Keep your hands off the Ocarina.

Guest Article by Joshua Lindquist

After twelve years, Ocarina of Time is finally being remade for a portable platform. The Nintendo 3DS is introducing a new way to play games that could breathe new life into this aging, but classic, game.

Before the game can be released, a lot of changes need to be made. After all, the Nintendo 3DS looks nothing like an N64 controller. The controls will be rearranged, some features may be removed (for example: I wouldn’t be surprised if you can only equip two items instead of three), and we may even get some new features.

During this transition to the Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo will no doubt experiment and debate how to handle one feature that is so crucial that they named the game after it: how to play the ocarina.

The new button layout of the Nintendo 3DS is going to mean that the ocarina gets changed some, but I believe that change shouldn’t be any more drastic than necessary. Specifically, there should be no blowing and no touch screen controls of any kind because this is a different kind of Zelda game.

The Pan Flute

The last handheld Zelda game, Spirit Tracks, included a pan flute that works very differently than the ocarina or any other instrument ever put in a Zelda game. Rather than simply pushing a button combination, you have to blow into the microphone and move the flute with the stylus. The idea is to make the pan flute work more like the real thing and it succeeds to some extent. Many players, including myself, were quickly immersed in the pan flute during the early stages of the game.

Unfortunately, as you neared the end of Spirit Tracks, the songs became more difficult to perform. This is the obvious progression of most games, but in this case it changed a fun and immersive experience into something bothersome that was nothing more than a fast way to get either frustrated, light-headed or both.

Overall, my experience playing Spirit Tracks and using the pan flute was more enjoyable than it was frustrating because only the last few songs – which usually only needed to be played a couple times during the game – were frustrating, but it didn’t leave me wishing that every other Zelda game would follow its lead.

Have you ever tried blowing at an Ocarina?

In Spirit Tracks, blowing into the microphone to make the pan flute work was fun for while (and I’m sure some players thought it was fun for the entire game), but the reason it was immersive and fun was because it was realistic. Have any of you ever played an ocarina? I never have, but I don’t need to play a real one to tell you can blow at it until you pass out, but you’ll never get a single note out of it.

Blowing into the microphone to play the ocarina would not be realistic. Because of this, there would be no immersion factor and instead you are left with nothing but a frustrating feature.

If you play an instrument similar to an ocarina you quickly learn that in order to make real music your mouth is going to remain mostly closed. Yes, you have to supply air from your mouth for it to make a sound, but it’s nothing like using a pan flute and there is no way to simulate this action with the Nintendo 3DS. Do any of you actually want to stick the 3DS in your mouth?

This is not a stylus-based Zelda game.

Here’s something else to think about: were you planning on using the stylus regularly while playing Ocarina of Time 3D? If you were, you might want to think again before you purchase this game because I assure you that the stylus will probably remain in its slot for most – if not all – of the game.

I have no doubt that menus and every feature of the HUD will be taken off the primary screen and moved to the touch screen. Because it is on the touch screen, you will probably be able to interact with the menus using the stylus. However, I think Nintendo will also make sure you can navigate the menus without touch controls and maybe even with a finger.

Have no doubt in your mind: this is the first Nintendo DS Zelda game that you will control primarily with an analog stick and buttons.

We just finished up a week of news coming straight from E3. During that time, Miyamoto and Aonuma spoke regularly about their plans to streamline the Zelda experience both in Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time. I don’t think that requiring a player to take out and put away the stylus regularly falls into their plans for streamlining the experience.

Looking At the Possibilities

I mentioned before that I have no doubt that Nintendo experimented with how to make the ocarina work without using the traditional buttons. So, let’s switch gears for a minute to explore two possibilities.

  1. When you activate the ocarina, the touch screen changes to a musical scale and add touch activated buttons for each of the possible notes: A, up, down, left, and right.
  2. When you activate the ocarina, the touch screen changes to a visualization of the ocarina itself. You could then cover specific holes in the instrument to simulate actually playing different notes.

There are a few problems with both of these. One of the biggest problems really doesn’t affect the game play at all, but it would change a feature that I’m sure is an enjoyable part of the game for music fans. Did you know the ocarina can play more than five notes?

By using the R button, Z button, and analog stick (on the original Nintendo 64 controller) you can actually play a wide range of notes. The official player’s guide for Ocarina of Time actually included a guide for how to play the Kakariko Village theme song on the ocarina.

Both of these options forget how much the ocarina is capable of. Yes, they could still make it work somehow with additional buttons or requiring that you push buttons and use the touch screen, but fixing it just makes it more complicated. Now I have to cover holes and push buttons?

The ocarina visualization option also presents a possible technical problem. If this is going to be a realistic simulation, some notes will require covering more than one hole. In order for this to work, the Nintendo 3DS needs a touch screen capable of recognizing two or more spots at once. Alternatively, you could use an unrealistic method that just requires five holes (one for each note).

A couple more thoughts:

  1. Both of these options ignore the developer’s goal to streamline the experience (which I mentioned previously).
  2. They are completely different from the rest of the game and require stopping and changing your play method
  3. Neither of these options, nor any others you can think of, are not present in the original Ocarina of Time.

This is the Ocarina of Time.

We all heard that Miyamoto wanted to recreate Ocarina of Time because he wanted to see Hyrule Field in 3D. Sounds like a good plan to me, but I can think of another reason to remake the game: It’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

This is the game that until last week was ranked as the highest rated game of all time. As far as I’m concerned, it still is.

This game has been put at the top of “greatest games of all time” lists for over a decade.

It was so well received that many Zelda fans didn’t play any of the games that were released before it. Many of those fans actually thought it was the first Zelda game ever released and referred to Majora’s Mask as “Zelda 2.”

This game was the reason people bought Nintendo 64 and the reason people were disappointed and shocked by the drastic graphical change in The Wind Waker.

Likewise, this is the reason so many fans jumped for joy when Twilight Princess was revealed with a more realistic graphical style and why some fans are now upset about the reversal taking place in Skyward Sword.

This is the game that got some people into video games. This is the game that truly defines The Legend of Zelda series.

I’ll even dare to say that this game is the reason that all of your favorite (or not so favorite) Zelda websites exist at all.

Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, and everyone else at Nintendo know exactly what game they are messing with. One of the worst things Nintendo could do to this game is drastically change how the ocarina is played. Old fans, and returning fans, will expect it to be the same as before. And while some fans may walk away disappointed about some other change in the game, I believe more people would walk away because of changes to the ocarina than any other part of this beloved game.

Keep your hands off the ocarina.

Just the Beginning

This is the beginning of a short series of articles about the upcoming remake of Ocarina of Time. In the next article, I’ll look at some ways that the developers can reach their goal of streamlining the experience.