Each Link in the Chain is a Journey An Analysis of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
by Seth Sivak
The full moon slowly drops towards the horizon as dawn approaches and a young man in green rides fearlessly across the open plain. Soft music is heard; it feels old and important, ancient even. This world is large, the forest pulsates with life, and the tall mountains sit triumphantly high while a cool river flows between like a comforting blanket. But not all is right with this land. In a deep dungeon two witches hold a young desert woman under a spell. High in the lava filled crater, a Shiekah waits for the Hero of Time. As the dark clouds descend over Hyrule, it would appear a boy’s destiny is on the horizon.
The Legend of Zelda franchise has been a phenomenon of gamer culture since 1986 when the original game (The Legend of Zelda) was released for the Famicom Disc System and shortly thereafter for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). During the twenty year history of the game franchise it has sold over 52 million copies, making it one of the most successful groups of games ever created. These games have been released on over a dozen different platforms, with several of the games being popular enough to warrant multiple re-releases. Many gamers believe The Legend of Zelda to be the quintessential action-adventure title; some believe it to be the game that really defined the genre.
The origins of The Legend of Zelda games are quite fascinating and worth mentioning. The inspiration for The Legend of Zelda is rooted deep in the childhood adventures of Shigeru Miyamoto in the wilderness surrounding his home in Kyoto, Japan. One experience that made a deep impact on the young Miyamoto was when he discovered a cave during a trek through the countryside. It took Miyamoto several return trips to the cave before he found the courage to actually enter it. When he finally entered the cave, he explored the catacombs with only a lantern. This experience has been connected to the many caves and dungeons that the main character; Link (most often an adolescent boy), finds throughout the Zelda series. Miyamoto has explained that The Legend of Zelda games were created as an attempt to bring a “miniature garden” to life for the players.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT) is a very complex and deep game. The depth of the game cannot be stressed enough, and it is seen in everything from the gameplay mechanics to the story and world. In order to really analyze it thoroughly it is only appropriate to look at the game from two separate perspectives. The first is from a mechanics standpoint, examining the actual gameplay that occurs during the game. Due to the revolutionary nature of OoT and the infant state of 3D games at the time of release, there are many gameplay elements that have resonated in the industry to this day. To accomplish this, I will breakdown the interactions that the player encounters during the game with a focus on the skill and mastery that is created through simple, repeatable game mechanics. The discussion will also cover the evolution of this gameplay and the way the player is compelled and engaged for the entire game. The simple, repeatable game mechanics coupled with subtly ramping difficulty and complexity creates gameplay chains.
A gameplay chain is any set of interlocking mechanics that must be done together in order to achieve a goal. Each of these chains is created with basic gameplay mechanics as the links. The chains can also be strung together as fractals creating larger chains that can span entire dungeons or even the entire game. The idea of gameplay chains is somewhat similar to Ian Bogost’s theory of Unit Operations, but on a much smaller level. Each basic mechanic is used as a building block and seamlessly connects to the next mechanic creating a complex gameplay structure that is far more interesting than the sum of the individual links. The feeling of depth and immersion while playing through these gameplay chains helps to initiate a state of flow for the player. Flow (as discussed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) is the feeling of total immersion in an activity. The nature of gameplay chains is that the mechanics never break the immersion of the player and the deeper the player goes into the chain the more immersed they become in the activity. One of the major reasons that gameplay chains work so well in OoT is due to how well each mechanic is wrapped into the story. The world of Hyrule and the myth of Link are reinforced through the mechanics of the game, making the actual gameplay interactions more meaningful. The story of OoT carries the player through a beautifully crafted myth that allows the player to become the Hero and fulfill Link’s destiny.
It is almost impossible to consider a game like OoT as anything but a Hero’s Journey. When considering the path that the player takes through the game, all of the challenges and characters Link faces - it fits very well into the mythic structure presented by Joseph Campbell (and later distilled even further by Christopher Vogler). This simple three act structure is well known in literature and film; many examples include Star Wars, The Lion King and even The Matrix. Therefore, when discussing the experience of playing OoT, I will be using a similar framework. The focus of the analysis will be on the adventure of a player that actually takes part in the Hero’s Journey and the impact not only on story, but also the relationship between the Hero and the player. The relationship that the player has with the Hero in video games is very different from the relationship between Hero and audience in traditional forms of media like books or movies. In video games, the player must discover the Hero, learn to be the Hero, actually become the Hero, fulfill the Hero’s destiny, and then leave the Hero. The story must support these transitions for the player and also tell a compelling narrative. OoT does this exceptionally well and is able to balance both the story of Link and the crafted narrative that player creates for themselves.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the fifth game released in the franchise. The story of OoT takes place before all other games in the series, essentially covering the origins of Link and Princess Zelda. It was released in the United States in November of 1998 on the Nintendo 64 game console and despite the game’s delayed release it was still the best selling game of the year. Since the initial release, the game has sold nearly eight million copies including multiple ports and rereleases. The game has won dozens of awards and has been honored as the greatest game of all time more than once. The metacritic score for the original release is 99%, which makes it the highest rated game ever made.
I have played through the full game twice; the first playthrough was roughly nine years before the second. During the first playthrough, I used the Official Strategy Guide from Brady Games to complete all of the content and the main story line. For the second playthrough I used a walkthrough from the Internet and information from gameFAQs and other websites to ensure I did not miss any part of the game. Rather than completing every aspect of the game for the second playthrough, I focused solely on the main story line. For the sake of this review, I played some parts multiple times to try different strategies and explore the different available options. This took roughly 30 hours, but with side quests and collectible/unlockable content, there is considerably more gameplay available.
As a warning there will be many spoilers in the following chapter.
Analysis of Game Mechanics
The Legend of Zelda games have long been classified as action-adventure games. Quite often action-adventure is considered a metagenre that encompasses survival horror, stealth games and others. Genre usually relates directly to the type of gameplay or core gameplay of the video game. In OoT and most other Zelda titles, there is no single type of core gameplay. Instead there are several core gameplay mechanics that all come together in the world, making it almost impossible to truly classify under a particular standard subgenre. One of the reasons I feel OoT is so highly reviewed and considered one of the best games ever made is because it manages to wrap several gameplay mechanics all together inside a cohesive story that gives the player new challenges in a variety of different areas. When thinking about these mechanics, the one point that seems to make this compelling is the simplicity of each element of gameplay grappled with complex and varying usage.
Each mechanic plays an integral role in the story and in progression of the game, but the beauty is in how the mechanics are simple to learn but require a true mastery from the player in order to complete the game. In OoT every mechanic is used more than once, but each time the mechanic is used it is given greater depth and challenge. This is what I consider to be Chain Gameplay (or a gameplay chain), as explained earlier. This can been seen in everything from the dungeon design to the boss battles, and the multi-layered approach to designing these gameplay sequences is only successful because of the strong building blocks used to create them.
OoT was released during the first generation of 3D games. Many of the mechanics and user interface concepts were quickly copied and have become a standard for action-adventure games across the industry. When breaking down the core gameplay mechanics in OoT, they fall into four main categories and each of those has several sub-categories. Navigation in the land of Hyrule is a large part of the game and is one of the most important mechanics. The second main mechanic found in OoT is most apparent in the dungeons of the game, and this is Puzzle Solving. Puzzles come in a variety of different types but also in greatly differing levels of difficulty and complexity. Hyrule is a dangerous place with dozens of different enemies that Link must face during his quest and each of these enemies represents a new type of challenge within the Combat mechanic. The final mechanic found throughout the entire game is Collection. From the very start of the game and mixed into every single side quest is the search for items to collect. All of these different game mechanics come together to challenge the player but also to reinforce the world and overall experience.
— Navigation —
The land of Hyrule is vast and unknown to the player. Exploring the depth of this world is one of the strongest themes found within the game, and one of the most fascinating aspects for the player. However, even exploration is a challenge in Hyrule. I believe that any challenge in the game that simply requires movement through space falls under this category. OoT uses a variety of different mechanics to navigate space, often adding complexity to the challenge in the form of platforming, stealth, and chase.
Controls and User Interface
While the controls for a game are not usually considered a mechanic, in OoT it plays a vital role in navigation of the world. The User Interface is also important to consider due to the complexity of the interactions available to the player. The user interface is very clear; in the top left corner sit three hearts with the furthest heart from the end beating softly. This is Link’s health. In the bottom left corner sits a green gem and the number “00” which is the counter for the rupees Link can carry (used as currency). In the lower right hand corner is a map with an arrow showing Link’s location. The top right of the screen shows two large buttons and three smaller buttons. The two large buttons represent the “A” and “B” buttons on the controller, while the smaller yellow buttons are for the “C” buttons (on a standard Nintendo 64 controller).
The choice of using the actual buttons for the user interface is quite interesting considering how hard many current games struggle to remove any and all heads-up-display style elements. The controls are very simple and elegant, making sense for the user interface to reflect exactly how the player must interact with the world. This elegance is never more apparent than with small things like the current available action being shown directly on top of the action button (“A” button).
The Multipurpose Action Button is mapped to the “A” button on the controller. The real genius behind this mechanic is the way it seamlessly allows the player to accomplish dozens of different tasks. Link is given the ability to freely explore the world and to enable the different interactions the action button will change based on what the player needs to do. The interface changes with each new activity labeling what Link can do. Link responds quite often by changing his animation so the player knows that something new can be done. These actions change relative to how the player is moving in the world. When approaching a large block, Link has the ability to both push the block and to also climb on top of it. Instead of using separate buttons for the different interactions, it is simply based on the direction the player is pushing the movement joystick. By labeling the available action, it is always clear what this button will do, allowing seamless transitions from pushing a block to climbing on top of it.
Another key component to the user interface is Navi the Fairy. Navi accompanies Link throughout the entire game and as a character, she provides much needed information about everything from progression on the adventure to strategies for defeating enemies. The top “C” button is reserved for Navi, and when she has information for the player, it blinks telling the player to stop and listen to her. Her role does not stop there, however, because she will also fly to certain locations in space to show where Link needs to perform a task. During normal exploration of the world she will disappear into Link’s clothes, but at any point when she is needed she will reappear and fly to a location or character that requires an interaction.
This becomes even more important during combat where she is used as a reticle for targeting and also for conversing with non-player characters (NPCs) at a distance. When this happens she will turn green, showing the player that there is something that can be done at this point in the game. The true brilliance of this particular mechanic is the feeling of having a guide that shows the player what can be done before it actually happens, making it very clear what the results will be from a certain action. The fact that she is also a meaningful character within the story just reinforces how finely crafted she is as a mechanic and also how important it is to trust, and listen to her.
The final component of the controls and user interface is the Camera. Movement in the world is done all relative to the camera, which creates an interesting and often frustrating relationship between the camera and the player. During most of the combat and navigation of the game the camera is fixed in a fluid third person view somewhat behind Link. However, when Link is inside some small areas and engaged in certain mechanics like stealth the camera is fixed to a different angle. The player also has the ability to move into a first person camera mode to get a better view of the entire world as Link actually sees it. This camera-navigation relationship has a relatively steep learning curve and is sometimes aggravating. However, once the player truly understands the relationship between the controls and the camera it creates fluid navigation with a cinematic quality.
Traversing the land of Hyrule involves many challenges. There are walls that must be climbed, high ledges that must be hurdled and small bridges that require careful navigation. All of these examples relate to the idea of platforming, which is focused on moving Link through the world. Platforming is really a special form of spacial navigation that often requires timing and skill to pass through certain areas. In OoT, the most interesting part of this mechanic is that there is no jump button. From the early days of side scrolling platform games like Super Mario Brothers, the jump button has always been a staple in games. OoT instead uses a variety of different movement techniques to control jumping. When walking towards the edge of a platform Link will jump in the direction he was facing when he reaches the edge. If the player is moving slowly Link will not jump, but will instead fall from the cliff edge and hang, giving the player a chance to climb back up. The difference between these two actions makes it clear that if the player really wants to jump Link must be going quickly towards the edge, so if the player instead is simply trying to walk along the edge and makes a mistake there is no punishment for that.
Even from the start of the game, platforming is a key component. For example, the player is given a reward for leaping successfully between number of islands in a small pond. However, as the game progresses the mechanic starts to become much more complex. The use of timing and movement of the actual platforms adds a sense of urgency to the mechanic, and with the use of items like the Hookshot and equipment like the Levitation Boots, this mechanic continues to evolve until the end of the game.
In the advanced dungeons, platforming is often partnered with another mechanic or several other mechanics to create a larger puzzle. This builds off of the idea of chain gameplay mentioned earlier. In Ganondorf’s castle (Ganondorf is the antagonist in OoT), the fortress of Link’s ultimate nemesis, a certain wing of the dungeon requires Link to shoot a target that materializes a set of platforms. These platforms must be crossed in a certain amount of time, while fighting floating enemies between them. At a safe area about halfway through the room, Link must again hit the target to re-materialize the platforms and move to a final area that requires the Lens of Truth to see the path to the door. The mixing of platforming, combat and item puzzles all together forces the player to constantly switch gears but when finished really instills in the player a sense of achievement and mastery. All of these links come together to create a chain of gameplay throughout the entire room.
There are several parts of the game where Link must sneak from room to room, avoiding guards to reach a goal. The first use of this mechanic is when Link attempts to enter the outer courtyard to meet with Princess Zelda. The guards tell Link he is not allowed in, so in order to navigate into the inner courtyard where Zelda is waiting, Link must avoid all of the guard and find an alternate route into the castle. Once inside the castle the camera changes allowing the player to not only see Link but to also see the guards. Each of the rooms are small and the player is given a chance to watch the guard and understand how best to navigate the room. Once the player understands this, the maneuver requires careful timing to pull off correctly. During this first instance of the mechanic, the difficulty quickly ramps up with Link needing to cross the paths of several guards in a single room. One of the key characteristics of this mechanic that makes it compelling is the proximity to danger and the constant feeling of vulnerability. Link is totally powerless against the guards and if caught the entire sequence must be played over again. This means that as soon as the sequence has started there is no going back and there are only slight breaks given with small safe zones. Due to the high intensity of these sections of the game they are mostly kept very short involving only a handful of rooms to cross.
The pinnacle of this mechanic comes when Adult Link is captured by the Gerudos in the Gerudo Fortress. Link must navigate the fortress without being seen by the numerous guards, but the mechanic is given more depth because it is nearly impossible to simply avoid the guards. The player now has the ability to shoot the guards with an arrow, but the arrow does not kill the guards and instead simply knocks them out momentarily. Several times in the fortress Link must actually cross the paths of the guards instead of simply navigating around them. This specific sequence involves using stealth along with an item and a certain level of combat skill to hit the target. The actual section is made even more urgent because Link only has a set amount of time to get across the area before the guard wakes up. This is yet another example of chain gameplay, and in this case much of the chain is made up of the same mechanic used in different environments. If there is a single mistake, the player will be caught by the guards and must restart from the beginning.
The final navigation mechanic in OoT is something I simply like to refer to as chase. This is seen several times throughout the game and is a simple mechanic. The goal is for the player to follow an NPC as the NPC races through a maze or area very quickly. The best example of this mechanic is under the graveyard where adult Link must chase the ghost of Dampe the Gravekeeper. This particular section of gameplay is compelling and interesting for many reasons. When Dampe begins the chase he stays just at the edge of the player’s view and moves at relatively the same speed as Link. The catacombs under the graveyard are built like a maze with plenty of obstacles, but Dampe also adds to the challenge by tossing little fireballs in front of Link and if they are not avoided they will knock Link to the ground and slow him down.
One of the interesting parts of this gameplay fragment (a gameplay fragment is a section of gameplay containing at least one gameplay chain) is that it is one of the few times where there is no music. In OoT the musical score is often always playing in a constant loop with new songs that relate to all the various areas of the world. However, the only sound other than ambiance heard during this chase is a constant beeping tone that signifies the passage of time. The other significant part of this chase is that at the very start a clock actually appears as part of the user interface. The use of this beeping tone and the addition of the clock to the user interface immediately communicates to the player the idea behind this mechanic. Chase is simply a race; the integration into the story is sometimes awkward, but that will be discussed later.
— Puzzles —
Puzzles are arguably the most important part of any action-adventure game. It would not be far fetched to consider most of the mechanics in OoT as being puzzle based. Throughout the game, and especially in dungeons, there are numerous different examples of puzzles that the player must solve. These puzzles are often based on a central idea and the four main ideas most apparent in OoT are memory, time, space and items. It is important to point out that these ideas are just building blocks and more complex puzzles often include more than one of these ideas. Some even include all four with multiple uses of the same idea within the same puzzle.
The underlying idea of memory-based puzzles (or information-based puzzles) is that the player must take information given at a certain point, remember it and then recall it at the correct time. These puzzles are generally straightforward and are often used in OoT. One example of this particular type of puzzle is Inside The Great Deku Tree dungeon, just after young Link defeats a Deku Scrub. This Deku Scrub surrenders to Link and offers to tell him a secret if Link will let him go. He simply says that when Link encounters his brothers he should remember “2 3 1”. This code is then used against the brothers when they are found later on in the dungeon. The three brothers are lined up in a row and Link must defeat them in the order that the code is given. These riddle-based puzzles are often given in dialogue by NPCs to help Link find secrets and also understand where he should go next.
Time is used in many different ways in OoT. One of the most interesting and powerful is when it is used as a base component in a puzzle. There are no puzzles in OoT that use time as the only underlying mechanic, but almost every other type of puzzle is made more intricate with addition of the timing mechanic. There are many examples of this even Inside the Great Deku Tree, where a button is pressed raising the platforms that Link must jump across in only a short amount of time. This combination of platforming and a time based puzzle instantly multiplies the engagement of the experience. The sense of danger while platforming is never more intense than when there is pressure to complete the task under a certain amount of time. The pairing of these two mechanics together also creates multiple levels of failure; the player can miss a jump or run out of time. The simple addition of time into the platforming section easily multiplies the level of engagement for the experience. Time is paired with many other mechanics throughout the game.
Another example is when a Deku Stick is used to carry fire from one torch to the next. Instead of making the fire persist on the stick indefinitely, the player must use it before it burns away the entire stick. This puzzle pieces together time-based and item-based mechanics to create a simple puzzle that has a benefit when mastered. If Link is unable to complete the puzzle in the set amount of time the Deku Stick will burn away and is lost forever. This situation means that there is a high risk to the puzzle and with failure comes the loss of an item. However, if mastered properly the player can complete the puzzle and put the Deku Stick away before it is burned, saving it in the inventory.
For all of these puzzles, there is rarely a clock that appears on the screen to show the player the time remaining to complete the puzzle. Typically all of this information is transferred to the player through the use of auditory feedback. The sound effect that is used for this mechanic is a ticking clock that changes pace as time starts to run out. This immediately changes the intensity of the experience while providing information and adds urgency, making the puzzle more engaging.
Similar to navigation-based gameplay, there are puzzles that involve the movement of an object in space. The difference between these two mechanics is that navigation is focused on moving Link through the world, where space-based puzzles focus on moving another object to a certain location in the world. This commonly involves large blocks that must be pushed or pulled to certain locations, like up against a ledge allowing Link to use the block as a step to reach the ledge. These puzzles rapidly scale in complexity and scope as the dungeons progressively become more difficult. Some of the dungeons can actually be considered meta-spacial puzzles where the dungeon itself stands as a challenge for the player.
The first example of this comes in Jabu-Jabu’s Belly where Link comes across the young Princess Ruto who has lost her way in the stomach of the giant fish. Princess Ruto refuses the help of Link, and in order to rescue her from the dungeon the player must carry her to different locations throughout the dungeon. While traversing the rooms in the dungeon the player must use her to hold down buttons and to pass through other puzzles. Later on in the dungeon, the player must actually toss her onto ledges and through holes in the floor to progress with her. This particular example is very interesting because while carrying the princess the player cannot fight any enemies. In order to make this mechanic really work well, Link does not find the princess until more than halfway through the dungeon, so that the player is familiar with many of the rooms inside the dungeon and also the variety of enemies that can be encountered. This is just one example of a puzzle that spans an entire dungeon. These large-scale puzzles are seen a few more times in OoT.
The most compelling space-based puzzle is found in the Water Temple. The temple itself starts out totally submerged in water, but as the player passes through the dungeon the level of the water must be controlled and manipulated to give access to all the rooms in the dungeon. Through the control of the water level the player is basically attempting to solve the entire dungeon, and because it is necessary to collect keys in order to enter the doors to the rooms, the challenge is modified with several layers of complexity. The dungeon is crafted in such a way that the water level must be changed often as the progression through the different rooms of the dungeon is not linear. The depth of this particular dungeon really shows when looking at the entire dungeon as a puzzle, then each room as a puzzle, and then the puzzles inside of the rooms. This is an example of fractal gameplay where the same gameplay chain (or mechanic) is used multiple times to create a larger chain. Fractal gameplay is also apparent in many other mechanics, the best example being boss battles.
A key to progressing in OoT is using artifacts found in the world at the correct time to solve puzzles. There are three main types of artifacts that can be acquired in OoT and each has unique characteristics and specific uses within the game. Items are considered to be anything that can be set to one of the “C” buttons and used by the player during gameplay. Equipment is anything that Link wears and that has a more passive affect on the gameplay. Equipment has a separate screen in the menu than the items. The final artifacts that can be acquired are songs that must be played on the Ocarina.
Items found throughout the game are commonly used as part of puzzles or in combat. The use of these items in both instances is essentially the same challenge. The engaging part of item-based puzzles is knowing the strategy of when to use the correct item to solve the task. There are almost two dozen different items available to the player; however, depending on if Link is a child or adult, some items are unavailable at times. These puzzles are often combined with a timing component as was mentioned earlier with the Deku Stick and fire puzzle. However, there are more complex examples.
In the Gerudo Training Complex, there is a room that spins around a set number of targets, which the player must hit. This is made even more challenging by the fact that all of the targets must be hit within a certain amount of time of each other and that there is a set time limit on the entire puzzle itself. This is another example of fractal gameplay where a number of mechanics all sit under a larger one. It is also necessary for the player to know what item to use to actually hit the targets, and there is also a combat-related related element to correctly hit the moving targets. The puzzles in OoT are often multi-layered, especially towards the end of the game, creating unique experiences with the same simple set of mechanics.
Equipment is never directly used by the player in the same sense as items. Instead equipment represents a passive part of the game; the equipment is everything that Link actually wears. There are four different types of equipment available to the player and each one changes a different part of the gameplay. During the game the player can acquire three different swords: one as a child and two as an adult. The Kokiri Sword found when Link is a child works the same way as the Master’s Sword that Link is given as an adult. The Biggoron Sword is slightly different because it does double the damage of the Master’s Sword but while holding it, Link cannot use a shield. For the most part, the use of the sword in the game is nothing revolutionary; instead, the swords hold a special meaning within the world and this will be discussed in the experience section of this chapter.
The second set of equipment is an array of three different shields. Each shield plays a unique role in the game. The Deku Shield is the first one acquired by the player as a child and is the only one that Link can properly use. However, before Dodongo’s Cavern under Death Mountain, the second dungeon, Link must get the Hyrulian Shield because the Deku Shield can be destroyed by fire.
The Hyrulian Shield, when equipped by young Link, is interesting because it only stays on his back and when using it for protection Link cannot move and instead stays planted. This creates a new challenge while in combat, and the player must compensate for the use of the shield because it comes at a much higher cost. When Link becomes an adult he can use the Hyrulian Shield much like the Deku Shield as a child. While blocking, he is free to move and circle the enemy. The final shield is the Mirror Shield, found very close to the end of the game. This piece of equipment is used for both solving puzzles, by reflecting light onto targets, and for defeating the boss of the Spirit Temple, Twinrova. Each of these shields play an important role in combat due to the constant use of blocking.
Throughout the game Link must find and use three different tunics. These are used primarily as a way to tell if the player has spoken to the correct NPC or completed the correct puzzles before entering either the Fire Temple or Water Temple. While these tunics simply allow Link to survive extreme heat and breathe underwater the player is still able to explore the areas near and inside the temples before finding them. This is elegantly done, considering the same progression check could be accomplished by simply unlocking the temple doors. Instead Link must change clothes (with matching colors to the theme of the dungeon as well) to take on the new challenges.
Boots are the final type of item that the player must uncover. These are used primarily for solving puzzles, or for added depth when navigating the world. The Iron Boots are utilized to weigh the player down and provide control on icy surfaces or in turbulent rivers. As with almost every piece of equipment there is also a downside; while wearing these boots Link moves very slowly and cannot jump. The Hoover Boots have almost the opposite effect of the Iron Boots. These boots allow Link to take several steps on thin air. The cost for using these boots is that Link will slide and have very reduced control when compared to the Kokiri boots. The boots are all related directly to the navigation mechanic.
Link is given an Ocarina just after leaving the Kokiri Forest. While traveling the land of Hyrule, the player is taught up to twelve songs. At anytime, the player can choose to play the Ocarina and must use the “A” and “C” buttons to actually create the tune. The puzzles created for the songs are just like other item-based puzzles, but the challenge is knowing which song to play at what time. The other key use of the songs is to do something similar to Equipment, where it is used to check the progression of the player. Many side quests, like getting the horse Epona, are dependent upon the player being taught a song and then playing it at the correct time. Once Link reaches adulthood, there are also a number of songs that allow the player to teleport to all of the different temples in Hyrule.
— Combat —
Combat in OoT is a huge part of the gameplay, and I personally feel it is the best designed mechanic in the game. When analyzing combat, it is clear there are several different types of encounters, but these relate more to the enemy than to the mechanic itself. The enemies come in three different flavors; the first is the common enemies found throughout the world and in the dungeons. The second type of enemy is a Miniboss. These are considered to be any enemy that has multiple stages, or requires the use of an item as well as a sword to be defeated. The final enemy type is the dungeon Boss. These enemies have long battles that usually include multiple stages. Typically all of the boss fights require the use of an item found in the dungeon as part of the attack strategy. Also, due to the revolutionary nature of this mechanic, there is an analysis of Z-targeting, one of the most innovative changes to player control since the dawn of 3D games.
Z-Targeting is what makes the combat in OoT work. That is a big claim, but this is mostly because navigating the 3D world in OoT is very unique. All movement is relative to the camera, which creates an interesting cinematic feel. While the usual camera is set behind Link, many of the exploration and indoor parts of the game have the camera being fixed. This strange camera and third-person view can make it very hard to see what Link is actually facing, which is deadly in combat. Since Link’s main weapon is a sword it is vital that he be close to the enemy, but the rear-chase camera makes it very hard to see if Link is in range. This is where the Z-targeting is needed most.
This mechanic can be used at anytime by holding down the Z-Button (or the L-Trigger on a Gamecube controller), and is an important part of navigation. The player knows right away that they have entered this mode because black bars show up on the top and bottom of the screen. This is essential, because the player’s controls have changed. Link will now strafe from side to side and will not turn while in this mode. This becomes important for getting the view of things around corners and other difficult camera maneuvers. The Z-Targeting mode change fixes the camera in place directly behind Link when Link is not locked on to a target, allowing for a wide field of view and the ability to strafe. When the player uses Z-Targeting to lock on to an enemy or NPC the controls and camera change again.
Before the player actually initiates the lock-on, Navi the Fairy will fly over to a target to let the player know what the target will be. Once locked on, the black bars appear at the top and bottom of the screen to give feedback to the player explaining that the controls have changed again. Z-Targeting makes the target the focus of everything. This means that Link’s movement is all relative to the target, so strafing allows Link to circle the target, moving forward will bring him closer to the target, even if the target is moving. In OoT, the challenge and fun of combat is derived from understanding the tricks to defeating all the different enemies. For most enemies, the trick is watching how the enemy moves and timing the attack correctly, and Z-Targeting makes this the only challenge instead of also making sure Link is facing the right direction and aiming correctly. The impact of this game mechanic can be seen in many other games such as Kingdom Hearts, Psychonauts and more.
At the very first encounter with an enemy, Navi’s button blinks to let the player know that she has some important information. Whenever Link faces a new type of enemy she will provide a strategy or weakness for defeating it. Often times she does not provide the information in a straightforward way, but rather in the form of a riddle. If at any time the player forgets the advice that Navi had provided, they can simply press her button and she will repeat it.
The combat is crafted in such a way that it feels like the player is discovering more of the world with each new enemy Link faces. Link only has one attack button, but he has several different types of attacks using the sword. The combat itself is essentially a puzzle. Every enemy has a certain trick, tactic, weapon or other strategy that makes them incredibly easy to defeat. The fun and interesting part of this mechanic is knowing what the solution to that puzzle is and then pulling it off. The most common strategy used with the enemies in OoT is watching the enemy and waiting for it to let it’s guard down. This sort of timing puzzle creates a sense of urgency and danger. With a shield up the player is safe, but the moment the player drops it to attack Link becomes vulnerable. This makes combat feel meaningful due to the high risk and reward along with the feeling of strategy when the player knows the correct way to defeat the enemy.
This semi-puzzle aspect of combat is fun for many reasons. When first facing a new enemy it is quite exciting to understand how to defeat it, much like beating a puzzle for the first time. However, in later instances with the same enemy, the combat is still compelling because while the strategy is known the player must execute it correctly each time. This is where a feeling of mastery comes into play as the player’s skills continue to grow. Much like the evolution of other mechanics there are several enemies in OoT that become more difficult as the game progresses.
A good example of this evolution is the bat-like Keese. When Link first faces them they are trivial to defeat as they can only hurt Link if they come in contact with him. Later on in the game the Keese become more threatening by becoming lit by fire, where if they hit the player they will burn for extra damage. This also means that the player must first block the initial attack of the Fiery Keese so that it becomes extinguished so as not to risk catching fire while attacking it. This example of the gameplay evolution is one of the reasons OoT can have such depth but not overwhelm the player. By starting with very basic enemies the player can master them, but most enemies evolve throughout the game creating a new challenge for the player. This evolution is another example of a gameplay chain when the enemy is considered a mechanic, the specific steps to defeat the enemy will gradually become longer and more challenging but the core strategy will stay the same.
In several of the dungeons there are encounters that are too complex to be considered common enemy combat. These enemies are not at the end of the dungeon, therefore they are not considered to be the true boss. There are several examples of this both when Link is a child, and when he reaches adulthood. One of the coolest encounters is with the Flare Dancer in the Fire Temple. These enemies skate around a small room and derive their power from a flame-covered raised platform. To defeat the Flare Dancer the player must first remove him from his flame armor using several different items, and then chase him down and hit him with a sword. This fight involves multiple steps, and mastering each one is essential to winning the battle. These more complex enemies are a good contrast to the simpler ones found throughout the world.
At the end of every dungeon in OoT there is a boss that must be defeated. These enemies are always larger than Link in size and they take much longer to defeat than all the other enemies. This is essentially the final test of the dungeon, where the player must apply everything that she has learned. Navi will sometimes be able to offer advice and support for the player, but for the most part she can only give slight hints about the correct strategy. The battles all have multiple phases, where the player must successfully repeat a set of actions. This almost always includes the use of items found within the dungeon to stun the boss, and while the boss is vulnerable the player can then use the sword to actually deal damage.
The boss battles are some of the most memorable encounters in the game. While in the dungeon leading up to the boss, the player has a chance to try out and understand all the possible uses for the items that Link acquires. The boss is the final test. From the start, there is a puzzle to figuring out the strategy to defeat the boss. Once the strategy is discovered, it becomes a challenge to actually pull it off several times. This is another example of chain gameplay, where many different mechanics come together.
Volvagia, the boss of the Fire Temple, is a great example of a gameplay chain found within a larger puzzle. Navi can offer no advice about how to defeat the Subterranean Lava Dragon, so discovering the strategy is the first link in the chain. Once this is solved, the player must watch the way Volvagia moves, finding the holes that he emerges from and avoiding a head swipe attack. Once this is established the player must uncover how to hurt the boss, the only way being through the use of the Megaton Hammer. At this point Volvagia is stunned by a hammer hit, and can be damaged with the Master’s Sword or the Biggoron Sword. After this link in the chain, Volvagia will retreat into the ground and emerge from a new hole to circle the player dropping rocks and breathing fire. The player must successfully recreate this chain several more times to actually defeat Volvagia. The elements involved with avoiding the Boss’s attacks while successfully landing hurtful blows is an excellent example of a gameplay change.
— Collection —
Collection and adventure go hand in hand. In OoT, one of the most fun parts of the game is exploring the world and finding new artifacts and items along the way. One of the more interesting design choices within the inventory system is showing where each item will go. This means that the player is compelled to go in search of these items simply because she knows that they can be found. The inventory is also useful in showing progression through the game, since so much of the game depends on finding and using new items. Discovering these items is always interesting and meaningful, and each new item unlocks a new
The very first objective in OoT introduces the player to the economy. Throughout the entire game Hyrule is littered with rupees, which are used as currency at every shop. In order to meet with The Great Deku Tree, the player must collect 40 rupees and buy a Deku Shield from the shop in the Kokiri Village. Finding rupees is not difficult as they are nearly everywhere; hidden in jugs, plants and even enemies. This creates an interesting dynamic between the player and environment where cutting down every plant and destroying every jug will reward the player. This also encourages exploration, since there are higher value rupees hidden in certain locations. There is no real challenge to collecting rupees, and the economic system is very simple, but it is the rewards given for exploration that are powerful.
Throughout the game there are several different side items and quests that can be completed. These most often give the player simple rewards and slight pieces of added story. There is no direct influence on the main storyline; it is just part of the depth of the world of Hyrule. There are several examples, but one that is a personal favorite is the chicken wrangling puzzle found in the Kakariko Village. Here Link is enlisted to grab a number of chickens lost throughout the village and return them. This is not required, but it is merely an entertaining way to learn to use chickens to fall slowly to the ground. Without doing the quest it is likely the player may never learn that a jump from a ledge while holding a chicken will increase the distance of that jump.
Golden Skulltulas are a special type of side item. These hidden treasures can be found all over Hyrule and are the highest form of collection. They have very little impact on the game itself, only giving very basic rewards for finding them. However, they stand for the game mechanic that most completion-oriented gamers really care about. The fact that there are so many, and they are hidden everywhere creates a challenge for the player to seek out all of them. This sort of collection and exploration is very appealing to some players, and again adds to the depth of the world and overall gameplay challenges.
Game Experience Analysis
OoT is a story of courage and sacrifice that puts the player in a fantasy world. As stated earlier it follows the mythic structure very closely, with some exceptions that must be made due to the non-traditional medium of storytelling that video games provide. The real difference between a hero’s journey in a movie or book and the gamer’s journey in OoT takes place in Act 1 or the early parts of the story. In traditional media it is necessary for the audience to be introduced to the hero, but in games the player must not only be introduced to the hero, but she must become the hero. This takes time, and if the player is rushed and is not confident with the skills of the hero, it can lead to frustration and difficulty for the remainder of the game. A comparison of the outlines of the Writer’s Journey, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the Player’s Journey in Ocarina of Time is below.
The table shows the clear correlation between the hero’s journey in several forms and the experience that the player receives in OoT. The titles of the different sections of the story for the player’s journey all relate to the Hero. This is the major distinction between a gamer’s journey and a hero’s journey: the player must become the Hero. This creates a complicated narrative, since it is the narrative that is crafted by the player through the in-game hero. Therefore the player must make a transition into becoming the Hero, then fulfill the Hero’s destiny and then make a transition out of being the Hero. If this is broken at any point in the game it can severely damage the overall experience.
There are two key aspects of OoT that make this complicated fantasy possible and help craft the deep narrative that it has been praised for. The linchpin in the entire story and game is the player’s investment in the Hero. As shown in the above table this kinship is vital. OoT attempts to forge this bond in as many ways possible, using art, animation, sound, story and dialog to help reinforce the connection the player feels to Link. Another powerful part of the game is the land of Hyrule. The attention to detail and the care taken to make the setting for the story feel vibrant and alive is hugely successful in immersing the player and allowing them to really fill the role of Link. These two points help to ease the player’s transition into becoming the Hero and also make it possible for the player to not only want to stay in the role of the Hero, but to also be compelled to fulfill the Hero’s destiny.
Becoming the Hero
The game starts with Link as a child, and it is very metaphorical in many ways. At this point the player is also childlike in knowledge of the hero, the world, and the skills necessary to complete the game. The entire time that Link is a child is essentially a long and very story-driven tutorial. This is important because before the player can really be tested there is much that must be learned. Due to the depth of gameplay in OoT, it takes a large portion of the game to introduce the player to all of the mechanics and to allow enough time for the player to become familiar with them. This does not mean that new mechanics are not still discovered after this phase of the game. It simply means the majority of them have already been taught.
— Introduction to the Hero —
The introduction to the world and to Link is done through an initial cut scene. The cut scene gives a brief tour of the actual space of the Kokiri village, which is the initial ordinary world for the player. Then the Hero is revealed and the player is right away given some insight into the character of the Hero. This is the first step to create agency in the player. From the start it is obvious that Link is special, since he is the only Kokiri to not have a fairy.
The purpose of the Introduction to the Hero and World is to give the player a chance to see the environment, setting and character that he or she will be stepping into. This needs to be very clear and is kept separate from all gameplay mechanics. Since this is done with a cut scene and the user interface is hidden, it is a very intimate moment for the player and Hero. Unlike traditional storytelling where an audience simply needs to be introduced to the Hero and World, a player must be introduced but also compelled to understand and become the Hero and live in the World. This is also the point where the player is introduced to the most important NPC in the game, Navi the Fairy.
— Call to Adventure —
The Call to Adventure is a vital part of any story because it creates motivation for the Hero to go on the adventure. If there is no motivation or if it seems meaningless the story will often fall short because it is difficult to believe. Navi the Fairy plays many roles in OoT but her most important is that of the Herald. The Herald’s purpose is to provide the Hero with the Call to Adventure. In literature it most often comes in the form of a challenge. The Call to Adventure in OoT is Navi simply telling the player that the Great Deku Tree has summoned him and that it is important to go speak with him as soon as possible. This is not the last time that Navi provides direction and information for the player.
Periodically throughout the game, when the player is lost or has been idling in an area for too long, Navi will cut in and provide some insight. This is done for several reasons, with the first simply being a way to direct the player through the story. The Herald follows the player during the entire experience, issuing new information and challenges quite often. Since the game experience is long, and could not comfortably be completed in one sitting, it is important to remind the player where they are in the story and what the next objective is. Navi is not intrusive, either; the player almost always has the option to listen to her, or can simply ignore her. From the start of the story she is given considerable significance because of her relationship to the Great Deku Tree as well as becoming Link’s fairy since he was not born with one. This contributes to the player’s willingness to listen to her and makes sense that she would be able to have all of this information.
— Discovering the Hero —
After the introduction to the Hero (which sets the stage and gives the player a chance to connect with the setting of the game) and the Call to Adventure, (which gives the player motivation to explore the new world and play the game) the player is finally given a chance to take control of the Hero. This is another important step for the player in becoming the Hero and is found in nearly every game in the form of a tutorial. Some games choose to do bland and meaningless tutorials; OoT is not one of those games. The entire first area, the Kokiri Village, was created just to give the player a chance to explore and learn in an open environment that truly feels alive.
After stepping out of the Link’s hut and into the village there is numerous NPCs around that provide information about how to navigate the world, use the controls and even initiate dialog. The first of these NPCs is Saria, who immediately shows her affection for Link which helps to reinforce the player’s interest in Link. The area is setup in such a way that the player can practice moving, climbing and jumping. Rewards are placed in some of the areas to promote practice of these techniques so that the player can be comfortable with the most important skill in the game: navigation. It is not clear where the player must go to find the Great Deku Tree, but there are signs around the village that give direction. If the player explores long enough, Navi will chime in to remind the player that they need to go see the Great Deku Tree. Following the signs that point to the eastern most part of the village there is a path blocked by an angry looking Kokiri.
A common archetype in the Hero’s Journey is the Threshold Guardian. The purpose of these characters is to test the Hero and to also provide quests that may help the Hero progress through the adventure. Mido is the first such character that is found in OoT, and he is quite literally a threshold guardian because he stands in front of the path to the Great Deku Tree. After talking with Mido it is clear he is jealous of Link’s relationship with Saria and he will not let Link pass until he is properly armed with a sword and shield.
The player is not given any more specifics about the artifacts that must be found. This is the first test for the player, because while the village offered plenty of tutorials and an open place to practice and learn, there is no way of making sure the player has acquired any of the needed skills. This helps to reinforce the player-hero connection by making the player take ownership over items in the world. After exploring more of the village, there is a mysterious hole that Link can crawl through. In this secret area there is a large rock rolling around the corridors of a small maze. This is the point where the player is tested to see how well she can navigate the world. By using the camera based navigation and also Z-Targeting, the player can make it to a treasure chest at the far side of the maze.
Approaching the chest it is obvious that there is something of value inside it, and the chest itself is considerably larger than Link is. When the player opens the chest a small cut scene starts that shows Link nearly falling into the chest in order to grab the treasure. Once he does, he presents the Kokiri Sword to the screen (essentially to the player) and its’ description appears. It is clear that the sword is a meaningful artifact to the Kokiri, since Link is only borrowing it. By acquiring the sword the player feels strong ownership over it, and since it is such an important part of the game and story it helps reinforce the player-hero bond. With the sword in hand it is now time to find the shield.
Unlike the Kokiri Sword, a shield is not easily found by simply exploring the village. The only way to obtain the Deku Shield is to buy it from the store inside one of the huts. By forcing the player to buy the shield it, means that she must understand the way the economy works in the game along with collecting the required amount of rupees. It is important for the player to understand that rupees come from essentially everywhere and that collecting them is a driving force to explore the environment. With the sword and shield in hand it is time to return to Mido.
Mido allows passage to see the Great Deku Tree but not after complaining more about Link. Adventuring down this path is the first time the player experiences combat with an enemy. Now that the player has been introduced and tested in navigation, this acts as the introduction to combat. This pedagogic structure, the subtle progression in teaching the player, eases the transition the player must make into the Hero. OoT reinforces and helps the player throughout, and this care taken for the player means that despite the depth of the game it should never be overwhelming. Even though the player is directed through the experience, there are many points during the story where the player is given freedom and choice. The first comes upon meeting the Great Deku Tree.
— Refusal of the Call —
The Great Deku Tree is pleased that Navi has brought Link to it. During the encounter Link is told of his destiny and that the nightmares he has been having is due to the rising evil. The Great Deku Tree has been cursed and Link must go break this curse using his wisdom and courage. After hearing all of this, the player is given a choice: “Dost thou have courage enough to undertake this task?” Other than the fact that this is foreshadowing to Link’s piece of the Triforce and role in the story, it is a chance for the player to decide if she is ready. This also means the Deku Tree could be considered a Threshold Guardian because of the challenge and test that it provides for the player.
If the player decides that she is not ready, the Deku Tree simply says to return to the village and practice the skills of combat and then return when ready. This choice allows the player to say she is not ready without feeling defeated. It is important that the player be ready for this task not only as part of the story but to also ensure that the player will not be frustrated. Confidence is important in bridging the gap between player and Hero and before the trials really begin the player must know for herself that she is ready for them.
If the player is ready, the Great Deku Tree allows Link to enter. Navi is instructed to aid Link during this quest and the Great Deku Tree reinforces that Link should listen to her words of wisdom. By accepting that the player is ready, this initiates the first test that the player must undertake as the Hero. Many of the mechanics have been explained and the player has admitted that she is comfortable being the Hero. It is now time to make sure that is true, and this is done through the first dungeon in the game: Inside The Great Deku Tree.
— Testing the Hero —
So far the player has been introduced to many of the key mechanics that will be used in the game. These tutorials have occurred in a safe place where there was little risk to Link. Inside The Great Deku Tree the player is not only introduced to dungeon mechanics like the compass and dungeon map, but also to a new type of environment. Dungeons are broken down into a series of rooms with each room usually requiring the completion of a puzzle or task to pass through. This new type of space is challenging to the player, but Navi is available for guidance each time a new mechanic or enemy is encountered. Early on in the dungeon, the first important item is found in a chest.
The slingshot is the first ranged attack item that is available to the player. It is used to solve numerous puzzles in the dungeon and it is also the key to defeating the dungeon boss. This follows the trend seen with other mechanics of introduction: use and then testing. This sets the precedence for all the other dungeons to come. This is another important step for the player on the road to becoming the Hero, particularly with respect to becoming comfortable with the Hero’s environment. Once the boss is defeated Link is returned outside the Great Deku Tree.
Even though Link was successful in cleansing the curse, the Great Deku Tree was too damaged to survive. Before dying, the Great Deku Tree explains that a desert man in black came in search of The Deku Tree’s spiritual stone and when he did not get the stone he placed the curse. As a final mission the Great Deku Tree sends Link to find Princess Zelda in Hyrule Castle. This is a push to adventure often seen in stories and movies. Since Link no longer has much reason to stay in the village he is essentially forced to head into the unknown. Fortunately, Navi will accompany him and other mentors will be found along the way.
— Meeting with the Mentors —
Upon leaving the village Link is stopped on the bridge leading out of the Kokiri forest by Saria. She says that she knows he must leave because Link is different. She asks, “But that’s OK, because we’ll be friends forever… won’t we?” This moment in the game was of particular significance to me because it was the first real time I felt upset that Link is a silent hero. He does not respond at all to Saria, much like he never responds to any dialog in the game. This was an important choice for the developers when creating Link’s character. In most instances where I felt that Link should respond, I would respond in my head as if he had said it. This is the point where I was totally invested in Link’s character and in the world. This is a strong emotional moment for Link; despite the fact that he never speaks, he shows emotion through his expression and animation. This subtle directed emotion helps the player feel for Link and often themselves. Saria is important to Link not only as far as the story and his quest is concerned, but also on an emotional level.
Before leaving Saria gives Link the Fairy Ocarina. This cut scene shows considerable emotion on Link’s face as well as displaying how magical this artifact truly is. Saria is a mentor to Link throughout the story, but in this particular interaction she gives link some spiritual aid, which will be key to Link’s success on his adventure. Her emotional ties to Link just reinforce the player’s trust in her words and how important the Ocarina will be in the coming trials.
Stepping out of the forest and into the Hyrule Field brings Link down a narrow corridor. Before the end of this passage, Link is stopped by an Owl. The Owl provides information on using the map and on traversing the open world. He is seen several times throughout the game and always offers Link direct instructions on how to use certain menus or other parts of the game. This particular form of mentor is somewhat less emotionally important, but still serves an important purpose. The player will need instructions, and rather than breaking out of the narrative this character is used to provide such aid. By not breaking this “fourth wall” too dramatically it allows the player to stay in character as the Hero while still getting the requisite information needed to complete the quest.
After entering Hyrule Castle and sneaking into the inner courtyard, Link finally meets Princess Zelda. At first she is surprised that anyone could get passed the guards, but when she notices Navi she believes that Link is the boy she has had dreams about. She asked if Link has the Spiritual Stone of the Forest and admits that in her dream the dark clouds covering Hyrule were pierced by a ray of light from the forest, which turned into a young boy holding the stone. She explains that this is a prophecy and tells the legend of the Sacred Realm. At the end of this tale she tells Link that the dark clouds in her dream in fact symbolize a man. Link is offered a chance to view him through the window as he meets with the King.
This is the first introduction to The Shadow. Ganondorf is the ultimate enemy in OoT and for the first time the player is reassured that the man in Link’s nightmares is in fact this man. Also, it gives the player a clear view of the monster that killed the Great Deku Tree and is threatening to destroy all of Hyrule. Zelda provides much of this information in her role as a mentor. She also provides Link with spiritual aid in the form of a letter that can be used to show Link’s connection to the royal family. After this conversation ends, Zelda tells Link that her attendant will show him out of the castle.
Impa is Zelda’s bodyguard and a Shiekah. She professes that everything Zelda has said is true and that Link is heading out on a “big, new adventure”. Her role in Zelda’s dream was to teach the boy from the forest a melody that is passed down from generation to generation in the royal family. This song is what Impa played for the Princess as a lullaby and there is mysterious power in the notes. Impa is another mentor to the player because of the spiritual aid she gives in the form of the first song Link learns on the Ocarina. Zelda’s Lullaby is used often in the game whenever the Triforce symbol is seen as part of a puzzle. This connection to the royal family enables Link access to many locations throughout Hyrule. At the end of this meeting with the mentors, Link is sent to find the remaining Spiritual Stones and the Ocarina of Time.
— Mastering the Hero —
Link is now set to head into the open world to recover the remaining Spiritual Stones. This quest will bring him to Death Mountain where he will meet the rock eating Goron people and to the domain of the Zora people where he must venture into the belly of a giant fish. Along the way, the player will encounter many new challenges and allies. While the player is never forced to go anywhere and is free to explore most of Hyrule, the story does not progress until Link has recovered both of the Spiritual Stones. The first is the Goron’s Ruby and Link must travel under Death Mountain to recover it.
The leader of the Goron people is named Darunia. When Link first meets Darunia he is upset because his people are starving to death. The cavern where these edible rocks are found has been overrun by Dodongos and sealed by Ganondorf when Darunia refused to give him the Spiritual Stone. Link eventually befriends Darunia after traveling into the Lost Woods and finding Saria again, where she teaches the player Saria’s song. Saria’s song can be played at anytime to contact Saria, again showing her true archetype as a mentor to the player. When Darunia hears Saria’s song, he becomes delighted and says that Link may have the Goron’s Ruby if he rids the cavern of all Dodongo’s. Darunia is a Threshold Guardian but it is obvious he is not on the side of The Shadow. This neutral Threshold Guardian is seen often in games as most quest givers require the Hero to complete a task before they receive a reward.
This is a contrast to most Threshold Guardians in traditional media and is an interesting twist on how these characters help to progress the story. The character of Darunia would be totally different if he had lost the Goron’s Ruby and the boss in Dodongo’s Cavern had stolen it. This would mean that Darunia would not be able to reward Link with the ruby himself, but instead could only instruct Link on where to find it. By having Darunia give the ruby to Link as payment for completing a trial it reinforces their relationship because it shows that Link has earned Darunia’s friendship and it also allows the player to feel closer to Darunia since he is doing this task for him and not just for the ruby. After the dungeon is completed, Darunia rewards Link with the ruby and proclaims that they are now brothers. With the ruby now obtained, it is time to venture into the Zora’s domain to find Zora’s Sapphire.
The leader of the Zora’s is known as King Zora. His daughter, Princess Ruto, is the character that is in possession of the Spiritual Stone. Ruto has been trapped in the belly of Lord Jabu-Jabu and Link must travel inside the fish’s stomach to find her and the sapphire. Much like Darunia, Princess Ruto is a threshold guardian. She will also have a close relationship with Link, as she explains that the Spiritual Stone was her mother’s and that she was instructed to only give it to the man she intended on marrying. Once Link recovers the Princess from Lord Jabu-Jabu she willingly gives Link the sapphire, but now considers them to be engaged. While this does not really impact gameplay, it is interesting to consider how it changes the emotions of the player.
So far in the story there have been several love interests introduced to Link. Saria, Princess Zelda, Malon and Princess Ruto could all easily be seen as possible mates for Link. As part of the adventure, Link must essentially agree to marry Ruto, who is not even human, to continue on. This is resolved later but as far as romantic love is concerned this is one of the few times where it is brought up to the player, and the player is not even given a choice. Now with all three Spiritual Stones it is time for Link to return to the Temple of Time fulfill his destiny.
— Crossing the Threshold —
Just before entering the Hyrule Castle Town, Link is stopped short of the drawbridge. Here his nightmare plays out before his eyes, with Zelda being taken away on horseback by Impa and Ganondorf trying to follow. As Zelda passes by she tosses an object into the moat surrounding the castle town. Ganondorf stops to scoff at Link and then continues on his way after Zelda. When the cut scene has ended the player can retrieve the Ocarina of Time from the moat. This is the last remaining item needed to open the door into the Temple of Time.
Upon entering the temple, Link places the Spiritual Stones on a pedestal in front of the door and by playing the Song of Time on the Ocarina of Time he is able to open the door. Inside sits the Master Sword in a stone pedestal that is in the middle of a giant Triforce. The player can navigate Link to the sword and when he retrieves it another cut scene begins. As Link removes the Master Sword, a shadow appears; Ganondorf has followed Link into the Temple and now has access to the Sacred Realm and the Triforce. Ganondorf tells Link that he owes this great fortune to him since Link was able to get all the keys to the Temple of Time. The screen fades to black with Ganondorf heard laughing.
Being the Hero
Now that the player has had a chance to discover, learn, and become the Hero, it is time to fulfill the Hero’s Destiny. Everything leading up to this point has essentially been a tutorial. It is clever that the player goes through this with Link as a child, because it represents the level of skill the player may have. With Link as a child, the player may feel that any mistakes made are simply the result of inexperience. This will not last, the time of learning in the safety of the ordinary world has ended. The following trials for the player do include some new mechanics and techniques, but the bulk of the skills have already been mastered. Link is still within the Temple of Time and is about to learn his true destiny.
— Hero Reborn —
As the picture comes back into focus, someone is calling Link the “Chosen One” and telling him to wake up (much like Navi did at the start of the game). The man speaking is Rauru, an Ancient Sage that was partly responsible for building the Temple of Time to protect the Sacred Realm. He reveals that Link is standing in the Temple of Light, the last remaining stronghold against Ganondorf’s forces of evil. He tells Link to look at himself; Link has aged seven years because when he first pulled the Master Sword from the pedestal, he was not yet ready to be The Hero of Time. In the years that have passed Hyrule has been taken over by Ganondorf and is now inhabited by monsters. Rauru finally tells Link that the other Sages must be found and that they will add their power to Link’s so that he can defeat Ganondorf. This is considered another Call to Adventure that sends Link on his way to his destiny.
At this point, Link has been reborn as a man. As such, the player will soon realize almost all of the items that were acquired as a child can no longer be used. Many of the mechanics that relate to those items will be used when new, more appropriate items have been found. This transition is important to the player because now there is no more childish play or fooling around. The world is in need of the Hero of Time and all of the skill of the player will be required to save it.
On the way out of the Temple of Time, Link is stopped by Shiek. This character tells the legend of the temples that is passed down by all Shiekah and it explains where each of the Sages may be found in the five temples in Hyrule. Shiek continues to tell Link that he must seek out these temples and awaken each Sage, starting with a certain girl he may know that dwells in the Forest Temple.
Shiek is a Shapeshifter in nearly every sense of the archetype. The character is totally asexual, making it difficult to ascertain what sex it truly is. As the last remaining Shiekah, it stands in a uniquely neutral place in the current balance of power. The player has no choice but to trust and listen to Shiek but it is never clear despite the constant help that it supplies to the player where it’s true loyalty lies. This enigma is an interesting addition to the story, and becomes vitally important in the end.
— Minor Trials —
The world of Hyrule has been turned into an utter wasteland. Evil monsters inhabit the world even during day light and traveling anywhere has become increasingly dangerous. As Shiek instructed, Link must go now to each of the temples located throughout the land of Hyrule. After defeating each of the dungeon bosses, the Sages will awaken and add their power to Link’s. Each of these minor trials include more than just the dungeons, as there are numerous other locations that must be explored and several other items that are required to bring all the Sages together.
At each of the dungeons Shiek reappears, aiding Link with a new song that allows Link to transport back to that dungeon at anytime. All of the sages are characters that are met in the adventure before they are awoken. Saria is the Sage from the Forest Temple, Darunia is from the Fire Temple and Princess Ruto is from the Water Temple. All of these characters have very strong ties to Link, but Ruto’s particular relationship with Link is very important. Upon freeing Ruto the player is reminded that Link had promised to marry her when she gave him the Zora’s Sapphire used to open the Temple of Time. Here Ruto explains that since she is a Sage she cannot marry Link, therefore lifting their vow of matrimony. Again, even though Link is no longer betrothed to Ruto there is no more discussion of Link’s love interest in the story.
The remaining two Sages have a somewhat weaker connection to Link: Impa the Shiekah was acts as Zelda’s protector, and Nabooru. Nabooru is a high-ranking Gerudo thief and Ganondorf’s second in command. Unlike the other Gerudo, she possesses free will and shows disdain towards Ganondorf by choosing to leave on her own pursuit of treasure. Link will eventually save her from Ganondorf’s surrogate mothers, the witches Koume and Kotake.
The Minor Trials give the player a chance to truly be the Hero. The challenges that the Hero faces are the players, and through the skill and abilities of the player, the Hero is able to overcome them. The connection between Hero and player is so strong that they should be considered one and the same. The player should be totally invested in the story and believe in the quest of the Hero. This is simply a chance to hone any remaining skills and find all the necessary artifacts before the final showdown. When all of the Sages have been awakened, Link must return to the Temple of Time.
— Approach the Inmost Cave —
Upon returning to the Temple of Time, Link is stopped by Sheik. The last of the Shiekah tells Link that he has come a long way and that by awakening the Six Sages he is ready for the final challenge: defeating Ganondorf, the King of Evil. Sheik would like to talk to Link in private and continues to tell an unknown legend passed down by the Shiekah. The tale is of the Triforce and how each part (Courage, Wisdom, and Power) was given to a different person. The Triforce of Power was stolen by Ganondorf when Link initially opened the Sacred Realm and since that time he has been searching for the other two pieces. The one who holds the Triforce of Courage is Link (this is often alluded to during the game with numerous characters commenting on how courageous Link is) and the last piece of the Triforce is held by the Seventh Sage who is destined to lead them all.
A Triforce now appears on Sheik’s right hand and a flash of light blinds Link. When he recovers, Sheik is no longer standing in front of him; instead, it is Princess Zelda. She apologizes for using the disguise of Sheik, but she felt it was necessary in order to hide from Ganondorf. The plan is to trap Ganondorf back in the Sacred Realm and she asks for Link’s help to protect her while she completes her task. To assist Link in this task, the Princess provides him a final piece of aid: Light Arrows. These arrows are the only weapon that can penetrate the Evil King’s defenses.
Just after she finishes giving the arrows to Link, a rumble is felt throughout the temple. Ganondorf traps Zelda in a crystal and then kidnaps her. She is taken to the castle of the Evil King and Ganondorf then tells Link that if he wants to rescue Zelda he must come to the castle.
— The Ordeal —
Ganondorf’s Castle glares like a fortress out of a nightmare. Dark and covered with spikes, it sits where the old Hyrule Castle once stood. This is the final test for the player. The dungeon is small, consisting of only a few rooms. The center of the castle is the spire atop which Ganondorf is waiting with the Princess. To get to her, the player must travel into five different wings to unblock the dark magic covering the symbols of the Sages with the Light Arrows. Each of these rooms are the most difficult found in the game, as they are the final tests of the player’s skill. Once these curses are lifted and the spire is unlocked, it is a few long stairways to the top of the castle.
Entering the room, Ganondorf is playing an organ and the Princess is seen trapped floating above him. After playing for a bit longer, he explains that the Triforce pieces have recombined and then takes control of all of them. With his newfound power Navi is unable to get close to him, meaning that she cannot help Link now. This is an important moment in the story, because in order for the player to feel truly accomplished this task must be done alone (and without Z-Targeting). Like most boss fights in the game this one has several stages, and after the first Ganondorf destroys the top of the castle leaving a broken roof.
At this point Ganondorf transforms into a monster and knocks away the Master Sword from Link. Navi refuses to be denied this time, and flies close enough to help Link. After hurting him enough, the player can retrieve the Master Sword and finish him off. The combination of the Master Sword and the Light Arrows is simply too much for Ganondorf and he eventually falls. On the edge of his death, Zelda uses her power to hold him so that Link can land the final blow.
With Ganondorf essentially stripped of his power, the Sages are able to banish him from Hyrule forever.
— Reward —
There are several rewards gained from this: Hyrule and Zelda are both safe, and Link has fulfilled his destiny as the Hero of Time. Ganondorf is now sealed in the Evil Realm, locked away forever. Peace and prosperity will now return to Hyrule and the proper balance has been restored.
Leaving the Hero
The end sequence in OoT is short. In fact, the Reward,Resurrection, and Return stage happen within the same cut scene. The third and final section in the player’s journey is the time that the player must let go of the Hero and leave the world of the game. In traditional media, the ending is when the Hero returns to the normal world but is changed forever. In games, both of these transitions are made simultaneously. Since the Hero no longer needs to be a Hero, the player no longer has anything to play.
— Resurrection and Return —
After explaining that the world has been saved, Princess Zelda continues to say that all of this is her fault. The hardships and pain Link has endured was because she attempted to control the Sacred Realm. Zelda takes the blame for all that happened to Hyrule as well and she asks that Link lay down the Master Sword and close the Door of Time. If Link does this, the path between time will be severed, meaning Link can no longer pass freely between the past and present. As a Sage, the Princess can return Link to his childhood, but first he needs to return the Ocarina of Time.
This is a vital step in letting go as the player; with Link giving away the tools he used on his quest, he is leaving the adventure behind. The player is helpless during all of this, much like during every dialog interaction in the game. However, the player is still invested because while Link is silent his emotion is made very clear. This is left open enough so that the player can interpret this in their own way, drawing conclusions that are unique. The story has ended and with no remaining quest or adventure, the game is no longer fun.
Link and Zelda say goodbye and she prepares to return him to his home. The final words before she plays the Ocarina bid farewell to Link, but also the player:
where you are supposed to be…
the way you are supposed to be…