Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow From Ocarina of Time

Yeah, okay. I realize I wrote an article that was kinda pretty similar to this back during the “Countdown to Wii U” article series, titled “10 Zelda Franchise Features That Should Return on Wii U.” But that was a broader-reaching piece; this time, I’d like to focus on the specific strengths of each individual Zelda game and identify the ones that could be leveraged well in a brand-new Wii U Zelda.

There’s a reason The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often still called the best game of all time, even though it’s now almost 15 years old! And that’s because it accomplished a nearly-perfect balance between all its constituent elements: its gameplay, content, and story. Though more recent games have seen greater sophistication in terms of enemy AI, overworld and dungeon design, and story-telling, none has carved out as enduring a place in the history books as Ocarina of Time.

The challenge of topping Ocarina of Time is so steep that Mr. Aonuma often says that it’s his team’s ultimate goal to find a way to accomplish it. Find out which features Zelda Wii U will have to improve upon to earn the consensus vote as the new best Zelda ever.

#5: Excellent Touch Screen Usage

oot-3d-touch-screenOcarina of Time 3D had access to the Nintendo 3DS’s touch screen, so it made sure to make good use of it: the player’s entire inventory could be accessed and swapped out with just a few simple taps on the screen, resulting in much faster menu navigation and minimal gameplay interruption. Given that Wii U offers the same second screen interface, it’d be criminal not to offer at least the same options in Zelda Wii U.

One area of potential improvement is the lower map screen. In Ocarina of Time 3D, the map screen was quite limited. The live map only displayed the player’s current room and floor – it didn’t display Compass information, meaning players would have to make use of the mini-map on the main screen if they wanted to track their location. For Zelda Wii U, it’d make sense to relegate the entire mini-map to the GamePad screen. First of all, it’d remove yet another HUD component from the main screen, making the visual experience all the more immersive. But it’d also add more value to the second screen as a map screen.

#4: Optional Horse Travel

For many, Link’s trusty steed Epona may seem like a mainstay for the franchise, but she’s actually only appeared in a very small part of the series – three out of the 16 games released so far. While she’s required in Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, taming her was actually 100% optional in Ocarina of Time. If you ask me, that made her presence all the more special.

You met her as a child, when Malon taught you Epona’s Song; as an adult, you came back to free her from Ingo’s clutches, and it was only then that she became yours to ride. And once you could ride her, a whole world of possibilities began to open up.

oot-3d-e3-2010In Ocarina of Time, Epona wasn’t a glorified key that fits the lock of fences that need jumping or horseback battles that need fighting – she was a game-enhancer, opening up not required parts of the game but adding depth to game progression.

She could jump the broken bridge in Gerudo Valley, allowing you to reach the Fortress long before you gained the otherwise “required” Longshot. She could ride across Hyrule Field at breakneck speed – a great help when trying to complete the Biggoron’s Sword trade sequence. She was also a necessity for hunting Big Poes in Hyrule Field.

I’d love to see Epona return in more of a “help” role rather than a required one. I think it’s there that she truly shines.

#3: A World of Possible Roads

Those first steps into Hyrule Field represented an iconic moment in the lives of those who played Ocarina of Time when it was first released, and I think a lot of that has to do with the possibilities that open up once players enter that vast realm. From the get-go, players already have the freedom to travel to most of the outlying regions: to Hyrule Castle, Kakariko Village, Lake Hylia, or Gerudo Valley.

Sure, once you get to most of those places, there’s little to do until you come back later with the required equipment. Most famously, Zora’s River blocks you off basically immediately with a pile of blastable rocks. However, for so many for whom Ocarina of Time was their first adventure in Hyrule, this kind of freedom was unprecedented. Those curious enough to press into these regions early on knew that they could only scratch the surface, but that only made them even more curious to come back and explore later once their adventure toolset had expanded.

oot-3d-hyrule-fieldWhen Link travels to the future, this world of possibilities opens up all over again. Players know that Ganondorf has wrought evils across the land, and from the moment they step back out into Hyrule Field there are plenty of roads to take. They can head first to Kokiri Forest and the Forest Temple, or to Death Mountain and the Fire Temple, or to Zora’s Domain to investigate what has become of the Zoras, or even to Gerudo Fortress to rescue the carpenters.

Eiji Aonuma announced in the recent Wii U Direct that Zelda Wii U will take a less linear approach to game progression. If this means another world that offers at least as many possible roads as Ocarina of Time, I think we could see a new generation discover the awe of taking those first steps into Hyrule Field and realizing that there’s already a vast world that lids before them.

#2: A Story Focused on Expanding the Hyrule Myth

When you think about it, Ocarina of Time was pretty light on the plot elements. Most of the main story centered around the plights Ganondorf inflicted upon the various peoples of Hyrule in his effort to find the Triforce, as well as the two core plot twists – there was little in the way of “character development” as we would imagine it in today’s games. It was a very bare-bones story that didn’t focus on spinning a complex, multi-layered tale.

In fact, what made Ocarina of Time‘s story stand out for me was how much was left untold. We see all these fantasy peoples and places, but seldom find any explanations behind their origins or deep insights into their culture. The fact that the Kokiri never grow up, a couple short lines about the Gorons rock-eating tendencies, or reports that the Gerudo consist only of women all seem to suffice. The story doesn’t come alive through words as much as it does through its world.

oot-racesWhat made the Kokiri, the Gorons, the Zoras, the Sheikah, and the Gerudo so successful were that they were new layers on top of the Lost Woods, Death Mountain, Zora’s Waterfall, Kakariko Village, and the western desert – on top of elements that already existed in the Zelda universe. Skyward Sword tried to do the same thing by offering up a whole new cast of fantasy races from a distant past… but in the end, they couldn’t have nearly the same impact. They weren’t really an expansion of already-existing elements of the Hyrule world.

There are plenty of ways in which Nintendo could focus on building more on the various elements of the Hyrule universe. They could flesh out the world with more significant landmarks, each of which have subtle stories to tell, or by showing us sides of the various races and peoples of Hyrule that we haven’t seen before. Whatever the case may be, I think this approach – the world-driven approach, not the plot-driven approach – is the key to a great Hyrule legend.

#1: A Game Focused Not on Doing Things Differently, But Being the Best That Zelda Can Be

I worry that there’s been an unhealthy idea among Zelda series developers that each entry needs to be fundamentally different in order to stand out. Looking back at the games that have been the most successful, however, I’ve noticed a pattern: they’re the ones that have stuck the closest to Zelda‘s core fundamentals – the ones that have had the fewest stark differences.

If you trace a line through these games – The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess – it seems that by and large they each feel very much like a logical progression. A Link to the Past builds on the gameplay of The Legend of Zelda, while Ocarina of Time translates it into 3D and Twilight Princess works to amplify the scale and depth of an Ocarina-style world.


This “make it bigger and better” approach has always been a winning strategy for the franchise. The “let’s do something different” approach, by contrast, has come at a cost. Majora’s Mask‘s emphasis on character quests meant a relative lack of core overworld and dungeon content. The Wind Waker‘s open ocean, while a marvel in its own right, represented a serious disconnect from the “Hyrule” people had grown attached to. Skyward Sword‘s fragmented surface and sky worlds left the same kind of feeling of emptiness for many players.

When Nintendo tries to make Zelda too different, the result is that many people don’t accept it as Zelda anymore. But when Nintendo tries simply to make the ultimate Zelda game, the fans come in droves.

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  • Guest

    Ive found that Ive enjoyed ALTTP, OOT, and TP the ost of all the zelda games that I have played. Its the formula of these zelda games where the Legend of zelda series is at its best. I personally look forward to another installment of this formula!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Cyborg1985 Joshua Anderson

    Ive found that Ive enjoyed ALTTP, OOT, and TP are the best of all the zelda
    games that I have played. Its the formula of these zelda games where the
    Legend of zelda series is at its best. I personally look forward to
    another installment of this formula!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000448071041 Pierson Eric

    Ocarina of Time Was amazing. And If Nintendo can do that again. It’d be even better! I would love to see something like that just in overall. Other than that game, I really enjoyed spirit tracks.

  • Twister27

    “There’s a reason The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often still called the best game of all time, even though it’s now almost 15 years old! And that’s because it accomplished a nearly-perfect balance between all its constituent elements: its gameplay, content, and story.”

    Yes and no. Ocarina of Time is a high quality game due to the elements that you have mentioned. However, what you left out is nostalgia. I find it hard to imagine that people would praise the game as “the best of all time” were it released now instead of 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I in no way believe that Ocarina of Time is a bad game. I simply think that it is overrated. I for one enjoyed my first playthroughs of most of the other Zelda games more than I did that of Ocarina of Time.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      It can’t just be nostalgia.

      I’ve seen plenty of people who didn’t play the game in 1998 pick it up in the 2000s and walk away amazed. I personally found the game to be pretty lackluster compared to Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker until I played the 3DS remake with a better mind for what I want out of future games.

      • Terrak

        Never played Zelda before Ocarina of Time and after i played it it became my number 1 game of all time. Ive been an Avid fan ever since. Still havent played Majoras Mask though(I’ll wait for the Wii U VC version) and im finishing Skyward Sword ATM.

        As for overrated —> NO WAY! It was one of the most defining games in gaming history and ranks along Mario 64 as one of the best games of all time. You cant do that by being overrated

        • Twister27

          Your second paragraph is what I have a problem with. How revolutionary or influential a game is does not signify its quality. Games that build on a solid foundation can be just as good or better than the games they took things from.

          For instance, while Paper Mario was a fantastic game, I believe that Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door improved upon what was found in the original and was a better overall game. However, Paper Mario was probably more influential since it came first, and TTYD did not revolutionize many aspects of the game.

        • Ghoti

          I feel it is slightly overrated. No character development, and a simple plot. Also, the game didn’t really pick up until the Forest Temple in my opinion. Great game, but I feel Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker were way better.

      • Twister27

        I’m sorry if I worded my post poorly, but I’m not saying it is just nostalgia, and I’m not saying that no one is entitled to have the opinion that OoT is the best game ever. I agree that it is a splendid game, but many people fail to truly judge other games against OoT because of the place it holds in their hearts and memories.

        For instance, I remember seeing a post here or on Zelda Dungeon about Super Mario Galaxy getting a higher score on Metacritic than OoT. A large number of comments displayed confusion about how Galaxy, a relatively newer game, could possibly have a higher rating than OoT, a game that has been hailed as the best for years. Instead of saying that Galaxy is a worse game, they took the opinion that it should be impossible for any game to ever be better than OoT. This mindset boggles me.

        This also reminds me of admittance to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Even the best players’ names often have to be voted on a number of times before they are accepted, even though these players are no longer playing baseball and have not been for at least a few years. No new qualifications will be presented, yet even the top players are rejected because it is too early for them to be in the Hall of Fame.

      • http://www.triforcetalk9.blogspot.com/ Linkfan99

        I didn’t pick it up until 2012. I played it after Skyward Sword, and the only Zelda I’ve played after it that I hadn’t before is Majora’s Mask. How’s that for nostalgia. :/

      • Kjetil Berthling

        I didn’t play it until 2012, and I was mind blown from the start. I think it had something to do with the fact that I never played Zelda as a kid so I was immediately hooked.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sturm.davenport Sturm Davenport

      that is incorrect

    • Gaseous Snake

      I first played OoT on the 3DS remake about a 2 years ago, and it was one of my most enjoyable and spectacular gaming experiences. I can understand where your coming from, but even today, it is one of the most well crafted games out there.

    • http://www.triforcetalk9.blogspot.com/ Linkfan99

      I didn’t pick it up until early 2012. I played it after Skyward Sword, and the only Zelda I’ve played after it that I hadn’t before is Majora’s Mask. How’s that for nostalgia…? :/

  • HylianBadger25

    I whole heartedly agree with #1. The Legend of Zelda franchise used to represent the biggest and best that video games had to offer. It used to stand as the benchmark of video game technology and what others could aspire to achieve. It has since fallen from this role, but I would be all too happy to see it reclaim that title.

  • zdog

    This was a spot on article. I loved “The story doesn’t come alive throughwords as much as it does through its world.”
    I felt this was a huge difference between the first Harry Potter movies and the last ones. In the beginning everyone would be like “WOW, LOOK, MAGIC!” Even characters who should have grown up around it their whole life. In the end it was just a natural part of the world, which made for better movies.
    Odd tangent, I know, but I agree that just presenting you the world as though you are part of it made for a much better world.

  • http://www.triforcetalk9.blogspot.com/ Linkfan99

    I hope that they make Epona required to 100% the game, but not beat it. As in, I hope that many of the sidequests require help from Epona, but you can do the main story just fine without her. She might make it easier in some parts, but she’s not required.

  • K2L

    “If you trace a line through these games – The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess – it seems that by and large they each feel very much like a logical progression. A Link to the Past builds on the gameplay of The Legend of Zelda, while Ocarina of Time translates it into 3D and Twilight Princess works to amplify the scale and depth of an Ocarina-style world.”
    I’m aware that my reply to this part hadn’t been published because it contained an offensive word, so I’ll try to explain my disagreement more calmly. I understand what the writer means by this, but one of the reasons why Mario has stagnated with his platform games is BECAUSE the games stopped adding new things. Do we really need ANOTHER rehash of ALTTP like OOT and TP? Alex apparently wants nothing but that. One of the reasons why I appreciate games like MM, TWW or even Zelda II is because they introduced new ideas to not become stale.

    • Sunblaze24

      You are missing the point entirely.

      From Zelda > AlttP > OoT > TP, each game evolved in a way that the masses of Zelda’s fanbase understood and loved. Especially with ALttP and OoT. Going from Zelda 1 to ALttP, the improvements in most areas were so obvious. It expanded on EVERYTHING people loved about Zelda and made it greater. That’s what every Zelda player wants.

      You say the Zelda series has stagnated: You wanna know what’s really stagnated? The quality. It isn’t about innovation as much as it is about EVOLUTION. There is a difference, yes: Innovation is looking at the concept as too literal. I don’t want to be riding a boat in the next Zelda game, for example (pretending that’s an innovation at this point). What I want is a proper evolution of the series, such as much larger dungeons but still having plenty of them (at least 8-9) with excellent, quality design in each of them. What I want is an enormous overworld with freedom and a huge amount of exploration (A Link To The Past nailed down the exploration, TP nailed down the enormous overworld).

      Zelda doesn’t have to change except in one way: It needs to stop not giving us proper evolutions of the series, or in some cases, it needs to stop devolving the series. The core essences of Zelda are action, exploration, freedom/non-linearity, overworld, dungeons, items, and I would even argue enemies/bosses. Expand on all of these things, make them better and on better scales than they have ever been before, and just maybe we’ll see another OoT phenomenon.

      • K2L

        But expanding on
        the core concepts and introducing new concepts isn’t mutually exclusive. Can’t
        we really choose having a very well-produced game that has the scope and theme
        of TP, the uniqueness of MM, the exploration factor of TWW AND the RPG-like elements
        of SS? Is it the only way to surpass OOT to make “improvements in most
        areas” but having once again the same formula and plot? That
        villain-hijacking thing Ganon did in TP was by far the most pathetic thing I
        ever saw in a Zelda game. Couldn’t TP have been the so-called logical
        progression regardless of having Zant or Ganon as the main villain?

        (I’ve tried to reply with a different e-mail to mine because I haven’t been able to get this post published. If this does get published, it means I’ve been banned. Hope that’s not the case)

  • Joe

    I found Majoras Mask to be one of the most brilliant games I’ve ever played. The newest zelda could definitely take elements from Majora i.e: darker, more character driven, and intellectually deeper. These elements added to an epic adventure with a vast world would do the trick.

  • BigHairyFart

    for the touch screen thing, i think you should be able to use WITHOUT stopping the game. when i first booted up Oot3D & saw the map, gear & items tabs, i thought you would be able to switch which one is being displayed at any time. instead, they STILL paused the game, & you couldnt see any subscreen other than map without pausing the game. new zelda should allow you to insta-swap items, pan/zoom the map(or even change which map you are looking at), or view your gear/quest status screen while still actively playing on the TV

  • Michael Medina

    Thats stupid. Majora’s Mask in my opinion had the series’ best dungeons besides TP because so much care was put into them with Stone Tower being the best dungeon ever.

    • John Hoge

      Oh man, I couldn’t stand Stone Tower! Having to exit over and over again, and play that damn elegy over and over again, both inside and out, it was awful. The concept of a dungeon flipping upside down was really cool, but the actual execution was frustrating beyond belief. The third dungeon, don’t remember its name, is in my opinion the worst and most hateful Zelda dungeon ever. The first two aren’t bad. But, I think the dungeons overall were the weakest aspect of Majora’s Mask. Never would I praise that game for its (only 4) dungeons.

  • Mensrea

    I disagree wholeheartedly on one point. Twilight Princess is a good Zelda game. It’s really not, it’s full of filler, slow, and boring. It really shares nothing with OOT other than visual style. That’s the only reason people like it.

    Wind Waker is a much much better game than TP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/austinyeahyouknowme Austin XJonathanx Thomas

    For #4, it was actually four games that you can play with Epona. Four Swords Adventures had levels which used Epona to jump over fences and fight. Other games also had non-playable appearances of Epona, such as Wind Waker’s proloque, a town in Minish Cap, or the clip that plays at the beginnings of the Oracle games. I’m sure that this further drives the point that Epona is not required in most of the games and should be brought back.