Zelda: 25 years of the Legend

Chapter 5: Link’s Awakening

• Adam Wilson is a senior student at Innisdale Secondary School. He became a fan of The Legend of Zelda 11 years ago when he first played the fifth game in the series, Ocarina of Time. Though he has been writing for many years, he only began writing professionally in May 2009. Adam began writing this retrospective of The Legend of Zelda for his co-op at City Scene Barrie, combining his two passions of writing and Zelda. Check back often for Adam’s pieces looking back at the history of the Legend of Zelda series.

by Adam Wilson

Hello and welcome back to Zelda: 25 Years of the Legend.
Last time, we talked about Link’s first adventure on Nintendo’s first handheld console, the Game Boy, in Link’s Awakening as well as its full colour remake, Link’s Awakening DX. Both a critical and commercial success, the game showed that, despite their general reputation, handheld games didn’t have to be the lowest point of a franchise.
Approximately a year after Link’s Awakening hit North American shores, the 90s were in full swing and gaming had begun to change. Sony had entered the market with the PlayStation and Sega had embraced CD gaming with the Sega Saturn. However, most important of all was that gaming had jumped into the third dimension. Games no longer had to use either a top-down or a side-scrolling perspective as gamers could now see characters from any angle they wished, as long as the in-game camera allowed it.

Due to repeated delays, Nintendo entered the fifth-generation of gaming in 1996, one year after the PlayStation and the Saturn, with the Nintendo 64. By the time Nintendo re-entered the gaming scene, Sony had already established dominance over the market and the Saturn was left falling behind. However, Nintendo was already working on bringing some of their flagship franchises to the third dimension with Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Development of Ocarina of Time began in 1994, approximately one year after Link’s Awakening’s Japanese release, and this game saw Shigeru Miyamoto return to the director’s chair, a position he’d been absent from since the first game’s release. However, Miyamoto shared the position with Yoichi Yamada, Eiji Aonuma, and Yoshiaki Koizumi. In addition to his position as director, Miyamoto also produced the game and wrote it along with Toru Osawa and Koizumi.
Like Link’s Awakening before it, Ocarina of Time didn’t feature a large amount of text which explained important information before the player started the game. However, unlike Link’s Awakening, it didn’t feature an intro as gamers were expected to simply begin the game and learn everything for themselves through dialogue and in-game cinematics.
Chronologically a prequel to all the other current games in the series, Ocarina of Time almost immediately introduces us to the game’s hero: Link. He’s a member of a forest tribe known as the Kokiri who are guided by guardian fairies and are connected with their guardian deity, a sentient tree called the Great Deku Tree. However, Link is unusual as he has always lacked a guardian fairy and has been ostracised by almost all of the tribe, the exception being his childhood friend, Saria.
However, one morning, the Great Deku Tree sends a fairy named Navi to summon Link at once. Link and his newfound fairy go to the Great Deku Tree and the deity explains that his own death is nigh, having been cursed by an evil man known as Ganondorf.
The Great Deku Tree gives Link the Kokiri’s Emerald, the Spiritual Stone of the Forest, and explains that he must go to see Princess Zelda in Hyrule Castle and warn her of Ganondorf’s evil intentions to steal the Triforce. By stepping out of his childhood home of Kokiri Forest, Link begins what was considered and is still considered by many to be his best adventure yet.
As Ocarina of Time was to be playable in all three dimensions, its control scheme had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Through use of the Nintendo 64’s control stick, Link was still able to move in straight lines or diagonally. However, pressing the action button while moving would cause Link to roll, giving him a very temporary burst of speed.
Link’s sword techniques were given a tune up as well. Depending on the circumstances at the time of the attack, the young hero could either swing his sword vertically, horizontally, or he could even perform a stab move much like in the first two games. The spin attack, Link’s signature move, reappeared, but it didn’t go unchanged either. While it was the same for the most part, upgrades to Link’s magic metre would increase the radius of the attack.
The control schemes of many of Link’s returning items were rebuilt as well. Items such as the bow and the Hookshot were envisioned to work differently in the 2D games and needed to be redesigned when the series jumped to 3D. While players just had to point Link in one of four directions to use the items in the previous games, Ocarina of Time placed gamers in a first-person viewpoint and they were forced to meticulously aim where they wanted to shoot ranged weaponry. However, there was one easier way to use items like these.
One of the most influential innovations brought to the table by Ocarina of Time was without a doubt the targeting system. By pressing the Z-button on the Nintendo 64’s controller, a reticule will appear over a nearby enemy or point of interest and Link will focus on it. As long as the enemy is targeted, the player will not have to aim long range weapons and unless they move too far away, Link will never look away from the target.
Z-targeting as it was dubbed also gave Link a few more techniques to choose from. In order to keep his eyes on his enemy at all times, Link would always strafe or take steps backwards as opposed to turning around to move in those directions. Also, by holding down the shield button while targeting an enemy, Link would be able to defend himself while continuing to move around, giving him an advantage over most of his opponents.
However, one of the most notable moves Link gained through targeting was the jump attack. The move could only be performed when Link was targeting an opponent with his sword drawn. Once those prerequisites were met, the player just needed to push the action button and Link would leap forward, gripping his sword in both hands, and slam his weapon into his opponent. Twice as powerful as a regular sword swing, the jump attack was a force to be reckoned with and has shown up in every 3D Zelda game since. While the targeting system also reappeared in every 3D game to follow Ocarina of Time, it didn’t stay exclusively as a Zelda mechanic. Other games adopted the mechanic such as Metroid Prime, Devil May Cry, and Psychonauts.
After their absences in Link’s Awakening, Princess Zelda and Ganon made their return in Ocarina of Time. However, while Zelda herself remained similar to her previous appearances, Ganon received heavy cosmetic changes. Ocarina of Time is notable for being the first appearance of Ganon’s humanoid form, usually referred to as Ganondorf. Though Ganon’s beast form still made an appearance in the game, most of the Great King of Evil’s time was spent as a human.
Also having been absent in the previous game, Koji Kondo returned to score Ocarina of Time. Much like in Link’s Awakening, every dungeon in Ocarina of Time featured a unique song. However, this game also featured several different songs for different portions of the overworld. While this had been explored slightly with the previous games, it hadn’t been used to the extent it was in Ocarina of Time.
As its name suggests, Ocarina of Time was the first game in the series to feature music and instruments heavily within the story. While Link’s Awakening had featured an ocarina and three selectable songs, Ocarina of Time featured 13 different songs, all of which had different uses and had to be played using the four C buttons and the A button.
In addition to returning characters such as Link, Ganon, and Zelda, Ocarina of Time also introduced several new ones to help forward the story. The most notable new character is Sheik, a young man who explains that he is the sole survivor of the once mighty Sheikah tribe. Appearing several times throughout Link’s adventure, Sheik guides the hero through his quest with helpful advice and songs which possess mystical properties.
Another noteworthy new character was Link’s fairy companion, Navi. Now thought a very annoying and much maligned character among Zelda fans, Navi marked the first time Link had a partner to assist him on his quest. The mechanic of giving Link a companion is one that has been repeated in nearly every home console game since, as well as in some games on handheld systems to a mixed degree of success.
Though it didn’t have as many dungeons as A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time was no slouch, containing 11 main dungeons as well as an extra optional one. With locations ranging from the inside of an active volcano to a large and intricate tomb at the end of a haunted graveyard, Link would need to use his entire arsenal if he hoped to traverse through all of them.
As if all the dungeons weren’t enough, the hero in green would be faced with a different monstrous boss at the end of each. From the one-eyed arachnid Queen Gohma to main baddie Ganondorf, each boss battle was grand and exciting enough to leave gamers impressed and interested.
For gamers who were less interested in the main quest of vanquishing Ganondorf, Ocarina of Time provided a veritable smorgasbord of mini-games and sidequests ranging from a trading sequence to earn an even more powerful sword to a fishing hole where Link could spend days searching for the elusive Hylian Loach. The game also featured a quest in which Link would search for and defeat 100 Gold Skulltulas all across Hyrule in order to break a curse on a man’s family. Being the largest sidequest in the game, the Gold Skulltula quest holds several different rewards if the player manages to complete it.
Much like its two immediate predecessors, Ocarina of Time lacked the Second Quest feature from the first two games. However, in the early 2000s, Ocarina of Time gained its own Second Quest. By pre-ordering the Zelda game which was about to be released at the time, players would get a bonus disc which would allow them to play Ocarina of Time: Master Quest. While Master Quest did follow the same story set by Ocarina of Time, it boasted redesigned dungeons and a higher difficulty level, making it a must have for all Ocarina of Time fans.
Having begun in 1994, Ocarina of Time’s four-year development cycle finally came to an end in November 1998. Over those four years, hype surrounding the title had raised expectations to the point that it would be nigh impossible for the game to live up to them. However, when it was released, it did exactly that. The game received almost nothing but praise from both critics and fans.
Even the notoriously tough critics at Japanese gaming magazine, Famitsu, awarded Ocarina of Time a perfect 40 out of 40, making it the first game in existence to receive such an honour.
Worldwide, Ocarina of Time is currently the best selling Zelda game with 7.6 million copies sold. Even to this day, the game continues to be lavished with praise, generally considered by many to not only be the greatest Zelda game ever made, but the greatest game ever made. In both 2008 and 2010, Guinness World Records also declared Ocarina of Time to be the highest rated video game of all time.
With Ocarina of Time’s popularity still going strong almost 15 years later, many fans had been begging Nintendo for a remake of the game to improve its now dated graphics. After years of waiting, these fans finally got their wish in 2011 when, to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary, Nintendo release Ocarina of Time 3D for their new handheld system, the 3DS.
Making full use of Nintendo’s new handheld’s capabilities, Ocarina of Time 3D featured smoother graphics, better detailed textures, and, of course, the ability to play the game in 3D without the need for special glasses. While the game didn’t feature new sidequests as the remake of Link’s Awakening did, Ocarina of Time 3D was more than a simple retexturing. The movement of several characters, most notably Link, was rebuilt to look much more natural and smooth.
The game also made use of the system’s second screen to eliminate several control scheme annoyances present in the original release, making for a more enjoyable playing experience. It also featured the Master Quest version of the game as an unlockable feature. While it didn’t receive as much critical acclaim as the original game did, the 3D remake was heavily praised for its improvements on the game and its 3D effects.
Now you must be wondering, “Where do you go after you create what is still considered by many to be the greatest game of all time? Is it even possible to top a game like that?” Depending on who you ask, it either is or it isn’t, but I hope you’ll join me next time on Zelda: 25 Years of the Legend when we talk about the direct sequel to Link’s first adventure in the third dimension, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

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