Before I get into writing about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time (LoZ:OT), the orgins of the series have to be discussed. The Zelda series is another brainchild of Miyamoto, but it has a bit more of a personal connection to him. The first Zelda game on the NES was inspired by Miyamoto's own childhood. He spent a lot of time in his mother's garden playing and it was through these experiences that he got the idea for the game. This explains why all of the Zelda games have a strong tie to nature. Link even wears the colour green further grounding him in the natural setting.
The original Legend of Zelda game also was revolutionary in many ways. It was one of the first open-world games. Rather then having levels, the game just started off in a field and it was up to you where you went. The game was covered with tons of hidden areas and secrets and players spent hours discovering new things all the time. It also broke away from the traditional adventure games by not having your character level up. Usually in adventue games your hero gains experience from defeating enemies and therefore becomes stronger. In Zelda the way you gained power was through exploration. You discovered new items that gave Link new abilities. Rather than encouraging battles, this game rewarded you for exploring. Battling eniemes was part of the game but puzzle solving was the real attraction of the game.
The world of the Ocarina of Time
LoZ:OT was not only the first Zelda game to be 3D but one of the first adventure games in general. The game set the bar for what was expected afterwards and in many ways that bar still stands. LoZ:OT became the blueprint on how to make a vast adventure work. The new updated visuals made the world seem so new and real at the time, and the environment thrived because of this. The people in the towns each had a unique look and personality. Even characters that added nothing to the storyline still helped create the ambience of the background. The many dungoens in the game, large expansive Hyrule Field, the towns, and the many different intelligent species all added to making the game world feel real.
The over world map for the game. You can see how diverse the environments are.
A new touch that LoZ:OT had was the day/night cycle. It had been done in games before but this was the first game where it seemed most natural. At night more monsters would roam the field, shops would be closed, and new strange characters would be out to talk to. During the day Hyrule was lively and fun, with lots of people to see and realitively safe. It was a simple idea but the world seemed more real because of it. It gave the game a lot more depth and charm.
The game world also changes as you interact with it. You start off the game in Karakiko village which is guarded by the Great Deku Tree. Once you venture inside the tree and clear the monsters inside, you find out that it is the tree's time to die and some people in the village blame you for its death. At one point you find yourself in a whale's stomach trying to stop what is corrupting it. Once you save it the entire Zora village is extremely happy with you. There is a lake in the game that is completely dried up and its through beating the water temple that you bring life and water back to the lake. By having a real effect on the world around you makes you seem more important as a player.
Hyrule Castle Town as a child
Part of what made the story so memorable was that you started the game as a child and ended the game as a late teenager. Since the story spanned several years it had a larger scope and effect. Young link's world was a lot more safe and fun to play in. Hyrule Castle town was a lively place that had a lot of people. The castle itself is grand and full of colour and beauty. In adult Link's world the town is plagued with the undead and no one is left alive. The skies swirl red and Hyrule Castle is taken over by the evil Ganon. As young Link you can visit the Zora's and adventure in their underwater society. When you are adult the Zora's seem dead and their village is frozen over. Overall young Link's world is light while adult Link lives in a dark world. This is much the same way we see the real world. As kids everything is a possiblity, we believe in monsters, see everybody as some unique new person, and are excited to play around outside. When we are adults we have to become a lot more serious and see the world as a much more stark place.
Hyrule Castle when you are an adult.
Save the Princess (10 year old spoilers)
Zelda as Sheik. Not the typical look for a princess.
The typical Zelda game followed this storyline, "the princess Zelda has been captured by Ganon, go save her." LoZ:OT on the other hand, lead us to believe this was going to be the story and then turned it on its head. When you last see Zelda as a kid she is being taken away by Ganon. Once you are an adult a new character meets up with you from time to time. This new character is named Sheik. Sheik is seen as a strong and mysterious figure. Near the end of the game you find out that Sheik was Zelda all along. Now this is a basic plot line but including it in this game showed that the designers were ready to break away from their traditional stroy telling techniques. Rather then having Zelda be a weak damsel in distress, she is now Link's equal in many ways. Even later in the game you find that the Triforce, which is what Ganon wants to gain ultimate power, has become part Link, Zelda, and Ganon. All pieces of the triforce are equal giving Zelda equal standing to Link and the powerful Ganon.
Epona is your horse, and throughout the game you become attached to it. You meet Epona as a child but rescue it as an adult. Once it is rescued you can call upon it whenever you want in order to ride it through the fields. Rather than making Link walk or run everywhere it was much more fun to ride Epona. The horse is your main vehicle but it also a living thing, it tires out if it ran to hard, and controls kinda stiff like a real horse would. Epona gallups toward you when called and has a little personality of its own.
The music in LoZ:OT is entrenched in the overall gameplay. The main item in the game is a musical instrument, the ocarnia of time. You actually play the ocarnia in order to progress in the game. You have to learn new songs, and even get to make up one of your own. Technically speaking you can use the ocarnia at any time and play any song (you have control over what notes it plays). Each song you learn is not only played on the ocarina but also in the background music in the game. Your songs can also directly effect objects in the game, and warp you to dungeons. By playing the song to warp you to the next area it is setting the mood of where you are going creating a smoother transfer from one different level to another. Moving from the forest temple to the fire temple, could throw the player out of the game. Both temples are very different and the music change is drastic. If you ride your way to the fire temple you will see the gradual change over time so the player gets the idea that time has passed and land has been covered. But if the game warped you directly without the ocarina it would seem like too much of a change, and unbelievable. By having Link play the fire temple's song it adds a layer to the transition making it less black and white.
All The warp songs in the game. You can hear how each song goes along with the element it represents.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, had a lot of time and care put into it. every aspect of the game was expanded on and created a unique experience that some say has never completely been matched. I remember playing this game when it first came out and it completely changed the way I saw other games. After LoZ:OT I expected more out of games, and other game worlds seemed very shallow standing next to it. I play through the game every other year or so and find that, other than the graphics (which like any technology becomes dated), the game still stands as one of the best all around experiences.