So, I finally got around to completing The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, and once again I’ve shown how dated I am when it comes to the medium I love. Don’t get me wrong, I never had an aversion to playing it, but I didn’t have the right console when it hit the shelves and couldn’t scrape together the pocket money (or the parental pity) to get it.
So I had to wait until the 3DS got released, and then wait another few years just to be on the safe side. You don’t want to rush this sort of thing, after all. Actually, it might just have been because I had to undergo the severe bone readjustment surgery that’s necessary to use a 3DS for more than half an hour, at least without your hands feeling like they’re turning into shapes that would give Picasso a migraine.
But I find Ocarina Of Time an interesting point of discussion. Obviously it’s a well-made game and a fundamental piece of video game history, but it’s not perfect, not by a long shot. The targeting system is rubbish, a few of the puzzles are just completely illogical and the forced stealth sections in Hyrule Castle and the Thieves’ Hideout made me want to drive nails into my eyes, and myself into a river.
It’s probably safe to put this down to teething problems. Ocarina Of Time didn’t have much to learn from and it certainly got a lot of things right. I particularly liked the Spirit Temple and the character you meet there, and the graphical style in general was an endearing mix of cartoon exaggeration, Japanese manga-aesthetics and polygonal crafting, not to mention a nicely organic bag of side-quests to perform at your leisure.
That said, there’s one aspect that really bugs me, one that many games still adopt today and can be seen in nearly all forms of story-telling to some degree or another: The dependence on mystical mcguffins in place of anything the reader can actually understand.
There are many games that do this, but Ocarina Of Time was one of the biggest offenders I’ve seen in a long time, filling its plot with confusing ideas and concepts in the hope that the glamour of them would distract from how utterly baffling they were.
To start with you’ve got three goddesses who create Hyrule, representing power, wisdom and courage. Then they piss off again, but leave behind the Triforce for no explained reason, which is a sort of supremely powerful artefact which embodies those three qualities, but also grants wishes if you’re lucky or possibly it doesn’t if you’re not. Except that they didn’t leave it in Hyrule, they dumped it in the Sacred Realm, so we’re not sure how everybody knows about it, but the monarchy are using it as their coat-of-arms just to confuse everyone. Then there’s three grand fairies for some reason, who are colour-coded in the same way as the goddesses but never mention any link to them, so I guess that’s just to confuse us again, and the Master Sword shows up as a sort of pointy time machine and we’re not sure how it got here but just run with it, and you’re the chosen hero, though it never says who you’re chosen by and why somebody else can’t have a go at sorting stuff out, and the Ocarina Of Time is a magic doodad that’s been passed down the generations of the Royal family for some unexplained purpose, but you can only use it when you’ve collected three gems from several temples, and one of them is given to you by the Deku Tree who happens to be a god but obviously isn’t, because we saw the goddesses before and he looks like something else, and then he comes back as a new tree when he dies except that he hasn’t died, because now he’s a new thing entirely but forget all that, and there are six sages in the Sacred Realm but also in our world, all of whom have some power that we’re not sure about, and they each give you a medallion that’s super awesome though does nothing, but fuck it, you needed them anyway to proceed, and there’s really a secret seventh sage who leads them and creates arrows out of light which you needed all along but wasn’t even mentioned up until the very end, and the villain is the embodiment of evil called Ganondorf and it turns out that he can’t take the whole Triforce because it splits up as a sort of burglar alarm function but with a consolation prize, so he’s only got a third of it and the other two pieces have become a couple of really rubbish tattoos on the back of your hand that don’t do much, and he’s a sore loser who turns into a pig with a shorter name when you beat him and then he goes to some dark realm that was presumably just hanging around waiting to be useful and HOLY CHRIST, WHEN DOES THIS END?
You know, I would’ve put a spoiler warning at the beginning of all that, but I’m not sure I needed to, the whole thing’s completely impenetrable. The moment-to-moment character dynamics in the game are fine and enjoyable in a kids’-cartoon kind of way, but it’s broken up with this confusing mess of mythos and I found myself tuning out whenever these ideas were mentioned, what with Zelda babbling on about nothing particularly interesting for the thirtieth time that day. Mind you, I have to say that Link represented my feelings perfectly as he just stared at her vacantly, like a lobotomy patient in a dentist’s waiting room.
Actually, that’s worth mentioning as a side note – if you’re going to make Link a silent protagonist that’s all fine and dandy, but there’s a limit to how much you can emotionally involve him in the story if you do. Spoiler warning here, I suppose, but if you didn’t guess how this tale ended you might just have the brain of a whelk rattling in your skull. At the end of the game the last thing we see is Zelda and Link united, and Zelda’s face breaks into a happy smile to see her friend return. But Link? He keeps that same face that he’s had the whole game – that of a person who is so filled with drugs that he might just make it to the Sacred Realm under his own steam. I’ve seen a floor lamp display more feeling, and it was fairly weird to see that face, in what was obviously meant to be a romantic scene. Zelda would’ve gotten more reciprocated love out of Epona and a less statuesque face from a goron.
But that’s a digression – the point is that Ocarina Of Time and many other games see the mystic and the inexplicable as a means to progress the story, when as a matter of fact they don’t help, they only overcomplicate and seem overly convenient. The game could have dropped the goddesses, the medallions, the light arrows, the great fairies, the Ocarina itself and it wouldn’t have hurt it, only have made it more streamlined. There’s a huge cutscene at the beginning explaining just what the Triforce is. It lasts for ages and I just ended up more confused than I had before. Maybe the intent was world-building, but there’s a difference between essential lore and needless extremities.
I suspect that the writers were trying to make one of these mcguffins the core of the story, the epicentre around which everything spins, in the same way that Borderlands was centred around the mystical Vault, KOTOR orbited round the Star Forge and Fallout: New Vegas was built on the secret of the Platinum Chip. But when you have dozens of objects all being given equal attention, they just start pulling the story to pieces as they each try to become the true centre of gravity.
Think about it. Out of all these ill-defined objects, which one is the proper one, the real heart of the game? Is it the Triforce, ostensibly the reward and that which can save the kingdom? Not really, no. You never see it properly formed and it’s only referred to by other people. Is it the Ocarina after which the story is named? Nope, that only serves to open up the Temple Of Time, and after that point it’s basically forgotten about and interchangeable with the ocarina you had before. Or what about the Master Sword, the object that allows you to travel between time zones? Possibly, but you only have it for half the game and there’s a better weapon you can get in a side-quest. Its not even the tool you need to beat the boss, that’s the light arrows we mentioned earlier.
This lack of focus really does damage the story and detracts from the truly good bits. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s still something that reduces the game and could’ve been done a lot better. Trying to fit all those whatsits into one story is like trying to fit Tingle into that green jumpsuit, and ends up about as pretty.