I have quite the internal debate with myself every single time I think about my favorite Legend of Zelda game. It’s relatively easy to fill out the top 10, but once I get to the top two spots, I have to choose between two Nintendo blockbusters: Super Nintendo’s A Link to the Past and the Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time.
As gaming debates go, this is certainly one I enjoy having with myself – because you really can’t go wrong with either one – incredible gameplay, awesome stories, enchanting soundtracks, and heroic and villainous characters you love and/or hate. But I’m able to set aside the pure nostalgia for a moment and say that while I think A Link to the Past is my favorite, I truly think the N64’s Zelda offering, Ocarina of Time, is the best. Boom, end of discussion, right? WRONG! Let’s break down why I think Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the best journey Link ever embarked upon!
Unparalleled (for the time) 3D world to explore – This was absolutely one of the major things that Nintendo was able to hang their hat on when launching Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 system. Up to this point, any Zelda fans had explored Hyrule over and over again in various titles on the NES, SNES, and GameBoy. But for the first time ever we got to experience it all in beautiful three-dimensional glory. Hyrule had never looked so realized, so beautiful, so vibrant. But what made this new 3D world so impressive was how well the gameplay evolved to fit this whole new world. The combat was incredibly intuitive and really felt natural in this new three-dimensional environment. The bosses were massive undertakings (more on them in a bit), and were so damn fun – and you combine them with some really impressive puzzles and secrets, and what you’ve got is the perfect use of this new 3D space. And to top it all off, Ocarina of Time included something that was truly a 3D breakthrough for the time – lock-on targeting. And boy, was the game better for having it! The combat would have been so much more difficult without this tremendous new advancement in the 3D gaming technology of the time, and it’s something that I’m sure helped influence games for years to come.
Introduced impactful new faces for the Zelda franchise – I have been playing through Breath of the Wild recently, and I am blown away by the overall scope of this game – so dang fun to play. But some of my favorite moments have been interacting with the various races and factions all over Hyrule – and guess where many of them originated? That’s right, Ocarina of Time! The N64 Zelda title is the first game of the series to introduce such a diverse and incredible cast of creatures and characters to interact with. From the massive Gorons living in the shadow of Death Mountain to the majestic Zora from Zora’s Domain – and we also met new human factions too, in the Sheikah and Gerudo. All of these colorful and awesome new additions to the series gave Ocarina of Time a level of diversity never seen in a Zelda game to that point, and many of the races and factions feature prominently in many Zelda titles ever since.
One of the best soundtracks ever – Anyone that has read any of my gaming pieces in the past know that the audio quality in games is something that is very important to me, so it’s no surprise that the vast majority of my favorite games also include some of the best soundtracks to0 – and Ocarina of Time is no different. The Zelda franchise up to that point, and ever since then to, had always boasted some incredible soundtracks and musical scores – I mean, the Legend of Zelda theme is one of the most iconic gaming themes of all time. The N64 came into the gaming picture with an impressive (at the time) capability regarding gaming audio, and Ocarina of Time absolutely took advantage of that. The main theme, the music of Hyrule Field, the haunting melodies in various dungeons, and so much more. But you know what I absolutely loved? Those stinkin’ songs you jammed out on with your ocarina! Song of Storms, Saria’s Song, Nocturne of Shadow, and the Bolero of Fire were all my absolute faves and ones that I sought out years upon years later for various ringtones and what not – in fact, I listened to a Song of Storms dubstep remix on my way to work today!
Ocarina of Time was legitimately challenging – Again, folks that have read my work in the past know that being challenged by games is something I really enjoy – I don’t like to breeze through things, I like to sort of earn them by overcoming difficult challenges, fearsome bosses, and mindbending puzzles. And fortunately, Ocarina of Time had all of that, and then some. You ran into some really difficult monsters throughout the game, including some really intense bosses (don’t worry, I’ll get there!), but the puzzles you came upon in the various dungeons varied from “oh wow I figured it out, that’s neat” to “holy s*#$ I hate the Water Temple”. Now, while many of my gaming friends found many of the puzzles unnecessarily difficult or clunky, I have to admit that I absolutely fell in love with the challenging puzzles and dungeons you were tasked with tackling to save the princess and finally take on the ultimate evil that is Ganon.
The bosses were incredible – I am of the opinion that an adventure game like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is only as good as its bosses and its villain, and the Nintendo 64’s Zelda title had some of the coolest bosses ever, and maybe my favorite manifestation of Ganon in any Legend of Zelda game to date. I will never forget how mind-blown I was the very first time I saw the game’s very first boss – the Parasitic Armored Arachnid, Gohma. First off, I was grossed out because damn I hate spiders, but that irrational fear quickly subsided as I approached this tremendous boss battle (beautifully realized in 3D and really put the new lock-on targeting to the test). From that moment forward I loved every single boss I faced, so many of them were awesome and iconic, and many of them were impressively difficult to overcome.
And this, of course, all culminates with the showdown with the big bad himself, Ganon. When you first meet the game’s villain, he’s merely the forboding Demon King, Ganondorf. But once you go toe-to-toe with him in Hyrule Castle, you realize just how powerful he has become thanks to his connection with the Triforce. The initial fight against him is so dang fun and really is an iconic battle as it puts much of what you’ve learned throughout the game to the test, but also because it takes place in the corrupted Hyrule Castle, now Ganon’s Castle. After thwarting him in his human form, thinking the battle is one, Link and Zelda escape the crumbling castle just in time to face his true demonic form – Ganon. The subsequent fight is so fun, so cool, and appropriately challenging. I can’t think of many boss battles that have had me more awestruck and excited, and I’ll never forget the first time I took the beast down, sweaty palms clutching my grey Nintendo 64 contoller. To this day it is one of my favorite and memorable video game experiences.