So about let’s say…… July 1, 2014 Egoraptor put out a video as part of his Sequelitis series about A Link to the Past vs Ocarina of Time. If you’re not familiar with this series, I’d go youtube it right away. His one on megaman is probably universally loved. His analyses is always very intelligent and usually funny as well. Even if you end up disagreeing with him these videos tend to make people think about video games in a critical way that many other critics don’t inspire in people, at least that’d be my guess.
However, his A Link to the Past vs Ocarina of Time video is much more controversial then the previous videos he had made. This ended up with a lot of backlash and criticism since one of the aspects of the video was to harshly criticize Ocarina of Time. This game is so well beloved that people rushed to it’s defense since when they played it they obviously liked it. However if you want to continue reading my post, you probably should watch the video because I’m not going to highlight all his criticisms and some of this post may be confusing without earlier interpretation.
So in retrospect looking back at the game Zelda: Ocarina of Time I can easily say this was a positive part of my life growing up. This game is firmly cemented into my nostalgia and thinking about the game. However when I went to replay it more recently I found myself having trouble enjoying myself. I really WANTED to enjoy myself, but most of the game’s mechanics were just frustrating. I realize now that a lot of what made it hard for me to enjoy are the very things Egoraptor pointed out. The huge amounts of unnecessary dialogue, the jumping through hoops to get things done, the waiting design for all the enemies of the game, the uninteresting puzzles of looking around the room, and one he didn’t point out… the horse very easily losing momentum because it got near a wall but didn’t actually touch it.
So, does Egoraptor have a point? Yes. Yes Egoraptor has many good points. So the question is… why did I like this game growing up? Nostalgia is an after affect, it can’t make you like a game while you’re playing it. Maybe you could make an argument my love for Zelda games in general is what made me walk into Ocarina of Time with nostalgia from previous games blinding my sight to the glaring problems of the games but… I’m not going to buy it.
So, there has to be something of worthy content in these games that it got so firmly placed in my mind as a great game. One thing Egoraptor touches on that most critics of Egoraptor must not have noticed he said. “A 3D world with delicious sound and amazing graphics, at the time. Each dungeon and each town unique and has it’s own energy to it. We were all floored! This felt like what gaming was leading up to.” about 4:19 in the video.
This is a MAJOR part of what makes the game so nostalgic. The game was so beautiful created in terms of sound and visuals. The theming also was really well done. Now the music wasn’t terribly done in A Link to the Past but… every dungeon has basically the same theme. Since the graphics were limited, everything just didn’t look as spectacular either. So when you entered a dungeon it did “feel so epic.”
However, I don’t think that covers the entire span of why this game was good.I do think that this is a big part of it, but there were other things that were well done. So let’s talk about Egoraptor’s criticisms of how the storytelling went.
“It’s this kinda of like misdirection of what you should care about ,in Zelda, that really bugs me about Ocarina. Like let’s take it’s story for example. Ocarina’ story provides you with a context for it’s quest. That accomplishing this will save this or change this but it refuses to acknowledge the players innate sense of wonder and drive to quest and fight. Players want to fight bosses, they want to be rewarded for their efforts, they want to enter a dungeon, see what’s inside and succeed against enemies. But you gotta put tat feeling aside, there are more important matters at hand.” Around 19:50 of the video.
“I think the idea that you’re told you’re a hero saving a kingdom is at least somewhat unnecessary. When it’s an order delivered by the game, it becomes a task it’s like a job. The message should be in that as a player, you’re idea of fun ends up making you a hero.” Around 20:40 of the video.
This point makes me cry it’s so spot on. However, let’s dig a little bit here into A Link to the Past. You totally get orders delivered by the game. When the game starts you get an order right away to go save the princess. You’re cut off from so many areas until you finish the story aspect of the game. Then once you get out you’re also given marks on a map of what you’re supposed to do.But there are a couple differences. One the story aspect of A Link to the Past that you have to complete is mostly GAME PLAY oriented. Ocarina has this too, but the text provided just overwhelms the little pieces of game play attached to it. Also with A Link to the Past you get much more open area to explore once the beginning story part is achieved. You’re not quite as restricted as you are in Ocarina. You can ignore a lot of the marks on the map. More importantly there’s just so much you can do without going straight to where they tell you. The amount of optional things that you can do in Ocarina of time is severely limited. It isn’t non-existent, it’s just not as prominent as it was in Link to the Past.
Another bit of digging will show that there is HUGE amounts of dialogue in A Link to the Past that sits around telling you you’re a hero an you have to save princesses and in the end the world. This is so clear in the game. I certainly think this could have and should have been toned down. Egoraptor’s criticisms of Ocarina can easily be applied to A Link to the Past, but he doesn’t and here’s why I sympathize with it. In Ocarina of Time they have CUT SCENES. Yeah there are a couple in A Link to the Past, sure, but because of the nature of Ocarina of Time’s cut scenes they end up taking WAAAAAAAAAAY more time. It’s just so much more glaring in Ocarina of Time to the point where it’s impossible to ignore This is happening, your time is being wasted and you’re being told why what you’re doing is important. A Link to the Past has it but you can generally just ignore what they’re saying and get back to the adventuring, which takes up far more time in the game. Another reason why it’s less problematic is that it kinda builds up the “You’re a hero” aspect of it. It doesn’t start by insisting you’re the hero of time, it starts by just needing you as purely an ends to means. Zelda’s in terrible danger and calls out for help. Then you are told if you get the masters word you’ll have the sword with the power of evil’s bane. It’s not till you reach the darkworld that they really start hammering home that you’re probably the hero. In fact some of the princesses question whether or not you are the hero even when it becomes increasingly obvious you are. So does A Link to the Past have similar problems to Ocarina in terms of the story telling you what to do? Yes. Is it as overtly problematic for the game? Absolutely not.
“I don’t buy the argument that they’re [semantics and dialogue] only they’re only there to enrichen the world with story.” About 21:30 in.
So, does having dialogue, background, and stories enrichen a story? I’d say, yes. However, it needs to be done well and I’d say the majority of Ocarina’s wasn’t done well. To take an example of what I think was done really well was Baldur’s Gate by BIoWare released for the computer in 1998. I do think some of the dialogue could have been toned down, but let’s take a look at the book items. The books that aren’t important all have a similar cover. You know that those books have no monetary value in the game, they have no story value, they don’t boost your characters strengths. The ones that do have a different look to them, you don’t need to go digging through them to find value. However, they bring story and background to the game you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Want to know the history of the sword coast? You CAN read it. You want to know the history of the fateful coin? You CAN read them. They’re all there for you to choose to ignore or use. Even if you did read them, you don’t have to read them again in a replay making them not a hindrance to the flow of the gameplay in a replay. This is even present in the weapons. You get a special weapon, it has a story you CAN read but don’t have to. This is absolutely brilliant. In Ocarina of Time you have to listen to the Deku tree sit around and tell you the history of how their world was created. Sure, this can be interesting… but you HAVE NO CHOICE. If they had taken a more Baldur’s Gate approach to this it would enrichen the story WITHOUT devaluing the gameplay.
Okay, so I’ve taken a lot of time criticizing Ocarina of Time, so time to give it one more thumbs up aspect to the game. So as I mentioned, the dialogue and story was mostly done poorly. There’s way too much and it’s unavoidable and hard to ignore. However, there is one part they did fantastically well that wasn’t done as well in A Link to the Past. So if you’ve played the game you’ll know that you do three dungeons than go to collect up the master sword. You go to grab it and then Ganon explains that you helped him get what he wanted. Then you go through a five minute set of cut scenes explaining that you’re now older so you can use the master sword and save the world yada yada yada. Although Ganon’s little bit of dialogue is not bothersome, the cut scenes are horribly long.However once you leave the temple of time you walk out and EVERYTHING’S DIFFERENT. The second you leave the temple the entire tone of the game has changed. Death mountain looks like something evil and magical has happened to it, the town is completely gone and full of dead creatures. Where the castle was there is now this giant fortress of doom. You got to know this world and now it’s changed completely. You don’t even need the cut scenes to feel this immense curiosity and to feel the weight of what happened to this world you’ve gotten to know as young link. You’re instantly drawn to try and learn about how time has affected every. This is an aspect of storytelling them did well and could have done with the same affect if they left out the majority of the dialogue. This device is teaching you about the game by playing it. A Link to the Past had something similar, where there’s a world that’s ALMOST the same and you want to explore what’s different, however this has no story implications really. It’s interesting, but not as driving motivational wise as Ocarina of TIme. I think the game deserves some major props for this little piece of storytelling material. Does it make up for ALL of the problems? Certainly not in replayablity, but for a first play-through I’d say yes.
So one last minor thing I think I’d mention about the game that Egoratpor didn’t touch on and I don’t think he had to. Speedrunning. I watch A Link to the Past Speedrunner quite often and certainly enjoy what I see, but in terms of the tricks the Ocarina of Time ones are just much more interesting visually. I think this is more of a 3D thing, since the visuals are just generally more interesting, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
I wasn’t going to make this blog, but when I got into the debates in the comments of a very weak response to Egoraptor by HMK I figured I’d weigh in on this.
I will say this though, because of how GREAT the story telling was done Majora’s Mask is definitely my favorite Zelda game.