Ocarina of Time is a great game. It transitioned a series from 2D to 3D almost flawlessly, and provided a polished, groundbreaking experience that remains influential to this day. However, it seems that in some ways, Ocarina of Time’s legacy has become something of a double-edged sword for the series.
In a way not dissimilar to how Final Fantasy VII has lead many fans to turn their heads away from subsequent entries in the Final Fantasy series, it seems there are a number of Zelda fans who are ready to dismiss newer entries in the Zelda series on the sole grounds that they aren’t Ocarina of Time. It doesn’t matter how good these games might be, so long as they aren’t the 1998 N64 title, there are gamers who will indulge in their biases against them.
If Ocarina of Time is still a favorite game for many people, that’s all good and fine. But the whole “Ocarina of Time is the unapproachable best game ever and no other game will ever compare to it” attitude that often seems to surround the game is nonsense. It’s just detrimental to subsequent Zelda games (and other games in general) to deny them the possibility that they could be as good as Ocarina of Time.
This attitude was never more prevalent than it was with The Wind Waker. I’m one of the few people who actually loved Wind Waker’s ambitions from the get-go, but for most gamers, the “cartoony” graphics were some kind of act of blasphemy against Ocarina of Time’s relatively brooding atmosphere. Wind Waker went through countless ridicule upon its reveal, and a number of gamers outright refused to play it. It didn’t matter how good the game might have been (I personally would say it outdoes Ocarina in every category by quite some margin), the fact that it was different than Ocarina of Time and did things its own way meant it was poison to many gamers. Thankfully, most have warmed up to Wind Waker in the years since its release, and a growing number of journalists and critics have slowly began praising it as the best 3D Zelda game. But there are still those out there who claim Wind Waker, and other such Zelda games, are simply inferior to Ocarina of Time by default.
With the kind of backlash Wind Waker received, it shouldn’t be too surprising that its follow-up, Twilight Princess, looked to appease these critics. Twilight Princess, though a technically great game, ultimately suffered due to its pandering to Ocarina of Time’s fanbase. It had a few nifty ideas of its own, but too much of Twilight Princess seemed like a retread of Ocarina of Time. It became a “me too” experience that could have been something more if it had the courage to branch out and do its own thing like Wind Waker (and Majora’s Mask, for that matter) did. In trying to cater to the “Ocarina or nothing” crowd, Twilight Princess – great as it was in terms of polish – lacked much of a creative identity of its own.
2011’s The Legend of Zelda: Skywayrd Sword was a brave departure from Ocarina of Time’s influence. And although Skyward Sword had some notable stumbles in terms of progression later in the game, it seems many of its missteps are magnified to gargantuan levels by those who compare it unfavorably to Ocarina of Time. Perhaps Skyward Sword didn’t have the expert pacing of Ocarina of Time, but at the very least it was willing to rewrite how Zelda games are played. One could argue that Ocarina of Time simply copied and pasted A Link to the Past’s blueprints, put them in 3D, and called it a day.
Unfortunately, to many gamers, none of the accomplishments of these “other” Zelda games matter. To them, Ocarina of Time is simply perfect. And that’s fine, until it gets in the way of acknowledging any merit in other games. Having a favorite game is one thing, but punishing other games for not being that game is another.
It probably doesn’t help that Eiji Aomuna, who has helmed the majority of Zelda titles since Ocarina of Time, continues to claim that Ocarina is still the Zelda he strives to “beat” with every new entry. This is in stark contrast to the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto or Yoshiaki Koizumi when they create a new Super Mario title. They acknowledge Mario’s hefty past accomplishments, but they never seem as though they are intimidated by any beloved fan favorites of the past. New Mario games seem approached with a “back to the drawing board” mentality, why should Zelda be any different? Why should Zelda games be in the shadow of a singular predecessor?
Yes, Ocarina of Time is a great game, but that shouldn’t stop other Zelda games from reaching that same level of greatness. Mario has Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, 64, and Galaxy all sitting at the peak of its series. Meanwhile, it seems many of Ocarina of Time’s fans want to ensure that The Legend of Zelda’s mountaintop is an isolated one, with Ocarina of Time sitting all by its lonesome.