When talking about the Legend of Zelda series, the discussion will nearly always turn to what many consider to be its greatest title, Ocarina of Time. Released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64, it brought the series out of its 2D roots into 3D brilliantly, as with Super Mario 64 before it. Many would argue that subsequent Zelda titles are re-hashes of the Ocarina formula, offering nothing new with each iteration, whilst others will argue the game introduced gameplay mechanics which have yet to be bettered. Later this year, the long awaited Skyward Sword will be released, promising a major change in the series. But first, we revisit the definitive 3D Zelda game template.
For those who haven’t played through the original, the story follows a young boy named Link (or whatever you choose to call him), who is summoned by the Guardian of the Forest to save the land of Hyrule. The game spans across a time scale of seven years, meaning you control Link both as a child and a young adult.
The main quest, like previous Zelda titles, consists of conquering various dungeons throughout the land. Throughout each dungeon, the player must obtain a map, compass and keys to access new areas. At the end of each dungeon there is a boss battle that usually requires you to make use of the weapon you found earlier in that same dungeon. The dungeons are all varied and utilize their various different themes and puzzles; for example, the Water Temple requires you to adjust the level of water throughout the central tower in order to access its’ different floors.
In between dungeons are other varied tasks such as sneaking into castle grounds, cheering up a village elder and rescuing prisoners from an all female-guarded fortress. Aside from the main quest there are plenty of other tasks appointed to the player by a variety of weird and wonderful characters ranging from trading masks to collecting ghosts’ souls. There are also a few mini games scattered such as archery, horse racing and fishing, with good performances rewarded with item upgrades. Exploring the land of Hyrule you can also find Pieces of Heart to upgrade your health and Gold Spiders to trade for item upgrades.
Controlling Link is very simple; things that may seem daunting like combating enemies with various different items are made easy thanks to the L-targeting system, which fixes the players view on an enemy, making attacking and dodging very easy. A combination of both button-mapping and hotspots on the touchscreen make using items fast and intuitive.
The game does stand up very well, even after 13 years of gaming innovation. The dungeons are still some of the best designed in a video game, even the infamous Water Temple. Taking complaints on board, Nintendo have made this dungeon easier to navigate with the addition of three neon paths, as well as adjusting a small cut-scene to make a hidden area much more obvious. The only minor annoyance is Navi, who seems constantly afraid you don’t know what needs doing and will constantly shout at you to tell you what you already know, but beyond that there isn’t much to complain about. The game is challenging without being frustrating, and is extremely well paced, especially compared to the more recent console Zelda entries.
Many will have already played through the original version of the game at least once, whilst Zelda nut-cases such as myself will have played through every version that is out there, including the Master Quest version bundled with 2003’s The Wind Waker, so what exactly does this update on the 3DS have to offer over the older versions?
Firstly, the visuals have been upgraded quite significantly. The character models have all been completely rebuilt. The pre-rendered backgrounds plaguing areas such as the marketplace have been removed in favour of real-time backdrops and look much better. The interiors of many of the shops and houses have also been re-visited, whilst previously shops were empty beyond the counter, there are now boxes and other assorted junk littering the floor. The framerate has also been significantly improved over the original, making game run a lot smoother during some of the more hectic moments. However, during the final battle, there is some slowdown which appears to be deliberate, despite the fact this was another moment the older hardware struggled with.
The major change from the original version though, is the way in which you will interact with the inventory and item management. In the original version, the player would have to pause the action in order to map items to various buttons, or in the case of Link’s ‘gear’ simply equip and unequip them. For many people, the changing of Link’s boots in the Water Temple later on in the game, was a major irritance. This is all now mapped to the touch screen, making the process much simpler, with items such as the Iron Boots being counted as mappable items now. If you don’t want finger prints on the touch screen, you will probably want to invest in some screen protectors as the stylus isn’t particularly ideal for the frequent item management. The touch screen also acts as the HUD for the most part, leaving the top screen free of any distractions, however, for some reason Grezzo/Nintendo decided to have a mini-map displayed constantly on the top screen. This seems like a rather odd design choice as there is a constant overworld/dungeon map displayed on the touch screen.
There is a small amount of new content with this version. The major addition is the previously mentioned Master Quest, which is unlocked when you first finish the game. There is an added challenge in this new version as the map is completely mirrored and enemies do double the amount of damage, making the earlier sections of the game much more difficult. Unfortunately, there is no option to start this version without first finishing the original main quest. Finally, there is a Boss Rush mode, which pits you against the bosses one after the other, it’s nice to re-fight the various bosses and beat your timed records, but is ultimately quite a pointless addition.
There are some minor complaints though with this update. Nintendo opted not to upgrade the soundtrack, which is a shame as it’s arguably one of the most iconic for any game. The ocarina interface is rather odd compared the Nintendo 64 version. In this version, a combination of the touchscreen and the face/shoulder buttons can be used. Perhaps it’s just me not wanting to learn a new way of playing these songs, but the D-pad features the same layout as the C-buttons on the Nintendo 64 pad, and isn’t being used for anything else. Another minor problem is with the first person aiming; using the control nub is sometimes painfully slow, especially compared with the gyroscope controls (which will break the 3D effect for those who turn it on).
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of Ocarina of Time before, this is a no-brainer, it’s the best version of this classic. Fans who have played through it multiple times will be disappointed in the lack of new content, and some may find it hard to cough up full price when the original is available on the Wii’s Virtual Console for a lot cheaper. Overall though, I would recommend this title to anyone with a 3DS, it’s easily the best game out for the system while you wait for the likes of Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land to come out later this year.