For my birthday last month I received a copy of Hyrule Warriors for the Nintendo Wii U, which is a Dynasty Warriors styled game set in the Legend of Zelda universe. Although by this point I’ve had the game for quite a while, I’ve only just started getting into the meat of it. I’ve never played a Dynasty Warriors game before, so it took me a while to both fully grasp what I should be focused on while playing, as well as become more invested in what I was playing. I found how different it is from a traditional Zelda game to be more of a barrier to entry than I thought.
Now that I’ve been playing it more in-depth, however, I absolutely love the game. It feels like a real war raging across Hyrule, which isn’t something I’ve seen before as a fan of the series. After watching the Lord of the Rings films I’d always pictured the idea of controlling Link in a setting fighting against hordes of enemies across a vast battlefield, unleashing his arsenal against them. This game fulfilled that better than anything else that’s come before.
More than this, however, I also really appreciate how it incorporates a lot of past Zelda games into one title, providing a vast array of references and fan-service into the story. At the point I’m at right now, Link and company have split up to travel to different eras of Hyrule — specifically Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. This nearly made me giddy with excitement for the chance to revisit the world of Ocarina of Time in a new way, because as the title points out, it is my favourite Legend of Zelda game.
It has been a while since I’ve done a post on Favourites, and playing Hyrule Warriors really got me thinking about why Ocarina of Time is my favourite Legend of Zelda game. I loved Twilight Princess as well, for instance, and find it to be superior in a number of ways both technically and creatively, yet it is nowhere close to how much I love Ocarina of Time.
On the one hand, it is easy to make the observation that I love it so much because it was my first Zelda game, and for the most part this is very true. I was still a kid when the game came out, and I’ve been in love with it since I played it around that time. This childhood attachment and nostalgia play a big part.
However, Ocarina of Time wasn’t my first Zelda game. Before my brothers and I ever got our hands on a Nintendo 64, we had an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and a Sega Genesis, and for a long time that was it. On the NES we had the original The Legend of Zelda as well as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, both of which I played beforehand. I enjoyed them for what they were, but I have no deep-rooted love for them.
I think I grew to love Ocarina of Time so much — to the point where even this year I played through it once again — because it was the first game I really played that had some narrative complexity. Big Japanese RPGs like the Final Fantasy series were left untouched in my gaming youth because I never had access to them, so I grew up playing a lot of action, puzzle, and platforming games.
In Ocarina of Time I wasn’t just dropped into the middle of a world and given a wooden sword, I was the lonely boy in the forest who woke up with destiny literally knocking at his door. I wasn’t just told “You have to save the princess,” I met the princess and became her agent in the world trying to stop an evil man from taking over. It wasn’t the deepest plot, but the world felt more alive than most other games I’d played before. It was the first game to present me with a big open world where I didn’t just feel like a sprite moving across a picture, but an actual character inhabiting and exploring a 3D space.
There is something about the perspective you play from in Ocarina of Time and subsequent console releases of the series that has appealed to me infinitely more than the top-down or 2D style of its predecessors and handheld releases. I could feel the scale of the environment as I climbed Death Mountain. I crossed a treacherous desert, navigated a perplexing forest, and climbed to the bottom of a volcano’s crater. Enemies and bosses played a big part as well, providing an imposing presence and combative challenge with each significant encounter. A duel with two Stalfos could be nerve-wracking, and to this day the final battle with Ganon still gives me goose bumps.
This world wasn’t just wondrous either, it was sometimes terrifying. I had to “watch for the shadows of the monsters that hang from the ceiling,” explore a macabre dungeon at the bottom of a well — which is implied used to be somebody’s basement — and undead monstrosities with distorted mouths and too many hands tried to eat me.
Outside of what goes on within the game, I learned everything there was about the game as well, and I got very good at it. I came to know where every heart piece could be found, every item upgrade, every Gold Skulltula, and many other secrets. As the initial experience wore off and everything became familiar, it didn’t become boring, but comforting. Pushing through once more until the end, recollecting everything has never felt like a chore.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not just my favourite Zelda game because of how much I loved it as a kid, but also because I know that even now I could start playing and find comfort in its world. It may sound like a paint-by-numbers sort of activity to just replay a game you know inside and out, but it has a very ritualistic quality to me. That is why it is and always will be a favourite of mine.