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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Nintendo's bad habits

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time deserves the accolades and to be remembered as one of the best games of its generation. But oh boy, did it teach Nintendo some bad habits.


The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time is an undisputed classic. It helped define the console transition to 3D, told an epic story with some genuine surprises, revolutionized its own series' combat system, and won more Game of the Year awards than Hyrule has Moblins. In many ways, it deserves the accolades and to be remembered as one of the best games of its generation.

But oh boy, did it teach Nintendo some bad habits.

First, let's examine the series up to that point. The Legend of Zelda, the NES classic, was incredibly rich, and crafted in a time period when players were expected to learn the rules of a game by pushing against its boundaries. This is why the original game felt so expansive. The world was large, and without a stated goal or ruleset, players were left to explore. This was part of the point: to make a true adventure by leaving you to your devices. Dialogue was sparse and the world was filled with a sense of discovery and wonder. Dungeons were true discoveries, and could be taken in almost any order.

The Adventure of Link, something of a red-headed stepchild in the series history, was a radical departure that took its cues from more action-oriented games. It certainly wasn't bad, but it's telling that both A Link to the Past and Link's Awakening were more like the original than its sequel. Both of them refined those core concepts, striking the delicate balance between discovery and dialogue, intrigue and instruction. They remain among the best of the series.

Now consider the common complaints of modern Zelda games: characters talk too much, the game over-explains its systems, the tutorial is too long, the path is narrowly gated. We may not have realized it at the time, but Ocarina is the prototypical example of each and every one of them. Every 3D Zelda game since then has followed the roadmap set by Ocarina, both for better and for worse.

The opening of the game is an extended village sequence that lasts almost an hour for new players. The game constantly explains itself in full paragraphs, from picking up items to outlining your next quest. If the tutorial weren't long enough, a constant fairy companion follows you around and reminds you of your goals. The dungeons are almost always reliant on an item found in the previous dungeon, so you absolutely must finish them in order.

These are the exact complaints you'll see applied in reviews of Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. What else was Nintendo supposed to do? A game that is still lauded as one of the best of all time had all those traits in common, so the company continued using it as a roadmap.

It's why I find it so difficult to finish Ocarina of Time again. It's still a fantastic game in many respects, but it's difficult not to find myself frustrated at how clearly I can see the groundwork being laid for future problems. Nintendo made a hit with Ocarina of Time, and it's been making Ocarina of Time ever since.

I was heartened by A Link Between Worlds, not just because it shares so much in common with one of my favorite games, but because it finally felt like Nintendo understood what made those early games so special. Even Nintendo seems to have tired some parts of Ocarina's legacy, and comments from Eiji Aonuma have signaled he's willing to experiment with Zelda a little more. We only know one key design decision for the upcoming Wii U Zelda, and that's an open world focus. That's enough to get me excited, because it sounds like they're cracking through yet another hard shell of Ocarina's legacy.

I'll always love Ocarina of Time. It's a classic for good reason, and it did right much more than it did wrong. However, Nintendo has made its weaker points emblematic of the series as a whole, and is just now appearing to learn that lesson.


From The Chatty

  • reply
    July 3, 2014 3:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Nintendo's bad habits.

    The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time deserves the accolades and to be remembered as one of the best games of its generation. But oh boy, did it teach Nintendo some bad habits.

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      July 3, 2014 4:08 PM

      Fair points, Steve. To Ocarina's credit, the time you spend in the forest and the first dungeon are the rough extent of hand-holding. You're mostly left on your own for the brunt of the game, minus a few intrusions by the worst video-game owl EVER.

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        July 3, 2014 4:09 PM

        Navi can get pretty annoying.

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        July 3, 2014 4:09 PM

        Also, I believe the reason Navi is despised among gamers is because she wasn't a character. She was a tutorial wrapped in the guise of a character. Tatl, Link's fairy companion in Majora's Mask, grew as a character over the course of the game. Navi just yapped at Link and played the role of a hint manual.

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        July 3, 2014 4:42 PM


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      July 3, 2014 4:13 PM

      did you create this article because Egoraptor finally released his Zelda Sequelitis in which he bashes OoT and Skyward sword for a good 20 minutes?

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        July 3, 2014 4:20 PM

        A lot of people were excited by the E3 showing not too long ago, so it's timely to reflect back on past installments.

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        July 3, 2014 4:52 PM

        i was wondering that too. that video got a lot of backlash though.

        i don't quite get why nintendo gets all the blame for this shit, though, because as i recall nintendo was being pushed hard by trends at the time to have things like FMV cutscenes and long story sequences/dialogue (think FFVII, which came out over a year prior). by the time OoT came out, japan had already had its RPG revolution where turn based RPGs full of laborious amounts of text and slow-paced gameplay were basically the norm. so it's unsurprising that Nintendo slipped into that a bit in that context. and yet it still had a lot of gameplay and was largely committed to keeping most of its stuff in a fully 3d world, despite those trends.

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          July 3, 2014 4:54 PM

          basically what i'm trying to say is that OoT is kind of a product of its time, it's not like Nintendo made OoT and went "we're gonna put a bunch of awful bullshit in here!" they were simply following the trends in some respects.

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        July 3, 2014 6:52 PM

        Honestly, I haven't seen or heard of that, but it sounds pretty entertaining. This is one of those ideas that's been percolating around in my head for a while, so I went for it.

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      July 3, 2014 4:30 PM

      The first one really did hit the "legend of" note. Before Nintendo Power released full maps, it was one of those games you talked about on the school bus. Lots of "If you go up north and put a bomb beside a rock" kind of stuff.

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      July 3, 2014 4:32 PM

      it should have taught nintendo to RELEASE MAJORA'S MASK ON 3DS

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      July 3, 2014 4:57 PM


      I agree with a lot of what he says.
      But fuck him, OOT was awesome!

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        July 3, 2014 5:18 PM

        I think he was overly critical. He failed to consider several critical points:

        1) LttP being a 2D game meant that you could pack the screen with stuff to fight, and that Link would run at a speed of what had to be 60 MPH or more. Ocarina being a 3D game meant that Nintendo had to create a WORLD, not just a VIDEO GAME. Hyrule Field, Kakariko Village, and Hyrule Castle Market had tons of personality even though they weren't packed to the brim with NPCs, enemies, and objects.

        2) LttP didn't have as much waiting because everything moved so fast. Link moved at, like, 60 MPH. That's fine for a video game. In a 3D world meant to feel realistic within the context of an epic fantasy world, such a high rate of movement would have felt jarring. Yes, hoofing it across Hyrule Field was an artificial way to make the game world feel bigger and the game itself stretch out longer, but it also made me feel like I was living in a WORLD. And once Link acquired Epona, travel time shrank, and movement became hella fun. If you didn't love roaming Hyrule Field on horseback, you're broken.

        3) Flaws aside, Z-targeting was the best possible way to make sure you hit what you were swinging and shooting at. If you flubbed up and lost track of pits and hazards such as rotating spikes, that's your fault. In a 2D game, you only have to deal with what you see on the screen. In a 3D game, the world is too big to fit on a single screen. You have to be vigilant. That was part of what made combat interesting.

        4) While it's true that fighting most enemies in Ocarina boiled down to waiting for them to expose their weak spot, that's something most people only realized in retrospect. At the time, watching a snow-white werewolf circle you and then dart in to attack was pretty awesome.

        5) Many of these and other flaws in Ocarina boil down to it being Nintendo's first foray into 3D with Zelda. Future games corrected many issues he points out, while others will always exist because they are inherent in 3D DNA.

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          July 3, 2014 7:16 PM

          My thoughts exactly! Well.... not exactly... but close damnit!

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      July 3, 2014 6:15 PM

      OoT was my first Zelda, so I needed that tutorial. Honestly I thought it was fine, and I think the story elements in that game are delivered very well. Hell, I even like the lore.

      The fact that they didn't evolve those systems at all is the real problem.

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      July 3, 2014 7:37 PM

      This article made me realize that Ocarina of Time is the most recent Nintendo game I've played. Feels like it could be true for a lot of people, since that's when Sony took over. Pretty much PC-exclusive/online-exclusive for me once high-speed became available.

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      July 3, 2014 7:42 PM

      I've still never played it, the last zelda I played was ALTTP (I played a bit of Wind Waker when I get my Wii-U). I did play some of Twilight Princess, but it just wasn't for me, but I think if I gave Ocarina a chance I'd get lost in how great of a game it is.

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      July 3, 2014 8:26 PM

      Wait, so this writer is complaining about how long the game is? LoZ is meant to be an immersive experience. if you dont like the dialogue then why even play a Zelda game? Thats like complaining that Final Fantasy games were too long and held too much dialogue.

      I guess its safe to say you think LoZ games should be no more than 10 hrs long with limited dialogue and non stop dungeon crawling, right?

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        July 4, 2014 7:29 AM

        I don't think you understood the article at all.

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      July 4, 2014 5:49 AM

      My memory is foggy; could you beat the dungeons out of order in A Link to the Past? Or in any Zelda game prior to Ocarina? (Besides the first)

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        July 4, 2014 6:21 AM

        Yeah you could do some dungeons out of order, but mostly mid-late game dungeons iirc

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          July 4, 2014 6:56 AM

          So kind of like OoT?

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        July 5, 2014 1:18 PM

        In the first game you could tackle most of the dungeons in any order, I'm not sure about Zelda II. In Link to the Past the first 3 had to be done in order, but at some point during mid game you could mix it up.

        I'm curious though. Why is this particular design element such a point of contention?

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      July 4, 2014 7:44 AM

      I'm amazed this game is still full price on 3DS. Heck, its out of stock at Amazon right now so some third party scumbag is selling it for $60

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      July 4, 2014 10:40 AM

      I agree and hope that they allow the player to just mess around with Link to learn his moves at first, and if need be, he can go to town to learn those moves. I think the problem lies that they always start him in a village. Start him in the plains like the creator showed. Let the player define his path from the get go, but also have a place in view where the player can go for help if need be.