What is there to say about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that hasn’t already been said? It’s a classic, and most people who played it on the Nintendo 64 consider it a masterpiece. In October 2021, Nintendo debuted its Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pass, including a few N64 games and this gem. I remember when it was first released back in 1998 when my brother came home with a brand new Nintendo 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, declaring that I along with my other siblings were not allowed to touch it.
Little did he know whenever he was at work, I would create a new file and play the beginning over and over again until one day he finally let me play it. Being 10-years-old, I was instantly enraptured by the world and spent my entire Christmas break that year playing Zelda. Twenty-three years later, I have played and beaten The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time countless times, but I wanted to check it out on the Switch Online service, because it’s the first time a lot of people might be checking out what is considered to be one of the best games of all time.
Does it still hold up as one of the best Zelda games in the series? It’s time to find out! This also serves as a spoiler alert, generally, as I try to not spoil anything while reviewing, but this is a warning. I will be spoiling one major story beat and a few minor ones such as dungeons and bosses.
The story of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a somber tale with fantastic highs while admittedly some low notes specifically an early one when Ocarina of Time opens up with our hero having a nightmare of a mysterious man on horseback chasing a princess and another woman out of a castle before waking up in a fluster. Link’s story is a silent one as all games in the Zelda franchise are, being given out by NPCs specifically a wise slightly annoying owl when your a child and an important figure when you are an adult.
While the story plays out a little slower when you’re a child, it has to do with the fact that there is a lot of world-building. You will have to sit through the creation of the Triforce a couple times throughout the game, and some are generally slow to get out of the way. NPCs, I’m looking at you, King Zora.
The intensity of the story gradually builds until about one-third of the way through when some big events happen and your Link travels seven years into the future and becomes an adult. Then it’s basically full tilt going forward trying to take Hyrule back from Ganondorf after he tricks Link into opening up the way to the promised land where the Triforce is. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time does an outstanding job of making you revisit locations as an adult and child to see how much Ganondorf’s rule has truly changed the world, while some of these places don’t get spotlighted as much before you set out to see them, specifically Gerudo Valley until much later in the game.
Some sequences in the game can be a little obtuse if you haven’t played it before, such as Saria’s song for Darunia or visiting Zora’s domain before the water temple. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but thankfully Ocarina of Time has a built-in hint system in Navi, the most annoying fairy yelling “Hey! Listen!” far too often, but does prove useful for newer players.
Sometimes Navi gives out clear hints and sometimes more cryptic ones, like when you venture out as an adult for the first time her hint is along the lines of “I wonder if anyone you knew as a child is still around”. It boils down to you having to go to Kokariko Village get the Hookshot then go to the Sacred Forest. While it may seem obtuse now, back in 1999 it was brilliant.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time really rewards exploration, too, rewarding you with one of two things, maybe even both. Either a heart container or a Gold Skulltula, where every ten collected up to fifty will grant you rewards. Once you collect all 100 of the Gold Skulltulas you are rewarded with basically an infinite amount of rupees but the issue that arises with almost all Zelda games is that money never really matters.
The music is one of beauty in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, from the classic Hyrule Field theme to the multiple tunes Link learns on his Ocarina. They all stand out from one another, and still over twenty years later are some of the best songs in the Legend of Zelda series. There is one moment that stands above all, and it always seems to surround the same moment in each game, and that is when Link removes the Master Sword from its pedestal and there is just this big swell and you know it’s time to kick ass.
The graphical fidelity of Ocarina of Time looks more dated now than any of the other Zelda game, even more so then Majora’s Mask, its direct sequel running on the same engine and using the same assets. A lot of the terrain looks rough here, but something Ocarina really knocks out of the park is its environmental storytelling and atmosphere of towns and dungeons. Talking of dungeons, at the end of each dungeon is a boss who gives you a heart piece and either a stone or medallion, and the bosses in Ocarina are each unique in their own way and each require their dungeon’s special item to be used on them to defeat them.
On the emulation of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the Nintendo Switch Online does an okay job at it, with no notable frame dips or input delay. The biggest thing is the fact that I was using the joy-cons to play. I missed those lovely C buttons that were on the Nintendo 64 controller. It just felt a little off having to use the right thumbstick to play the Ocarina. Using items with the thumbstick never felt out of place, but aiming in first person with the hook shot and bow was very finicky. It was almost like the sensitivity in the joystick of the Joycon was turned up to 150% of what it should be, which for the most part was just a slight annoyance. The final thing to say about the emulation is when you are in the menu and you want to change pages, using the bumpers always had either a slight delay or I had to hit them twice. Nothing horrible and game-breaking, but just slight annoyances.
Overall The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time holds up incredibly. It’s a story that stands the test of time, so much so that looking over it’s vaguely lackluster visuals by today’s standards is easy. It takes you on a ride through the ages and has multiple moments that take you by surprise. It was an astoundingly smart decision for Nintendo to have it on their Switch Online + Expansion Pass on day one.
While the emulation is not top-tier and we have seen it better in homebrew methods for PC, I would like to hope Nintendo is looking for solutions because Ocarina of Time is not only something you should absolutely play if you never have before but also something you should play again.
I look forward to future additions that Nintendo makes to the service, and when Majora’s Mask comes around, you can bet you will see me here again singing its praises.
Controls translate very well
Amazing world building
Emulation is a little sub-par