…LEGEND OF ZELDA! By Andrew Bianchi
An eerie calm haunts the chamber as you enter. Your eye is drawn towards the rock platform, perched precariously above a sea of magma. As you cross the stone bridge into the very heart of the volcano, the tension reaches an almost unbearable crescendo. But nothing happens. You look around tensely, allowing yourself a breath.
And then the floor of the chamber begins to shake. Your only way out crumbles into the fiery abyss as the creature bursts forth, its electric blue eyes locking onto you. It turns and opens its jaws to let forth a belch of flame. You grip the hilt of your sword and can’t help but smile. This dragon’s going down.
Hot stuff doesn’t really begin to cover it. And it’s only one of the many epic battles from fantasy adventure, ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’. Released in 1998 on the Nintendo 64 console, Nintendo’s first 3D entry in the popular Zelda series was met with both critical and financial success. Now, after more than 10 years and numerous sequels of varying quality, it is still regarded as a classic, and has lost none of its potency, and for lack of a better word, magic.
Ocarina is the story of a boy called Link. Raised and protected in an enchanted forest, he is forced to fulfil his heroic destiny of protecting a holy relic from sorcerer Ganondorf. Joining forces with the titular Princess Zelda, the pair set out upon a quest that will take them from sunken temples to scorching deserts, to the realm of the Gods, and even through time itself.
But why, you may ask, is a game in such a clichéd genre still so popular? The answer lies in its ability to offer a great many things to a variety of players.
The hardcore gamer seeks the familiar presented in a new fashion, which will hopefully take them a while to complete. Ocarina offers an engrossing story combined with a quest so demanding it takes weeks to finish. Mix this with technological features which shook the gaming world to its foundations – a targeting system that worked; context sensitive buttons which allowed the player to perform a different action using the same button in different circumstances; and to top it all, the ability to choose which button did what. These features have since become common place in third person adventures. But when Zelda came out it felt like a far more innovative and cool way to play.
To those less impressed with button pressing, Ocarina offered something else. A living, breathing world to lose yourself in. A world called Hyrule, complete with towns, cities, deep lakes and windswept deserts. A world still relatively large by today’s gaming standards. This world is something similar to those created by Rowling and Tolkien. But in this instance, you are not being led, but the one deciding which path to follow.
Perhaps more impressive than sheer scale is the game’s reliance on the player’s natural curiosity. Although the sweeping story gradually carries the player through the various landscapes of Hyrule, he or she is ultimately free to neglect his destiny and find something more fun to do. Thus when otherwise bored of demon slaying, you could spend an hour or two fishing on the shores of Lake Hylia, improving your aim with a crossbow in the shooting galleries or even risk a scorched pixel or two by taking part in the risky sport of bowling with bombchus – little mechanical bombs which scuttle towards their target once dropped. You could even take part in a race to free an abused horse from its cruel master, which both strikes a blow for virtual mistreatment of animals, and gives you a mode of transport for the rest of the game.
Many of these activities were, due to their lack of effect on the main quest, often overlooked by people who blasted through in a rush to complete. Thus players who took the time to explore the (virtual) world often stumbled across things they believed only they knew about. For the patient, curious or just downright stubborn player, Zelda keeps throwing surprises.
Whether you are battling the undead, catching the biggest fish you can, riding horseback into the sunset, travelling through time or, to top it off, musically mangling a variety of compositions on the titular ocarina, Ocarina of Time keeps knocking your socks off with its wit, imagination and sheer barminess. It stands alone amongst a sea of pretenders to its crown, and is responsible for the immersive virtual worlds which are now commonplace. Although time may not be kind to the graphics, the experience of playing makes Ocarina perfect for both novices and battle hardened heroes. The game lives very much up to its title. It is a legend.