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Retro Gaming 101: Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time review with Alchemist Kitten

Hey everyone, this is a collaborative retro review done with me and none other than the Alchemist Kitten.  Last month, she and I played the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time together and we decided to do a retro review together.  This was actually a whole lot of fun and it looks like we’ll be doing reviews of Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess in the future as well.

Kat will also be writing up a retro review of Okami and a review of Machinarium some time in the future.  She’s pretty cool and everyone should check out her blog about science.  It’s awesome.  Without further ado, here we go.

Justin: OK, I’m going to be honest here, I’ve said for a long time, Twilight Princess perfects what Ocarina of Time set out to do, and going back and playing Ocarina of Time, I think I’m right.

Kat: I have to agree with that–having played OoT enough times to recite each line perfectly, when I sat down to play Twilight Princess, the OoT fangirl in me squealed like, well, a fangirl! Going back and playing OoT for the first time in nearly five years, I have to say that recapping what I remembered was a really interesting experience.

Justin: Definitely interesting. Here’s the thing though, and I’m going to take a bit of heat for this, while it was a wonderful game, I don’t think it’s quite as good now as it was back in 1998. I don’t think this is a criticism though. I’m taking the opposite line that Yahtzee did in his 3DS remake review, replaying this game showed me how much we’ve improved over the past 12 years.

Kate: Right. But I wouldn’t say that its “not as good”. I would say that it aged very very well in comparison to other games of its time. For example, look at games like Donkey Kong 64, Goldeneye and Jet Force Gemini–These games definitely do not hold the replay value that OoC does.

Justin: Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think I’m more responding to the “this game makes all other games seem disappointing meme” that ran its course a year ago. If anything, it does the opposite, because it really shows me how far games have gone and what this game really taught the industry. I think that’s why it stand supreme over any other Nintendo 64 game and why it holds such a place in gamer’s hearts: it defined the industry for almost a decade. Final Fantasy VII also takes some of the credit, but not quite as much, I don’t think.

Kat: A lot of that has to do with the ingenuity of the game itself, really. OoT did something that most games of the time did not: It told a story. A GOOD story, even. And it did so using a system that, for the time, was the best damn thing around. Looking back at it over a decade and a half later, the system still stands firm as the baseboard for the extremely genre moving games of today.

Justin: Oh yeah, totally. I would kill for a “snap back” button in World of Warcraft. Truth be told, I would kill for some better controls on that game period, but that’s not the point. This game is an icon. It’s not gaming’s “Citizen Kane” (which I think would probably be Space Invaders), but it’s more like a Fritz Lang or Akira Kurosawa equivalent: a game that defines the medium.

Justin: So, were you as impressed with the graphics as I was?

Kat: Yes! Graphically, in comparison to the games of the time, of course (I’d hate to compare it to AC2’s Florence, lol), the designers out did themselves. They did everything in their power to show off what the N64 was capable of doing as a system. Take, for example, the story of the three goddesses that snore-bore *cough* I mean, the Great Deku Tree, tells Link at the beginning of the game. The shine on the trio looked as legit as if on real gold and the magic curved and shone without the use of the pixelated little boxes that can show up in games of that era.

Justin: Oh yeah. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Wind Waker, I’d say Ocarina of Time still has the best graphics in the series. Yeah, the people look a bit weird, but the colors just blow me away every time. And the art direction itself is wonderful. I mean, it made Hyrule feel more like an actual fantasy kingdom than any previous Zelda game.

Kat: Although I think Wind Waker looks like crap, as I don’t like the art style, Hyrule feels vibrant and extraordinarily lively. There’s just a hint of magic in the air as you leave Kokiri forest to book it to Castle Town before dark–something about scurrying across the field as a kid just gives me the giggles. I suppose that’s my childhood talking there, but regardless. And the graphics aren’t limited to just the overworld. Every dungeon has its own unique theme and art style.

Justin: You need to actually play Wind Waker. There’s a huge difference seeing it in motion. As far as OoT goes, yeah, I think you got it right on the head. The game feels like magic. It’s something Twilight Princess almost had, but all those dingy colors kind of ruined it.

Kat: As much as I would love to argue the awesomeness that is TP, we are here for OoT. So, should we press on to music?

Justin: I think so. I think this is where the audio/visual aspect is the weakest. I think Ocarina has a wonderful sound track, but there are a lot of boring tracks in the game. Also, there’s Navi. That really is some bad sound direction there.

Ugh, she really does ruin the whole aesthetic

Kat: Ha, Navi. Navi is a whole other issue. Its true, the soundtrack has some really boorish tracks, especially in the dungeons. But the one thing that makes them special, and in my eyes, redeems them just a bit for being so damn strange, is that each and every dungeon BGM is unique and tailored towards the particular style of the dungeon. In particular, I seem to remember you loved the fire dungeon’s.

Justin: Yeah, although I’m lucky and I have the one with the cool chanting. The changed version sucks. That’s my issue though. Some of those tracks really fit the dungeon, but I thought the Shadow and Water Temple just didn’t have the right fit. The Water Temple was better than the shadow because it had that watery “feel” but it was just kind of boring. I think it added to my frustration when I got lost.

Kat: Doesn’t help that a rambunctious puppy decided to remove the cartridge halfway through and you’re not one to save the game. Anyway. My prime example of the music matching the theme of the temple has to be the Spirit Temple. Its the desert, its supposed to sound arabian and it succeeds. It feels very hot and “snake charmey”. Even the shadow temple’s music was well placed in that it is scary as hell, and despite it being a bit poorly written, I remember several times as a child coming damn near close to wetting myself because the eerie music just made the whole place even more terrifying.

Justin: That whole desert area is just excellent from an audio/visual stand point. Like, it’s easily their best place in the whole game. You know where I think the game’s sound direction really shone through? In the sound effects. Barring Navi, all those little sounds added a lot to the atmosphere.

Kat: Like the pitter patter of Link’s feet as he moved. There was a different sound for every texture he ran across, plus separate sounds for the hover and iron boots. In this play through, it honestly reminded me of WoW with the care and detail the developers put in to have a different sound for every solid surface you ran on. (The hoofbeat of the warlock mount sounds like Epona in Hyrule field.)

Epona...apparently

Justin: My Dreadsteed sounds like Epona? I like that connection. Yeah, the sound effects really make the sound direction in this game. I don’t think the game would have the same impact without it. You know that sound the Master Sword and the Biggoron Sword make when you pull them out of their sheath?

Kat: Yeah? Each are different, right?

Justin: Yeah, but it’s also just really cool sounding. It’s got that cool metallic scraping sound, like in a samurai movie.

Justin: It just makes me feel like a badass.

Kat: Lots of things make you feel badass. Actually, the gameplay of OoT is what really should make you feel “badass”. Unlike most games these days, Link starts with a majority of his major skill sets. He can strafe, jump, backflip, slash, hack and be merry. Sure, he’s missing some items here and there, but you don’t feel gimped starting the game–as most modern games are wont to do.

Justin: I think this is a good place to start talking about gameplay. I am totally with you on this (and it’s something most video game’s need to learn). Link from the outset kicks a whole lot of ass. Just the ability to be acrobatic like that gives Link more options than even Dante in Devil May Cry ever had.

Kat: Right, despite being, what, 10? Link is able to kick ass with his little dagger at every big baddie that the world can throw at him. Never, in all of my time as child-Link did I ever feel as though I was unable to complete something due to lack of power. In fact, I felt even more epic at times than I did as adult Link when doing puzzles, as they were often much larger than I.

Justin: Oh yeah. I think that’s why they went back to Young Link for Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker. The struggle seems so much bigger when everything towers over you. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Deku Tree and Dodongo’s Cavern had a big influence on Shadow of the Colossus.

Kat: Quite possibly. This is not to say that the Adult Link content was poor in any way, however. The game designers did an excellent job in each dungeon of utilizing the particular piece of loot that Link grabs around the midpoint. It is clear that things can and cannot be done in a particular way depending on whether you have said item yet.

Justin: Yeah. Although I’m still disappointed the Megaton Hammer doesn’t get more use. At least that giant chain flail in Twilight Princess becomes a rockin’ weapon for the rest of the game. You know what surprises me each time I play the game? The controls in this are so good, it almost lets me overlook the terrible N64 controller design. It was like Nintendo was like “ok, we’ve got a shitty controller, but how do we make it work for us.” It’s amazing that that crappy controller gave us the most elegant in camera fixes: Z-Targeting.

Kat: I love Z-targeting! It is, by far, my favorite element of any video game ever. Z-targeting ensures that several things happen: 1. You don’t miss (huzzah). 2. You’re constantly facing your foe. 3. And most importantly: The camera isn’t doing bat shit insane things while you’re trying to solve puzzles.

Justin: It surprises me how many games are trying to move away from it and giving us crappy free form targeting.

Kat: For example: There is a really nice push puzzle in the Forest Temple that requires you to push the blocks into the correct orientation. One of the reasons I solved it so flawlessly (If I do say so myself) is because Z-targeting allowed me to easily turn myself in the direction I needed to be without dealing with another stupid analogue stick. Its honestly akin, as much as I hate to bring it up again, to mouse turning on WoW.

Justin: Let’s talk about level design. I remember you saying how impressed you were with the dungeons feeling like real buildings. There weren’t any wasted rooms or parts that didn’t feel like they connected. I think that’s something that’s really memorable about the game, because the temples feel like someone actually crafted them.

Justin: They’re like, the opposite of the random dungeon, and I think it kind of shows the flaws inherent in the random dungeon.

Kat: Right. But they’re also not linear. I don’t just run in, go through the door, kill the shit, run through another door, kill more shit, go down stairs, kill boss. TADA! Pass go, take $200. Now, granted, I CAN do that in OoT because I’ve played it enough times to know some of the areas by heart…but every dungeon is esoteric in its own unique way. The child Link dungeons, in a sense, were linear, but became more and more abstract as you continued forward.

Justin: Yeah, and that’s totally awesome because it allows for continual difficulty growth while the player gets more powerful and it makes the journey feel more rewarding. Here’s the other thing I liked about them: while they’re not “linear” you don’t have to back track a lot. Well, except for the Water Temple. I think we need to talk about the Water Temple on its own.

Kat: …Do we have to? I honestly think that if that damn place was removed, the game and world would be a happier place. Solve world hunger, even. Because people who could solve world hunger are stuck in that damn place.

Justin: They changed it in the remake apparently. Now, I played it and I got lost. I think we lost two hours on this one. Here’s why: the camera does not show you the right place to go into and you can easily miss the entrance to a room. The whole “Giant lobby with a few rooms” thing really kills the dungeon too. It makes it too hard to know where I need to go even while using the map. And remember how I said no back tracking, well this whole place is the giant exception to that rule. It’s all it is.

Kat: Actually, I had read after your second attempt at it, that you really only need to backtrack once…

Justin: Maybe that’s the case, but it certainly felt like I was back tracking over and over. It’s probably because Link keeps coming back to the lobby.

Kat: Right. It would be a far superior dungeon if some of the hovels were connected a bit better than they are. Water temple aside, the rest of the dungeons in OoT do a fine job in flow control, so to speak. You may return to the main room, but only after somethings been activated (like the elevator in the Forest temple) in order to move further along.

Pure Dread

Justin: Yeah, and it does a pretty good job of telling you where to go next. I never felt like I was “lost” while trying to cut through one of the places. The one thing all of the dungeons do really well though is tell a story.Like, there’s so much more they add to the story than being simply “Water Dungeon” and “Fire Dungeon.” The Water Temple is very clearly some kind of old castle or something.

Kat: And the Forest Temple is clearly some sort of over-run sanctuary or town. Desert Colossus seems so up kept that you have to wonder if someone is actually still out there, living and grooming the temple.

Justin: The Sage of Spirit was living there, but only in the lobby. Yeah, the game does a really good job of making Hyrule feel more like a real fantasy kingdom, much better than any previous Zelda title. It really makes the somewhat simplistic plot feel more, I don’t know, is epic the right word?

Kat: More whole, perhaps.

Justin: Yeah. Like, the plot probably wouldn’t hold up quite as much if it wasn’t for the story behind it all. Some of these places feel ancient, like I’m following a much greater path. Saving Zelda/Hyrule isn’t the whole story here, there’s so much more mystery to it. I think this is where Twilight Princess takes a lot of cues from OoT and where Wind Waker really falls short.

Kat: Right. Twilight Princess really makes you look back on OoT and go “What happened here? What did I do to change this world enough that this occurred?”

Justin: Yeah. It also retroactively adds to Link to the Past, which really feels kind of random as far as dungeons go. But, it was the SNES, so it kind of gets a pass. The story itself is serviceable, but I’ve got to admit, I’m still a little annoyed they didn’t do more with it

Kat: What more was there to do? They were very limited on space on the N64 disk and they filled damn near all of it with the graphics and platform itself. I’m relatively pleased with the plot, to be honest. Save the girl, kill the baddie, do some neat stuff in the interim.

Kat: Nothing too too distracting to take away from the plot. The game is long enough to not need any extras.

Justin: I guess we don’t really see enough character. Link gets some, but Ganondorf and Zelda are really pretty static. It’s not that it’s bad, but, I don’t know, it’s still kind of simplistic. I guess you’re right, there isn’t much more they can do with the system. It’s probably why Majora’s Mask isn’t quite as big.

Kat: No, and Majora’s Mask also makes up for the lack of character development. But that’s for another retro-review.

Justin: Yeah, I think you’re right on all counts there. I think I’m spoiled by the changes they made in the later games when it comes to story, so I’m not sure my biases are fair.

Justin: Anyway, overall thoughts on the game?

Kat: Hmm. Overall, OoT lived up to the passage of time. I’m still impressed with the quality of graphics and the quality of gameplay. Sure, its definitely aged, as what close to 15 years will do, but by no means is it completely intolerable to play, as some older games now are.

Kat: The combat is still interactive, the story is just as enthralling as it was when I played it years ago and I find the platform that the game is based on far superior to even some games that are out today.

Justin: For me, I’m surprised at how solid this game is. It kills me to look at modern action games who have tried to abandon the innovations developed from Ocarina of Time without actually adding their own. Level design, art direction, world building and gameplay, they’re all excellent and well structured.

Justin: I really don’t think I can ask for a better game from this era. There are great games for the Nintendo 64, but I think Ocarina of Time is the only one that is a real classic.

Kat: I’d have to agree with you on that. OoT is the epitome of games from the late 90’s era. Pick it up and give it a go again. I’m sure we will soon!

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  1. […] Retrogaming 101–Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time […]

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