The Legend of Zelda is one of those magical series of games that always cause huge amounts of excitement. It sprung onto the NES scene in 1987, and it was a runaway success. Remember the chip shortages that delayed the 1988 release of the Adventure of Link? Or what about the first time you saw pictures of the Japanese version of 1991's A Link to the Past? With the possible exception of Mario, no Nintendo series has caused such a level of hysteria or left behind so many great memories. Ocarina of Time definitely follows in the footsteps of the previous games, and the result is a game that can't be called anything other than flawless.
You begin the game as a child of the forest. But by the time you're done, you'll be a fisherman, an errand boy, the hero of time, and, yes, even a traveling mask salesman. The game is chock-full of minitasks and subgames that run alongside the main quest, saving Hyrule from Ganondorf's evil. This leads to an extreme feeling of freedom, even though a good portion of the game must be executed in a linear fashion. Stuck at the water temple? Then why not go scout around for some extra heart containers while you think about your dilemma?
The control really holds the game together. Most 3D game designers still haven't mastered the art of controlling characters in a 3D environment, but that's not the case here. Link moves beautifully, and controlling his various actions is a breeze. Essentially, your B button will always attack with the sword. The A button, however, acts as an action button, performing every non-item-related task in the game. At various times, A lets you climb, grab, dive, talk, and lots more. Three of the C buttons are used for items, any of which can be assigned to any of the three buttons. The top C button zooms in to a first-person perspective, which allows you to look around. The R shoulder button is used for blocking with the shield. The Z trigger is perhaps the most important button when it comes to dealing with enemies in the 3D realm. Hitting Z while looking at an enemy will cause you to lock on to that opponent. From there you can circle-strafe around them, hop from side to side, and always block in their direction. This is key to fighting all but the most basic of enemies and is extremely well conceived.
While there are some tough monsters, the main enemy in Zelda is the puzzle aspect of the game. Ocarina of Time forces you to think before you act, with numerous puzzles spread throughout the entire game. Some puzzles must be solved simply to exit a room, while other, larger puzzles sometimes cover an entire area. Some of the game's puzzles are totally optional, usually rewarding you with a piece of a heart container - which you'll need, but you won't have to collect every single one as long as you're quick with the Master Sword.The game's items are the usual assortment you've come to expect from a Zelda game. The boomerang is an invaluable tool for young Link, as is the slingshot. These weapons are mere toys for Link's adult body, however, so you'll be using the bow and the hookshot (or grappling hook) for most of the game's latter portions. Bombs, of course, come in handy no matter how old you are. The ocarina is probably the most-used item in the game. Throughout the entire game, you'll learn various tunes for the ocarina. Playing these tunes does a lot of different things, such as turning night to day, opening certain doors, calling your horse, and warping from place to place. In a world as large as Hyrule, warping is an extremely useful time-saver.
Time plays an important role throughout the game. As you proceed, time passes, and day quickly becomes night. At night, the fields of Hyrule can be a dangerous place. Time travel also comes into play, allowing you to jump seven years into the future and back again. The two times act similarly to the light and dark worlds in the SNES Zelda game, A Link to the Past. Things you do as a child will affect locations, and a few puzzles require the use of both time periods.
Graphically, Ocarina of Time is simply unmatched. Everything about the game just looks fantastic. You can see Death Mountain in the background of some portions of the game, complete with various smoke effects depending on what stage of the game you're in. The cinematics, which, of course, use the game engine, look absolutely spectacular, and the effects used (the time travel sequence is especially sweet looking) really give the game a spectacularly majestic look. The game's sound is also really quite amazing. Every tune in the game perfectly relates to the onscreen action. Even the songs you play on the ocarina are hummable. The sound effects are also perfect. The speech consists of mostly laughter, gasps, and battle yelps (heavy on the "hi-yah!") and works very, very well. The game also takes your location into consideration. Dungeons and large canyons sound appropriately echoey, while underwater, noises are nice and warbled.
In a way, Ocarina of Time is a textbook example of retro done right. It manages to combine small aspects from all the previous Zelda games, giving you the same Zelda feel but in an entirely new way. Even in its huge, fiercely 3D world, the game retains a truly classic feel. This is a sequel at its finest, expanding on previous themes and bringing plenty of new stuff to the table.
Even if you're specifically looking for it, it's hard to find fault in Ocarina of Time. OK, to be fair, there's a slight bit of slowdown in a couple locations, such as the water temple, but it isn't frequent or harmful enough to even matter. The game offers a nice challenge, a stunningly well-told story, and the gameplay to back it all up. This game is the real thing. This is the masterpiece that people will still be talking about ten years down the road. This is the game that perfectly exhibits the "quality not quantity" mantra that Nintendo has been touting since the N64 was released. In a word, perfect. To call it anything else would be a bald-faced lie.