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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time   Nintendo 64 

Yeah, I said it: Episode VIII    5/5 stars

In case you haven’t heard, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is pretty big deal. You wouldn’t have to spend much time at all searching the internet to find everything from major gaming websites to some lone blogger who knocked out a “Best Games of All Time” list that featured Ocarina of Time somewhere in the top 10. Both 1up and IGN have examples of such lists. The game’s Metacritic rating is a 99, which may be good for the highest rating on the site. GameRankings.com actually DOES have it as their highest rated game of all time, at a 97.48.

So, let’s take a look back at what makes this game so highly regarded.

The big question going in was whether or not the spirit and flow of the franchise would survive the move from 2D to 3D. Super Mario 64 had, no doubt, alleviated some fears by becoming such a critical and commercial success as Nintendo’s main man moved into 3D successfully. So the question is was it a fluke, or would Zelda again prove that our fears had been for nothing.

Well, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the answer was that yes, the Legend of Zelda does just fine in 3D. Thanks in LARGE part to the controls and level design.

The biggest thing Ocarina of Time did well was a pretty new concept in 3D gaming, something the game called Z-targeting. A colored arrow appears above a target, usually an enemy, and then hitting the Z button under the controller will focus Link’s attention on the object, so that he switches from freely running around to moving towards/away and strafing around it. This makes things like hitting enemies with your boomerang or arrows easy as it essentially eliminates the chore of aiming while in the heat of battle and allows for a fast and easy flow of combat. This also aids the sword combat, allowing you to easily strike enemies with your sword or keep your shield in proper place to protect you from an especially nasty enemy.

Then there was the control outside of Z-targetting. When you didn’t have a target selected, bringing up an item like the hookshot took Link into first-person so you could freely look around the room. This would come in handy more for puzzle-solving than combat during the game, as it allows you to search for and shoot switches or use special areas made for the hookshot to attach to, but you couldn't move while looking.

Being able to have up to 3 items at the ready allowed for a lot of variety in the combat and puzzles without bogging the game down with too much tedious pausing to select a new item. You could hookshot up to a ledge, activate your secret-revealing Eye of Truth, and drop a bomb on a location all without having to go to the pause menu to switch items. This also opened the game up for smooth, fast-paced boss fights that may require more than one special item to complete.

The Z-targeting also handles most of the camera work in the game. Hitting Z when you don’t have a target highlighted will simply center the camera behind Link. The one-button controls simplify things quite a bit from games like Super Mario 64, where controlling the camera devolved to the point where you stopped asking why the camera wouldn’t stay where you parked it and just decided to get better at the game so you didn't need optimal camera angles. In Ocarina of Time, the only thing that would keep the camera from going where you wanted it was a wall, which at least made it predictable. Personally, I thought it was a HUGE improvement over games like Super Mario 64, despite the decrease in camera options.

I suppose no review of Ocarina of Time would be complete without the required complaining about Navi in the section talking about Z-targetting. Your target-selecting cursor takes the form of Navi, a helper fairy you meet at the beginning of the story who will give you hints and insight into the game, and screams “Hey!”, “Look!”, or “Listen!” EVERY time you select something (and you will select a LOT of objects in the course of this game). Yes, it’s annoying. Especially when it's from start to finish for the entire game. But when you consider it as essentially the only truly universal complaint about the game, it’s fairly small potatoes. And really, Navi-haters, since Nintendo saw fit to one-up Navi in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with the introduction of Fi, now you see how much worse it could have been.

After coming up with a control scheme, Nintendo was careful to design a game comprised of combat that could be met successfully using mostly the Z-targetting without being too easy and puzzle solving that fit the first-person mechanics while also having occasional accuracy-based tasks to still be a challenge.

Nintendo resisted a few urges in moving Zelda to 3D as well. The temptation to create more platforming surely arose during development. Link had never been much of a jumper in his games, aside from Roc’s Feather (Unless you want to talk about Zelda II. Do you really want to talk about Zelda II? I didn’t think so.) but it would be harder than ever to just... say that Link can’t jump while in 3D. Think of how that would limit dungeon design, on top of starting to break immersion in the game. People really didn’t care much if Link couldn’t jump when it was a top-down adventure, but it would start to get a little hard to swallow in 3D that Link just... can’t jump.

But they couldn’t simply turn this into a Mario game with sword fighting. Too much jumping wouldn’t be right for the Legend of Zelda. So the developers found a way to keep a little platforming/jumping in the game without putting too much emphasis on it. Whenever Link runs to the edge of a platform, he’ll jump automatically. This takes a lot of complications of jumping too far/too short/too high/too low as Link really only has one "jump". The platforming in the game now centers more on timing and planning of your movements and not finesse of the jump arc itself, which fits pretty well with what Zelda had done in the past.

The setting of the game fit the new, larger scope of Zelda as well. The game tells the story of Ganondorf’s transformation into the ruler of what eventually became the Dark World in The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past. A story in a Legend of Zelda game has always been essentially a vehicle for sending Link on a quest to collect 3 of these or 5 of these from various temples. Ocarina of Time is no different, but it tries to throw a twist or two in and actually develop a few characters. You’ll find a few familiar locations like Kakariko Village and Death Mountain as well as some new areas and inhabitants like the Gorons living in the mountains and the desert-dwelling Gerudo tribe. It was a surprisingly large world that allowed enough wide-open space to roam and explore to again aid the epic feel of the game.

I’ve always been a stickler for lots of dungeons in a Zelda game, and for the record I don’t count it as a true dungeon unless I get a heart piece at the end. Ocarina of Time is a decent length for my taste, with plenty of action between dungeons to add character to Hyrule and its peoples, keeping the game from just being a matter of walking to the next dungeon. The game starts small, using the time between dungeons to introduce you to new characters and tell their stories, and gets pretty expansive by the end, with essentially mini-dungeons and challenges granting you access to the later true dungeons. It’s an excellent balance of progressing the game, but still showing you the land and people Link is supposed to be fighting to save. Legend of Zelda games since Ocarina of Time can sometimes lose touch of this delicate balance and may feel bloated or slow due to lazy padding being added disguised as interesting content.

The dungeons themselves are excellent, and feature what it still my favorite in any Zelda game, the Forest Temple. Each dungeon has a fairly standard theme (Shadow Temple is creepy, Fire Temple is full of lava, etc...) and has a good mix of combat and puzzles. The puzzles can be challenging, but never feel cheap. Each temple has a mood-appropriate theme song, and each temple culminates with an interesting and challenging boss.

The graphics were as impressive as the visuals for any 3D game to date. Bright colors and a very “Zelda” art design worked quite well. Each dungeon had its own particular look that did a good job setting the mood. The game runs well enough on the N64’s hardware that the draw distance is quite impressive, allowing you to really take in the epic locations around you. Playing the game way back in 1998, I remember thinking the Temple of Time looked especially cool.

In essence, the history of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the history of 3D action-adventure as a whole. What merely started out as an attempt to move a storied and beloved franchise into 3D ended up changing the course of 3D action-adventure as we know it. The key to the game’s success was the balance between control scheme and game design. Nintendo had no previous 3D Zelda game to learn from, so the fact that they got so much right on their first try speaks volumes about the gameplay design that went into this game.

A control scheme that makes sense in 3D without changing what Zelda truly is. A game that was designed, balanced, and optimized around this control scheme to maximize its potential, creating a game that’s deep without being complicated. These two crucial elements came together to create possibly the most highly lauded game ever or since.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is my favorite video game of all time.

Yeah, I said it.

 

 


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