care about them, and most all of them seem completely indifferent towards the threat of Ganon conquering the world. Why is this place worth saving if nobody but Zelda and a handful of would-be sages seems to care?
♦ To top it off, so much of the map is restricted by arbitrary "lock-and-key" puzzles. Everywhere you go, you're running into obstacles that block your path, requiring some pathetically obvious item that the game hasn't graced itself to give you yet (like those rocks outside of Zora's River requiring a bomb to pass). It's just not satisfying to explore the world when you're constantly running into dead-ends and you're helpless to do anything about it, except to let yourself be dragged by the nose through the main questline.
OMG WHAT IS THAT THING!? Oh, sorry, it's just bad graphics.
♦ The graphics are a major eye-sore. Textures are so incredibly low-res, character models are ugly and blocky, animations are stiff and wonky. It just looks so ancient and decrepit, and only goes to show off the terrible limitations of graphics processing power at the time. Compare this to, say, the timelessly brilliant graphics of Wind Waker (which are a hands-down improvement over the bland "realistic" look of OOT -- I wish every game were like this) that will be pleasant to look at for decades to come, and you can easily see why there's nothing praiseworthy about OOT's graphics.
♦ And, of course, Ganon is a really lame villain in this story, because they don't characterize him at all. What's his motivation and why should we care to stop him? There isn't a reason, we're just told that he's inexplicably evil and we have to be the valiant hero. Sorry, but I find it hard to give a damn about stopping a seemingly faceless villain who spends the entire game doing practically nothing off-screen.
♦ There are just so few side-quests in this game. I mean, what is there to really do besides just chain-gunning your way through dungeons? Go fishing? Play the Bombchu Bowling Alley? You can collect Golden Skultullas but that's not a real quest. You can do the Happy Mask trading sequence, but what good does it do you when literally all of those masks are totally useless? The only side-quest to really do is Biggoron's sword.
♦ The stupid fairy and owl characters are annoying as hell. Yes yes, Navi, I know that's a door and that I can press "A" to open it. Yes yes, Navi, I know that door has bars blocking it and that I can't go through it yet. Yes yes, Kaepora Gaebora, I heard you the first time, I don't want to read your entire rambling monologue all over ag--OH NO I CLICKED THE WRONG OPTION! FFFFFUUUUUU~~~~
♦ The Lost Woods is a bunch of square rooms in a grid pattern. Do forests actually look like this? No, they do not. Does this forest make me feel lost and vulnerable? No, it just makes me feel like I'm stuck inside of a bad video game design. These woods just look stupid and the gameplay mechanic of exploring them ("which door should I take? Where they lead, no one knows!") is a stupid gimmick. The Lost Woods from ALTTP was so much better than this nonsense.
This is the most exciting "room" in The Lost Woods.
♦ The world is plain and static. You wait seven years to become Adult Link, and guess what? The world is basically the same, except for Hyrule Castle Town. There are some new monsters here and there, and some characters have moved to new locations, but these are all superficial changes. Even the somewhat major, dynamic changes to the landscape turn out to be static and boring, like when you beat the Water Temple to save the Zora, and Zora's Domain never unfreezes for the entire rest of the game. Ultimately, the Dark World from ALTTP is a whole lot more interesting than the Adult Link world in OOT.
♦ Why are so many of the items completely useless? What's the point in filling our inventories up with useless junk, that seems to only exist as feature creep? Ice arrows? Tedious to get and completely useless. Bomchus? Useless. All of the masks? Useless. Magic beans? Who cares. Even more prominent stuff like the Megaton Hammer, the Longshot, the Bow, and the Hover Boots all prove to be pretty boring and redundant since they're either only ever used in isolated instances, or they just replace a similarly-functioning item you already had.
♦ The sword combat is overly simplistic, and basically just amounts to spamming the "B" button for basic attacks over and over again. Or, if you're super-advanced, you stand completely still and press "A" to do a jump attack for double-damage. Fun. Why would you even use regular "B" attacks when jumping "A" attacks are so much more efficient? Occasionally they throw in some forced tactics for certain enemies, but these are mostly a matter of "stand around doing nothing, waiting for enemy to lower guard, then press A" kind of deal.
♦ The save system is so crude and primitive. When I save a game, I expect to be able to start playing exactly from where I left off. But in OOT, when I save and quit, it sends me all the way back to the starting area and forces me to replay serious chunks of the game or just waste my time running running all the way across empty, boring Hyrule Field again, just to get back to where I was. It's like they did that just to artificially increase playtime or something.
At least this would've been halfway fun.
♦ And how about that gimmicky use of the C-Buttons to solve puzzles? Bring up the ocarina and press some buttons to magically unlock some room or whatever it takes for the puzzle. That stuff takes zero skill to do and is like entering a cheat code or something. Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, win game. How lame. Couldn't they have at least put some real puzzles into the game?
♦ And what's up with the repetitive use of block-pushing "puzzles"? It seems like everywhere I go I'm pushing a block around and putting it on a switch or something. Moving blocks around may have been innovative back in the days of Tetris, but it's pretty uninspired in this game.
♦ The design of dungeons is pretty much abysmal, too. It's never clear where you have to go or what you have to do next, so I often just bumble around cluelessly doing random things until I accidentally stumble into the next area I'm supposed to be in. The challenge is artificially inflated with arbitrary trial-and-error, which makes them pretty much unsatisfying to beat. Would it have killed them to put a quest compass or something in the dungeons so that I could at least have some vague idea of where to go or what to do next?
♦ Finally, perhaps most egregious is that the whole point of the game is for me to do all this work clearing out temples and liberating sages who are supposed to help me in my quest to stop Ganon. And what do they do for me? Do they give me a boost of super-strength, or help weaken Ganon somehow? No. They build me a fabulous rainbow bridge to Ganon's Castle. That's it. I could've gotten there myself if there'd just been a cucco nearby, or if those hover boots had been just slightly less useless. They can take that bridge and shove it up their sacred realms for all I care. Seriously, fuck those guys.
So there you have it. I have no idea what the hype was all about, because this game really is quite bland, uninspired, and kind of sucks when you think about it. So much of its design was blatantly ripped-off from A Link to the Past, and the sad thing is that, even with OOT's vastly improved technology, they still managed to make the "new" renditions of stuff worse than in ALTTP. Meanwhile, the more recent Zelda games have improved every single aspect of the gameplay -- they're just so perfectly streamlined and super-polished, while OOT feels like a clunky, shambling redead.
I just don't get why this game was so popular. If you liked Ocarina of Time, then I think it's safe for me to say that you have poor judgment skills, or perhaps just bad taste in video games. Oh, I do have one bit of praise for OOT, though:
♦ I really liked the Water Temple.