The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released to huge critical acclaim in 1998. Where you lived in the world exactly would dictate when, with Japan and North America releasing in November and Europe and other PAL regions having to wait a further month until December.
So here’s where you find me, on December 11th 1998 at 07:30 a.m. queuing outside of Woolworths in the pouring rain. I’d read copies were limited and I didn’t want to miss out so I got there as early as possible. I needn’t have worries, I was the only person there.
I’m going to backtrack a little. I’d been a Sega kid growing up. I received a Master System for Christmas in 1990. In 1993 with my first pay-check I bought a Mega Drive (Genesis) and went on to buy a Saturn at launch. But in 1997, swayed by the universal praise of Super Mario 64, positive reviews of International Superstar Soccer, and a substantial price cut I jumped into bed with the enemy and purchased my 1st Nintendo home console.
I’ll save my thoughts on the machine for another day but needless to say I was converted. I’d played A Link to the Past before, and was well aware of the lore of the Zelda universe and the praise for the previous games in the series so once I knew another game was on the way the countdown was on. In a pre internet world gaming magazines were where I got my fix of news, reviews and upcoming games, and as the time crept closer to launch they were full of so many screenshots, previews and facts about the game that it was impossible for me not to be swept along by the hype train.
The game was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. From the cinematic (or so I though back then) intro, to exploring Kokori Forest, the death of the great Deku tree, to the first tentative steps onto Hyrule field I drank in every single moment. At the time I thought the controls were perfect, building on the groundwork of Mario 64 and suiting the N64’s controller perfectly. The graphics, though low res and blocky today did an amazing job of drawing me into the fully 3D world. This was a brave new world for me, see that castle in the distance, go and visit, see that mountain, why not climb it, is that a ranch, I wonder who lives there?
The world was filled with characters that I genuinely cared about at the time and wanted to help, not just by saving their world but also the small mundane tasks like finding a lost dog, or trading masks, or even making eye medicine for a giant Goron. Lots of games have had an ice level or a fire world but this was the first time I’d felt like I was in a fully functioning world with a complete day and night cycle (the first time I’d ever experienced one) and different races living in it’s far flung corners. A tribe of warrior women in the dessert, or rock people who reside in the mountains, and I wanted to help them all.
I even liked Navi and appreciated her little, “Hey, listen!” when I was lost in a dungeon or trekking across a lonely field in the dead of night. In fact the only character I didn’t like was that owl. It’d stop me mid quest to tell me, at length, some facts about my mission. Generally I’d get bored and spam the A button only for it to repeat itself all over again.
In a pre YouTube world this game took me four months to complete and it never left my N64 once. I scoured magazines for tips and had to eventually buy a guide book after I spent a week lost in the forest temple because I hadn’t realised I had to re-twist a corridor! I’d spend full days with my Nintendo 64 switched on from waking up on a morning to going back to bed at night as never before had I felt so compelled to complete a game, nay a quest, a destiny that I had to fulfil.
People often talk about feeling empty after completing a mammoth game and that’s exactly how I felt in late April of 1999 I when I laid the final blow onto Gannon and saved the kingdom on of Hyrule, my quest was complete but my life was empty.
And here lies the problem.
I’ve played A LOT of video games before, and especially since Ocarina of Time and nothing has come close to matching how that game made me feel. I understand that it was a golden time for me in that it was before I had a family and responsibilities but had disposable income that was mine to spend as I pleased, all in an era that pushed the start of 3D gaming being the cinematic experience it is today. I know games are better today, with bigger budgets and production values, orchestral soundtracks and massive worlds that make the 1998 Hyrule a tiny section of a world map today, but the sad thing is I’ve never been as invested in a game as much as I was back then, and I’m not sure I ever will.
I’ve since owned and played Ocarina on every platform it’s been released on (GameCube, Wii, Wii U and 3DS) and I’ve no doubt I’ll buy it again on its inevitable Switch release, but for me it’s best played on the original N64, with the original trident controller, on the greatest system of all time.
Still hate that owl though!
Thanks for reading.