Ocarina of Time Retells the Zelda Story
Many of the Zelda games before and since Ocarina of Time were explicit sequels. Installments such as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker picked up where their predecessors, often on other Nintendo game consoles, had left off. But Ocarina of Time, like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, started over, retelling the story of Link, and adding new details to the Zelda mythos.
Link, the villainous Ganon, and, naturally, Zelda are all major players in Ocarina of Time. In this version of the Zelda story, Link is a young boy sent on a quest by Princess Zelda to stop Ganondorf, an evil king, from stealing the all-powerful Triforce. After his first clash with Ganondorf, Link awakens seven years in the future, as an adult. Link must then gather from across the land of Hyrule the Seven Sages, who alone have the power to stop Ganondorf, by traveling back and forth through time with his magic ocarina.
Ocarina of Time can be interpreted as a remake or a prequel, since in-game elements don't specify when the game takes place in the series. According to series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, at least, Ocarina of Time is chronologically the first Zelda game. But what is clear is that Ocarina of Time is regarded as seminal to the series, and not just in terms of its story.
The Zelda games for Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Game Boy had all been two-dimensional. But the graphics capabilities of the Nintendo 64 allowed Ocarina of Time's designers to create lush, three-dimensional environments for players to explore. The visual design by which critics were first impressed still holds up, even if the level of graphic detail and effects pales next to more recent games.
Ocarina of Time was also revolutionary in its play style. The game's use of a lock-on targeting system, as well as context-sensitive, programmable buttons on the N64 controller, made the use of multiple weapons in a complex, three-dimensional environment quite intuitive. That technique has continued in the Zelda series, and has become standard for three-dimensional games in general.
Ocarina of Time Defines the Sound of Zelda
As befitting a video game named after a musical instrument, Ocarina of Time features a distinctive score by veteran Nintendo composer Koji Kondo. The distinctive overworld theme Kondo composed for the original Legend of Zelda returns, but for the first time Link can use his ocarina to play new melodies associated with various magical powers and dungeons.
Game critic Zach Whalen calls the use of music in Ocarina "leitmotifs in reverse." Instead of a musical phrase being associated with the entry of a particular character, as in Wagner's operas, in the game, motifs are heard as the player's avatar enters a particular area or dungeon. These leitmotifs would also recur in later Zelda installments, signaling parallel environments. For instance, the haunting Saria's Song, first heard in Ocarina's maze-like Deku Woods, can be heard again in the wooded mazes of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Music, especially the use of musical instruments as playable items, took on a much greater significance in the Zelda games following Ocarina of Time. Ocarina's immediate sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, uses the same system, and The Wind Waker uses melodies to alter not only time, but the winds, which are essential to navigating that game's maritime world.
Thus The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was not important merely as the first 3D Zelda game. It transformed the way fans played all the Zelda games which followed it, and had a powerful influence on other non-Zelda games as well.