The Difficulty of Ocarina of Time

A 10th Anniversary Article by lftenjamin

I don’t usually write articles that much, or really at all, but with Ocarina of Time‘s 10th birthday coming up how could I not want to write something? Ocarina of Time has formed a special place in our hearts. I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that the average visitor to Zelda Universe is around the age of 15-18 and, going by my guess, I’m also assuming that Ocarina of Time was their first Zelda game. My first was Link’s Awakening, but the game that got me hooked on Zelda was Ocarina of Time.

I remember Christmas of 1998, opening all of my gifts – the final gift I opened was some game called “Zelda.” I wasn’t sure why I received a game called Zelda. I had played LA, but never went past the second dungeon after I got stuck. To this day, I think I picked up that game because my father used to be a Zelda fan himself. So, I eventually started to play it and, of course, ended up stuck in the first dungeon (one has to remember I was only 7 at the time). A game this massive was too much for me to comprehend. Such a large place, so much to look for. I didn’t even understand what was going on; who pays that much attention to the story at seven years old? Why was I in a tree? What am I supposed to be looking for? These questions and more were popping up in my head as I played.

Eventually I figured it out and moved on with the game. I could go on, now, to write about how massive the overworld was, the shock of playing as Adult Link, and then segway into commentary on the story and many other things from there, but I want, specifically, to talk about one of my biggest peeves in all of Zelda history: The Water Temple. I’m sure a handful of you readers also hated the Water Temple on your first play through. You might remember being stuck for days trying to find the room to raise the water level and, when you finally found out where the room was, you didn’t know how to activate the switch to get into the room you’d spent days looking for.

My own Water Temple woes occurred trying to find one small key to get me into the room leading into the final deeper parts of the Temple, where I could find the Boss Key. I was there for a week, every day spending hours retracing all of my steps looking for the key. It turned out that, in the room where you find Ruto, if you put the water at medium level there is a platform with a bombable wall. That is where my key resided, and at last I was able to continue on with the dungeon! But I couldn’t help wondering, how is the player supposed to know about that room, that wall? As a room you only travel through once, I felt it was so random for the key to be hidden there.

And then, Dark Link – fighting him made my blood boil. He mirrored the player’s movements so precisely that to get a hit in on him either meant he or she had lightning-fast reflexes or was clinically insane. Never did I think of using Din’s fire, not once, and as this was my first play through the game I knew nothing of Biggoron’s Sword. I died fighting Dark Link almost more than any other mini boss (and boss, for that matter) in the game. I say almost for one reason: the main boss of the Water Temple was Morpha. Even getting to the boss door took forever, and trying to run up that slope and not get hit with any of the blades aggravated me so much that fighting the boss was almost a relief. Unfortunately, Morpha is difficult as all hell to defeat. While I wouldn’t say Morpha is the most difficult boss in any Zelda game, it’s probably in the top five. Whenever Morpha grabbed Link he lost an insane amount of heart life, and trying to hook the amoeba was incredibly difficult as well. When you finally hooked it, the thing flopped around so much that it became impossible to hit.

The Water Temple, as a result, came across as one of the strangest dungeons ever to appear in any Zelda game, full of difficult puzzles and a set of one of the hardest mini bosses and bosses for years to come.

By today’s standards OoT is only of mediocre difficulty, but for its time the game was both complex and difficult enough for us kids playing it. Games seem to become easier and easier as the years go on – but is that because of the developers slacking on the job or because we are simply growing older and more experienced at gamers? As I previously stated, I’m guessing that most of you reading this are about 15-18 years of age, which means you were 5-8 when OoT came out. If you’ve been playing video games – especially Zelda – since the age range of 5-8, you’ve probably become accustomed to how most games work out. If you’ve been a diehard Zelda fan, you’ve probably learned the ins and outs of traditional Zelda mechanics and dungeon design. You, as gamers and Zelda fans, have tried an umpteen amount of different games from an equal amount of strange genres, each with their unique story line and visual style – but I’m willing to bet they all had similar gameplay, puzzles and mechanics.

Even shooters, while first-person most of the time, consist of a figuring moving dynamically about a 3D space. To say that a shooter is just like a Zelda game, or a 3D platformer like Mario, is absurd, but spending years controlling different characters moving around in a similar 3D space would easily prepare one for, well, doing just that. Playing games repeatedly, all types of games, gives you experience as a gamer – and complaints that modern Zeldas are too easily could be attributed to our own growth and experience as gamers, and not simply Nintendo’s insistence on making casual, easy to pick up games.

And as we more hardcore gamers have gotten better at games, games can, and should, become more difficult at a faster rate. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Games feel easier and easier to play with each passing release cycle. Perhaps games are getting more difficult, but we’re simply adapting to their difficulty that much faster. I’m sure that if you gave Twilight Princess to a seven-year-old kid they’d get stuck, maybe even mad, and in the worst case scenario give up on the game. But maybe they’d work at it and beat it, just as we did when we played OoT as youngins. And thus, this makes way for a new generation of gamers to play through their own difficulties, at their own pace. But who’s to say they won’t soon become like us older folk, starving for games that equate with their years of gaming experience?

It is a cycle, and will continue for years to come unless developers decide to make their games mind-numblingly difficult for adults that much sooner. And just as I gained experience, and frustration, playing the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, so too will the youngest generation of all gain similar experience in Twilight Princess’s Water Temple fighting Morpheel, and the cycle will go on and on again. Perhaps that young gamer will be here in several years, writing a similar article to mine, but about Twilight Princess – because, if you think it about it, it was an incredibly difficult game for its time.