Nintendo remained the only developer that seriously believed great games could be done on the Nintendo 64 (N64) and to finally prove it they decided to produce one of the most epic role-playing games (RPGs) ever made and let the consumers decide. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was to surpass the experience of any of the latest RPGs even without redbook audio soundtracks and full-motion video. After constant delays, many in the industry doubted the game would have much impact no matter how good it was. The only one who believed was game producer Shigeru Miyamoto (and the 200 people at EAD working on the project).
Ocarina of Time is Nintendo's answer to every question ever asked about video games and video game design. Miyamoto and his team created an imaginary world called Hyrule and invited us to all come play in it. When you first start Ocarina of Time, you're given a quick tour of a small part of the world, the Khari Forest, through the eyes of a fairy. It flies over trees, through undergrowth and over the Khari Village until it gets to Links house. In that one intro we are given a sense of the scale of this world and its shear beauty. The colors of the forest and earth are rich and lush. Not only does this opening offer a nice cinematic feel, it also pulls the player into this world.
One of the finest moments of the game is when you leave the Village after the first mini adventure. There is familiarity when you watch him leave his friend behind and go off into the world. The emotion wasn't built in that one scene, it was built from the beginning through all the character interaction. The cut scenes are always used to push home the emotion that's built while playing and as the game progresses. Nintendo certainly was not stingy on the game's graphics. Pre-rendered backgrounds are used in all towns. Every house and every shop are simply beautiful. They look like real 'old-world' homes and that only compliments the beautifully rendered town and the lush environments. Panoramic views are the norm as to further convince you of the size of you world and your quest. They are a wonder simply because of the limitation of the medium.
The main draw however is the brilliant game design and gameplay. Ocarina of Time is simply a joy to play. Control becomes instinctive rather quickly. You are always learning new moves but they are paced throughout the game so they quickly become second nature before you really need them. Miyamoto has included a new auto-locking feature. Using the Z button you can lock onto an enemy, move around the environment freely and still land attacks on the enemy. This one addition solved the problem developers were stuck with when dealing with interaction in a three-dimensional world. Also worthy of mentioning is the use of the Ocarina. This musical instrument is instrumental (pun intended) to getting through the game. Using six different notes, the player can open doors or move objects or even change night to day. If he or she chooses there are even mini games where you play with other musicians throughout the game. It is one of those treats that great designers leave for the player.
A big knock against Nintendo was that the limited space of cartridge medium and the lack of a dedicated sound chip resulted in games with sub par audio. Frequently compared to their competitor's CD-ROM based systems blessed with dedicated sound chips, the Nintendo 64 looked underpowered and more outdated. To save space and processor power, developers looped music ad nauseam and sound effects sounded hollow and repetitive. Nintendo seemed determined to change all that.
Ocarina of Time shows that Nintendo had put that the 3 years that went into the game to good use. The music is the best I've ever heard on the system. Nintendo needed to be choosy about what went in the game and subsequently chose only music that would advance the story or mood. From the tranquil opening theme that accentuates the lonely figure of Link on his horse to the heart-tugging background melody when Link first leaves the Khari Village. They are all perfect examples of using music to draw the player into the game. But it gets better. Hyrule is filled with all the ambient sounds you'll find in the real world. Birds sing in the background, crickets chirp, there is always the faint sound of flowing water. Anything that would provide mood was tossed in and used perfectly. This is all possible because Ocarina of Time was provided in surround sound. A first for the N64 and it's definitely the game to debut it in.
Ocarina of Time tops all comers in its emphasis on exploration and discovery. Traveling through the Land of Hyrule, I was blown away by the depth of the land. Far away building looked distant and it could take several real-time minutes to walk from one end of the land to the other. In between were constant surprises. It you got off the beaten track there was the chance you'd find a small stream or lake or hidden cave. You never know what's around any corner. But for being daring and curious you are usually rewarded. Or later in the game you'd run into random characters that could offer a player a welcome diversion.
On your quest as you travel from town to town, fortress to fortress slaying enemies and solving puzzles, you do encounter boredom. Yes even Miyamoto couldn't get past that. But his genius is evident in the solution. You don't need to play the game all the way through in a certain amount of time, if you want a break, there's no need to turn off the game, simply take part in one of the many mini-games. Feel like horse-racing, you can do that, feel like just leisurely riding horseback, you can do that too, if you feel like up for a game of archery or fishing you can do that too. Offering the player the freedom of how to proceed during the game is amazing and adds to the whole enjoyment when you can play at your own pace.
There are some negatives like dithered textures and repeated dithered textures on top of that. The lack of a jump button also takes some getting used to but none of this is major. It is all outweighed by the all the wonderful ways that Ocarina of Time excels. Ocarina of Time is the game that Miyamoto has always dreamed of making. He and his team got together and dreamed up a living breathing world and successfully crammed it onto 32 MB of silicon. While game designers these days migrate towards gore and violence, Miyamoto has made a name for himself (and quite a bit of money for Nintendo), creating fun games that transcends all age groups and are cherished for generations. His genius is further proven when others trying to copy his style fail miserably. High praise goes to them for also managing to fit joy, creativity and discovery into the game and doing so without the use of Full-Motion Video (FMV) and the CD soundtrack his critics said was needed. This game is simply the most complete experience of any game ever made making Ocarina of Time the game I've always dreamed of playing.
According to ESRB, this game contains: animated violence
Without hesitation I have to say this is the finest example of what a video game should be.
Fans of RPGs will love the story and character interaction of Link.
Fans of the action genre will be more than content as Ocarina of Time controls like a dream and offers plenty for the player to do. There is essentially something in this game for everyone. Miyamoto is always concerned with making a game that even those new to the genre can pick up and start enjoying immediately. With interaction and control so instinctive, Ocarina of Time is easy to pick up and hard to put down.
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