Every now and then, you come across a game, movie, or a book that impacts your life more than you could imagine. For me, it’s Ocarina of Time.
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.
I had never played a Zelda game before, but my 12-year-old self followed Ocarina of Time’s development in Nintendo Power and thought it looked pretty great. When I read that this totally cool new game was finally coming out, I got my dad to take me to KB Toys so I could preorder it.
I had been saving my money — and to a 12-year-old in the ’90s, $50 was quite a bit — as I was a strong, independent middle schooler and wanted to pay for this game myself. Launch day came so my dad and I hit up the toy store once again. I excitedly walked up to the register to get my new game, only to discover they had lost my preorder. This was a little rural town in North Georgia where the internet was still a novelty, so their database wasn’t all that reliable. Fortunately, my dad was there to back me up (I now retract that part about being independent) and made sure my down payment was applied and I got the preorder bonuses promised.
Upon arriving home, I immediately ran to my room and popped in my new cartridge. After playing games like Super Mario 64, Diddy Kong Racing, and Yoshi’s Story for so long, Ocarina of Time seemed so grown up and mature, despite being rated “E for Everyone”. Equipping my Kokiri Sword and Deku Shield for the first time, I truly felt cool. This was a feeling I wanted to hold onto, especially considering I was such a dork. We’re talking braces, T-shirts that were two sizes too big, a giant cowlick that left a gap in my bangs, and an obsession with video games and cartoons that the other MTV- and football-loving kids at school couldn’t understand. The Neville Longbottom glow-up has nothing on me!
I loved Ocarina of Time so much that it was all I ever wanted to think about. The other kids at school referred to me as Zelda or “that Nintendo girl”. At one point we had to create a fictional character, so of course, I named mine “Zelda”. I had an Ocarina of Time book that told the story of the game. Now despite being a straight-A student, I absolutely hated reading, but I couldn’t put this book down. When I read it, I felt like I was back in Hyrule instead of a prison (sorry, “school”). I often got scolded by my teachers for reading Zelda instead of “real books”. I tried to explain that this was indeed a book. The Deku Tree even spoke old English and therefore required a sense of comprehension, and I could even apply what I read to the game itself. I was using what I was reading instead of just sitting there looking at words on a page, but they wouldn’t listen.
I loved Ocarina of Time so much that it was all I ever wanted to think about.
Playing through the game, I fell in love with the characters and the world of Hyrule. I cherished the Fairy Ocarina from Saria, laughed at Darunia’s dancing, and thought Princess Ruto had the right idea having a cute boy carry her through Jabu Jabu’s Belly. One of my favorite things to do was explore Lake Hylia and Zora’s Domain. It was such a beautiful landscape, and since swimming was my favorite activity outside of video games, I felt right at home.
One thing I’ll never forget is encountering my first ReDead. It was right after obtaining the three Spiritual Stones and I visited Castle Town’s marketplace in a post-Ganondorf era. The entire area seemed to have a red tint, so it was difficult to see what was going on. Then, out of nowhere, I heard a scream and saw Link struggling to fight off a creepy zombie. It freaked me out so badly I had nightmares. I thought I was just a pathetic wimp who couldn’t even handle a Zelda game. Turns out the screen on my television was going out which is why everything seemed so disturbing. Once I got a new TV it didn’t bother me anymore!
Ocarina of Time didn’t just introduce me to an incredible series, it opened up a world of opportunities. Over the years, Ocarina and the Zelda series as a whole would serve as a common thread when meeting new people. I even used the Zelda theme as the recessional at my wedding. It’s also what led me here; writing, streaming, and hosting videos at Zelda Universe, where I have met some of my dearest friends I couldn’t imagine my life without, held gaming marathons to raise money for charity, and attended E3 as a media representative which had been a dream of mine since I was a kid. And it’s all because of those polygons I played with when I was 12.