Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Challenge Reviews – Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Sonic Adventure

Chronological Challenge Reviews – Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Sonic Adventure

It’s taken far too long to get here, but we’re finally here. The last two games of 1998. The games of 1999 are coming soon (hopefully tomorrow for the first two?) but for now, enjoy my reviews of the last that 1998 had to offer!

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Nintendo | Year: 1998
Original System: Nintendo 64
Played on: Wii Virtual Console

Goal: Save Hyrule from Ganondorf while collecting all Heart Pieces and other hidden items

Actual Outcome: Explored every nook and cranny of Hyrule then stabbed Ganon in the face

The N64 has been an incredibly mixed bag for me during this challenge. While I loved the system back in the day, it’s clear that many of the games haven’t aged as well as I had hoped. This has included ‘classics’ such as Super Mario 64, which I continue to insist is Not Very Good.

So now it’s time to pick on another N64 classic. A sacred cow for many, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often heralded as The Greatest Game Ever Made, until of course the objective taste-makers of the Internet, GameFAQs, determined that Undertale was superior. So now it’s time to reveal Ocarina as a hollow shell, something remembered better than it actually holds up, and a complete waste of time to anyone trying to get into it now.

Except that’s not remotely true. Like Star Fox 64 and Banjo-Kazooie before it, Ocarina of Time is an example of an N64 game that has aged gracefully and seductively, like a soft cheese. I don’t where I’m going with this analogy, but what I’m trying to say is that Ocarina of Time is actually pretty alright.

That said, I’m not letting it off the hook. Let’s get out of the way that there are still aspects of Ocarina that feel clunky and unwelcome in today’s gaming world.

The text speed is as fast as molasses, with no option to speed it up.

Kepora Gebora is an annoying shit for going on at length and then asking if you want him to repeat everything with the default option being ‘yes’.

Aiming a bow, boomerang, slingshot or other such item is an exercise in futility because there’s no targeting reticule and the visual clues we do have are essentially useless.

The game has a lot of slow back-and-forth trekking until you’ve gained most of the warp songs, and did you have to save the Kakariko warp right to the end of the game?

The inventory management is a clusterfuck, constantly requiring you to pause and unpause and juggle items more than if Link had been Zelda’s court jester instead of her knight in snazzy tights.

But do you know what? All those things? Kind of fine with them. They don’t affect things nearly as much as it sounds like they should. Yes, they’re a tad annoying, but if you allow yourself to look past them, they’re easy to look past. And when you do look past that, you have a pretty damn good adventure to play through beyond it all. Which is actually pretty alright.

Let’s look at the world. It’s a vast sprawling field surrounded by a bunch of interesting areas, all with their own unique identities, populated by a cast of diverse and quirky characters. It’s not the most original on that front, and time has brought us new games with more interesting worlds with more developed characters, but it serves its purpose well enough for its time and gives us something worth spending time in.

And then there’s the dungeons. If you’ve realised anything about me through these reviews, it has to be that I love 5th gen puzzle design and wish we had more of it today. Ocarina is no exception. In transitioning the Zelda gameplay from 2D to 3D, it focused on the essence of what made A Link to the Past good and slapped it onto some polygons. It didn’t re-invent the wheel, just gave it a tyre change, but to be honest, that’s all it really needed.

The dungeons are not just fantastic on a puzzle design aspect, but also spot-on in terms of atmosphere. There is always a sense of impending doom in these dungeons, especially in the likes of the Forest Temple or the Shadow Temple, but it’s a sense that drives you forward. It makes you, the player, feel courageous and determined to take down the evil forces that plague the land.

But what about the thing that’s plagued many N64 games so far – the controls? Super Mario 64, in retrospective, is clunky and awkward, but I’m pleased to say that Ocarina got a lot more right. Link moves at a decent speed and is responsive to your button presses. The ability to centre the camera at any time is a godsend. And the Z-targeting, the much-lauded solution for handling complex combat in a 3D space, is still really satisfying to use.

So don’t believe naysayers who claim that Ocarina of Time has aged badly. It hasn’t. I wouldn’t go as far as claiming it’s The Greatest Game Ever Made, but it’s actually pretty alright.

Sonic Adventure
Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sonic Team | Year: 1998 (Japanese Dreamcast release)
Original System: Sega Dreamcast
Played on: Wii (2003 DX Gamecube port)

Goal: Collect all the Emblems for every level

Actual Outcome: Threw up my arms in annoyance around Twinkle Park, I think?

Ocarina of Time is an example of a series making a successful transition from 2D to 3D. It takes everything that made A Link to the Past a wonderful experience and rebuilt it out of polygons, and gave it some of its own unique but enjoyable challenges that made use of the extra dimension. Great success for everyone involved, including us, the players.

And then on the other end of the scale is Sonic the Hedgehog. After a successful trio of 2D platformers on the Mega Drive, the sole good game for the Sega CD (supposedly), and a few decent spin-off games, Sega spent a whole console generation wondering how the hell they could translate the Blue Blur to a 3D space. The result was a launch title for the Dreamcast right at the end of 1998, and uh…the results are mixed.

Obviously, in hindsight, we know that Sonic’s transition to 3D hasn’t been an easy one, taking probably the best part of a decade to finally get to a gameplay style that players actually enjoyed. And it’s clear that right from the beginning Sega had no idea how they were making this transition.

Let’s talk about what Sega got right. The sense of speed is pretty nice, and the inclusion of a homing attack is a nice concession that targeting in 3D plus speed could have been a nightmare otherwise. The opening Sonic levels are nicely-designed, providing plenty of channels and routes to rush about in, and on the surface it seems like Sega did a decent job.

And then the cracks begin to show. For a start, the game’s collision detection appears to have declared an eternal war on the camera system, as the two constantly clash anytime you try and do anything. This is indicated in the pier at the start of the opening level, where approaching the corner with any kind of speed results in you bouncing awkwardly off springy barriers and occasionally ending up looking in a different direction to the one you actually wanted. A smooth, curved path that you should be able to just run comfortably through has you knocking into walls all the time. And the whale section, you may as well just let go of the controller entirely and let the speed pads guide you exclusively, otherwise you could find yourself in serious trouble.

And then there’s the hub world. My god, who came up with this mess? It’s a confusing mixture of vague clues, nonsensical architecture and awkward camera angles that make you wonder why they didn’t just do a standard level-to-level structure like the old games. And then there are levels like Casinopolis, that’s a weird hub world crossed with pinball tables that reference Nights, and feels like it has no place in the game.

And then you meet Tails and suddenly you realise, to your horror, that in order to beat the game and get the true ending, you need to not just play as Sonic but also as all his friends, including The One Female Protagonist I Never Want To Play As, Amy Rose, and also Big the Cat, whose gameplay is entirely fishing. Yes, the game series based around speed now wants you to go fishing. And it’s as tedious as you’d expect.

I haven’t talked about the numerous other issues that make this feel like an amateurish experiment with 3D worlds on untested “next-gen” hardware of the time – animation is incredibly bad to the point where Sonic’s mouth can cause nightmares, voice acting is lifeless (or in Tails’ case, a literal child who’s struggling to follow the script), glitches that can potentially throw you through the floor at inopportune moments, the spin dash is completely useless, the list goes on.

Sonic Adventure is not a good game, whether viewed through the lens of it being a product of its time (Metal Gear Solid came out months before this in Japan, remember), or viewed looking back on it with the benefit of hindsight (modern Sonic games, bar Boom, put this one to shame). It’s an interesting curiosity to study when wondering exactly what happened to Sega’s mascot over the years, but to play it for fun? That’s no good.

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  1. James
    April 25, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    It’s worth noting Sonic Adventures DX is an awful, awful port. The original still has significant issues and is far from a big game but two of the biggest complaints (the collision detection and the animation bugs) were reduced by a factor of like 90%. I’d still definitely pick Generations over it, but the Dreamcast version is still significantly better than DX.

    As for Ocarina… I’m a little harsher on it, but it does hold up. It’s a decent Zelda game and with the 3DS remake getting rid of a lot of the inventory issues it becomes quite enjoyable by modern standards… when you’re not traversing hyrule field… The biggest problem with the game is that you do 2 things and then have to spend a half hour travelling back and forward across an empty field before you can do something else. The dungeons are good, and the villages have some cool stuff in them, but there’s too much draining busywork… The great sea for all it’s faults had interesting things to do and find, and even Twilight Princess gave you warp points quickly enough, but OoT’s most vivid memory was constantly trudging across a big empty field.

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