First by carriage and now by boat. To the east. To Morrowind.
I did it.
After about three weeks of solid play, I’ve completed my first ever 3D Zelda game. It only took me damn near 25 years to do it.
I won’t linger on it, because what else can be said about Ocarina of Time that hasn’t been discussed to death. But out of everything the game offered, I appreciate that it got me excited about video games in a way that I haven’t felt for a long time.
It’s easy with a powerful gaming rig to just amass triple-A titles in my Steam backlog and play the new shiny thing on the block. I tried to jump into Battlefield 1 a while back and fell asleep halfway through the campaign. The singular nature of a first-person shooter sharpened to a bayonet point just frankly….bored me. Coming off the heels of Prey, it’s incredibly frustrating to have an expansive top-tier game limit my actions to “shoot.”
Point. Click. Boom. Point. Click. Boom. Point. Click. Boom.
Sure, there are moments of brilliance and some genuinely impressive set-pieces. The sense of scale in particular is breathtaking. However, even turning back the clock to 1914 and exploring the unused terrain of WWI can’t shake the sense that I’ve done this all before.
So instead I jumped directly into Majora’s Mask.
To be honest, I’m blown away by its ability to function as a sequel. I often make the case that the best iteration of a series is the one that tries to do as much different from its predecessor as possible, and man does this game hit the mark. The atmosphere is darker, the pressure of completing as much as possible in three days is absolutely crushing, and the game mechanics have expanded tremendously.
A Sequel, By Any Other Name…
Critical Distance had a recent blog round-up where they wanted people to discuss how games handle letting their heroes go at the end of an adventure, and I suspect many will be talking about Majora’s Mask. Last time we left Link, he was the hero of Hyrule. The game ends triumphantly….yet when we pause to consider the repercussions of a time traveling main character, a darker reality sets in. Link was returned to his child form, before he actually saved the world. No one knows who he is or what he did in this timeline, and he has to live his life onward carrying the weight of having saved the world for essentially no one.
So how does Majora’s Mask begin?
It has its main character get mugged in the woods.
Link is arguably at his lowest point here, downtrodden and sullen as he rides atop Epona searching for his missing friend Na’avi. The game then proceeds to strip him of anything he has left, leaving him even without his humanity.
Changing the Rules
In a horrifying loss of identity, you play the first portion of the game as a Deku scrub trying to get your original form back. It’s a ballsy move by the developers, changing up not only the way your main character looks, but how he moves and interacts with the world. Luckily, the game is smart and gates you into Clock Town, letting you get a feel for the new mechanics in an open, but supervised environment.
It then blows those rules out the window the minute it lets you out. Once you get your sword and human form back, the world of Termina is yours to explore.
For 72 hours.
Begin the frantic exploration and note taking. The clock is constantly ticking and literally every action you take during the day cannot be wasted. I’ve never played a game like this before. If Ocarina of Time was Nintendo learning how to explore a 3D environment, Majora’s Mask was them jumping straight into 4D. No game has done it since, which makes this move even more impressive.
The cyclical nature of the game would almost be meditative if it wasn’t so horrifying. The music in Clock Town speeds up as the clock winds down. It rains on the second day. The mailman completes his route. The falling moon’s grimace gets closer every day. It’s a perfectly orchestrated symphony that you are free to interject yourself into, a sickening turn of Groundhog Day taken to an interactive level.
It’s absolutely brilliant.
I’ll get more into the other masks in a follow up post, but the way the game keeps making rules and then breaking them is fantastic. I’m enjoying exploring the world in new ways on a constant basis. Termina has wound its way into my mind, and I can’t get it out.
After two weeks with Ocarina of Time, I can’t stop thinking about it.
How? How could I have made it this far in my gaming career without playing this game?
Mostly, I’m having a blast seeing how the game transforms the all-star formula of A Link to the Past into 3D. For all intents and purposes, this is the same exact game. Collect these three things. Find items to unlock more secrets and even more items. Mid-game twist that lets you flip between two versions of the same world. Collect even more things.
Yet despite following the same blueprint as its predecessor, I’m impressed at how fresh and surprising it all still feels. I say this as someone who played A Link to the Past not too long ago. I don’t know if it’s inherently because of the 3D world or if it’s because I feel like no other modern series that I’ve played follows this formula (or does it as well). This game absolutely holds up, probably no doubt thanks to the help of the 3DS makeover. I wonder if I played other entries first and then tried to go back if I would be as impressed.
Part of the fun in playing this right after A Link to the Past is seeing how they brought 2D mechanics into a 3D space. The hookshot in particular is fun to play with, as hunting around for grapple points in a 3D environment feels like the way the tool was always intended to be used. Other new additions like the Lens of Truth make good use of the space as well (Shadow Temple be damned). It’s great to see such an aggressive take on movement and travel throughout a 3D space.
There’s something about playing these early 3D games that really excites me. I think it’s because I enjoy not only seeing how developers were learning to use the added dimension, but also how to do so creatively. There are puzzles that utilize a day-night cycle combined with shooting a target in a 3D space that feels like it should have blown people’s minds back in the day. There’s so, so much room for exploration and experimentation thanks to the new hardware and the game takes advantage of it every time.
Hell, for all the shit the Water Temple has gotten over the years, the pure verticality of it all is still rather stunning. Even without the extra assistance the 3DS version provides (a little icon next to each Triforce symbol that tells you what level the water will be raised to), it feels fairly intuitive that the levels correspond to how far up the temple you are. This part of the game was definitely a highlight for me so far, something that I’m sure I can attribute to easier item management for putting the boots on, as well as the ability to run underwater. Both were luxuries unavailable for the N64 version. To answer my question from last week, fuck frustration for the sake of mutual commiseration. I had a lot of fun exploring that temple.
And the music. I absolutely suffered from Zelda theme music fatigue without even playing a single game. I thought it was rather dull, overrated, and overplayed. But within the game, the soundtrack is downright magical. The tinkling melody of the ocarina as the sun rises. The stirring Hyrule Field music that draws me into an adventure the likes of which I haven’t heard since Pokemon. The subtle, relaxing music in Zora’s Domain. I can feel the game forging nostalgia from the music alone as I play it. I can’t wait to start exploring alternate renditions on YouTube when I’m finished.
All in all, I’m starting to see why Zelda fans are so excited about the series. A Link to the Past was great, but there’s something about Ocarina of Time that feels extra special. It combines an immersive environment with beautiful, sometimes haunting designs (lookin’ at you, Bongo Bongo). It’s a lot less generic than I feared the series was going to be. Graphic t-shirts and shitty Triforce tattoos aside, the praise for the series is well earned. It’s just good game design. I’m excited to finish my journey and move on to Majora’s Mask.
- Favorite temple so far is probably the Water Temple. Wasn’t that crazy about the Fire Temple or Shadow Temple.
- On that note, I made it halfway through the latter before realizing I needed the Lens of Truth first. What a rookie mistake.
- I spent a lot of time with a guide during A Link to the Past, mostly to make sure I had enough heart pieces. I’ve only referred to a guide when I’ve been stuck on something for more than an hour with Ocarina and the gameplay experience is a lot better. I’ll probably do a longer post on the dangers and pleasures of using guides.
- I thought the game would rely on flipping back and forth between young and adult Link more to solve puzzles, but this seems mostly relegated to side stuff. I’m mostly fine with this, as switching between the two isn’t as quick as I’d like.
- In regards to my control issues, from last time, I think I sorted it all out. It was helpful that I can have the L button just toggle targeting without me holding it down.
I made it a full twenty-four years without playing a single Zelda game. This is through almost through no fault of my own. Like so many in my reviled generation, I shift the blame to my parents for purchasing me a Sony Playstation as my first console.
I recently purchased a Nintendo 3DS to rectify this situation, noting I could play almost all of the classic core Zelda titles on this wonderful machine. I started with the oft recommended A Link to the Past, slaying Ganon on a hot October day in my buddy’s apartment in Savannah. I relished the gorgeous art, addictive exploration, and gratuitous use of the save state system provided to me by the 3DS version of the SNES classic. Hey, I’m not twelve anymore. I have things to do.
It wasn’t until Breath of the Wild was released that I got the Zelda itch again. It looked like My Kind of Game: one that put gameplay and exploration up front, with minimal interference between me and the game world. It looked like it not only reinvented the series, but was a huge leap forward for commercial game design in 2017. (Frankly, I would argue this is more of a decent look backwards at the heyday of immersive sims, but that’s talk for another time.) It’s this same committal to reinvention that Nintendo seems to be continuing with Mario Odyssey that actually got me excited about the Switch, and one that I hope will justify my purchase in a month or two.
In the meanwhile, I’ve decided to go back and play some more of the core series. I’m doing this for a few reasons. One, I’ve never played Ocarina of Time and it’s probably about damn time I did. Secondly, Majora’s Mask actually sounds like another one of My Kind of Games: one that throws convention to the wind in favor of experimenting with game design in fantastic ways. Thirdly, I want to experience Breath of the Wild as the next step in this cherished series, not necessarily on its own merits. I want to get the in-jokes and references. I want to feel a part of the Zelda community. I want to share in the relief that Nintendo knows how to handle these long-standing monumental franchises that I so often thought were symptoms of stagnation rather than innovation.
And so, I booted up the Ocarina of Time 3DS remake last night and spent my first forty minutes looking for a goddamn sword.
I’m not far enough in to pass any sort of judgment at the moment, but I do have some stray thoughts. Namely:
- I hardly ever turn the 3D effect on, but when I do it is surprisingly immersive.
- I’m concerned about not experiencing the Water Temple as it has been recounted to me. Should frustration, as it was originally baked into a game, be held as a right of passage?
- That fucking fairy is going to be annoying, isn’t she?
- I’m a little concerned with the controls of the 3DS version so far. Locking and blocking are going to take some practicing. I’m not sure if my hands are too big for the already plus sized 3DS XL or what, but pushing L and R is uncomfortable.