Ocarina of Time 3D begins in a highly engrossing manner, opening in the bright, verdant Kokiri Forest, everything gaiety and bliss, beautiful grasses and foliage overtaking all, resulting in a highly inviting atmosphere. As location, it is peopled by the childish Kokiri, themselves characterized by the innocence of youth, a commanding sweetness and sincerity. Before exploration proper is permitted, the player character and protagonist is fast introduced – Link, then suffering from a frightful nightmare, clearly in a state of distress, tossing and turning wildly, in anguish. Immediately he is depicted as being irregular – the fairies which serve as companions to his fellow inhabitants of those wondrous woods have thus far eluded him, he being fairy less, until his awakener arrives – Navi. Despite Link’s abnormalities, ostracism does not arise – the Kokiri are too sweet and sincere for that. Discoursing with these children, learning the controls, is a highly satisfying affair, the most compelling character being the green-haired Saria, who shows particular affection for Link.
In these opening sections, a sword is sought out, followed closely by the acquisition of a shield. These items acquired, the first dungeon is made enterable – Link travels right into the heart of the mythical Great Deku Tree, a patron saint of sorts for the Kokiri. After some basic puzzle-solving – and a thrilling boss fight against a spider-like figure – narrative developments arise; the tree has been cursed, and it is Link’s responsibility to halt the arising of further curses. His speech finished, the Great Deku Tree withers and dies, though not before communicating that crucial message – stop Ganon, the man in charge of Hyrule’s gradual destruction. His prompt introduction in these opening moments imparts a strong sense of focus, establishing also commanding player agency – save the world and its inhabitants.
In efforts to act upon this motivation, the forest is promptly departed from, though not before Saria bestows upon Link a certain cherished gift – an ocarina. This item received, the sprawling overworld, Hyrule Field, is made explorable. From a design perspective, here major feats have been achieved, the area easily navigable despite its relative largeness; a mini-map is present, but its consultation occurs very rarely. Locomotion is seamless and intuitive, though Link’s walking speed can at times seem rather slow. But this slowness permits time to marvel at the environments, with respectable draw-distances and beautiful skyboxes, sunlight and clouds existing in fair abundance. As an environment, it serves a role of centrality, connecting together all of the other major environments, each one decidedly unique – environmental variation is immense, with steep crimson mountains and winding azure rivers.
An active and frequent day/night cycle furthers the joys of exploration, resulting in a moodiness of atmosphere. During the night, meanwhile, greater opposition arises, imparting a sense of tension, even as in actuality the threat posed by these opponents is often very slight, their menace lacking, though clever aesthetic design does preserve some menace. Largely, they will be avoided rather than combatted, as rewards for their destruction are traditionally slight, save for the scarce rupee or heart drop. After the early game, a horse can be obtained and ridden – Epona. Her presence furthers the joys of locomotion, greatly expediting the process; winning her is a major achievement, especially when regarding the elaborate manner of achieving that acquisition. There exists something indefinably endearing about Hyrule Field, the endearing characterizing every part of Ocarina.
After the game opens up, the first destination visited is Hyrule Castle Town, Link venturing there under the advice of the Great Deku Tree. Bustling with life and activity, here is another achievement, as citizens dance and act in merriment, while sweet dogs patrol the city streets, circling a majestic fountain situated right in the heart of the settlement. Discoursing with these citizens was a mostly joyous affair, even as their words serve no real narrative development. Their very presence, though, serves a strong world-building purpose, while their humorous words only built upon the game’s abundance of charm. In this town, too, are numerous mini-games, which often have rather useful rewards, like the increasing of ammunition capacities for the various ranged weapons discoverable in the game world. Beautiful as this place may be, excessive dawdling therein destroys player agency.
In efforts to reclaim that agency, the castle proper is visited; visited also is the beautiful, enigmatic princess Zelda. Getting into the castle is an admittedly frustrating affair, a stealth section here forced into the gameplay. Still, finally triumphing here was rather rewarding, that sense of reward enhanced when Zelda is spoken to, her words further conveying the gravity of the situation, the great need for haste, for focus. There, in that courtyard, Ganon is first made visible, his aesthetic designs paradoxical; one moment, his design echoes silliness, while at others menace and strength are etched upon his visage and frame – he is a highly compelling villain. In order to vanquish this vicious man, orbs must be gathered, orbs in line with that given Link by the Great Deku Tree. Knowing this, Link promptly sets about upon that gathering. Tightness of structuring here show themselves, even as an abundance of secondary content can at times derail that tightness.
The elaborateness of Link’s quest fast shows itself, as he explores the volcanic Death Mountain, peopled by the strange if kind Gorons, in search of one orb, before venturing onwards into the majestic Zora’s domain, an icy, cavernous area peopled by fish-like beings. These opening dungeons are compelling, establishing the framework which is to be followed in all subsequent dungeons – navigate narrow corridors or sprawling quarters, occasionally engage in combat with enemies varied, and engage in rather elaborate puzzle-solving, oftentimes key to progression in these various environments. As reward for these endeavors, an item is bestowed upon Link, which becomes central to the solving of further puzzles. These dungeons all culminate in the same fashion, with a boss fight which is traditionally tense, oftentimes rather difficult – if very logical, enemy vulnerabilities easily discernible by nature of their design, as with Goma, the creature corrupting the Great Deku Tree, this arachnid showing a bulging eye, her weak point.
In a frustrating admission, this blueprint is never departed from; environments and puzzles may be changed, but the formula is clung to always. The game’s charm offsets this occasional repetition, with creatures like the leader of the Gorons, who greatly enjoys dance, who enjoys hearing the melody taught to Link by Saria before his departure from the forest. Given their amicable nature, a certain desire arises on the part of the player, a sense of engagement – these are kind, innocent people, and they must be saved; here are no non-entities. Similarly, the Zora’s domain is charming, they being characterized by sleekness and an angular body structure, with fins as appendages, showing the diversity of Hyrule, a diversity which is, again, reflected in the dungeon design. Here, in the Zora’s Domain, an immense fish is entered, the princess of the Zoras rescued, and the final and third stone obtained – upon that obtainment, the game only opens further, a sort of second act arising.
Ganon, mostly in the background up to this point, makes his violent emergence, chasing a fleeing Zelda from her castle, the latter deliberately leaving behind a more ancient ocarina for Link even during her haste. A fair degree of lore is here communicated, the nature of Hyrule’s construction conveyed – as a land, it was fashioned by three distinct Goddesses, their powers symbolically imbued in the Triforce; master the Triforce and one masters Hyrule – here is Ganon’s greatest motivation, a motivation he partially realizes, eventually exerting his dark grip upon the land. To be successful here, Link must awaken the fabled sages of old, beginning this journey by inserting the stones, then playing a melody upon his new musical instrument. Here, the second act begins in earnest, the time shifting, Link growing from child to adolescent, the world changing accordingly as Ganon’s power swells.
Here, again, is the formulaic – to awaken these sages, temples must be explored; nothing novel emerges, nothing to disrupt this structure. But the impeccable design here totally offsets any frustrations. The Forest Temple is singularly compelling, the central puzzle being elaborate, though again the game clings to a logic of design, involving the trapping of spiritual Poes, before culminating with a battle against a spectral Ganon, arising to assert his menace. Many are the dungeons after this, and many are the successes, as Link ventures directly into the heart of Death Mountain, that place characterized by excessive heat, a heat necessitating a special tunic. The deep depths of water are navigated during the Water Temple, while an arid, blustery desert must be navigated through to reach one temple. Here again is diversity – the tranquil beauty of the Forest Temple is offset by the burning hostility of the Fire Temple. This variation prevents the repetitious from ever settling in.
Rather basic if enjoyable progression systems are in place, Link obtaining the mentioned items in dungeons, stumbling upon fairies which bestow magical abilities, obtaining also a pair of different shields and swords. While not critical to success, various heart pieces are scattered about the environment, serving as the primary collectables, alongside various skultulla tokens, which can be acquired by destroying the skultulla proper, and which can in turn be redeemed for various upgrades, like an expansion of Link’s wallet, which permits the carrying of more rupees. Once four heart pieces are obtained, Link’s maximum health increases by one heart, though his health meter can also be expanded upon completion of a dungeon, the vanquishing of its final boss. Here is no experience system or anything of the like; these progression systems are basic, but their inclusion is very welcome, something inherently satisfying arising when acquiring these heart pieces.
The various tunics mark the most notable upgrades, permitting as they do exploration of that blazing, hostile environment – the Fire Temple; and permitting also exploration of the Water Temple, by allowing Link to stay submerged in water indefinitely. That latter temple has received considerable ire over the years, its design seen as frustrating, obtuse. Personally, I believe it soars above all others, the quality of life improvements added by this remaster only enhancing the enjoyment factor, making its exploration more intuitive. Highly protracted in length, and with an abundance of particularly devious puzzles, finally besting this temple was a triumphant affair, one of the greatest triumphs in the entire narrative, an experience I reflected on often, even after completion of the game.
Just as the Water Temple soars, inevitably some faltering occurs, this faltering manifest most strongly while exploring the desert, namely an outpost peopled by the Gerudo, a race of dark-skinned people, almost entirely composed of women – it is later revealed that Ganon belongs to this race, a relative anomaly in that he is a male, the birthing of a male being a very uncommon occurrence. But in navigating though this outpost, the frustrating stealth systems again arise; here, pacing is absolutely destroyed, as detection for even the slightest duration results in Link’s removal to a prison; trial and error here abounds, resulting in an almost tedious experience. To actually complete this section and win the respect of the Gerudo, a trio of carpenters, taken as prisoners not unlike Link, must be liberated. Getting to them is excessively difficult; actually liberating them is also difficult – and enjoyable, the game’s combat truly shining in these engagements.
Guarding these carpenters are particularly gifted Gerudo, wielding a pair of scimitars, one in each hand, their attacks devastating, capable of killing Link on the instant; possessive of considerable agility, they leap about, twirling to and fro, making accurate sword strikes very difficult. Here, a certain duel-like component shows itself, a calculated, cautious stance adopted, only rarely advancing, keeping in mind always enemy movement patterns and vulnerabilities – fighting these humanoid figures is satisfying, rewarding, the most compelling among them being lizard-like foes who wield daggers, and lumbering, reanimated suits of armor, brandishing massive battleaxes, slow and clunky in their movements, though possessive of considerable power and endurance. But a frustrating admission is here present: for the majority of the narrative, these engagements are oddities, as Link traditionally combats more bestial foes, like the flying Keese, who dart about erratically, difficult to hit, even with ranged weaponry, pestering and annoying rather than actively threatening. Still, admirable enemy diversity is here present, some illustrating the strengths of combat, others illustrating its failures.
A central mechanic in the game is its time manipulation. Link, upon gathering together all of the spiritual stones and the mythical Ocarina of Time magically becomes master of time. As a figure, he is singularly unique in construction and ability. Given this uniqueness, it is Link, and only Link, who can control time in this manner, the barrier for most being the Master Sword, unretrievable for the entire Hylian, Goron, Zora, or Kokiri races. Permitting Link’s wielding and retrieval of the sword is his pureness of heart – here the game’s charm again shows itself, Link turning into an almost idealized – and sympathetic – character, extremely likable even without any voice acting. The environmental and tonal changes which accompany Link’s mastery of the sword are indeed immense, the beauty of Hyrule – the commanding majesty of Hyrule Field – totally displaced by darkness and bleakness. Seeing this darkness, everyone it has effected, revives again notions of player agency; seeing that distorted world for the first time almost evokes notions of pathos, a masterful, unexpected achievement. The Temple of Time, that bastion of beauty, is all but in ruins, its façade dilapidated, ancient, rustic charm destroyed. The once-bustling Hyrule Castle Town, too, is significantly altered; gone are the gay citizens, replaced instead by hostile, zombie-like beings, determined to destroy Link in a manner similar to the destruction of the Temple. Collectively, all across Hyrule, what was once beauty is now oppressive, Ganon’s reach immense. Some preservation exists, though, the Kokiri forest, populated by those creatures of innocence, maintaining its purity, grace, and beauty, escaping Ganon and his machinations, his quest for the complete Triforce.
But despite these strengths, the time travel mechanic can seem underutilized; once Link has obtained access to the future, relatively few are the reasons to return to the past – the future becomes dominant, the reawakening of the sages being top priority – dawdling in the past would go against the narrative – though of course this is permitted. With this missed potential, the final temple excels greatly, as it embraces and capitalizes upon this potential completely – the Spirit Temple is a massive achievement. In its construction, it requires exploration both as child Link and adolescent Link, a design decision not employed in any of the game’s manifold other dungeons; here is creativity, as the dungeon is literally bisected, the left most path accessible only to the youthful Link, the right accessible to his older self. To gain access to that second area, the first need be explored, a crucial item contained therein obtained. While not as rewarding as the Water Temple, the novelty of the Spirit Temple places it on a certain pedestal of greatness. Its design illustrates a flaw – if the vacillating between time periods were more greatly encouraged, even more diversity and complexity would arise, an exploring of the tranquil one moment, and of hostility the next. But child Link is mostly forgotten, even as considerable exploration is present in his era, scattered heart pieces collectible, mini-games completable, seemingly encouraging time reversal.
As a title, Ocarina of Time 3D is nearly flawless, greatly deserving of its continued acclaim. Abounding in charm and heart, the game conveys many messages, evokes many emotions, without a single line of voiced dialogue, telling the tale of one capable boy’s journey, a journey which sees him fighting for the good of all Hyrule; the stakes are massive, Ganon a threat throughout, twisted morally. More philosophical musings are advanced in the character of Sheik, she periodically arising to teach Link a new melody, to impart some deeper message about the enduring nature of friendship, the constantly changing nature of time, the perils and necessities of responsibility. And then there is the charm, reflected in the characters’ animation and dialogue, both characterized by a certain light-heartedness, even as tragedy and destruction loom on all sights – Hyrule is an idealistic place, its people strong and resolute, able to physically endure hardship, though all the while desiring its imminent destruction; bright and optimistic to the last, collectively these characters are endearing, if too idealistic, the game embracing the cartoonish rather than the mature. The mute Link is both everyman and singular hero, someone the player can project themselves on to, while still viewing him with admiration, and from a distance; he is a canvas.
The struggle for peace – for Ganon’s destruction and banishment, for a reclaiming of the Triforce, for a preservation of the land – sees Link explore one clever, beautiful environment after another, each tonally and atmospherically distinct, though forming one cohesive whole, showing the diversity of Hyrule, though also pointing out its links. The true final dungeon, Ganon’s Castle, expertly fuses together these disparate environments into one concrete structure, prompting a certain recollection of everything which came before, of the immense length of Link’s odyssey, of its perilous nature. Occasionally frustrating boss battles – like an engagement with Shadow Link in the Water Temple – can disrupt the traditionally perfect pacing, but fortunately such bosses are scarce. The game’s one major failing, though, is attributable to player agency, an issue many modern, open-ended games are forced to grapple with. The world is in peril, Link the only savior, yet openness and freedom of exploration are preserved; while people suffer, Link can enjoy horseback racing or engage in some other frivolous affair, detached from the narrative proper. But compared to more recent games, player agency is preserved to a greater extent, the pacing swift, a constant leaping from temple to temple, while a subtle progression system again communicates Link’s evolution. Aside from a few frustrating encounters and some scattershot design errors, Ocarina of Time 3D is a remarkable achievement.