Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Video Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition) (Nintendo GameCube)

Ocarina of Time was one of the very first video games I got for the Nintendo 64 back when I was about eight or nine. Of course, I had very few games in those days, so most games from my single-digit decade are among "the very first". Back then I loved it. I mean, I never 100%ed (and to be frank, I still haven't), but I cleared pretty much every challenge. I found every Great Fairy, got every item... then, like now, all I was missing was the last couple of hearts and a few dozen Gold Skulltulas. Despite that, I remember playing the game for hours. Of course, Majora's Mask came around pretty soon, and Ocarina of Time was well on its way to being completely forgotten. It didn't help matters that I somehow lost track of the cartridge (along with the majority of my N64 games of the time... still can't find my Turok games or Golden-Eye, among a handful of others), and despite receiving a free copy of Collector's Edition with my Nintendo Power subscription, I still managed not to play it for more than ten whole years! Occasionally I'd load it up and play through the Great Deku Tree, but after that I'd find myself drawn right back into Majora's Mask, and so Ocarina went relatively untouched since my original play through.

Hot on the heels of the steaming turd that is Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, I found myself desperately wanting to play a Zelda game. My first thought was Spirit Tracks, which I haven't been able to finish. Unfortunately, the microphone on my 3DS doesn't play well with original DS games, and the top half of my DS Lite recently went out like a fire on a cold night. Fortunately, I have no shortage of Zelda games, and was about to dive into Majora's Mask for the umpteenth time when Ocarina of Time begged and pleaded and cried from the revolving select screen of Collector's Edition. Satisfying the littler critter's cries, I pressed "A" and sat back.

This decision couldn't have made me happier.

Actually, that's a lie, because it definitely could have. There's a lot to find wrong with Ocarina of Time, and I'm going to try doing it without comparing the title to the far superior Majora's Mask. I think the most grating aspect of the game had to be Epona, which is weird, because I love her. But boy, she is one stubborn mule! It doesn't matter how many carrots you feed her, that horse just will not jump if she doesn't want to jump, and she has a weird habit of rearing up whenever you get anywhere near something she doesn't like. I mean, her hit box is huge! Most of the time, navigating around Hyrule Field upon the horse's back is seriously more laborious, and it often doesn't beat the tumbling alternative. I mean, it'll probably get you around more quickly, but the blind fury I felt at times far outweighed that benefit.

Oh, speaking of Hyrule Field, I think I'll also use the review to bitch about some of the common bullshit complaints this game receives.

But first, more negatives! The game can be pretty cryptic at times, and like a lot of older adventure games and RPGs, it has a habit of not actually telling the player what to do next. This happens within dungeons themselves quite frequently (how I loathe thee, Forest Temple), but it also happens pretty often between story events. Now, there isn't anything wrong with not directly spelling it all out for the player, that just adds to the mystique and challenge, but there is something wrong with the game giving you no hints at all. This becomes tedious in later levels when you have a lot of abilities at your disposal, and you realize that there are at least three songs you could play to reveal the key you need. Each song is going to take about a full minute to execute once you've typed it all in and Link finishes up his playing, and this gets really tiring really fast.

Oh, and then it turns out that none of the songs work. Neither do any of your items. It's not even a matter of not having the proper item yet in most cases, and actually, I'm not even going to count those (mostly) because once you get the proper item you're stricken with that "A-ha!" moment, and it feels good, chap. However, there are times where you just flat out don't know what to do, and even after finding the solution in the guide, I couldn't help but squint my eyes and think: "What? How does? Fucking sense that still don't make."

Contrary to this, the Water Temple is easy as piss, not all that infuriating, and probably my favorite temple in the game. To be honest, I loved every second of that, which is weird, because I absolutely hate the Great Bay Temple in Majora's Mask. Go figure. Anyways, I found the Water Temple to be really well designed. It was kind of the perfect balance between difficult and doable, with the exception of the boss and sub-boss, which are utter bullshit on both accounts.

My other major complaint, other than a few minor hiccups here and there, is the items. Not all of the items, and not even how they're executed, but just... some of the items. For instance, you obtain the Silver Gauntlets in the Spirit Temple, the second-to-last dungeon in the game (unless you count bonus dungeons like the Gerudo Training Grounds, which I will get to in a moment), and about an hour after you get them you are replacing them with the Gold Gauntlets. What was even the point of giving us the silver ones? Absolutely no time has passed, certainly not enough for us to care about the upgrade. Not to mention that there is all of one location on the map where you're going to need the Gold Gauntlets to access anything. It's a useless upgrade, made specifically to move its dungeon along.

The dungeon-specific-key-item is a common complaint among those who would decry Ocarina of Time (and much of the Zelda franchise), but it's not really a huge issue. Not nearly as huge as they make it out to be. Yeah, the Gold Gauntlets peeve me, and the Mirror Shield, while awesome, has a similar role, but most of the items are utilized to pretty good effect in basically every dungeon after they're obtained, and also serve to increase the player's abilities to explore Hyrule. Even items which serve their primary purpose exclusively in their dungeon prior to the Gold Gauntlet fiasco serve other purposes for players who are willing to be a little impromptu. For instance, the Megaton Hammer makes short work of pretty much everyone. It's like the Biggoron's Sword, but a hammer. It rocks.

I do have a complaint with the Ice Arrows, though. They're a bonus item, so it's possible to complete the game without them, that are found so late in the game that there isn't any point. You acquire them between the Spirit Temple and Ganon's Tower, and they serve no function at all. This... bites. Ice Arrows are kind of a staple of the franchise, and they can serve a lot of neat purposes, but here they're just a tacked on extra that don't help very much in battle and drain magic which could have been used for something much better (like Din's Fire, a spell you acquire early on). I don't think the Ice Arrows are even required for any sidequests, making them a completely useless item. All I can imagine is that they were already programmed into the game (probably for the removed Ice Temple, parts of which were probably cut into the Ice Cavern mini-dungeon), so Nintendo decided "Well, why not?" and through them in.

Despite its flaws, the game really is superb. Some portions of it do seem to drag on or become tedious, such as traveling around Hyrule Field as a child or without Epona, but it really doesn't take as much time as it seems, I promise. A lot of work went into characterizing the world, and everything is vibrant and full of life. Even minor, generic characters such as shopkeepers and shared-model civilians will be memorable due to some great dialogue and unique personalities. There's the knight who wants a mask for his child, the knight who wants a little more excitement in his life, the knight that takes bribes, they're all different, unique characters, and it really does wonders for the game. In addition to these charming little details (which I adore, and which really suck you into the world), there are simple moments of pure fun, such as watching the hulking Darunia overcome with joy and busting out some funky dance moves, or later in the game with the tiny Saria riding atop his head (okay, I just love Saria and Darunia. Ruto, too).

In addition to having an immense and developed cast, OoT offers an incredible world to explore. Don't be off-put by the game having appeared on the N64, it looks beautiful. To be honest, a lot of modern games are just too busy to really focus on what makes for a great aesthetic. OoT has beautiful visuals in spades. Link has never looked better, Hyrule has never been so pristine, and it really just pulls you right in. It's very welcoming and yet at the same time evoking all the right feelings at all the right times.

And boy, it's got a musical score to match! The Ocarina of Time soundtrack is legendary, and for good reason. The game's primary focus is on music, an instrument is even the title of the game, and it delivers. Every night is brilliant and pleasing, even the sound effects are incredible. There are some weird sounds that really pull together to create a unique Zelda experience, and it simply does not disappoint. With a host of original, beautifully designed tunes as well as gorgeous renditions of franchise classics, this is pretty much the definitive video game soundtrack.

Dungeons, with few exceptions, are cleverly designed and really are a treat. They're fun, intuitive, and they'll get all kinds of gears turning in their audience before it's all through. Typically those gears are good, thoughtful gears and not teeth-grinding ones, but occasionally... In addition to the dungeons, players will find no dearth of sidequests and explorative opportunities. There are a whopping one-hundred Gold Skulltulas to seek out in the land of Hyrule, not to mention all the extra items, health upgrades, spells, and faeries. This game will keep you captive for a good long time, and you'll love pretty much every second of it.

As great as Ocarina of Time is, it isn't perfect. There were enough moments that had my eyes bulging and my temperature rising that I can't give it a straight up A or even a high B. I mean, it's a beautiful game, and to not play it is to do yourself a great disservice, but it really is only worthy of an eight out of ten.

Oh, I should mention: I forgot to talk about the plot in this review because I had already gone into it in pretty great detail earlier this week. You should check it out if you don't mind the spoilers!