Link. Hyrule Kingdom. Princess Zelda. All in 3D. and that, my friends, is what blew the doors completely off the Zelda franchise.
When Ocarina of Time came out for the Nintendo 64, it revolutionized how gamers looked at the Zelda franchise. The step into 3D realms for a popular Nintendo franchise was already taken by Mario in Mario 64, but what Ocarina did was by far above and beyond the simple leap into 3D graphics. It cemented how important Zelda was not just to Nintendo, but the gaming industry as a whole. To this day, it is still looked upon as one of, if not the best video game ever - which says a lot considering how many games there are on that list.
It's funny, too, because last night when I was playing A Link to the Past, I thought without a shadow of a doubt that it was my favorite Zelda game. Then I played Ocarina tonight, and low and behold, I had to change my opinion. Not because I think of LTTP any less now, but I just realized how awesome and amazing that Ocarina of Time was - and still is.
As I kid, I never owned my own Nintendo 64, but my cousin Jake did. Because of that, I went over to his house a lot to play games. Going over there usually meant spending the night as well, obviously meaning I got to play even more games. While he liked playing games, he wasn't nearly as in to them as I was. He liked the idea of them, liked bragging about having them and showing them off, while feeling like the cool kid for having them all. But I was clearly the gamer of group, and he more often than not watched me play games, while he did ... whatever it was he did.
This was definitely the case for Ocarina of Time. He watched me play a LOT of that game. When he first got it, I was over there every chance I got, each time getting a little further into the story. Every time we got stuck playing it, we had to figure our way through it, eventually, thanks to the Internet not exactly being what it is today. So when we finally beat the game, I remember how epic and amazing it felt, after the countless hours we dumped in to it. Immediately after beating it, however, all I wanted to do was start it all over again. Yeah, it was that kind of game. And really, it still is.
Tonight playing it brought back all those memories. Since playing it back in the day, I have bought several re-releases of this game, which is becoming common ground for great Nintendo games at this point. Tonight, despite owning it on several platforms, I played the Virtual Console version.
Aside from the extremely long opening cinematic that you cant skip and the ridiculously annoying fairy companion (Navi) that follows you around the whole game, this adventure through the kingdom of Hyrule is unforgettable. There are some games that I can play over and over again, and each time I remember certain things about it that I may have forgotten until I come back across them in the game, But with Ocarina, I remember tons of specific things within the game before I even get close to getting to them in-game. It's one of those special games that leaves a permanent imprint on your gaming memory,
The 3D graphics were groundbreaking for a game that big and robust back in the day, and the 3DS remake did an excellent job not just enhancing them, but putting them under a spotlight and showing them off to the adoring public. The game play mechanics worked like a charm, everything from the combat system to riding Epona the horse, and everything in between. Sure, the camera was a little wonky, but most games at that time had a learning curve for figuring out how to properly use the camera in the 3D environment. With so much that the game did right, the hands-down best thing about this game is the story.
The story. Wow. For all the talk recently about how BioShock Infinite has one the best video game stories ever, people need to go back and replay Ocarina of Time for a sample of a time when GREAT stories was a common thing. It's not an overly complex story or one that will make you sit there and ponder the meaning of life after it all wraps up, but it is still fantastic in what it is. It's simple, it's easy to follow, but man, does it rope you in and make you actually care about it, not just enjoy it. In its simplest and most purest form, it is a story of good vs. evil, with love and trust sprinkled in for good measure.
For the most part, this is the basic storyline for the entire Zelda franchise, but for the first time in the series, Ocarina of Time highlighted it, enhanced it and wrapped the entire game around it. The ability to have good cut-scenes in the game certainly enhanced the impact of the story, which is why it remains the absolute best Zelda game to play if you are only going to play one, ever. If you are going to start the series, then yes, start out with Link to the Past. But if you only choose to play a single Zelda game, Ocarina of Time is what you need to be playing. Hands down. No argument.
Ask me tomorrow, though. Maybe I'll change my mind once again.