A Shift of Dimensions

The Legend of Zelda series has definitely gone through its fair share of changes over the years. Characters, items, and developers have all come and gone. One of the most memorable changes occurred when the series shifted from the second to third dimension. Up until the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 1998, games in the >i>Zelda franchise had only been two dimensional and bringing Zelda into the third dimension would be a challenge for the developers. Many wondered if it was possible for the series to make a successful transition without losing the classic Zelda feel.

There were certain things that made the 2D games so special: the dungeon crawling, the weapons and items, the open ended gameplay, the swordplay, the feeling of being absorbed into a game. When the series moved into the third dimension with Ocarina of Time, everything loved about the 2D games was expanded on, and the player was immersed like never before.

Every game that followed the original has stayed true to the classic Zelda dungeon format while adding something new to the mix. Whether it’s a new item, boss, or brand new idea altogether, developers have always found a way to innovate. The dungeons in Ocarina of Time featured the most complex puzzles to date, mainly due to the transition to the third dimension. In previous games, the majority of the puzzles involved simply pushing a block or destroying all the enemies, but in Ocarina of Time the puzzle system became remarkably deeper. Many players were left stumped by the combinations of puzzles found throughout the game, and anyone who has been to the Water Temple can testify to that. A large part of the challenge the third dimension presented was that when walking into a room in 2D, you can see everything, but in 3D, there are things that aren’t immediately obvious. You would have to search all the nooks and crannies of a room in 3D before you could find the switch or the item needed to solve a puzzle. There was a balance to the puzzle system however, and it managed to challenge hardcore fans while not being too frustrating or overwhelming for newcomers.

Many items found in previous titles, the projectiles especially, were restrained by the second dimension. In pre-Ocarina of Time titles, the bow was limited to either shooting switches or killing enemies. In Ocarina of Time however, the bow became an essential item for puzzle solving, as it was no longer limited to simply shooting switches, but for lighting torches and beacons by shooting an arrow through a flame as well. And with the additions of the Fire, Ice, and Light arrows, the bows puzzle solving properties continued to grow. The Fire Arrow, for example, could melt blocks of ice, opening up new paths for the player to explore.

Killing enemies, the bows other purpose in 2D, was also largely improved upon in Ocarina of Time. Previously, combat was dampened by the simple directional system found in 2D titles. Now that the series was in 3D, the use of the bow in combat became greater. The fight against Phantom Ganon deep inside the Forest Temple is a prime example of the third dimensions impact on projectiles. Using the bow in the opening of the fight, you must continually spin around and search the paintings for the image of Ganondorf. Having to constantly look over your shoulder and behind your back added an element of excitement to the fight, and if the battle took place in 2D, that element would be lost.

Not only did the third dimension expand the bows purposes, but it helped to capture the feeling of actually shooting a bow as well. Before, you controlled the player from an overhead perspective, limited by the simple directional system. But now, you felt as though you were the one shooting the arrow, which was a truly an enthralling experience. The first person perspective the game took when the player used the bow enabled presence shots to fired, compared to shooting in one of four directions in previous titles. Picking off a Keese from a few hundred yards away with a well placed arrow is one of the most satisfying moments to be found throughout the series, and it’s all because of the transition to 3D.

Other items, such as the Hookshot, were also affected. In 2D, it was only used to travel horizontally or sideways across the screen. However in the third dimension it was used to climb objects, giving the player a rather rewarding feeling as they scaled their way through a dungeon or temple. The Gerudo Fortress is a great example of the Hookshot’s new found uses. Zipping around the Fortress with the Hookshot is something that would have never been possible before, and it works beautifully in Ocarina of Time. The idea of the Hookshot can be seen all throughout future Zelda titles. In Majora’s Mask, the sequel to Ocarina of Time, the player uses the zip-line like tool to scale the grand Stone Tower, one of the most magnificent moments in the game. In Twilight Princess, the Hookshot saw new light when it was reinvented as the Clawshot. The two items shared similarities, but it wasn’t until the Double Clawshots were found that the Hookshot was truly expanded on. The Double Clawshots let the player grasp onto an object using the first clawshot, while using the second to fly on to another platform.

There has always been freedom in Zelda games, and since the original, you could wander aimlessly around Hyrule for hours without actually accomplishing anything. Being in 3D meant that the player would have more freedom, as there would be more places to go, more people to talk to, more places to search, etc. It’s said best by Keisuke Nishimori, a character designer in Twilight Princess:

“Back in my N64 days, when I played Ocarina of Time, I was strongly drawn to the dynamic of player freedom. In the Zelda series, as you know, players occasionally move forward through gameplay by solving puzzles or figuring out a mystery. What I really admired was how when I got stuck in Ocarina—the game provided me a realm of things to do where I could enjoy totally unrelated pursuits, or just simply walk around, and then the solution to my earlier problem would pop into my mind. And then I could go back to the main gameplay. Ocarina had a big field where the player could explore at will while letting any linear-gameplay solutions emerge naturally.”

Perhaps the most revolutionary feature introduced in Ocarina of Time was the Z-Targeting system. Combat in previous games certainly had its strong points, but there’s something rather enthralling about fighting in 3D. Being able to lock on to your target opened up a realm of new possibilities. The player could now dodge enemy attacks with a flick of the control stick, and immediately jump back in for the kill. The combat system completely revolutionized the adventure game genre, and its influences can be found in numerous titles even today: including (among many others) Starfox Adventures, Sphinx and the Shadow of Set, and Tales of Symphonia. The combat system in Shadow of Set, for example, is heavily based on Ocarina of Time, with the player using a shoulder button to lock onto opponents. As with Ocarina of Time, the mechanics of the lock on system allowed smooth, swift transition when fighting your way through a group of enemies.

The Z-Targeting system continues to also be expanded on in recent Zelda titles. The Wind Waker added a parry move, used to defeat bulky, quick enemies. When fighting an Iron Knuckle, for example, you would have a split second to tap the A button just before his sword struck you. Instead of being hit by the blow, you swing to the back of the enemy, and deliver a slash to his weak-side. Twilight Princess truly expanded on the formula by adding a total of 7 new moves for the player to learn throughout the course of their adventure. The new moves include a shield bashing attack used to temporarily stun enemies, and a helm splitting strike used to dodge enemy attacks.

Ocarina of Time‘s influences aren’t strictly limited to the Z-Targeting system however. Elements first featured throughout the game can be seen in an endless number of titles today.

One of the most notable examples of Ocarina‘s impact on future titles can be found in Rare’s before-mentioned Starfox Adventures, released on the Gamecube in 2002. Other than the Z-Targeting system, the game “borrows” several ideas from Ocarina of Time. One of these ideas includes the auto-jump feature, which would remains in the Zelda series to this day. The puzzles found in Starfox Adventures are also reminiscent of Ocarina, and the block puzzles that would become infamous in the Zelda series can be found all throughout the game. The player would also use Fox’s staff to shoot far-off switches, similar to how Link uses his trusty Hero’s Bow to solve puzzles.

The ability to travel through time was the central theme of the Nintendo 64 classic. Using the mythical Ocarina of Time, the player would travel back and forth through time to solve puzzles and progress through the game. The greatest example of this can be found late in the game when the player must open the entrance to the Spirit Temple. The player travels back seven years in time to gain the Silver Gauntlets, an item used to enter the temple in the future. Prince of Persia 2: The Warrior Within—released for the Playstation 2, X-Box, and Gamecube in November of 2004—took the idea of time traveling and blew it out of proportion. Throughout Prince of Persia 2, the player would use special portals found in certain levels to travel back thousands of years in time. The actions then performed in the past were used to solve a puzzle in the future, akin to the opening of the Spirit Temple. In one level, for example, you travel many years back in time to alter water levels to water budding trees. Back in present time, the buds have grown into massive trees which help you to reach previously unreachable areas.

Prior to Ocarina of Time, no game had ever so finely walked the line between “video game” and “movie”. The cinemas and cut-scenes featured throughout Ocarina of Time beautifully portrayed the rich story of the Imprisoning War, absorbing players into the games events. Without the cinematic properties, the experience wouldn’t have been nearly as captivating. You had no choice but to feel like a part of the game after seeing Ganondorf chase after Impa and Zelda on horseback as the rain poured across Hyrule Field. The influences of these elements can be seen in nearly every adventure game today: from the Final Fantasies to the Metal Gears and so on.

Ocarina of Time took the Zelda series successfully into the third dimension all while revolutionizing the adventure game genre – truly an accomplishment.

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