Which Version of Ocarina of Time Has the Best Visuals?

Nintendo knows what it has on its hands with Ocarina of Time.

The game is only about 15 years old, but it has seen life on every Nintendo console since it was released. The 3DS remake was an overhaul, but not an unnecessary one–the game itself was left untouched, but anything that needed refinement got it.

The visuals are probably the most interesting thing about these different iterations.

The original Ocarina of Time took only a few hours to grow on me, visually. Its graphics were touted in Nintendo Power as being photorealistic, but I’d played Riven less than a year before–I knew better. What I quickly came to realize is that the visual style made the story feel ancient and timeless, like an old film. The environments were all beautifully rendered, but there was a grainy filter over everything. I felt like I was watching a painting come to life. It certainly carried me through the game’s most interesting locations, culminating in the battle with Ganon, which I still think is the most visually arresting climax I’ve ever seen in any game. I should add that a lot of the visual choices Nintendo had made gave the game its atmosphere. There was a sort of muted violence to the world, but also some rather overt violence. I was surprised that it achieved an E rating.

Fast forward to 2003. I was delighted to get my hands on the Gamecube disc for Ocarina of Time yet again, especially for the Master Quest. But there was something very disappointing about the visuals. In the first place, I could have sworn it all moved just a bit more smoothly, and any hint of the grainy, ever-so-slightly washed out look of the original was gone. Everything looked crystal clear now, which did nothing for the atmosphere of this rendition of Hyrule. Worse, the violence had been toned down, and some of the familiar visual motifs, like the star and crescent, were replaced with unfamiliar symbols. Worse still, any hint of the brutality had disappeared. I’d later learn that some of the changes that bothered me were present on Nintendo 64 versions of Ocarina of Time, but it didn’t make the changes any easier to deal with.

Finally, the 3DS version was released. It was different from the original, but it also compensated for those differences. It kept the variety of color and the boldness of the colors, which were two very important things, but the new textures also brought back the darker tone I’d felt was missing from the Gamecube version. There was a bit more detail to this world now, and it gave the world room to breathe. Ultimately, I didn’t miss most of what was removed from the Nintendo 64 version–the new textures were enough to win me over.

Still, my favorite, at least from a visual standpoint, has to be the gold cart on the Nintendo 64. It might be partly due to nostalgia, but I think there’s something more to it. It strikes the perfect balance between light and dark, and is just detailed enough to give you a good idea of its world without giving too much away.

Which version of Ocarina of Time do you think is the most visually effective? Do you think there’s much of a difference at all?