ATB’s Best Games Ever: (1) Ocarina of Time

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The flow of time is always cruel. Its speed seems different for each person, but no one can change it. A thing that does not change with time is a memory of younger days…

This is the number one title of At the Buzzer’s top 25 games of all-time, as voted on by the main ATB cast members and other friends of the show. We’re not quite done with this just yet — tomorrow we’ll post the group’s list and each person’s individual rankings, and on Friday we’ll post the best responses we’ve gotten so far along with our own impressions on how it all turned out.

For more information on how this whole thing works or for the other games on the list, check out the Related Links at the bottom of this post.

1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

Chris: I’m faced with a difficult task in writing about our number one game of all-time for a couple of reasons. Number one, the other two guys have had a crack at their thoughts on it already, so I’m going to have to try to avoid repeating what they said a million times. Number two, even though I thoroughly enjoyed this game when I played it as a teenager, it’s not even in my top 25 and I have conflicting thoughts on it being our best game ever. So work with me here as I sort through my manly emotions.

There’s no doubt that Ocarina of Time is one of the most influential games ever made. Even though Super Mario 64 was responsible for the explosion of 3D gaming, Zelda seemed like an improbability because having to control a camera with one thumbstick and Link with the other would have made fighting a nightmarish experience. But Z-targeting fixed that problem with a lock-on system that was waaaaaay ahead of its time. Fans probably would have been happy with a mediocre to above-average camera system, considering the difficulty of converting a 2D franchise into 3D — instead, they got near perfection.

Maybe that’s the best way to describe how I feel about this game: near perfection. Damn near everything is done well. The soundtrack has some major hits on it that far outweigh a few misses (Gerudo Valley? Windmill Hut? Saria’s Song? etc.?). The level design is some of the best we’ve ever seen in the series, and considering the pedigree that Zelda has in crafting puzzles and dungeons, that’s no small statement. The item inventory is rock solid, with several great items that can be used in a variety of ways — the only downside is the whole “adult Link can’t throw a boomerang for some reason herp derp” syndrome. The characters are fantastic, especially considering how fleshed out they were 15 years ago (we almost take for granted what Zelda and Link are like at this point, but this was relatively new territory back then).

It’s possible that I kept Ocarina of Time off my list because I wanted to give some other Zelda games credit and I knew the rest of the panel wouldn’t vote for them as highly (like Link to the Past and Majora’s Mask). This game has a ton of nostalgia for me and it’s a definitive part of gaming. So I can’t say that I’m upset about it being our best game ever — it certainly has plenty of merit. Even now, I think back to some of the most chilling moments of this game (the Door of Time opening, Zelda revealing herself as Sheik, the escape from Ganon’s Tower…) and my heart says this is an acceptable pick.

As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, Ocarina of Time beat Resident Evil 4 by one point when the final tally came in (290-289). It was extremely close, with OoT picking up a first-place vote from Shaun and two more fifth-place nods (in addition to a 15th). Was it the right decision? That’s up for you guys to decide in the comments below.

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Dave: What hasn’t been said about this game or this series? The Legend of Zelda appeared on our top 25 list a whopping 5 times. That’s 20 percent of the list just following around Link and Zelda on their never ending quest to defeat Ganon/Ganondorf. The great thing about it, though: no one can really argue those choices.

Somehow, the team at Nintendo continuously delivers the goods in every new Zelda game they create. The Ocarina of Time is no different. Since it is the first Zelda game to be in 3D, it just feels right that they seem to go back to the beginning to tell the story of Hyrule. And what a story it is. Not only is this the first Zelda game to break the third dimension, it also breaks into the fourth dimension as the name suggests.

The real beauty of OoT is the control system. In the two dimensional games, it was fairly easy to control Link — basically point left or right and stick your sword out. Naturally, moving into the 3D realm was going to be difficult, as many other game creators failed miserably (I’m looking at you Sonic). The Z-Targeting system allows the player to move around effectively while also never getting hit from behind only because the player couldn’t move the camera properly. The Z-Targeting system is so good that it hasn’t really changed in any Zelda since. Every game allows you to lock onto a target and then literally dance around it with a variety of jumps, backflips and hops to constantly stay one step ahead of your opponent.

Even if the story had been just mediocre, most people would consider this game one of the greatest of all-time, but the story delivers in every way. We literally get to see Link grow up from a starry-eyed kid from the Kokiri Forest into the Hero of Time, and then back again and again. As I said in my Chrono Trigger review, I’m a sucker for time travel games and their interconnectivity. Being able to switch back and forth between a child and an adult in order to defeat Ganon is unique enough, but it’s thrown over the top when you realize that your initial travel into the future is what releases Ganon into the world. The kid version of you lives in a happy, well lit world, while the adult you lives in a horrible evil place where darkness reigns.

The dungeons in the Ocarina of Time feel like they belong as a part of the game, and not just a “oh here’s the next level I have to beat,” the sidequests are actually a lot of fun — yes, even the Biggeron Sword quest (which was entirely useless because I never wanted to use that thing after I got it) — and the different areas of the world are fun and completely unique.

There aren’t many negative things that one can say about The Ocarina of Time. If you look on any top 25 list, it’s always on there, and if you ask almost any gamer from about 25-40 they’re most likely going to say that this is on their top five. In fact, this game was so good that sales of ocarinas even went up as a result.

Shigeru Miyamoto has provided the world with thousands upon thousands of hours of entertainment thanks to his vision of games. I kind of like to think that putting his finest creation at #1 on our list is our very small way of honoring him.

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Shaun: An enduring, enchanting classic in every sense of the word, Ocarina of Time was my number one vote for best game ever, and to be honest, it’s not even close.

It’s like, in a sublime state of divine inspiration, Nintendo combined all of the best aspects and features from gaming’s entire history, and put it into one immaculate package. I’ll start at the beginning.

Zelda is a series known for its strong openings. Your uncle venturing off into the rain in A Link to the Past. Link getting shipwrecked on a mysterious island in Link’s Awakening. Ocarina of Time continues this tradition, featuring an arcane tree sending forth a fairy to find a boy destined for greatness, and currently experiencing a haunting premonition of events to come.

The world and level design here is instantly immersive. It took me about 10 seconds to adjust to no jump button before I marveled at what an ingenious move that was. The forest around Link was bustling and alive, a character all its own. As the world continued to open up and Link discovered Hyrule Field, the sense of adventure, exploration, and ambition shot through the roof; I don’t remember ever feeling so joyously overwhelmed in any game before.

As Link explores the world, he uncovers the series best designed set of dungeons. Each one is distinct and memorable, featuring unique puzzles that are both inventive and intuitive. Yes, the water dungeon is frustrating at times, but its solution isn’t abstract or unfair; you just have to outthink it.

Nintendo, always aware of pacing, also implemented combat mechanics in way that changed 3D gaming forever; Z-targeting. Being able to focus your attacks on a target streamline the system, and made each encounter exciting and breath-taking. Link can seamlessly take down a bat with an arrow, backflip away from a Stalfos’ sword attack, and then lunge forward with his counter, each move instantly accessible through the face buttons.

OoT also features one of the best inventories in the series; each tool is relevant and serves a purpose, with no wasted space or questionable inclusions. Furthermore, the dungeons did a good job of bringing back puzzles that require your entire arsenal of tools, rather than specifically revolving around that dungeons new item.

Of course, the namesake of OoT is what really makes it special. Going back and forth seven years should and does manipulate numerous things about the world, and is used to great effect. Plant a seed, and in seven years, it will grow. Turn into a kid to access tight entrances adult Link is too big for. Create a paradox and break the time continuum completely by visiting the guy in the windmill. The opportunities are endless, and they’re intriguing every time.

The time mechanic doesn’t just affect the gameplay; it also plays heavily into the story, elevating it to become the one I remember the most fondly. It was the most epic, tragic, powerful tale I had ever seen in any game, and it continues to break me to this day with heart-wrenching moments, deftly balancing bleakness with humor.

Link voyaging off on his own, leaving his childhood friend Saria, and her in turn becoming a Sage, preventing them from ever reliving those days of youthful joy. Link returning to Lon Lon Ranch to find a corrupt Luigi (I forgot his real name) taking over the place and ruining Malon’s life (I ship Link and Malon together. No doubt. In case you were wondering). Link awakening after seven years to a world that has been completely devastated by Ganondorf, and witnessing how his dark influence is twisting everyone he used to know. Zelda’s guilt at the naivity of a child. The list goes on and on, but there is never a dull moment, never a wasted scene. Consequences are felt and demons are faced, all ramping up to the amazing conclusion that would dictate the path the rest of the series took. Some people consider Skyward Sword to the be the pinnacle of storytelling in the series, but it all started with OoT.

Perhaps it didn’t define the 3D platforming adventure like Super Mario 64, but what it did might be even more impressive; it succeeded at making Zelda work in three dimensions, a feat many thought to be impossible. It also raised the bar for the series in storytelling and characterization, and excelled in its masterful score, ingenious dungeon design, and impeccable inventory  integration. Furthermore, innovations like Z-targeting and dynamic sword combat continue to set the franchise apart to this day. Rarely does a game mean so much to so many different people; for these reasons, Ocarina of Time is the best video game of all-time.

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MORE FROM AT THE BUZZER’S TOP 25 LIST

(2) Resident Evil 4

(3) Chrono Trigger

(4) Mass Effect 2

(5) Knights of the Old Republic

(6) Pokemon Red/Blue

(7) Portal

(8) Final Fantasy VI

(9) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

(10) Super Mario 64

(11) Kingdom Hearts II

(12) Persona 4 Golden

(13) Super Mario Bros. 3

(14) Halo

(15) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

(16) Super Smash Bros. Melee

(17) Super Mario Galaxy 2

(18) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

(19) Final Fantasy IX

(20) Star Fox 64

(21) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

(22) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

(23) Fallout 3

(24) StarCraft

(25) Bioshock

Best Games Ever: #50-26

Best Games Ever: #75-51

Best Games Ever: #100-76

Honorable Mentions

Introduction

2 thoughts on “ATB’s Best Games Ever: (1) Ocarina of Time

  1. I can’t say I agree with Mass Effect 2 being above the original, but overall the list is solid.

    I recently completed Ocarina of Time again on my 3DS, and while it doesn’t hold as much weight as it did way back in 1997, the fact that it holds up as well as it does is a testament to the quality of this title.

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