Last week, I dug up an interview with Zelda producer Shigeru Miyamoto which dated all the way back to 1997, a year before Ocarina of Time’s release. The translation of the interview, held by Japanese publication Famimaga 64, is still available on IGN. I love finding old articles like these, and I’m so grateful to see some of them are still available for viewing thanks to the internet.
This interview, in particular, contains a ton of details of Ocarina of Time in an early development phase, highlighting ideas that were changed or scrapped completely in the final product. For example, when asked about alternative attack methods to Link’s sword, Miyamoto responded, “You can use magic or items to attack. There are a lot of missile weapons like arrows and pachinko balls. There are also hammers and staffs, as well as ‘hook shots.'”
Whoa, hold the phone there. What was that about “pachinko balls”?
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.
Princess Zelda’s Study is a series where we examine the history of The Legend of Zelda to bring you some fascinating (or just plain weird) trivia. In our studies, we’ll explore each game’s development, curiosities within the rich lore of the franchise, and the impact it has had on our culture. From time to time, we’ll also look at Nintendo’s past to unearth some facts about our favorite company.
For those who may not know, pachinko is a popular mechanical arcade game in Japan. A pachinko machine is similar, in some ways, to a pinball machine, with the player using a handle to launch balls in an attempt to guide them through a metal track.
The interviewer later enquires about this peculiar projectile, asking Miyamoto if the player can “throw the pachinko ball”. Miyamoto responds with “Fundamentally it’s like a stone.”
It’s not quite the detailed answer we were looking for, but fortunately, he does elaborate in a different question in part two of the interview. When asked about differences between Link’s inventory as a child and an adult, Miyamoto said, “When Link is a child, he uses pachinko balls and a slingshot, and when he’s an adult he uses his bow and arrow.”
According to an old article on GameSpot giving impressions on the game’s showing at E3 in 1998, the concept of pachinko balls had at least gone far enough to make it into a playable demo. This was published only five months before the game’s release, too, so it seems as though the idea was scrapped quite late in development.
In the final game, we know that Link uses Deku Seeds as ammunition for his Fairy Slingshot. So why did Miyamoto first decide on pachinko balls? Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be an explanation (at least that I could find), but pachinko parlors are widespread in Japan and have been popular since their post-war re-emergence in the 1940s. Pachinko is now iconic in Japan, so it’s possible that Miyamoto, producer at Nintendo of Japan, wanted to implement some of his culture into the game.
Of course, they’re not quite as recognizable outside of Japan, which may explain the change to seeds for the sake of international players. It also makes more sense for Link to find and make use of a natural resource across his journey, rather than a manufactured one.
Pachinko balls could have been a fun and quirky addition to the game. Since they were planned to be used when Link is young, they could have added an element of childhood to Link’s character, hinting at a fondness for games such as pachinko.
Ultimately, however, I like the Deku Seeds because they add to Ocarina of Time’s world, helping to establish the magical fantasy setting of the Kokiri Forest with a fictional resource, whereas something taken from the real world may have felt jarring. It’s the small details lovingly poured into the game that help make Ocarina of Time’s world so easy to get lost in.