Saturday, October 1, 2011

Review: Ocarina of Time 3DS proves to be a fun game for a first-timer like myself.

Back in the late 90s, the video game industry reached a major paradigm shift; we saw the evolution from 2D to 3D, and developers at Nintendo, Sega, as well as countless others were faced with the unenviable task of bringing their beloved classic franchises into the 3D gaming landscape. There were success stories and failures from these undertakings, but one series whose 3D rebirth was seen as a resounding success was the Legend of Zelda. Ocarina of Time received rave reviews and countless perfect scores upon its release on the N64, and the game has been heralded ever since as a classic.

I had missed out on most of this, having owned an N64 but using it mainly for multiplayer purposes, most of my single player gaming at the time taking place on the Dreamcast. Ocarina had spent a small amount of time in my N64 system but it wasn't a game I had ever managed to get far in. Years later I checked out the Gamecube Zelda game, Wind Waker, which I loved. Twilight Princess, its followup, not so much. Playing Ocarina of Time though was something I had been wanting to do for quite a while, and after giving it a shot on the Wii's Virtual Console and hating the experience (the controls, whose buttons obviously didn't match the N64 buttons the game was telling me to use, were difficult to get the hang of, the menu system felt clunky and totally unintuitive, the graphics, while impressive for their time, felt muddy, etc) I decided that, with the 3DS getting its price drop, there was no better time to check the game out.

Now that you know my history with the Zelda series, I'll jump right in with my review of Ocarina of Time 3D, a game that's not simply a port of the N64 original but a remake with a complete visual overhaul, a far-improved interface with an easier-to-use menu system, better controls, and of course, the 3D capabilities offered by the handheld. Though Ocarina of Time has aged in ways that this remake doesn't do a whole lot to address, it's an enjoyable game and one I'm glad I finally got to experience.

Visuals: Surrounded by a roster of mostly underwhelming titles, Ocarina of Time 3D is a game that truly demonstrates the capabilities of Nintendo's new handheld. The world's vibrant and colorful, the characters of Link and Zelda look, in my opinion, the best they've ever looked, (yes, including Twilight Princess) the bosses especially look awesome, the non-player characters have entertaining appearances...and overall, it's hard not to be impressed by just how great this looks. It's hard to tell that it originated from the Nintendo 64, with that system's often-muddy textures replaced by visuals that can best be described as "sharp." The wide variety of locales to explore all carry with them a unique look and the 3D adds a great amount of depth to the visuals that make things really pop. Cutscenes, especially with the 3D on, look excellent; always impressively cinematic for N64 cutscenes, this remake allows them to really shine. There's some slowdown during a couple of the more hectic boss fights and a few traces of enemies or objects popping in, but aside from that, I have no complaints about Ocarina of Time 3D's visual presentation.

Gameplay: After your "wake up in the village" tutorial that has since become standard in the Zelda series, you're free to explore a map that feels, well, almost tiny today, but back on the N64 I can imagine gamers' jaws dropping at the sight of it. This is a game that encourages exploration at every turn. When you're in Castle Town you can enter shops to play mini-games, you can complete sidequests to collect heart pieces and more powerful weapons, you can increase the amount of money you carry, and all sorts of stuff. Following the main quest takes you through a couple of towns and a series of dungeons as you work to thwart the evil Gannondorf. The dungeons can present a challenge but they're rarely too tedious due to their often incredibly well-thought out design. They're created around a central room, so dying during a dungeon or having to save your progress and quit (both of which keep your progress but start you at the entrance) isn't nearly as big a pain as it became in future Zelda games, especially Twilight Princess and its maze-like dungeons, where wandering back to where you left off was an ordeal. The 3DS version also has another advantage; you can simply close your system to put it in sleep mode, and can continue the game from exactly that point next time you open it up, which, as you can imagine, comes in handy. The bosses are generally fun, with no two feeling exactly alike, though you won't find them to be as impressive as in the more modern Zelda games.

Ocarina of Time has a cool time travel aspect that plays a large role in both the game's story and in its gameplay. At a certain point during this adventure, Link becomes an adult, and Adult Link uses different weapons than Childhood Link, and his world has some key differences from the one he left behind. The game also makes great use of the ocarina in its title, and it proves to be one of the cooler Zelda game "devices" that you get to use. The world you get to explore is charming, with a couple of surprisingly busy towns (surprising due to this being an N64 game, not exactly surprising by today's standards) and some locations, like Zora's Domain, that prove to be incredibly memorable. During the 31 hours it took me to complete this game's main quest (with a small amount of sidequesting) I really felt like I had seen and experienced so much, which is the markings of an epic adventure.

My issues with this game are shared, to an extent, with the issues I had with Twilight Princess, mainly, its emphasis on dungeons. Ocarina of Time is a dungeon-heavy experience, with you going essentially from one dungeon to another. Though you do have an endless opportunity to explore the game's world, the vast majority of your main quest is spent in dungeons. The story itself, which can be both charming and interesting at times, begins to feel like little more than a checklist to get you from one dungeon to another as the game goes on. This is the opposite of a Zelda game like Wind Waker, whose out-of-dungeon world was its main attraction and received the most play time. OOT resembles Twilight Princess in the sense that the dungeons are what you'll spend most of your time doing. The key difference between the two games is that Ocarina of Time's dungeons are actually pretty fun for the most part, (well, maybe not Jabu-Jabu's belly) whereas Twilight Princess' made me want to pull my hair out. Still, I can't help but find myself wishing in games like this that the world outside played just as big a role as the inside of the dungeons. There's certainly lots to do in Ocarina of Time, but as far as the main story goes, it's a dungeon crawl.

Another issue I have with Ocarina of Time is its sometimes lack of explanation for what it wants you to do. Games today often avoid this, letting you know at least a general idea of where you're next supposed to go. Ocarina of Time does this to a certain extent, but in other instances, it's guilty of expecting you to figure out what to do on your own, which isn't easy when there's so many optional tasks to undertake at any given moment, making it hard to tell the difference between the two. When I first began playing I found myself wandering aimlessly through a maze in the game's opening village, believing that this was where I was supposed to go. In reality, that was for much later in the game. At another point, you're supposed to get inside the belly of a giant creature with no explanation whatsoever on how to do this; you have to go back to collect a certain object and bring it back to him, but good luck finding that one out without checking a walkthrough. Acquiring required items like the fire arrows and the lens of truth similarly involves backtracking to areas you've been already but with no guidance from the game as to what these areas are or even that you need these items, until you find yourself partway through a dungeon and realize that you can't progress without them. And don't even get me started on the sleeping guy and the chicken egg.

The game's map attempts to guide you in the right direction by highlighting certain areas but doesn't always do such a great job of it, and Navi, the helper you're given, has no personality and offers such useless advice that it's at times unintentionally hilarious. Exclusive to the 3DS version, Navi now tells you after a certain amount of time that she's tired and that you "should maybe consider taking a break," which comes across as unnecessary. Does Nintendo really think that we can't tell when we're tired? The 3DS version also offers you hint videos for bosses if it sees you dying, or also in select areas of the game, you can view video hints of how to solve certain puzzles. These additions I imagine can be helpful for casual gamers or those new to this type of game, but OOT 3D does such a poor job of letting you know about them that I wouldn't be surprised if most people miss these features entirely.

These flaws aside, though, Ocarina of Time's a fun game, one that I almost always found myself eager to turn on. I wish it wasn't as dungeon-heavy as it is, and I wish some effort was made to make it a bit more helpful in case you got stuck, but all in all, it's easy to see why this captivated so many people back on the N64. The dungeon progression's like clockwork, and even today there's some shockingly clever game design to be experienced in them.

Sound: Some repeating tracks aside, Ocarina of Time sports a great soundtrack that never fails to set the mood. Zora's Domain has a relaxing song that perfectly captures its mood, the world map theme's appropriately epic, the towns have music that fit their atmosphere, and the dungeons feature foreboding and dark tunes without going overboard with them. Cutscene music's also good, particularly during the game's ending, and the sound effects are as great as they always are in Zelda, especially at night.


Verdict: Ocarina of Time's a game that has held up pretty well despite its age. Its aspects that may have made it difficult for new gamers to jump in before (dated graphics and menus, N64 controls) are fixed in this version, making Ocarina of Time 3D the definitive version of the title for those who haven't yet experienced it. Some aspects show their age, most notably in the way it tells you what to do, and its dungeon-heavy nature isn't my favorite, but all in all, this is a true epic and an important game in the industry's history. If you're entirely new to the Zelda series I'd still recommend checking out Wind Waker first (my personal favorite so far) but for Zelda fans who have yet to experience this adventure, the time has never been better.

Presentation: Story gets the job done without doing a whole lot more. This is certainly not the strongest Zelda game story-wise, though certain moments, especially the game's ending, have the capability to tug at the heartstrings. Cutscenes look great, especially in 3D. Menu interface is vastly improved and makes all the difference. Game makes great use of the touch screen.

Graphics: Beautiful game that sheds its N64 roots almost entirely. A true showcase of the 3DS' capabilities and a sign that 3D can be used for more than just a gimmick. Some slowdown.

Gameplay: This is the game that all future Zelda games would be based on, and it was absolutely revolutionary for its time. Today, it shows its age in some areas and features a little too big a focus on dungeons for my liking. Still, the world's got plenty to offer and the dungeons are often fun and showcase some very smart design. Fun game.

Audio: Great soundtrack despite the short length of many of its songs. Nice use of sound effects.

Replay Value: You unlock the Master Quest when you beat it (though it should have been available from the start for the many who have already played OOT in one form or another) and the game itself has the potential to take you tons of time if you try to do everything.

Overall: 7.5/10(Final thought: I liked it much better than Twilight Princess, but nowhere near as much as Wind Waker. Have never played Majora's Mask.) (Note: My reviews go on a .5 scale.)

1 comment:

  1. Master Quest is on there too? I didn't know that.