November 20, 1998

Article at 64Source

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time initial impressions

Let me start by simply saying Zelda lives up to the hype. And that's a lot of hype :-) I searched for this game everywhere on Friday night, and was about to give up when I heard a horse galloping from one of the nearby shops. I ran there, and lo and behold.... Zelda. The box art is extremely classy, and as for the little intro bit with the horse galloping... it's surprising how many people were standing there spellbound by it :-) So far, I've played through to the third dungeon (haven't had all that much time to play, unfortunately I haven't been able to put my life on hold!) and I'm loving every bit of it. Before I begin, I'd like to warn you that there will be some spoilers ahead, so watch out. And I'd like to thank these people who have been helping me along the way: John Ricciardi, Chris Johnston, Andy Baran, Peer Schneider (oh, and Matt Casamassina too--hope you guys figured that bit out yet). Without them, I'd probably be stuck on some little puzzle somewhere!

The first thing that struck me about the game was the perspective. Honestly, I found it a little hard going in Kokiri Village adjusting to the perspective, and figuring out where everything was. Here's a tip: Tapping the Z button once at any time will bring the camera back in line behind you. With that in mind, everything becomes easy. The camera is pretty smart too, and adjusts to the right angle. For example, when you approach the edge of a cliff, the camera goes to an almost top-down angle so you can see where you are stepping. It's pretty good, but like I said you have to get used to it first.

The graphics are really incredible. Like Banjo-Kazooie, you can see very far into the distance, but unlike Banjo objects don't fade in at close distances. In fact, the only real area where I noticed the draw-in is in Kokiri Village, when the elves just appear. Interestingly enough, Nintendo tried to pull off a few tricks with characters so they don't pop-up, like the Zora, who swim to the surface when you approach, the Goron, who look like rocks but wake up (and turn into far more complex polygonal models when they do :-) ) when you come near, and the zombies, who appear next to you at night right out of the ground. The textures are very good (if a bit blurry), and the whole game has a fantastic atmosphere. It's really cool to see Nintendo build in the little details which make the game look so fantastic, like the reflections of water inside caves, or looking down from Death Mountain at one particular angle and seeing a little village way down below. There's a good deal of light-sourcing in this game, mostly due to your fairy counterpart Navi, and it adds to the realistic look of the game. The looks on the faces of the characters, and the animation, are amazing. Saria's sadness when Link leaves the village, or watching Link get up in the morning is something you MUST see. And the dungeon inside the fish, the Jabu Jabu, just pulsates and throbs all around, and there's this saliva all over the floor... disgusting, sure, but it's VERY atmospheric.

I'd like to talk a bit about the auto-jumping feature. At first, I was dead set against this feature. I thought it was rather stupid, and took away the challenge. After all, wasn't that the original purpose of having a character jump? And wouldn't we be so used to jumping that our reflexes would force us to press a button every time? I have to say I'm wrong. It's very intuitive, and makes the game simpler to play. The example I have to use is in the 2nd Dungeon, where you fight these Lizards with swords. You basically hop from platform to platform, across the lava, fighting these lizards who are also moving between platforms. Normally, because you're concentrating on fighting the lizards, you wouldn't pay as much attention to jumping and you might mess up and miss your jump and go straight into the lava. Not only would this cost life, but it would also be seriously annoying. In Zelda, you hop instantly from platform to platform while keeping your eye, and concentration, straight on the enemy. It also removes the challenge of jumping--but come to think of it, that's actually a good thing, because let's face it--jumping can be the cheapest challenge built into a game nowadays!

The Z-Button Lock-On is another feature people have been talking about for a while. To tell the truth, in the beginning it's not all that useful. Because most enemies don't cause too much damage, and die after one swing of your sword, it really doesn't matter too much where you aim. The only places it proves useful in the beginning are when you kill enemies with a slingshot, or when you use the shield. However, when you get to the aforementioned Lizard battle... it proves it's use in a BIG way. You lock on and keep sight of the lizard while it jumps about, as well as bringing up that shield to block the lizard's attacks. It becomes like an epic sword fight, Link and the lizard leaping from platform to platform while trading blows, with Link backflipping to avoid attacks or holding up his shield. Bear in mind too that the other enemy I've seen in movies, the Stalfos, seems a far more advanced sword fighter than the lizard... I can't wait!

This game is HUGE. It takes MINUTES to walk across Hyrule Field alone. That thing is so massive, you wouldn't believe it! I can't wait until I get that horse, Epona, which will make Hyrule a much more navigable place. In fact, that's one of my only complaints--it takes too long to walk around the world! :-) There are TONS of areas to explore in Hyrule, from Zora's River to The Market to Lake Hylia. I took the time to wander through most of the areas before I tackled the second dungeon, and it's really quite a remarkable place. There's the Market, the Hylian town where you can play a few mini games such as archery or bowling. Or the spooky graveyard, where it starts to rain. Hearing the rain, and the thunder, is AWESOME, and it looks great too. And there's Lake Hylia, where the fishing game is located. And this is a cool addition, because it uses the game's engine. You lock on to a fish, cast away, then reel it in. Maybe it's because I'm bad at these button-mashers, or because it's supposed to be tough for kid Link, but it took me a while to actually reel the fish in! It's tons of fun though, perhaps more fun than any other fishing game I've played. And it makes fantastic use of the Rumble Pak.

Speaking of the Rumble Pak, aside from a special item you get later on, and the fishing game, it's used in ordinary places really for things like smashing into a wall or getting hit. Nintendo chose to use it sparsely in things like cutscenes, in marked contrast to Metal Gear Solid's use of the Dual Shock. However, one good note is that unlike the Dual Shock, the Rumble Pak uses batteries and it's probably better in the long run this way.

Nintendo's attention to detail is astonishing. For example, pull out the Ocarina, at any time. You can just sit there and play any tune you think of, just pressing the C-Buttons and A for the notes. But here's the better part--try holding R or Z while playing a note to change the pitch (or is it key?), or try fiddling with the control stick as well. It's quite cool to play around with, and could be a way to enter tricks... although since this is a Miyamoto game, I doubt any would exist. Still, it's an awesome little addition.

The dungeons are very moody, and have a lot of puzzles to solve. Although some of the older puzzles from previous Zelda games (a switch opens a door only when pressure is constantly applied, and there's a movable statue nearby, etc), there are some newer challenges that really make use of the 3D environment. The first dungeon, the Deku Tree, will only start to show the inventiveness of EAD.

What about the ghostly Skull Kids in the Lost Woods? Or the cool characters you meet, from grumpy Ingo to the downright scary Impa? Or the way you can hack signs? Or the cool way you sneak into the castle (it might not be MGS, but it's sure fun)? Or the creepy house of half-spider, half humans? I could go on forever about the little bits here and there that make Zelda great, but I'd either get some of you annoyed because I'm spoiling, or I'd run up a huge internet bill talking about it. Needless to say, this is surely one of the (if not THE) greatest game of all time. Run out there and get it, now!