The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, also known as Zelda 64, is considered to be one of the best video games ever made. I realize a lot of gamer nerds out there would have issues with such a statement and point out all the game’s flaws, but, for its time (and despite its flaws), Ocarina of Time is an absolute masterpiece.
I first played Ocarina of Time waaaaaaay back in late-1998 when I was a junior in high school. This super-ambitious 3D Zelda game had only been released for a couple of months before Santa Claus gifted me with the game for Christmas. Now, this, of course, was the original version for Nintendo 64. The game was later remade (and fine-tuned) in 2011 for the Nintendo 3DS. I will talk about this latter version in a moment, but first I’d like to discuss the Nintendo 64 version, if you don’t mind…but…wait, I don’t care if you don’t mind. I mean, no offense, but this is MY blog. So I’m going to talk about it whether you like it or not. I say that with respect, by the way.
Anyway, I was super-pumped when I got Ocarina of Time for Christmas. I had heard great things about this game—basically that it was revolutionary in so many ways, the “ultimate Zelda game”—but I also didn’t know if I would get into it that easily because I had never been an RPG kind of a gamer. I was more of a linear, two-dimensional, straight-forward Super Mario Bros. kind of guy and, you know, Donkey Kong Country kind of a guy. I had always been intrigued by the idea of getting into RPG gaming, like with Final Fantasy games and what-have-you, but it just never happened. I usually only had the patience for beat-‘em-up, shoot-‘em-up kind of games. Mysteries, labyrinths and puzzles took too much brain power and too much time. I had better things to do with my life, or at least so I thought (admittedly, I really didn’t).
However, I was pleasantly surprised with Ocarina of Time. I got sucked into this game pretty much right out of the gate. I fell in love with the “open world,” even though this world is really quite closed by today’s post-Grand-Theft-Auto gaming standards. I loved the graphics, the art design and especially the music (composed by the legendary Koji Kondo who did everything from the original Super Mario Bros. to the original Legend of Zelda to Yoshi’s Island to Star Fox 64 and many more). I also loved the fact that there was no intense pressure to do anything very fast. I could kind of just hang out in this world of Hyrule, accomplish little quests here and there and move along from temple to temple when I felt like it. Overall, I suppose it was the escape into a fantasy land that I enjoyed the most.
|The “open world” of Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time|
I played Ocarina of Time intensely during the first week and a half because it was Christmas break and I had the time off from school. I quickly mastered all the controls, how to aim and “lock on” to a target (aka ‘Z-targeting’), how to use special weapons like Deku Nuts and slingshots. How to light torches with Deku Sticks. How to move blocks. How to swim and dive…
All went well in the game until I got to the dreaded Water Temple where I must have literally spent hours upon hours of gaming time trying to figure out what to do in there. This was back before you could look up what to do on the Internet and, out of pride, I refused to ask anybody at school what to do, either. I don’t know how, but I eventually figured it all out on my own and beat the temple but, boy, was that a doozy. In fact, the temple boss (a giant amoeba, technically known as Morpha) was so much easier to defeat than figuring out the puzzle of the temple itself. Getting to the boss wasn’t half the battle; it was the FULL battle.
|Entering the dreaded Water Temple|
|The introduction to Morpha in Water Temple|
After the Water Temple came the Shadow Temple and this was when, for whatever reason, I stopped playing Ocarina of Time. From what I understood, I had beat most of the game at this point and that was good enough for me, I guess. I was actually surprised that I had even gotten that far to begin with. I was rarely one of those gamers who actually beat a game. In fact, with the exception of Super Mario World and maybe the very first Donkey Kong Country and, oh, also Aladdin for Super Nintendo, I had never beaten a video game. So, after I beat the Water Temple, I decided to throw in the towel. I would play Ocarina of Time here and there, mostly just to putter around and maybe do a side-quest or two, but I never got beyond the Shadow Temple.
Flash-forward to 22 whole years later.
The year was 2020, one of the worst years in the existence of mankind, the year when COVID-19 came along and there were suddenly less things to do. I hadn’t played video games in a long while and, in August 2020, I found myself having a hankering for video games. I didn’t want to pay an obscene amount of money for anything, so I decided to purchase Nintendo’s portable 2DS XL system. I saw that Walmart had a very good deal on such a system for only a hundred bucks, so I decided to give it a go. Not a bad deal at all, really, since it also came with Mario Kart 7 pre-installed onto the hard drive.
|This Nintendo 2DS XL is now selling for almost $500 on Amazon|
For the next few months or so, I found myself playing Mario Kart 7, New Super Mario Bros. 2, UltimateNES Remix, some Donkey Kong Country Returns as well, and it wasn’t until January 2021 that I saw on Amazon that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 3DS version, which is compatible with the 2DS) was on sale for only $20. I wasn’t sure if I was interested in playing Ocarina of Time all over again, but I decided, hey, for twenty buckaroos it would at least be fun screwing around with the game here and there, if for nothing else than solely the nostalgia factor.
Thus, I ordered Ocarina of Time, it arrived a week or so later and I didn’t begin playing it until January 20th. I know this exact date because it was the very day that Joe Biden was inaugurated as 46th president of the United States. What ensued was an epic Ocarina of Time quest that would last exactly 100 days. I did not plan for this, but I know it took me exactly 100 days because it lasted as long as Biden’s first 100 days in the White House. Most people would have beaten the game sooner, but it took me 100 days because I only played the game for about 20 minutes at night, almost every night, for a hundred days.
And, oh yes, you heard me right: I did beat the game. No stopping at the Shadow Temple this time. More about all that in a moment, though. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself just yet.
Now, when I first began playing Ocarina of Time after 23 whole years, I wasn’t sure how long I would find the game engaging since I had already played it before. However, to my surprise, I quickly got sucked into the quest and, before long, I knew in my heart that I was going to go the distance this time around. In fact, at a certain point, I made a pact with myself. I could not give up until I beat Ganondorf. I WOULD not give up.
As I defeated the preliminary Deku Tree dungeon and then proceeded to Dodongo’s Cavern and the other temples, I quickly noticed that there was a huge difference between playing the game in 2021 and playing the game in 1998. Obviously, the biggest difference was that it was an entirely new, upgraded version of the game. The 3DS version of Ocarina of Time is known in the gaming nerdiverse to be the superior version, much more beautiful-looking and sounding, more player-friendly and also free of all the blemishes. I’m sure there are a lot of Ocarina of Time originalists out there who only play the Nintendo 64 version and refuse to play the 3DS version, but I’m not one of those people. Although the Nintendo 64 version of Ocarina of Timeis still undeniably a masterpiece notwithstanding its flaws, the 3DS version of the game is the more finely-polished masterpiece, without the kinks and free of the blemishes of the original.
Another difference worth noting between the two OOT versions is the music in the Fire Temple. In the Nintendo 64 version, there is an Islamic chant that was sampled in the temple’s soundtrack (heard in the video above). However, this chant was removed in later versions due to concerns about offending Muslims.
I, of course, appreciated Ocarina of Time for the masterpiece it was back when I played it in 1998, but I didn’t FULLY appreciate it until I was playing the game as an older, more mature gentleman in 2021. When I was young, I took most of it for granted and I’m not hard on myself about this because when you’re young, hey, you kind of just assume that somebody waves a magic wand and, abracadabra, a video game is created. However, playing the game in 2021, I was blown away by how ingenious the game truly was. “How in the world could something like this be made!?” I found myself marveling. I mean, it really is a work of absolute wonder. I can’t even imagine the passion that went into creating such a game. Think about it: not only do you have to create the overworld, all the carefully mapped-out temples, the characters, the weapons, the sound FX, the music etc., but then you have to devise all the puzzles in the game, make them interesting, make sure they actually work and you have to do all this in a seamless manner, so that there are no glitches. And it’s not like there are only a few puzzles; there are literally dozens upon dozens—hell, probably hundreds—of puzzles in this game. Combine all this with a well-written storyline and also pre-rendered cinematic sequences (you know, the non-interactive cut-scenes where you sit back and watch the game like a movie) and then add on the need to keep the game fun and entertaining and engaging, long enough to make people want to play it for dozens upon dozens of hours, and well, my mind is blown. The creators of this game, Shigeru Miyamoto et al., had to have been geniuses.
For all the above reasons, I felt compelled to do a little research on the game’s genesis and development and I was unsurprised to learn that Ocarina of Time took about three whole years to develop (starting in 1995) and, as you can imagine, it went through many evolutions along the way. According to an interview conducted with Shigeru Miyamoto in 2008, the Zelda creator, at one point, conceived a version of the game that was in the first-person perspective (think Goldeneye 007 for Nintendo 64), but Miyamoto and the other creators soon realized that the third-person perspective worked best, especially when they introduced the concept of young and old Link.[i] Also, another early blueprint of Ocarina of Time had the entire game take place in Ganondorf’s castle, much like what we see in Super Mario 64, but that idea was eventually scrapped as well, opting for the beautifully designed Hyrule overworld instead.[ii]
So, yes, the game developers apparently spent a lot of time trying to make the ultimate Zelda game and it showed. As I played through the game during the hundred days, I noticed a lot of small details like Link’s shadow and the dust that gets kicked up from his feet when he runs through Hyrule field. I also noticed how young Link yawns when he’s standing still for a while or how older Link checks himself over and brushes dirt off his cloak. Furthermore, I noticed how the sound of his footsteps change depending on what kind of surface he walks on. I definitely didn’t notice these small details when I was younger, but they really stood out to me this time around.
Ok, so back to me beating the game…
Despite me having played Ocarina of Time back in the late-1990s, I should mention that I remembered pretty much nothing about the game, especially how to solve puzzles or how to beat dungeons or bosses etc. I was basically playing the game fresh and I got stuck here and there, but I must say that the Water Temple is much more playable in the 3DS version. Basically, this version has an added clue or two whereas in the Nintendo 64 version, you literally have to turn the temple inside out and retrace your steps probably about a hundred times—not to mention play your Ocarina dozens of times to raise and lower water levels—before you figure out how to beat the temple.
Once I got to the Shadow Temple, I was entering completely uncharted territory since I hadn’t gone beyond this part of the game when I played it in 1998. The temple itself wasn’t so bad, but the last boss—Bongo Bongo—gave me a hell of a fight. I’m not sure how many times I had to try beating him, but it was a lot and what made it even more annoying was that, each time you died, you had to start at the beginning of the temple and travel to the dungeon-master’s lair via a ghost ship and on this ghost ship there are two annoying sworded skeleton characters (named Stalfos) and battling those fiends over and over again gets old really fast. After the third or fourth time, I figured out that you didn’t need to fight them at all; nope, all’s you had to do was block their blows with your shield, then jump off the ghost ship before it sinks into an abyss at the end of the ride. The Stalfos sink along with the ship if you time it correctly and jump off the ship right before it sinks.
|Fighting a Stalfo in the Shadow Temple|
Now, you CAN use magic—Farore’s wind, to be exact—to create a warp point that takes Link directly to the dungeon master and, thus, avoids having to battle the annoying Stalfos over and over again, but you can only do this so many times because the warping takes too much magic and you need the magic to defeat the Bongo Bongo boss via the Lens of Truth. After about the 6th or 7th try, I did manage to beat Bongo Bongo and, oddly, by that point, I realized he wasn’t all that tough. Once you got it down to a system, he was rather easy to defeat. Basically, it’s shoot arrow to the hand. Shoot arrow to the other hand. Then, turn on the Lens of Truth and slice at the eye with your sword. Part of the reason why I had so much trouble with Bongo Bongo was that I was using the 2DS’ touch-screen controls to shoot the arrows, as opposed to the actual controller buttons. The 2DS’ touchscreen is finicky and less sensitive than the buttons, so you can’t always shoot your arrows as quickly as you’d like to. I imagine that, if I had been using the Nintendo 64 controller instead, I would not have had as much trouble with Bongo Bongo.
|Link battling Bongo Bongo|
From the Shadow Temple, I moved on to the very last dungeon, the Spirit Temple, which ended up being an easier dungeon than the Water Temple and the end boss—named Twinrova, comprised of two witches Koume and Kotake—was an easier boss than Shadow Temple’s Bongo Bongo. Then, it was on to Ganondorf’s castle…
Although very intimidating (I had to remind myself it’s just a game! Don’t be scared, Matt!), Ganondorf was not overly difficult and I beat him on the first try. What I didn’t know, however, was that he wasn’t the last boss you needed to battle. After running out of a burning and crumbling castle, Ganondorf turns into the demon monster Ganon and this was a battle I was not expecting. I had no idea how to beat Ganon and he absolutely destroyed me. At this point, I decided to save, shut down the game and try again the next day. What I didn’t know, however, was that beating Ganondorf does not get saved, so I had to beat that damn sorcerer all over again in order to battle Ganon again. This time around, I did not beat Ganondorf as easily; it took me a few tries and this was mostly because I made stupid mistakes.
As for Ganon? It took me at least four tries to beat him and this was tedious because, although you don’t have to beat Ganondorf again as long as you don’t shut the game down, you do have to keep running out of the burning castle, which is a timed, anxiety-ridden three-minute escape sequence and you need to defeat those pesky Stalfos in one room along the way. I finally had Ganon figured out pretty well by the fourth try, but I also realized that I was running extremely low on arrows and you need the light arrows to stun Ganon before you bash his tail in with the Megaton Hammer. I thought I was screwed when I ran out of the arrows completely and figured I would have to reset the game and restart pre-Ganondorf, just so I could stock up on arrows. What I ended up having to use instead was one of the first weapons you get in the game: simple Deku Nuts. These stun Ganon for a much shorter amount of time than the arrows, but it was long enough for me to slice away at his tail and I eventually defeated him to the point where Zelda steps in, uses magic to hold Ganon still, and then you walk up to the demon and take one final slice with your sword. That last sword slice never felt so good. Hours and hours of gaming time all leading up to that one final blow to the skull.
The end felt poetic as well. I was so worried that I needed the fancy light arrows, but all’s I needed were simple Deku Nuts and that’s what got me to beat Ganon. I almost felt as though it was “meant” to happen that way. The seemingly most useless weapon in the game became the most essential. What irony.
And, with that, the quest was officially complete and I nearly shed tears as I heard the orchestral version of the original Legend of Zelda theme playing triumphantly over the credits, all movie-like. I felt so proud of myself. I wanted to tell everyone I knew that I beat Ocarina of Time—friends, family, random people in the street, the local librarian, the woman working behind the counter at Dunkin Donuts…but, alas, I knew nobody would care. It wasn’t like I was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize or anything. I felt like everyone should be bowing down and worshipping me, I defeated the evil that cursed Hyrule, dammit! But nobody would understand. Nobody ever gets me, man.
A screenshot I took of the End Credits when I beat Ocarina of Time. This is the only evidence I have that I beat the game.
Anyway, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will probably go down as one of my favorite video games of all time and probably is, in fact, the best video game of all time. Playing it for the 100 days gave me so much joy…well, not THAT much joy, but it was incredibly fun. I know Zelda games have only improved since then, but I think Ocarina of Time is when the Zelda franchise peaked. The stars definitely aligned for that game and I’m not sure any other video game has ever been made with so much passion, heart and soul. In fact, I think that’s why I enjoy playing Ocarina the most. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the game itself, although it’s very fun. I think what I find most interesting about the Ocarina of Time experience is that I’m literally exploring the hearts and souls and minds of the game’s creators. After all, when you’re playing through all the various temples in the game and solving its puzzles, what you’re really doing is navigating through the genius minds of the game’s designers. After a while, you kind of learn their patterns and anticipate their moves. You’re basically reverse-engineering or maybe decoding their brains.
What now? Should I move along to Ocarina of Time: Master Quest? Master Quest, if you don’t know, is apparently an alternative version of the Ocarina of Time game but with new and harder puzzles. Or maybe I should, instead, try to do an Ocarina of Time 100% completion playthrough where I collect all the gold Skulltulas and do all the side quests? Or maybe I should do a “three-heart run” where you try to complete the game with only three hearts of energy? Or maybe I should get a life instead? Or perhaps I should move on to Ocarina’s sequel: Majora’s Mask. I’ve never played Majora’s Mask before, neither on the Nintendo 64, nor on any other Nintendo console, but I hear great things about it. Most of all, I hear it’s weird and creepy. Maybe 100 days of that game is what fate has in store for me.
Other trending articles by Matt Burns that may be of interest to you:
I Dream of Dream Machine (a memoir of the local video arcade)
NEVER FORGET the Fun-O-Rama (a traveling carnival memoir)
A Love Letter to the Emerald Square Mall (about the death of the shopping mall age)
MATT BURNS is the author of several books, including his bestselling Kindle singles I Used to be a Gamer and I Dream of Dream Machine. He’s also written several novels, including his ‘punk novel’ Supermarket Zombies!as well as Weird Monster, Johnny Cruise and The Woman and the Dragon. Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.
[i] “Iwata Asks: Link’s Crossbow Training.” Nintendo of America, Inc., 8 May 2008, http://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/?fbclid=IwAR0eBb7mVYu313u83PIFX-2zzsseg66X5npws7SoLnUBHVNLW6d_gB27pL0#/wii/crossbow/0/0.
[ii] Ronaghan, Neal, and Matt Walker. “Ocarina of Time Had Mario 64-esque Paintings Early in development.” NintendoWorldReport, 15 June 2011, https://www.nintendoworldreport.com/news/26851/ocarina-of-time-had-mario-64-esque-paintings-early-in-development?fbclid=IwAR05IUcAmjrWtD3GLf4wb2_k93UaDLSJpN56nyeBtILEjrLlK-1NTbgthok.