Link's most memorable quest returns in glorious 3D
One of the most bittersweet moments of my life is looking back on the innocence of my childhood and remembering a time with little responsibility but a multitude of memorable moments. For me, growing up with gaming has given me special nostalgic connections to a number of games that I’ve experienced in the past. The Legend of Zelda is a series that I’ve always held dear to my heart and for most of its existence, it’s produced nothing short of masterpieces. From its earliest days on the NES, Zelda has since been one of the defining games in the adventure genre and remains as one of my all time favorite series of games.
Depending upon your background with Zelda titles, you’ve probably got your own opinions as to your favorite game. I’d say the truest, most effective form of Zelda gameplay still comes from the top down perspective, with personal favorites being A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, and the Oracles games on the Game Boy Color. However, if you’re talking about the most memorable experience, it has to be Ocarina of Time (with Wind Waker at a close second). Not only did the game reinvent a 2D game in a 3D world but also allowed gamers to have true emotional attachment to the games’ characters for the first time. Touching moments like Marin singing to her horses or Link cinematically leaving Kokiri forest for the first time with Saria sadly looking on gave gamers a stronger connection to the characters they were interacting with.
Ocarina of Time gave us the 3D Zelda experience that everyone had hoped for and has since been remembered as one of the greatest games of all time. And, one of Nintendo’s greatest acheivements is their ability to resell a game based on nostalgia alone. Seeing as the Nintendo DS was powerful enough to remake Super Mario 64 and make it look quite a bit better, however, an N64 remake on the 3DS seems like it would be an improper use of the system’s power. If you’re like me, you probably wondered why Nintendo was remaking titles such as OoT and Star Fox 64 on the 3DS, as opposed to bringing something from the Gamecube’s repertoire over to the system. Well, if you haven’t gotten a chance to see the work that Nintendo has done to redefine either of these games in their full glory, you’re about to be blown away.
Redefining a Genre
There’s a reason that Ocarina of Time is one of the most remembered games of all time. From the iconic storytelling to the massive (at the time) world and dungeons you were given to explore, OoT resonated with the very soul of gamers. But beyond just fond memories, there were other aspects of the game that redefined preconceived notions of gamers about how adventure titles should be played. The introduction of Epona to the series was a perfect fit for exploring the massive Hyrule Fied while the dungeon level design was downright brilliant for the time.
Most notably, however, OoT was the first game to implement Z-Targeting, something that has appeared in a multitude of titles since. This made 3D combat much more fluent and gave gamers more control over their actions. Still, there were obviously some parts of the game’s gameplay that could have been improved (or already have been improved in later iterations of Zelda titles). For instance, motion control of some sort seems to be the most natural form of aiming any kind of weapon. The introduction of this in Twilight Princess made aiming arrows and item usage almost seamless.
Fortunately, this is one of the minor improvements that Nintendo has added to the game’s functionality and I can’t say enough about how useful it can be at times. Utilizing the system’s built-in gyroscope, motion can be used to aim at the target. Now, let me clarify, this form of control is not best used as a replacement for thumb stick controls but rather in cohesion with it (wider angles of movement are best controlled using your thumbs whereas subtle adjustments to your aim can be achieved more effectively using motion controls). There is a small clash between this feature and the system’s hardware, however: since the 3D effect has a small window where the effect works properly on your eyes, moving the 3DS may obstruct your vision. Nonetheless, when moving the 3DS only subtly to adjust my aim, there were few times that I actually ran into the problem and thus the control was a welcomed addition to the game.
Secondly, the other major improvement to the way the game actually plays is the benefit of having a second screen. Not only does the touch screen clean up the interface significantly by revealing an entire map at all times and allowing you to easily select menus, but it also doubles as a nice addition to the game’s controls. Rather than implementing some sort of full touch screen control support that doesn’t work as well as buttons (like I and many have HATED about the most recent DS Zelda titles), the game merely improves upon the existing control scheme.
Items can now be assigned to X or Y on the touch screen and there are two extra buttons as well called I & II that are utilized entirely by pressing them on the touch screen. I know it doesn’t seem like much but having 4 items assigned to buttons at any given time but it is much better than the traditional 3 from the original game (the Ocarina also has its own separate button so that you don’t have to waste it on one of your precious three action buttons). And, the iron boots have finally been made into an assignable item making the Water Temple much less painful for those who weren’t fond of its design.
To help those who might be having problems figuring out where to go and don’t find much help from Navi’s incessant pestering, a new hint system has been added into the game. Sheika Stones have been speckled throughout the game to give helpful visual hints towards the next short term goal. These stones are a completely option part of the game so they aren’t forced on you if you’re more apt to figuring things out yourself, but they’re also not so revealing that it takes the fun out of the adventure.
Recreating a Masterpiece
It’s great to know that Zelda translated so well in terms of controls to Nintendo’s new handheld. But, in order to recreate a masterpiece on more powerful hardware in the gaming world, the best way to do so is to make up for aspects that wouldn’t translate well if experienced in a modern gaming world. Things such as blocky textures and chirpy music are two of the largest pitfalls when rereleasing titles. Thus, the only way Nintendo could have done so on the powerful 3DS is to redesign the game’s visuals rather than gloss over the outdated graphics with a new coat of paint.
What has resulted is an incredible display of visual masterpiece, portraying a level of beauty that perfectly fits in with the game’s heralded reputation. This game redefines what can be considered a “remake” as there is literally no comparison between the game’s original graphics and the ones bursting forth from my new handheld hardware. This is how the game was meant to be viewed and it only improves its appeal even further in my eyes.
From the great looking sprites to the impressive depth of field brought forth using the system’s capabilities, the game’s many venues gush with beauty. You can now see everything in the distance from the furthest trees to even the enemy sprites a good 30 seconds away. While the original game brought to life 3D adventure gameplay, the 3DS version pushes it to new levels of success when looking down from high scenic viewpoints or walking across a small walkway bridging two areas. In short, the 3D in the game is perfectly utilized and is a treat to behold from start to finish.
The other side of the presentation coin is the only blunder I could find with the experience, however. If the game’s visuals were so masterfully redone, why can’t a system that features surround sound be utilized to hear the game’s epic soundtrack redone in fully orchestrated form? This is an issue that a large number of games face where music isn’t given enough of a nod to push the game into legendary status; for the few things that typically separate a great game from a legendary one are the parts that make it memorable and music is most certainly one of those.
Now let’s get this straight, I absolutely love the original soundtrack from the N64 days and I’m not taking anything away from it (I actually popped in the game’s soundtrack to inspire me while writing this review). Also, Nintendo did touch up the soundtrack and sound effects to make them more pure sounding this time around. BUT, it’s hard to think just how amazing the game could have been this time around if a fully orchestrated soundtrack had been implemented (they even tease you with a taste of it after finishing the game as the ending theme is fully redone and spine chillingly epic).
After a bit of research, I found out something a bit puzzling and disturbing with regards to the game’s musical score on the 3DS. Apparently a fully orchestrated soundtrack was originally intended to be in the game and was half-way completed by none other than up-and-coming legendary composer Mahito Yokota (the mastermind behind Super Mario Galaxy’s soundtrack as well as Twilight Princess). However, word is that Koji Kondo, Nintendo’s iconic composer who imagined many of its original themes, ordered that the music not be included in the game. Thus, by executive order based on seniority, a true masterpiece was prevented and it’s awful that the orchestrated effort was therefore nixed.
Sound effects also feel outdated. Remember that the N64’s music was actually a step back from the quality of instruments on the SNES due to the size restraints of the cartridges. Thus, the older sound effects sound good on the 3DS but not great; they’re enough to give you nostalgia but I can’t help but think that they could have done better by giving these an overhaul like they did with the graphics. So, the common effects of Link shrieking when being attacked, Marin’s artificial singing and the annoying Navi are all back with no improvement.
As for Navi, they’ve actually managed to make her even more annoying this time around; not only does she bug you incessantly if you’re off exploring areas that are not part of the main quest, but now she even tells you she’s tired and recommends you stop playing after a certain amount of time. I wouldn’t want them to take her out of the game because she is a part of the experience, but it would be nice to have an option that signifies just how much help you want her to give you. And dammit, I’ve never had any side effects or problems from playing the system for too long at one time with the 3D on high so please quit frequently reminding me that I should take breaks in every game I purchase Nintendo!
Reimagining an Adventure
Ocarina of Time is also a memorable game because of its overall length compared to previous games in the genre. The size of the game and the 20-30 hours for the first play-through made the experience feel unending in the best way. The intimate ties between two worlds, so seamlessly brought together, was reminiscent of the legend experienced in A Link to the Past. Everything about the game’s length was, and still is, enough to warrant a lengthy enough experience for the time and by today’s standards. Thus, to add in extra features or hours of gameplay is just extra icing on the cake and if you’re familiar with Nintendo’s previous rereleases, there typically isn’t much extra material to keep you satisfied after the first piece.
Back to Nintendo’s success of rereleasing games, you may remember when OoT made two appearances on the GameCube. The first experience was coupled in with the Zelda: Collectors Edition, a game that was only available through loyal membership to Nintendo.com by registering a certain amount of games. The second iteration was a bonus for preordering Wind Waker and had more appeal to hardcore fans due to its “Master Quest” mode that featured more difficult, redesigned dungeons. After those two rereleases, the only other appearance of OoT occurred on the Wii’s virtual console.
In case you didn’t get a chance to experience Master Quest, Nintendo has done the unthinkable and included it within this game’s cartridge. That’s right, not only is the game completely graphically overhauled, but it also includes a double dose of content. Master Quest is actually slightly different than the previous release, too, where the entire world and dungeons have been completely mirrored. This is a neat little trick that makes replaying the experience even more fresh but the real appeal of Master Quest remains with the fact that the dungeons are completely redesigned and much more difficult (almost to the extent where you won’t recognize them aside from their appearance). Finally, to add to the content, a Boss Rush mode has also been included in the game.