Yesterday’s release of A Link Between Worlds was the culmination of weeks of intense media coverage, and of speculation that this installment could bring about a leap in the Zelda series not seen since 1998. It was November 23 of that year that Ocarina of Time was released in the United States. This first Zelda to run on a 3D engine immediately had a resounding impact on the video game world. Being able to ride a horse around an open-world field was something fun, exciting and never seen before, while the plot, music, and characters made the playing experience something memorable. To this day, Ocarina has continued to draw admiration from gamers because of reasons best put into words by Zelda Universe writer The Missing Link. Certainly this fantastic addition to Nintendo’s repertoire has stuck with me since it came out on this day fifteen years ago; in fact, to me, Ocarina of Time is more than just a game.
I was two years old the year Ocarina of Time entered the shelves, so I don’t remember awaiting the game, purchasing it, or playing it for the first time. The giddy, simple memories I do have from that age reveal one fact: I spent hours with pudgy fingers wrapped around an N64 controller, with a chin pointed determinedly forward, and with eyes ratcheted to the bright colors of a grand adventure flashing on a square screen. My hands smashed buttons without any purpose and toggled joysticks more forcefully than necessary. I was Link, at the head of the attempt to save Hyrule!
Of course, there are some faults with this memory. My controller was disconnected from the console, so it was years before I actually played the game myself. Instead, my mother was the mastermind behind the on-screen movement that I was seeing. It was her first Zelda game, too, and she didn’t know that the file name you choose is the name that the NPCs call Link; she named her file “Mommy.” She realized her mistake when Navi started shouting “Hello, Mommy! Wake up! … Mommy, get up! Hey! C’mon! Can Hyrule’s destiny really depend on such a lazy boy?” Because I couldn’t read and she had promised to tell me what the strange symbols on the screen meant, my mother did some quick thinking. I had no idea that Link’s name wasn’t actually “Tommy” until the release of The Wind Waker.
I doubt I would have remained such an avid Zelda fan if it hadn’t been for the Ocarina of Time action figures I received for my third birthday. We took frequent car rides to visit family members who lived eight hours away, so I’d entertain myself with miniature versions of Link, Ganondorf, Zelda, and Impa. They became staples in my life; I carried them with me nearly everywhere I went. One of my most cherished memories is the day my grandfather played with me and my Zelda toys for several hours.
Because of my action figures, I was determined to start playing the game as soon as my motor skills were developed far enough. That anticipated moment happened around the time I started school. I was a five-year-old on a mission to solve every puzzle, obliterate every enemy, and uncover every secret in the game. I spent so much time playing it that my parents imported the official soundtrack from Japan for me toward the end of the year. The disc is now so well used that it skips and jumps to the point where the music is hard to recognize.
I played the game so frequently I gained an inordinate amount of technical proficiency in dealing with everything it contained. I spent so much time in the company of the cartridge that it became a kind of electronic security blanket. When I was ten, my family moved halfway across our country to a place where we had no connections. During the painful process of making new friends, I coped with my loneliness by submerging myself in Ocarina‘s realm of Hyrule, talking to my trusty Link action figure (located conveniently at my side) while I worked repeatedly through the plot. After I had managed to assimilate into my new school, I began to pick up the game only once or twice a month instead of once or twice a day. This reprieve in my obsession ended just a few years later when my grandmother lost a hard battle with lung cancer. My grieving period featured me lashing out at the monsters of the game. Lizalfos make a particularly satisfying scream when you land a hit.
I was most grateful to have Ocarina of Time, though, during my fifteenth year of life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I spent most of that year under a chronic illness which remained undiagnosed until around my sixteenth birthday. Two common, major symptoms of my illness are fatigue and depression; I suffered from severe cases of both. Eventually, I got so sick that I didn’t have enough energy to make it through a school day, let alone complete all the extra work added on by my studies and organizations. Hours, days, weeks passed where all I could do was lie down on a sofa, crying and listening to my Ocarina of Time soundtrack for solace. I desperately wanted to play the game, but physically and timewise, I lacked the ability to. Nevertheless, just having the music to calm me down made my agony somewhat bearable.
Ocarina of Time made the rough periods of my life easier to bear. It continues to inspire me. And even though 3D has developed far beyond what I might have imagined it to be in 1998, I find cutscenes like watching Epona jump over the fence of Lon Lon Ranch and seeing the Kokiri Forest from Navi’s perspective still exhilarating. I’m going to go dust off the ol’ cartridge while I await the opportunity to play A Link Between Worlds.
Happy fifteenth birthday, Ocarina of Time. May your legacy always be known in the video game world.