Both the problem with and the advantage of making a trilogy out of Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess is that each game follows the same fundamental formula: Link finds out he’s chosen by the goddesses who created the world of Hyrule to defeat a rising evil with the help of Princess Zelda.
Skyward Sword‘s villain is pretty much evil incarnate, a force that caused the goddess Hylia to send humanity to live in the sky until evil’s defeated. By Ocarina of Time, while this evil has been defeated and the people have been flourishing on the earth for millennia, a manifestation of this evil’s hatred, Ganondorf, is going after the Triforce of Power which holds creation together, but Link and Zelda have been reincarnated to stop him.
While plenty of elements have returned from Skyward Sword, from familiar faces to familiar locations to familiar weapons, there’s an immediate step backwards in both graphics and character development, and that is, of course, because Ocarina was made before Skyward, and it’s the game that both Skyward Sword and all subsequent gaming generations owe themselves to. It was revolutionary.
Granted, many of Ocarina‘s mechanics and story elements were established in pre-N64 Zelda titles, yet Ocarina‘s storytelling still carries a mythic resonance, somehow emphasized by the primitive tech of the N64 and in part due to both its traditional fairy tale archetypes and its legendary reputation as the greatest video game ever made. If A New Hope is the definitive entry of its own trilogy with an expansion of a middle chapter, then Ocarina of Time is the definitive entry of its own “trilogy” with a setup of a first chapter.
Nonetheless, although Ocarina of Time is the video game I want all other video games to remind me of, the adventure of my childhood whose first playthrough took me ten on-and-off years to beat, I think Shadow of the Colossus is better as a grownups’ game than Ocarina of Time is as a children’s game.
I mean, there’s some pretty “What-the-heck-were-the-developers-thinking?!” stuff in Ocarina, not limited to how we have to get a couple important items by vandalizing gravestones, such as when we learn one of the ocarina songs while getting scarred by our could-be first encounter with the horrifying redeads. And who could forget the village well that leads to an underground torture dungeon still inhabited by undead monstrosities?! Why are Hyrule’s freakiest locations hidden in the seemingly idyllic Kakariko Village?! Not to mention, the Great Fairies are as creepily fetishized as their laughs are creepily creepy.
The game also follows the series’s typical dualistic, monistic, and polytheistic spiritualities. While the Triforce is a Holy Trinity of sorts, it has more in common with the Force in how it’s a divine object that can be used by one who wields it. (Attempting to analyze the theology of this more deeply is beyond my ability).
At the very least, Christian imagery and symbolism are exclusively on the heroes’ side this time. When I say that Zelda parallels Christian motifs, I’m not saying that Zelda could be seen as a Christian allegory, but Link does offer a positive example of following the divine’s good will without a fret. …If the goddesses are still even around. (Like I said…)
Despite its misguided elements, there’s a fairly clear distinction between good and evil, where good fights to protect creation and evil fights to distort it. Some argue that Ocarina of Time hasn’t aged well and that nostalgia’s the reason it’s still praised to this day; while nostalgia is still a big appeal for me, I think there’s more value to it than that, that its theme of good and evil is what helps it stand the test of time, especially due to the storybook approach it’s told through.
(Some would also argue that Link walking into people’s houses and stealing their rupees, Hyrule’s crystalline currency, without consequences muddles his role as a hero; that idea is hard for me to take seriously in a video game-logic world where rupees, jars, and patches of grass magically reappear every time we reenter an area and where any replenishable item, from rupees to bombs to arrows to magic jars, can be found in random patches of grass.)
The storybook storytelling is why I still get chills during the plot’s legendary transition to its second act, which not only is the point where stuff gets real but also symbolizes the transition from the joyous world of childhood to the scary world of adulthood. That makes it not just fun for grownups to revisit but also relatable for those who’ve experienced that “Oh my! I’m an adult now!” moment. Nostalgia’s probably the reason the ending chokes me up every time, like I’m watching my childhood ending right before my eyes, but I’ve still fallen in love with the adventure that leads up to it.
Unlike Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time is what a Zelda game should be. Skyward may also have innovative dungeons and colorful characters, but Ocarina actually has a world to explore. Skyward Sword is a good setup story; Ocarina of Time is a great standalone story, despite how its lack of killing, though still defeating, the villain in the end, as refreshing as that is, sets up for a future Zelda game.
Actually, it sets up for two theoretical Zelda games: The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, the latter of which is the one that actually follows Ocarina‘s timeline. As for Ocarina‘s direct sequel, Majora’s Mask… Well, it’s so distinctly original and inconsequential for the overarching mythology that it’s not worth fitting in here.
By the time I finish this trilogy, I’m sure Ocarina is going to be the entry I’ll want to revisit again and again. …As long as I don’t think about the Well level. I mean, the game’s overall mood is joyous, but that makes the Well’s inclusion even more messed up!