About a month back, I wrote about a conversation I had with one of my students about the perfect video game. That conversation sent me back to the old SNES and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Feeling it only fair to consider its equally monumental successor, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, I've been working my way through that N64 classic over the past few months. Since I'm busy and in no particular hurry to finish, progress remains slow. Still, I think I've made it far enough to begin making some some preliminary comments.
Ocarina of Time is giant leap ahead of A Link to the Past in graphics, game play, expansiveness of the world, and story. The attention to beauty and creating a sense of wonder was noted by gamers almost immediately. It was a big deal back then to be able watch a sunrise over an imagined world. The technology was not quite up to snuff with the designers' artistic vision, however, and there are distinct points where the creative effect suffers (the flatness of details such as the bones in the cemetery and the objects in the scientist's hut). The only true creative failure are the three Great Fairies (who inexplicably appear in Majora's Mask). Everything else is suffused with an imaginative wonder that excites exploration for the mere pleasure of experiencing each of the environments. My personal vote for the most successful of these are the Forest Temple, the battle with Shadow Link in the Water Temple, and Gerudo Valley.
In terms of gameplay, the move into a three dimensional environment enhances the immersiveness of the experience. It also allows for more complex puzzles and challenges. The downside is that it presents more opportunities for artistic failure as all objects had to be made from simple painted polygons. Unrealistic collisions and overlapping of interacting elements and characters also tend to throw the player out of the world of the game on a regular, though infrequent basis.
The sheer expansiveness of the world is a welcome improvement over A Link to the Past. Hyrule has always been a world in miniature, but that often leaves the player wishing that their was a little more of it. The expansiveness of Ocarina of Time and its successors does come at a price. With more world to cover comes the need of more content to fill it. This leads rapidly to the proliferation of side quests. Some players like this, some players don't. I've heard people split over the number and difficulty of side quests in Ocarina of Time. I've only heard negative comments about the same aspect of Majora's Mask.
Finally, there's the question of story. The fuller world of Ocarina of Time allows for a greater amount of story telling. Quantity doesn't always equal quality, though, and there is always the question of how much "story" a light, all-ages, entertainment like The Legend of Zelda can bare. Since I haven't finished my re-play of the game, I'll hold off commenting further on this aspect right now.
So where does that leave us? The jury's still out to lunch I'm afraid. Ocarina of Time dares more than A Link to the Past, but I'm still not sure if it delivers on all its promises. We'll see how it goes. I'll be sure to let you know what I think once I finish.