More than just an empty field

As we move through life, we will at times look back fondly at memories that we hold dear. And, as gamers, many of us merge recollections of the virtual world with those of reality. Some titles simply bring the right elements together in the perfect way, making this feel natural, normal, important. One game pulled this off better than most that came before – perfectly, some might argue. Since we found ourselves in Hyrule Field more than a decade ago, many of us have closed our eyes during difficult times and imagined ourselves there once more. As we look forward now to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, we take a look back to that incredible, moving game, to ask why it worked so well, changing the way we look at the potential of video games to transport us to another world that feels as real as our own.

A game about growing up

It says a lot about Ocarina that Hyrule Field in particular, so vast and relatively empty, could feel so special. In a lesser game, it would amount to exactly that – a big, empty field. Like the bridge of a song or the silence before a storm, the pause possesses weight and substance. A well-orchestrated script says as much during the silence that breaks up dialogue and action as the dialog and action themselves. And if Ocarina is one thing, it's well-orchestrated.

Hyrule Field is the first thing we see in the game, the camera sweeping through as Link rides Epona across and the incredible soundtrack plays. Death Mountain looms in the distance, the castle stands on the horizon, and the gamer cultivates a sense of expectancy. In the vast world of Ocarina of Time, suspense plays a lead role. It comes with Navi's more cryptic hints, with the warning that any forest dweller who leaves will perish, with every townsperson who ambiguously mentions the path ahead. One of the most iconic images from Ocarina and the Zelda titles that followed is that of approaching: Link approaching the Great Deku Tree as he comes into full view, Ganon approaching on his horse as he makes away with Zelda, our hero approaching a glowing treasure chest. The sound that accompanies the latter is even more familiar – not just that which accompanies the object's unveiling, but the music that builds as the protagonist slowly opens the vault. What's about to happen in this game is always as important as what's currently occurring.

A game about people, not pixels

And of the former, the possibilities are ever-emergent. Rarely does the game force you toward one task without any other options – there's almost always townsfolk to meet and interact with, cuccos to gather, farmers to find and wake up and more, usually for the reward of a piece of heart or a cache of rupees. Ocarina is as gradual as you like – you take things at your own pace, as slowly or quickly as you choose. Just like in life, you discover your goals instead of them being thrust at you. This subtle direction is one more element that helps make Link's adventure feel so real.