There’s been a little bit of a stir lately, with a hot topic being whether or not The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is overrated. Cast your eyes to the right side of your browser, and you’ll even see a poll dedicated to this train of thought.
So, I’ve decided to weigh in with my thoughts on the matter.
And, to put it simply, yes, I do.
Chiefly, I think it’s overrated when people call it the best game ever, and score it as such. It’s spent the past decade at the top of review aggregation charts, with any challengers to the top spot always falling away just short. I’ve not made any secret of my feeling that Super Mario Galaxy would have been a worthy successor, but only by the slightest of margins did Zelda keep its crown.
…and then Grand Theft Auto IV somehow managed to wedge itself right between the two, a fact that befuddles me, since I hear as much bad as I do good about that one.
But, I digress. I think that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a great game… for its time. I’m hard pressed to believe that nothing in over ten years has ever been able to topple it. And it actually leads me to wonder if anything ever will. Will OoT remain on top, always coming out ahead by the slimmest of margins?
When I say Zelda: OoT is overrated, perhaps a more accurate term is “was” overrated; I think that when it was reviewed, maybe people were a bit too heavy with praise, elevating it to some sort of superhuman (for lack of a better term) status that no other game could possibly touch.
I liked Zelda: Ocarina of Time when I first played it, but to be honest, it didn’t keep a hold over me; once the effect of “wow, it’s Zelda! In 3D!” wore off, I actually fell away from playing it. I think I reached somewhere in the Forest Temple as Adult Link.
Personally, I’ve always favored the 2D Zelda experience more; it’s always felt more enriching. And I will be perfectly honest, it wasn’t until Twilight Princess that a 3D Zelda game has given me anything close to the kind of feeling that I would get from playing the 2D games. OoT created a great formula, but in my opinion, Twilight Princess perfected it.
Lucas’s greatest grievance with the game seemed to be the way the map is vast, yet segmented, and largely empty all the same. And as it happens, this is an area which I feel has been improved greatly since that outing.
Overall, the map felt more involved, as I was able to fight numerous enemies across the expanse of the fields of Hyrule, and even look for secret caves and areas, just like in the 2D titles.
Lucas also complained that Ocarina of Time’s maps consisted of segmented sub-areas, but that has always been the case– even in A Link to the Past, which he cites. The difference is that instead of scrolling from one section of overworld map to the next, the 3D world fades in and out more, as it needs to be loaded from the disc. Same idea, same result, different implementation. “Pure, unrestricted freedom” is little more than a myth, as there has always been a limitation of one kind or another. And Twilight seems to do it better, by arrangement of the map.
Much like Metroid, a lot of it depends on who you’ve beaten and what tools you’ve gathered; you’ll not set foot in A Link to the Past’s village of thieves without first obtaining the Hookshot, for example.
This part is purely personal, but I had a much more difficult time navigating dungeons in Ocarina of Time than I did Twilight Princess, which has helped do more to warm the latter to me. In addition, I greatly favor the horseback combat in Twilight over Ocarina; using a bow and arrow is good, but it pales in comparison to jousting and riding up alongside enemies, striking them down with your sword.
Even Ocarina’s designer, Eiji Aonuma, who has also overseen every major Zelda title since, admits that the game isn’t perfect, using the unwieldiness of the Iron Boots as an example.
In the end, I’m of the opinion that Ocarina is not the perfect god-given gift to gaming that some make it out to be; I believe it is a great game which innovated in its time and helped pave the way for some future titles, but in itself still bears room for improvement. And I believe that it should be treated as one great step in a journey, not as though it were the final step, with all others after pointless.
Aonuma has been quoted as saying that he won’t stop making Zelda games until he tops Ocarina. However, I’ve begun to wonder if those who he is trying to make the games for will ever let him. Perhaps some people have formed such an attachment to the game that they don’t want anything better, for fear of tarnishing the place it holds in their mind and soul.
These are the things I think of when I say that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is overrated; I believe that a better game can be made.
Update: An addendum to this post has been made here.