Nintendo’s popular Legend of Zelda franchise has spawned more than a dozen games since its birth more than 20 years ago, but few would argue the series’ crowning moment and most absurdly brilliant incarnation wasn’t the much-heralded 1998 release Ocarina of Time.
It sold almost 8 million copies on the Nintendo 64 worldwide, easily the best-selling Zelda game of all time, and has also consistently been honored as the best video game ever made. But perhaps even more than for its undisputed commercial and critical success, Ocarina of Time is so fondly remembered by gamers today because of the countless memorable moments it has provided them.
We have given our best, most sincere effort to whittle down a list of the ten most emotional and intense moments the innumerable hours we’ve spent with Ocarina of Time over the last decade have had to offer. So purists and old-schoolers, break out those three-pronged Nintendo 64 controllers, and Nintendo newbies, tell mom to pick you up some Wii Shop points; we’re revisiting one of the most timeless and memorable video games in the history of the medium.
10. We enter the emptiness and face…ourselves?
Ah, the Water Temple. This secret submerged sanctuary is home to memories that are the epitome of “bittersweet.” With its labyrinthine passageways that were often impassable without changing water tides, it was perhaps the most maddening challenge in the game.
It also played host to one of Link’s most unsettling tasks yet. After some serious spike-dodging and hookshot-reliant hallway navigation, we found ourselves standing in a vast and empty chamber. Flooded with ankle-deep water, the eerie, seemingly boundless room produced a hollow echo with each step Link took. After exploring the Water Temple’s thin, damp and claustrophobia-inducing passageways, this emptiness provided one of the game’s most striking moments.
We would soon find both doors leaving the massive room were locked. When we turned and approached the first, we were faced with a transparent specter…of ourselves. This “shadow Link” immediately attacked and mirrored almost every move we made. Defeating him was no easy task, but once his evil red eyes finally faded into the shallow water beneath, the room’s true form appeared. Creepy.
09. We watch helplessly as fire consumes Kakariko Village
One of Ocarina of Time’s greatest strengths is the personal attachment it demands from players experiencing it. There is simply no way around it, especially the first time through; we develop a caring relationship with the personality-rich characters and their interactive environments.
So when we found Kakariko Village — a bustling town many of its enthusiastic inhabitants told us would be a “future Hyrule Castle Town” only seven years prior — engulfed in flame, it definitely struck a chord. It was only made more memorable at the sight of our friend Sheik, one of the last surviving Kakariko natives, standing before the fire, staring as the once-burgeoning village burned and subsequently being thrown through the air like a ragdoll by the evil responsible.
This powerful scene also set the stage for the Shadow Temple by planting a strong sense of vengeance for players. We legitimately wanted to deliver some heads for the evil that had occurred.
08. We breach royal grounds and infiltrate Hyrule Castle
Our journey was still in its infantile stages when we were tasked with first finding Zelda, the young princess of the kingdom of Hyrule, and informing her of the sinister schemes afoot. But for a forest child with little more than a fairy and a slingshot, this was much easier said than done.
Our pleas to the royal guards to speak with Princess Zelda were answered with little more than a chuckle, so with an imposing gate between Link and the castle, it would take some strategy to find her. Luckily, a long vine had grown on the steep ledge outside of the castle, allowing us to climb past the gate and onto royal grounds.
This is where the “Zelda Gear Solid” portion of Ocarina of Time began. We had to use some serious stealth to sneak by guards at just the right angle, climb some loose rocks and swim through a moat. All of this, of course, occurred before we’d even stepped foot inside the castle, where we had to navigate through five different sections of the royal courtyard, all the while staying out of the guards’ sight before finally reaching Zelda’s chamber…Link? Link? Liiiiiiiiink??!
07. We make a horseback escape from Lon Lon Ranch
My sister has never been a serious gamer. Aside from expected casual gaming endeavors such as Mario Kart 64 and Super Smash Bros. during those groundbreaking Nintendo 64 years, she shied away from most late Nineties gaming software.
Until she saw Epona, that is.
By chance, she watched me twice outrace the greedy ranchman Ingo. She looked on as he locked the gates before me, keeping both Epona and I trapped inside Lon Lon Ranch. And her jaw dropped as I leaped over the ranch’s outer wall, made a stunning 20-foot-plus freefall onto Hyrule Field and embarked on hours of horseback exploration.
Afterward, I would consistently find her in my gaming room playing Ocarina of Time just to ride through Hyrule Field on Epona. And for the more ambitious Zelda players among us, the acquisition of Epona made exploring Hyrule a far easier and more enjoyable task.
06. Our efforts are in vain; the Great Deku Tree succumbs
At the beginning of Ocarina of Time, there is a sense of uncertainty prevalent in the game’s atmosphere. We had been sought out by a small fairy and an ancient tree to cure the land of a hateful, spreading evil.
And that’s really all we knew as we entered the deep hollows of the Great Deku Tree’s poisoned core. In the first “dungeon” that Ocarina of Time had to offer, our wits and Zelda savvy were tested by giant skulltulas, angry Deku scrubs and several classic puzzles. After we finally fell through the massive spider web in the center of the tree and defeated our first boss, the eldritch arachnid Queen Gohma (two moments that could’ve perhaps been candidates for this list on their own), we emerged from the Great Deku Tree victorious, assuming we’d cured our mentor of his curse.
Only, we find his fate had already been sealed. “Though your valiant efforts to break the curse were successful, I was doomed before you started,” a withering Deku Tree tells us. This first loss sets a somber tone for the onset of our childhood journey; we had lost our only mentor, and our first real friend capable of providing some answers.
05. We empty our wallets at Lake Hylia’s Fishing Pond
As was the case with riding Epona across the immense Hyrule Field, fishing at the balding man’s legendary lakeside Fishing Pond was something players could spend countless hours (and rupees) on between dungeons. All-day fishing for a mere 20 rupees? What a deal!
Surprisingly, there was some depth to Ocarina of Time’s fishing game, and over the years, players have uncovered several fishing secrets ranging from forbidden lures hidden among the rocks, how to steal the fisherman’s hat and even which weather conditions give you the best chances of catching a 30-plus pound Hylian Loach.
Fishing has since become a beloved Zelda tradition, making a more recent appearance in Twilight Princess for Wii. Zelda players with a keen eye might have noticed a familiar face from Ocarina of Time honored in Twilight Princess, too, proving legends never die.
04. On a dark and stormy night, we first encounter evil
After we had collected all three of the sacred Spiritual Stones, defeating three very imposing bosses in the process, we felt a real sense of accomplishment. It seemed we were making a real impact on the evil described to us by the Deku Tree.
But in reality, we hadn’t done much to affect the real threat facing Hyrule. As we traveled back to the castle after collecting the last Spiritual Stone, we were about to meet that evil for the first time.
We reached the draw bridge to find a determined Impa rushing Princess Zelda out of the Castle Town on horseback. There was no time for words; in fact, Zelda could only give Link a frightened glance before desperately tossing him a very powerful gift. We turned from the sight of our royal friend to find Ganondorf mounted upon a terrifying black steed and searching for Zelda. Perhaps a little overconfident given our successes thus far, we drew our sword in the presence of the Gerudo thief; with a blood-curdling laugh, he effortlessly threw us to the ground with a dark magic spell.
That was when we realized everything we’d experienced up to that point was merely child’s play — no pun intended — compared to the challenges that lie ahead and the evil intentions of Ganondorf.
03. We bid farewell to Saria and step onto Hyrule Field
Prior to this point, Link had only known the peaceful Kokiri Forest and his playful Kokiri friends. But after our terrifying experiences inside the Great Deku Tree, and everything we had learned about the impending evil facing Hyrule, the time had come to leave the forest and venture outward.
This also meant Link would have to leave behind Saria, his closest friend, with no real promise of a return.
As emotionally powerful as Link and Saria’s goodbyes on the bridge leading out of Kokiri Forest were, their moment also represented a decisive shift in the mood of Ocarina of Time. Immediately afterward, we stepped beyond the trees of Kokiri Forest — not to mention the safety provided therein — and were floored at our first sight of the massive, sprawling Hyrule Field. This was one of those moments when gamers sit up in their chairs, take a big gulp of their beverage of choice, crack their hands and start to get serious. The draw distance was astonishing, as the sight of Death Mountain looming on the horizon only hinted at what was in store for us. Wow.
02. We awaken seven years later to find a ravaged Hyrule
Our childhood quest for the Spiritual Stones took us all over the northern areas of Hyrule, from Death Mountain to Zora’s Cavern and, of course, Kokiri Forest and Hyrule Field. But most Ocarina of Time players spent just as much time exploring areas not yet vital to Link’s early adventures.
So obviously, we’d become quite familiar with Hyrule by the time Link had been sealed in the Sacred Realm for his seven-year siesta. This experience made our awakening all the more shocking. The panorama of the Temple of Time, while once a beautiful still shot of a peaceful cathedral, had become a dark, desolate scene made even more alarming by the prominent flaming ring encircling Death Mountain.
Things only got worse from there. Gone were the spirited vendors and customers bustling about Hyrule Castle Town, and in their place were droning zombies and cackling ghosts. Further exploration found Zora’s Domain to be a frozen relic, as memories of the elegant Zoras who once swam through its canals seemed to fade away with each falling snowflake. Even Lake Hylia had become a dry puddle littered with monsters. These changes really gave the sense that Hyrule was a changed place, and not only that seven years had actually passed, but that we had a journey before us unlike anything we’d expected.
01. We face the evil Ganon for an epic final confrontation
We had defeated countless monsters and incarnations of evil from the deepest Hyrulian deserts to the furthest corners of the Lost Woods, filled Ganondorf with arrows of light and escaped his ominous palace before it crumbled to the ground.
Then, on a burning plain of rubble and ash, Ganondorf emerged bloody and wounded, but desperate to destroy the green-clad boy hero. With one final expense of energy, Ganondorf reveals his true form: the dark, boar-like lord Ganon.
After perhaps the most epic battle in the history of the series, we dispose of Ganon with successive slashes with the Master Sword to his face, spilling his blood upon the blackened soil below before driving the legendary blade through his forehead for a brutal final blow.
The action pauses and the camera freezes on the image, an epic still that is perhaps the most rewarding moment in Zelda history and the absolute definition of “badass.” A great video game should inspire real emotion during its most epic moments, and as this battle with Ganon came to a stirring conclusion, you would’ve had to have been numb as a gamer not to have felt something special. It was a moment that may never be eclipsed in terms of my gaming experiences, and it was one that, despite its best efforts, Nintendo may forever be chasing.
Agree? Disagree? Share your own list in the comments.