Ocarina of Time is not just the best Zelda ever made, it’s arguably the greatest video game of all time. Anything else is heresy. I challenge anyone to pick out a serious problem in this flawless title. Can anything else on this godforsaken planet invoke nostalgia like this:
Prepare for more unfettered and unqualified subjective statements. The leadup to and act of unsheathing the mastersword so you can emerge as grown up Link is comparable to a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca or a Chippewa’s Vision Quest – a legit religious experience. Or recall the feeling when you made your own scarecrow song. I can really play Axel F and make this goofy, masochistic scarecrow appear so I can get to this gold skulltula? Were you not genuinely surprised when the biggoron sword broke? (Did anyone else roll with the broken biggoron sword, Ran style? It actually did the same damage…). Ocarina delivered memorable experiences you didn’t even know you wanted till they were happening. I’m sure you just like everyone else guessed that Sheik was actually Zelda – regardless, appreciate that this iteration had in store an intriguing, active role for it’s titled character.
I’ll deploy some objectivity though: even if you somehow ignored the countless epic moments, Ocarina remains timeless because of it’s elegantly executed mechanics. “Z Targeting” may seem laughably antiquated now, but how else could Miyamoto effectively deal with the limitations entailed in that archaic, singe-analog-stick controller? Allowing Link to focus on enemies and assigning items to the C-buttons provided the scaffolding for a legitimately deep combat system. Throw in mounted archery on Epona and you have a fighting experience as robust as the exploration and puzzle-solving. Context sensitive actions controlled by one button is similarly blasé now, but for the time it was sheer brilliance. No other game on the N64 could touch this Zelda’s simple and highly functional approach to the controlls. Implementing context sensitive music was equally revolutionary, so measured by it’s proliferate adoption in not just action adventures but virtually all modern genres. Ocarina’s soundtrack varied not just by zone, but depended on the weather, time of day, whether you were engaged in combat or not, even how quickly you were moving through hyrule.
Ocarina is closing on 15 years old, so I’ll forgive those of you who forget how amazing it was to play this game. In 1998, during the last Holy Empire of Nintendo, Ocarina embodied everything everyone wanted from a classic 3-D action adventure game, while Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye 007 did the same for platformers and FPS’s respectively. As the late-comer in the N64′s unstoppable Freshman Class, this Zelda game represented an untouchable Miyamoto flagship in a way that no other iteration can lay claim to. Trying to warn our past selves about our current Nintendo predicament would seem like a bad Twilight Zone episode back then. Next time you question what the best Zelda game is, try to situate yourself in that forgotten era and play Ocarina of Time. Wind Waker and The Legend of Zelda are not capable of producing such exuberance. Period.