The legend goes something like this…

How do you review a game that has literally embodied it’s namesake over the years? Do you review the game by today’s standards or do you factor in the nostalgic qualities? Do you ignore that feeling of wonderment that you first experienced with the game, or do you put it all out of mind?

Fortunately, in the case of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, the pursuit of journalistic integrity is an easy one. Playing through the game again on the Nintendo 3DS is at once an overwhelming indulgence in fanservice and a testament to the very foundation that formed the franchise in the first place. Yes, the hairs on my arm still fluttered with excitement when I first pulled the Master Sword from it’s pedestal, but at the same time, I am very impressed by what a few boosts to the presentation have done to revitalize what was already a gracefully aging game.

I won’t take much time explaining the story here, because I’m sure if you’re reading this review on a site called Nintendo Enthusiast, there’s a good chance you’re more familiar with the tale than the back your hand. To summarize, though, you play as Link, a boy born amongst a group of never-aging children called the Kokiri who, with the aid of Princess Zelda, must embark on a journey to save the kingdom from this really evil dude named Ganon. Yes, it sounds pretty standard, and for all intents and purposes, it is. But rather than indulging in what could have been a very convoluted narrative, Nintendo opted to create a simple framework and let the gameplay and exploration enrich the world on it’s own in a decidedly less in your face, approach to storytelling. You won’t spend a lot of time talking to townspeople or getting to know them (though you’ll meet some pretty entertaining and interesting characters), and conversation is generally very utilitarian throughout the adventure. There are still a plethora of side-quests, but even when Hyrule’s inhabitants ask you to do something for them, dialog is kept to a minimum. Cutscenes are also utilized as seldom as possible, but the few that are there are nicely choreographed and do a nice job of conveying exposition without characters delving into their life stories. It’s a narrative approach that Nintendo has time and again exploited over the years, and I won’t get into the whole “gameplay vs. story,” argument here because in all honesty, I think that if it works in the game, then it really doesn’t matter where the emphasis lies. Suffice it to say, in this context, the sparser approach worked to the game’s advantage back then, and still works perfectly to this day.

With all that said, nothing about the story really changed in this re-release. Presentation is truly where the 3DS outing sets itself apart from all the previous iterations of the game. So firstly, I have to give a shout out to the developers at Grezzo. From an audio perspective, everything was kept largely the same, though it all seems to have been cleaned up a bit for the sake of fidelity. Visually, though, everything in Ocarina of Time 3D feels like the original, just…prettier. If that doesn’t sound like a compliment, then let me put it a different way: stylistically, the game will still send veterans into a nostalgic coma, but Grezzo’s touch-ups are so carefully incorporated that the game now stands toe-to-toe with the best that the 3DS has to offer. A very fine balance has been achieved between the utilization of old assets and reworking said assets into more modern models. Link, for instance, looks exactly how you would imagine he’d look if he weren’t stuck in 1998, and almost every texture in the game has either been painstakingly re-imagined, refurbished, or otherwise repurposed to create a loyal, yet fresh representation of the original game. It’s quite a feat, and I think Grezzo is a safe bet for any future re-releases Nintendo may be considering for the 3DS.

Oh, and I suppose a few words should be said about the actual use of 3D in the game. Well…it’s great too. In fact, prior to the release of Super Mario 3D Land, it was almost certainly the best use of 3D on the system. Obviously the effect here is purely cosmetic; there’s not much way to utilize the technology more meaningfully when the groundwork has already been laid, but it does do a lot for immersion. Things are just that much more…intimate when they seem to be flying toward the screen in a living, breathing 3D environment. Plus, the added depth of field goes a surprisingly long way when judging distance. It also doesn’t hurt that, in my honest opinion, the 3DS seems to handle the effect much more admirably than it’s bigger, more powerful colleagues. That is to say, images actually look 3D. They don’t look like overlaying 2D images as they do in many movies and console games.

From a gameplay perspective, OoT still feels like the defining template for 3D adventure games that it has for the past thirteen or so years. The “lock-on” feature still works like a charm, the slicing-and-dicing is still simple, but fun and accessible, and the exploration will have you running around Hyrule for hours looking for every bauble the game has hidden away in every nook and cranny. Interestingly enough, the touchscreen plays a large role in ensuring that the tricky layout from the original game translates to the 3DS with as few hitches as possible. The bottom screen actually pulls multiple duties here as a real-time map, inventory menu, and modular item button. To supplement the lack of available face buttons, items can be assigned to panels on the bottom screen and used in real-time just as if they were assigned to any other button. It works for the most part, but as far as I’m concerned, “digital” buttons will always lack that nice tactile feel that physical buttons possess. So sure, it’s still a bit difficult to manipulate, say, the ocarina given the N64’s unusual controller, but thanks to the touchscreen, it never really becomes distracting.

The other new feature exclusive to the 3DS comes via the system’s built in gyroscope. When aiming or looking around in first person, moving the system around will move the camera in tandem, presumably to convey the sensation that you’re actually looking around. It works fine, I suppose, but it’s not very conducive to the 3D effect, as it requires you to move the screen in and out of the 3D sweet-spot…that is, unless you’re willing to look completely insane and move your head with the system. I played almost the entire game with the feature turned off, to tell the truth.

Finally, when you’re finished with the original game, you can return to an inverted Hyrule in the unlockable Master Quest. It’s sort of a shame that this mode is not available from the get-go, as it seems a bit arbitrary to have to unlock a new mode if you’ve already played through the original game countless times already in previous iterations (as I’m sure many of us have), but the inclusion is still much appreciated. If you’ve never played through the Master Quest, then that should be reason enough drop the asking price for the game, even if you have no interest in playing through the original quest again. The added difficulty (most enemies do a whole heart of damage in this mode) and rearranged dungeons go a long way in making the game feel fresh and new.

Conclusion

So Ocarina of Time 3D stands tall no matter how you look at it really. Obviously those looking for an excuse to play through the game again will be absolutely delighted by this re-release, but the game has held up so well, and the aesthetic changes have been so expertly incorporated that even those new to the franchise will love exploring the world of Hyrule. I hate to sound like I’m gushing, but The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D effectively revitalizes one of the crowning achievements in video game design. It’s like the Citizen Kane of video gaming, and as such, is still mandatory gaming for those with even the slightest interest in the industry. If anything, Ocarina of Time 3D is just a reassertion of the game’s lofty reputation as one of the greatest games ever created.

To read more about the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and other Nintendo 64 games, see our feature on the 100 Best N64 Games

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