Why Ocarina of Time is NOT the best game to play today

May 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

For Edge’s 200th issue the editors decided to construct a list of games. Not a list of the ‘best’ games ever made, but instead one which they titled “The 100 Best Games to Play Today”. With this list Edge took a bold move, albeit a completely reasonable one, in admitting that old games date, and they date badly. Rather than produce a list that points players towards the best games made when they were released, the list instead focuses on the now. Which games, they asked, if you picked them up today, would be the funnest to play devoid of any nostalgia whatsoever. Then they completely undermined that list by putting Ocarina of Time at the top.

No one’s denying that Ocarina of Time was a fantastic game when it was released, but sitting down to play it today was damn near impossible for me. The thing is, we as gamers don’t realise just how much of gaming is based on assumed knowledge. We know for instance that if an object in the game world seems to be placed at some sort of focal point that hitting it is probably going to produce some helpful result. Likewise we know that if there’s something in a level that can be manipulated in some way, then if we manipulate every object of that type in the area that we’re in it’s going to achieve something. Take Ico as an example. At one point in the game you scale the walls of a huge hall in order to reach the rafters. Doing so brings you to a chandelier, which most gamers will instinctively hit in order to progress. Hitting it causes it to fall to the ground and damage a bridge that you need to break in order to progress. When climbing the walls I didn’t have this aim in mind, but I knew that because I could climb, then this meant that I should, and that I’d be rewarded for my efforts.

Such subconscious decisions are often passed off as ‘puzzles’ in games, but really all we as gamers are doing are interpreting visual clues in the environment and reacting accordingly. The best puzzle games out there will introduce new ways of doing things (such as Portal or Braid) but most will use this system of assumed knowledge, which has the effect of satisfying the player by making them feel like they’ve worked out a puzzle.

Over time however, with the increased popularity of games and an audience entering that simply doesn’t have that assumed knowledge, games have evolved past a requirement to have past experience to be able to play them. The aforementioned Portal is a brilliant example of this, every single puzzle solution is carefully laid down into your subconscious in the early levels, until it gets to a point where when the final boss battle comes around, it doesn’t take much thought to realise how she needs to be taken down.

So how does this relate back to Ocarina of Time? Well, I started gaming in around 2003 with the Playstation 2, and as such I wasn’t around when OoT graced the world with its presence. Going back to play it now was as such incredibly difficult. I lack, as a modern gamer, the patience to find my own way in the world without a clearly defined set of instructions. When fighting bosses I found it impossible to work out if my attacks were having any impact at all, and worst of all often I would find myself at the correct place in the game, but without a crucial item needed to progress. I briefly turned to GameFAQS for help, but this became so frequent that I simply gave up. If the joy of Zelda is in it’s puzzles, then what’s the point playing it this way?

For that reason, Ocarina of Time is certainly not my best game to play today. In fact I have no idea if this is just me being stupid, or if it’s a genuine problem. Even the people that played the game at the time probably have no idea, they have this assumed knowledge, and I do not. The game is clearly a masterpiece within the context it was created, I’m just uncertain as to whether it is outside of it.

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