I think it was fate that I became a Legend of Zelda fan. I didn’t start playing games until I was about nine years old, and my love of Zelda didn’t begin until years after that. My first Zelda game was Wind Waker, and while it has since become my favorite game ever made, at the time it was a one-off for me. I was aware of other Zelda games and had seen them in action, even played them a little, but I was never very interested in them. Looking back, Ocarina of Time forced its way into my life over the course of many years, leading me to the point where I would finally play it, love it and want as much Zelda in my life as possible.
Ocarina of Time was first released in Japan on November 21, 1998. This month, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the most beloved games of all time. Two decades on, Ocarina of Time is still widely regarded as not only the pinnacle of The Legend of Zelda series but as one of the greatest achievements in video game history. Throughout Ocarina Month, we’re going to be looking back on the game that shaped childhoods, defined the action-adventure genre, and introduced a generation to how magical exploring a 3D world could be.
Realm of Memories is a series where we reflect on our absolute favorite moments in The Legend of Zelda games. These could be the times we first fell in love with a game, were moved by the events of the story or actions of a character, felt triumphant when overcoming a tough boss or challenge, or we had an experience so unique that the adventure truly became our own. The Zelda series has touched our lives in many ways, and just as Hyrule has endless stories to share, so do our writers!
The first time I ever saw Ocarina of Time, it was back when the game first released in 1998. I wasn’t even a gamer at that point. I was with my brother at some kid’s birthday party, and he was showing off all his stuff, as kids do. One thing he showed in his basement den/playroom was his N64 and his new game, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was alright, I thought. It had cool visuals and I liked the forest area he was in, but games just didn’t do for me. While he and the others played, I played with some nearby LEGO bricks.
Fast-forward about two-and-a-half years. I played games now and owned a Nintendo 64, but I was incredibly particular about trying new things, and the only games I would play were Mario, Kirby, some Pokémon, and random licensed games such as Jurassic Park. Two other friends of mine came over one day to play, and since they knew I now had an N64, they decided to show their favorite game for the system, Ocarina of Time. I again thought the game was alright, but still wasn’t sold on it. All I saw of the game from this experience was the same forest from before and a drawn-out origin story I had no interest in. The game seemed boring to me when compared to more action-focused games like Super Mario 64.
Jump ahead a few more years to 2003. Fall of 2003, to be a little more specific. I owned a GameCube now, and for years Super Smash Bros. Melee had been my ongoing obsession. I played every mode, unlocked every character and stage, played every character, and most importantly, read every trophy description.
By this point in my life I had also come to understand how much I loved narrative, and oh my goodness, all the lore that was presented in those trophy descriptions was like a drug to me. Not enough to explain everything, but just enough to make me wonder about so many fictional worlds. Legend of Zelda was naturally at the top of the list of these intriguing fantasies. Thanks to Melee, I found myself caring without ever playing any of the games.
Black Friday came and went that fall, and my brother bought a GameCube of his own. It was the bundle that came with The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition. I had never played a Zelda game before, and I was intrigued by the opportunity to do so. My brother had played some of the games before and knew he didn’t care much for them. I ended up trading him a game of mine that I didn’t like but he wanted.
The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask were on that disc. I already knew I wanted to start with Ocarina. I played through the first dungeon (which I had seen played multiple times now), somehow got lost doing the next objective, got frustrated, stopped caring, and then stopped playing the game. Yeah.
Again, move forward a few months to spring of 2004. I had bought Wind Waker with my Christmas money, beat it, loved it, and was eager to try more Zelda. There was a problem though. The only other Zelda game I had ever played was Ocarina of Time, and I knew how poorly that went for me the last time. But I gave it some thought, believed I was more experienced with Zelda games after beating Wind Waker, and decided to give it another try.
I ended up enjoying Ocarina of Time as much as anyone should expect. The game was amazing, from start to finish (yes, even the Water Temple. I will always defend that dungeon). Every detail, location, character, and creature captured my imagination. After finishing it, I quickly moved onto Majora’s Mask and A Link to the Past (for the Game Boy Advance). It was a cascade effect, with me playing Zelda game after Zelda game.
Wind Waker was the start of it all and is still the most important to me, but Ocarina of Time was what got me over the mental roadblock of being so skeptical of all other Zelda games. I feel dumb when I look back on how I many times I avoided this game, but I am even more so amazed how it seems like it was almost destiny that I play it, but only at the right time. Legendary timing for a legendary game.