1998 was a monumental year for gaming. Metal Gear Solid rocked the faces of Playstation One owners, while Half-Life revolutionized first-person shooters and the single-player experience on the PC. I’m sure there are other examples of gaming brilliance I can discuss, but the one I want to talk about here may be the most important game to come out of 1998. It played a major role in revolutionizing 3D gaming and to many, still stands as the gold standard of this entire medium.
I’m not here to debate its place in the pantheon of video games. What I am here to say is, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time left an impact on me in 1998 that I still feel today.
When this game came out in 1998, I had to have it. At the time, I wasn’t even that big of a Zelda fan. Up until this point, the only game in the series I had put serious time in was A Link to the Past. In spite of this, the buzz among the magazines, websites and my friends around Ocarina of Time was immeasurable. When it came out, it received arguably the best reviews any video game has ever seen and sold out immediately.
It would be at least another month before I finally got my hands on the game. I would visit any store that sold video games as often as I could until I eventually scored a copy at Toys R Us. Even with everything I had known about the game going into it, I wasn’t ready for how much of an impact that game would leave on me.
The element of the third-dimension really changed the dynamics of Zelda. This series has always featured big worlds, but they were never brought to life like this before. It may not mean much now, but there was a moment of magic that hit me when I first entered the huge Hyrule field and realized that I could totally run over to that area far off in the distance and find something worth experiencing. Say what you will about how the graphics have aged, but at the time it was one of the prettiest games around.
The 3D also brought with it new opportunities in gameplay. The combat was anchored by the Z-targeting system, which is still a regular feature in 3D games today. The puzzles were also taken to the next level in the third-dimension by using the environment in ways we’d never experienced before. In hindsight, the water temple was a bit heinous, but I did manage to get through it eventually.
For all the things that changed due to the technology, the biggest triumph of the Ocarina of Time is that it is still a Zelda game through and through. This lengthy adventure was a blast to play and only got better as the adventure progressed, ultimately climaxing at the still-amazing endgame sequence.
Specifically to me, it was the very first game that really resonated to me on an emotional level. Up until that point, a game had never pulled my heart strings like this one did. There were a few funny moments, a few moments that really upset me and moments of that game that made me feel sad. It was a really weird feeling when the latter happened because up until then, a game had never made me feel that way before.
12 years later, this game still stands as one of the best and most important video games of all-time. I haven’t played through the game since I beat it back in the day, but very few games have impacted me like Ocarina of Time did since.