I was a teenager when Ocarina of Time was released, and like many teenage girls, my boyfriend was my whole world. So when he picked up a new game for his Nintendo 64, I sang a self-pitying lament and thought this was it: I would never see him again. All his hours would become devoted to a video game, and I would be lost to the wind.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Having played A Link To The Past and The Legend of Zelda, I considered myself a Zelda fan — if being a Zelda fan meant I borrowed those games, played through them, then returned the cartridges when finished. I didn’t have an N64 at home, so for the first week, I watched Boyfriend and his friends play while I studied in the background.
Then one day, after I’d given his little brother a ride home, he handed me the controller and asked if I wanted to play so he could watch. His brother never let him watch. “Sure,” I said. What was the harm in it? I warned him I wouldn’t be very good, started a new file, and settled in with some pillows and a snack to play this game everyone had been raving about.
What I intended to be a single afternoon with my boyfriend’s younger brother turned into an affair with his console. I couldn’t get enough; I was enthralled by this story of an orphan forest boy and the princess he must save. I was pulled in by the characters, the setting, and the challenges the gameplay offered. Boyfriend lost interest after getting stuck in the Water Temple, but I found myself making excuses to run his little brother home so I could play while he was at work or practices of his own.
It took about two weeks to make it through the game and all the sidequests, culminating in one final afternoon when Boyfriend had an event several cities away and I stayed behind due to allergies and the lure of finishing that final temple. I drove to Boyfriend’s house, walked upstairs to Little Brother’s room and said, “Let’s finish this.”
Climbing that winding staircase of Ganon’s Tower with the organ music playing in the background was easily the most hyped I’d ever been. I quickly figured out the battle strategy, classic energy tennis, and soon, Ganondorf was vanquished, the princess was free, and all was good in Hyrule.
Until the building started to shake under our feet, and Zelda told us we must flee before it collapsed.
My hands were sweaty, gripping the controller so tight and pressing buttons so hard my fingers hurt as we raced down the tower, fighting random enemies and battling the ever-present ticking clock. When we finally reached the base of the tower just before the timer ran out, both Little Brother and I breathed a sigh of relief. We did it, it was over. The ruins of this crumbled castle were Ganondorf’s final resting place.
A cutscene began to play and I’d just grabbed a can of soda to take a drink when a thud from the rubble caused Zelda to gasp and Link to throw himself in front of her. Little Brother and I froze, glancing sidelong at each other as I cautiously walked Link forward, realizing what we’d thought was the end was just the eye of the storm.
Flames erupted from the ground, trapping Link in the midst of the rubble and separating him from Zelda. Little Brother and I collectively held our breaths as we watched Ganondorf burst from the ruins of his castle, breathing heavily and brandishing the back of his right hand, revealing the Triforce of Power burned into his skin. We stared wide-eyed as he shifted into a new form: protruding horns, a snout for a nose, swinging swords larger than Link himself and knocking the Master Sword out of the area and out of reach. I gasped and Little Brother shouted, “Oh no!” and it was this point that Boyfriend arrived home and entered the room, staring at the two of us in abject horror.
“You played ahead? How — You’re going to beat the game before-”
“Shut up! I’ve got to finish him!”
That afternoon, I beat Ganon to the dismay of my boyfriend, who couldn’t believe his pseudo-gamer girlfriend beat Ocarina of Time before he did. While I never owned an N64 console of my own until I was in college, I went out and purchased the game anyway and played it almost yearly, most recently on a livestream, and 20 years later, that final battle still amazes me.
The lightning flashes illuminating your foe for only seconds, Ganon’s wheezing snarls as you hit his tail, Zelda’s shrieks of terror when he lands a blow, and the dissonant chorus of music in the background. The battle rages on even after you claim the Master Sword, until finally Ganon sinks to his knees, allowing Zelda to leap into action and hold him so Link can land the final blow. Your enemy curses you as he falls into the void, reminding you that he still possesses the Triforce of Power and declaring, essentially, that while this chapter has ended the story is far from over. It’s cinematically perfect in almost every single way.
Replaying this game has always been a self-indulgent hobby, but doing it on stream with other fans of the series watching solidified in my mind that for whatever flaws Ocarina of Time may have, whatever aging it’s experienced these last 20 years, it’s still an incredible experience and a game close to the heart of many Zelda fans. This was the game that solidified my love for the series — for its gameplay and mechanics, for its focus on story, the characters it’s brought into my life, and for the music I still find myself humming along with today. Even if it did cause a rift in my relationship, this game will always remain one I can play again and again and never grow tired of.