Posted on June 24 2011 by Axle D. Wilder
Ocarina of Time is the single most highly regarded and famous Zelda game. The majority of gamers in general look to it as the single shining example of a perfect Zelda title, and even outside the Zelda series, it is regarded as the greatest game of all time by most. That said, there are those that believe that Ocarina of Time didn’t actually surpass its precessors, or possibly that it has been surpassed since. The game most commonly said to have surpassed Ocarina of Time is Majora’s Mask, and I myself agree that it is a better game. That said, I defend Ocarina of Time’s standing. In my eyes, Majora’s Mask may be a better game, but it is not nearly as balanced and varied.
The few critics of Ocarina of Time that exist generally talk about how the game didn’t have a very interesting world or characters and that the story was generic and bland. To SOME degree I think this is true. Ocarina of Time captures a fairly standard epic fantasy fairytale, but it captures it perfectly. What is often cited as the game’s greatest weakness is actually the reason it’s so beloved by so many. Common ideas and basic appeal are not bad things. You can only create a bad work by executing it poorly, not by executing something that has been done before. The idea that the game must be original to be good automatically dictates that all works ever made are bad, because everything is derivitive. Ocarina of Time may copy a fairly standard type of tale and not invent much past the first four Zelda games, but it has its own style in doing so and executes it well.
Ocarina of Time’s appeal is basic, and that’s its greatest strength. Let’s use Majora’s Mask as an example. Majora’s Mask is my favorite game for a number of reasons, but one of which is actually the artstyle and atmosphere. I love the darker colors, the strange and surreal style of the game, and the intriguing atmosphere. While certain parts of the game carry these elements more than others, for the most part the entire game has them. But these are all distinct traits, ones that will not necessarily appeal to everyone. Possibly not to many people at all. Because Majora’s Mask is laden with those themes, it is restricted to people who find those themes appealing. Ocarina of Time on the other hand has a basic appeal that anyone can get into, and a varied selection of themes and atmospheres throughout the game to make the entire experienced varied.
The game’s wide appeal is not restricted to the art direction and the story; the gameplay has great appeal as well. Ocarina of Time has a very medium difficulty level. There are sections of the game that are very easy, and sections that are quite hard. Many of the games that came before it are much harder, and even a few after it (such as Majora’s Mask). On the other hand, most of the games that came out afterward were actually much easier. For most gamers, games like The Wind Waker, The Minish Cap, Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass were incredibly easy and provided little to no challenge. Ocarina of Time has never been criticized (or praised, depending on your outlook) as such. Most people have a reasonable degree of challenge when they first play it, but afterwards they typically find it pretty easy since they know all of its tricks. Because of this medium difficulty level, the game can be found fun by both casual and hardcore gamers and thus, again, has the widest appeal of any Zelda game.
But as I said in the beginning of this article, Ocarina of Time’s varied appeal is not its only major strength. It was also balanced. Ocarina of Time had varied themes, but they were balanced themes. There were happy, silly, beautiful, sad, frightening, and even disturbing moments all throughout the game, but they were balanced with each other very well. Almost anyone could play it, finding the basic appeal to be at least accessible, and then experience unique moments throughout the game that appeal to a variety of tastes. And if you ever encountered something you didn’t enjoy, you could be guaranteed that you’d see something totally different from it a short time later. This applies equally to the storyline, the atmosphere, the gameplay… The entire game as a whole was like this.
Other Zelda games have not maintained this level of balance. Each individual game tends to have a focus on a certain kind of atmosphere or range of emotions and themes, and while it may occasionally deviate from it, it will keep it for the majority of the game, good examples being Majora’s Mask or Twilight Princess. Other games will unevenly provide certain kinds of themes or types of gameplay, not providing the balanced experience of Ocarina of Time, such as The Wind Waker, where most of the game is spent blindly adventuring. None of these games, nor many others, have as wide a range of themes and appeal as Ocarina of Time, nor do they integrate what they have into an even experience.
Does that mean every Zelda game should expand its style into a broad, generic type of fantasy title that explores an entire land in all its variety? No, definitely not. Majora’s Mask is my favorite game, and many others prefer these more distinct and unique Zelda titles over Ocarina of Time. As odd as it may sound to say this in an article stating that Ocarina of Time is the most varied game, titles that focus on more specific themes do add variety to the series itself by providing games with different experiences. It’s good to have both broadly appealing and uniquely appealing games in the series, and doing so gives the series itself wide appeal and good balance. Both are necessary; the series isn’t whole without both types of games.
With Ocarina of Time 3D out now, plenty of gamers will have the chance to play Ocarina of Time for the first time, while the rest of us will have a good excuse to continue playing it over and over again. Even if it isn’t my favorite game in the Zelda series, it deserves credit as one of if not the most widely appealing title, and I will always love it for being so.