Game Report: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

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October 18, 2012 by swrig22

(Without citations, to improve readability.)

Video Game Report: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the fourth major entry in Nintendo’s long-running Legend of Zelda series. Released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64 console, Ocarina was immediately hailed as a masterpiece by both critics and players alike, and it received perfect scores from review outlets such as IGN and Gamespot. Commercially, the game ended up selling roughly seven and a half million copies, making it the fourth-highest selling Nintendo 64 game of all time. What follows is a brief discussion of Ocarina’s genre, handling of narrative and ludonarrative, and greater industrial and artistic significance as one of the first AAA games.

In terms of the genre system described by Egenfeld-Nielsen, Ocarina of Time is purely an “action” game, though most gamers would probably describe it under its traditional heading of “action-adventure.” Gameplay involves solving puzzles and defeating monsters within enclosed level structures called dungeons that are connected via a large over-world. Though some of these puzzles may require a great deal of thinking and patience, they are almost entirely spatial in nature and thus do not qualify as “adventure”-type puzzles.

One of the more interesting aspects of Ocarina’s storytelling  – especially in relation to the classic ludology vs. narratology debate – is that the narrative and ludonarrative are separated from one another by the structure of the dungeons and the overworld. Ocarina, like many story-driven games of its day, has text-based cut-scenes that serve to both convey information to the player and advance the story. While the game has many of these cinematics, they all occur almost entirely outside of the dungeon structures, where the majority of challenging, engaging gameplay takes place. In this sense, the stop-start ludonarrative of all the player’s failures and eventual successes and the seamless narrative of Hyrule’s rise and fall at the hands of the Gerudo king Ganondorf are not only distinct, but cut-off from one another. As such, unlike its contemporaries such as Metal Gear Solid, cutscenes in Ocarina almost never interrupt the flow of gameplay, even outside of the dungeons. I find this to be the most acceptable solution to the problem of having ludonarrative and narrative without the space between the two drawing too much attention to the other, as was evident to some in Bioshock.

            Perhaps Ocarina of Time’s biggest contribution to the video game world was not anything in the actual game itself, but the aggressive manner in which it was marketed and produced – in this sense, it can be considered one of the first “triple A” games, along with Final Fantasy VII and the aforementioned Metal Gear Solid. By 1998, Zelda was considered by many gamers to be among Nintendo’s flagship series along with the long-running Mario franchise. The Nintendo 64 console was two years old, and a Mario game had already been released for the system; as such, even before development on the game began in earnest, Ocarina was slated to be Nintendo’s big first-party release for the year 1998. Serious pressure was on the development team to create a game that showcased what the N64 was capable of while also artfully translating one of the most beloved two-dimensional game series of all time into the new third dimension. As such, no expense was spared to make the game as large and as cutting-edge as possible, and it showed in the final product. Indeed, the cartridge space allowed for Ocarina ended up being four times the amount launch titles for the N64 had, which allowed for detailed visuals and spatial area size that rivaled even the most technologically-advanced PC games of the era. Everything about Ocarina was simply more: more dungeons, more places to explore, more enemies, more collectibles, etc. This is comparable to the rise of the summer blockbuster in cinema studies; the budgets simply expand as the medium becomes more of a capitalist venture than an artistic one. However, while few would argue that the ballooning of budgets negatively affected the quality of early games like Ocarina and Metal Gear Solid, they were the start of the trend which would profoundly worry video game critics and students alike at the end of the 2000’s, which continues to this day.

In short, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is widely viewed by game critics to be one of the most important ever made. Besides its introduction of now-stand mechanics like fixed-camera targeting, Ocarina blazed a path forward for high-quality, high-budget “action/adventure” games to succeed on consoles of its generation and onward. This  fundamentally shifted the focus of developers from the “platformers” of yesteryear to this brave new genre that Ocarina had created, which had massive ramifications for game development for years to come. For this and other achievements, Ocarina has been cited as the greatest game ever made as recently as 2009. Truly, its place in video game history is undeniable.

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