Welcome to the first instalment of a new column, where we're going to be doing a deep-dive into some of the most memorable moments in gaming – good and bad. We're starting off strong with a moment that cemented the Zelda series as one of the all-time greats, in celebration of Link's 35th birthday or something. Happy birthday, Link. You are now old enough to get a mortgage and stop mooching off the Kokiri.
There's something magical about cathedrals. Perhaps it's the way their vaulted architecture elicits a silence so deep you can almost hear God. Perhaps it's the knowledge that generations of old bones rest beneath your feet, waiting for you to join them. It's no surprise that games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne revere and fear them in almost equal measure: they're places of awesome beauty, in the original meaning of the word. Honestly, it's not hard to make an eldritch horror out of the Christian mythos, packed as it is with blood, relics, death and rebirth.
The literal legend of Zelda has often centred around these places of worship, from Skyward Sword's Goddess Statue to Link to the Past's Sanctuary. Religion, and the awe it inspires, are vital parts of Link's various quests, and having churches and cathedrals in the games is a shorthand for the way they make us feel.
From the very first moment you enter the Temple of Time, an echoing, unnerving chant fills the room. There's a sense that this is hallowed ground, despite the Temple having no seating, no pulpit, and no tombs, as you might expect from a church
Most famous of them all is the Temple of Time, which often stands as a symbol for Hyrule's eternal quest to vanquish – or at least banish – the darkness that keeps returning. In Ocarina of Time, its first appearance, it houses the Master Sword, the tool which will help Link to bring back the light once more – but it also becomes his prison.
From the very first moment you enter the Temple of Time, an echoing, unnerving chant fills the room. There's a sense that this is hallowed ground, despite the Temple having no seating, no pulpit, and no tombs, as you might expect from a church.
It's reminiscent of legal offices in London, where huge reception areas are left purposefully blank, as a show of wealth and prestige. "Look how much space we can afford to waste," they say, in a city where a single room filled with mice and misery will run you a grand a month. The Temple of Time, on the other hand, is not a show of wealth, but of power. You don't need to know anything about the theology of Hyrule to know that something great dwells in the place between things, and that this is a sacred space – a literal sanctuary from the evil outside.
Once you place the three spiritual stones, and the Door of Time is pulled open, the theme of hallowed hollowness continues: inside the room is nothing but a pedestal and a sword. It's not the first time we've seen this – Link to the Past's Master Sword is enshrined within the ethereal Lost Woods – but the same mysticism and importance is conveyed here, whether the Sword is in a woodland glade or a strange, octagonal stone vault, lit by a well-placed sunbeam.
Of course, everyone knows what happens next: Link pulls the sword, accidentally gives Ganondorf the key to the Sacred Realm, and gets locked away in the Temple of Light for seven years, because children can't be the saviours of the world until at least Majora's Mask.
As it turns out, seven years is a long time, and Hyrule is no longer the pastoral paradise of Link's youth (of two minutes ago). The contrast is stark: upon leaving the Temple of Time, day has turned to night, the sky is dominated by Death Mountain's terrifying halo of storms, and Hyrule Castle Town – previously a place full of happy villagers – is now overrun with moaning, screaming ReDeads, and the only remaining inhabitant is the opportunistic Poe Collector, who is so creepy that Ganondorf was probably too scared to evict him.
The moment of emerging from the Temple into a hellscape is an undeniably effective one, even despite the N64's technical limitations. Sure, nowadays it looks like a big brown smear, but at the time it was a masterpiece of visual storytelling. You don't need Navi to tell you that everything's gone to hell – although she will anyway – because the sunny, music-filled world of Hyrule has been replaced with a simple, ominous wind track. That wind was so effectively unsettling that we used to have nightmares about it.
The moment of emerging from the Temple into a hellscape is an undeniably effective one, even despite the N64's technical limitations
Link's exit from the Temple of Time and the transformation that happened within are a strangely excellent representation of growing up. Puberty for most of us may not have come with zombies and megalomaniacal evil man-beasts, but the feeling of being unable to put the metaphorical genie back in the bottle is real. It's not until you're past childhood that you come to realise that the days of no responsibility were the sunshine before the Ganondorf of hormones came to kick you, unwilling, into the world of adulthood.
This moment, from entering the Temple as a kid to exiting it as an adult, carries with it a sense of mystery and reluctancy, of Link being forced into something he didn't even know about, and of being the weapon for a bunch of people trapped by time, duty, and powerlessness. Link has no voice, and he never has, so he is carried along by the currents of honour and destiny to continually be the Hero, the Saviour, the Chosen One. It's been said before, but the Legend of Zelda is very rarely about Zelda's Legend – it is always about Link's story, and the inexorable march of his divine fate.
We began this column talking about how Zelda draws on religious symbology to elicit certain emotions in its players, and if the Temple of Time is a cathedral, then Link is Hyrule's perpetually reincarnated sacrificial lamb, the only thing that can hold back the darkness, whether he knows it or not. There are many brilliant moments in Zelda's history, but the Ocarina of Time is perhaps the first time we ever appreciated the holy tragedy of the series.
Did the Temple of Time have a similar impact on you the first time you experienced it, or do you have different feelings? What other key gaming moments would you like to see covered in this series? Leave a comment to let us know.
Since i am 14 and don't feel like being an adult and paying taxes, i will stay away from swords that are in rocks.
@1ofUs Just put it back and you’ll return to your child self.
Link can put up his heart containers to get a mortgage in Breath of the Wild. Borderline usury (10% interest), but it beats being homeless.
Well done Kate. Lovely article.
1. Take out sword
2. Look up every championship team in sports, memorize every popular song, and save all stock info from the last seven years.
3. Put sword back
Great article and a perfect metaphor for today's Direct announcement.
Today everyone is full of that excitement and wonder, after tomorrow night they will be left felling hollow and betrayed (after the games they were expecting didn't get announced).
"The moment of emerging from the Temple into a hellscape is an undeniably effective one, even despite the N64's technical limitations. Sure, nowadays it looks like a big brown smear, but at the time it was a masterpiece of visual storytelling." Nope. It still looks as beautiful today as it did in 1998. This game will always look good. The fact that games besides this one have been made using new technologies in the time since its release does not change how this game is perceived in the context of the time and platform it released on. Nearly every single person who writes articles about video games makes this mistake; it's the video game equivalent of dismissing Shakespeare's works as imaginatively antiquated or unworthy of contemporary consideration because they aren't explicitly set in modern times.
"Puberty for most of us may not have come with zombies and megalomaniacal evil man-beasts." In a way, it has.
Funny excerpts aside, it is refreshing and unexpected to see this article mention the religious symbolism in Ocarina Of Time, of which there is quite a bit, have to give credit where it's due. It has wonderful Shintoism and Christian themes that are increasingly scarce in all forms of media, think even those who don't consider themselves religious find themselves unconsciously enjoying aspects of those themes of faith when playing the game.
You never know, though... it may be the one that makes you a king!
I was 11 when my dad bought me a used n64 and it was bundled with this game. I remember feeling a lot of different emotions from this game I couldn’t explain as a kid. I got a lot of nightmares from it as well. But I always came back to it. Running down that tower with Zelda was such an adrenaline rush. I remember never wanting the journey to end.
@Mana_Knight Thank you! It's a fun one to write! I hope you're looking forward to future ones, too
@Mr-Fuggles777 The Direct was a surprise, and this article was finished and scheduled before we even knew about it - but it's definitely great timing. Here's hoping we get Zelda news...
I didn't appreciate this game as a kid only because I loved Link to the Past for SNES so much. I didn't transition to 3d games easily. Personally I felt the low poly games of the day looked bad compared to the beautiful sprite work that came at the end of the 16bit era. I did eventually adjust obviously since I still play today lol.
When I first played this game, I went in knowing that at some point you become a bad ass adult, but I didn't know at what part that happened. I remember Lord Jabujabu feeling like such a slog because I wanted to hurry up and get to the cool part. And then when I finally did, and I stepped outside and saw the zombiesque Redeads, I immediately felt like I wanted to take it all back and return to the Hyrule of old. I walked straight up to a Redead thinking it might be some tortured NPC villager that would have a helpful dialogue box to explain what happened, and was immediately attacked.
And boy if THAT doesn't feel analogous to becoming an adult, I dont know what is.
@Menardi This is absolutely true. I have always felt that psuedo-religious vibe at some point in just about every Zelda game (maybe not Trifirce Heroes?)
The push in that direction is very intentional from the start, since just about every early game in the series had to have some symbols of Christianity removed as to not upset the westerners. Even to this day, I feel like side-lining Din, Nayru, and Faore in favor of the singular Goddess Hylia is a way to distance itself from the pegan symbolism of the Trifold goddess.
Hoping for some good 35th Zelda announcements in tomorrow’s direct.
Lovely read. It gave me goosebumps reminiscing of 9 y.o (or was it 8?) me playing this and feeling pretty much how the article describes it.
Being an impressionable child with too much free time, Ocarina of Time was an experience so much more than a game, one that I had been trying to replicate until Breath of the Wild
@KateGray Great article, Kate! Love to see more like this from you
Definitely love ocarina, but i think they could have done sooooo much more with the future. They really improved this with majora's mask, but as an adult, i feel the story in ocarina is just very lacking. As a kid in 1998, it was so much easier to fill in the blanks with my own head canon about the temple of time, or hyrule castle, or jabu jabu etc
@Lord I think ocarina/majora(original versions) ports or WW/TP HD ports are a lock for 2021
Very Nice Read 💯
Great article @kategray! I agree, I played Ocarina of Time for the first time in 2009 (so I was used to more technologically advanced games at that point) but despite its technological limitations it manages to convey those feelings of atmosphere so well. I can’t imagine how amazing it must have been to play when it actually was state of the art in graphics and gameplay.
I was 15 when this came out and it was an epic moment pulling that sword for the first time.
I’m so sold when i got OoT I used my VCR to tape the whole thing, from Ganon’s “heh....heh.....heh” to fighting the ReDead - slowly pacing myself so I could keep the tape as cinematic as possible and rewatch it
@everynowandben it's a column, so you definitely will
This was a great article and read Kate thanks for writing it.
Ocarina of Time is my favorite game of all time and filled with little moments like these, but walking out of the Temple of Time for the first time is incredibly powerful. Ganon won and you see the affects of that immediately and throughout the rest of your journey. The stakes have been raised and you spend the next 5 temples working to directly reverse what he had done to the citizens of Hyrule- it's a master class in game design.
I don't really know how to put it in words, but this game really changed my life. Thanks for the great article.
"Puberty for most of us may not have come with zombies and megalomaniacal evil man-beasts, but the feeling of being unable to put the metaphorical genie back in the bottle is real. It's not until you're past childhood that you come to realise that the days of no responsibility were the sunshine before the Ganondorf of hormones came to kick you, unwilling, into the world of adulthood"
Very well written. Nice article.
@Lord "Hoping for some good 35th Zelda announcements in tomorrow’s direct."
Oh my god yes. I would even take a Mario 3d all stars style of announcement. It wouldnt be ideal but i really, really want something old school zelda. An ocarina of time revamp with master quest.... Anything really.
No game has ever came close to giving me the feels that Ocarina did back then. Wish i could put the sword back in the stone and go back to 98, just before i started playing this master piece of a game. No bills, no cooking my own food, no moaning wife, no screaming kids, awsome saturday cartoons and this masterpiece of a game.
@VoidofLight In dunno man, better safe than sorry
@Aerona True.. you never truly know when magical swords are around..
@VoidofLight That's a privilege you have to earn by descending into the dark black forest. You can't be a kid again until you get a job that pays you enough to buy a hoverboard
But that too is brilliant design. They purposely make you feel powerless and trapped for an entire dungeon. No easy outs. They don't even give you the Prelude of Light to return to the Temple of Time like a place of safety. You're out in the world, stuck, no shortcuts. And then when you save Saria, literally the symbol of your entire childhood before this week and it's revealed that you can visit the past to take respite it's such a relief. Not a perfect one because even in the past the damage is already done. Zelda is still missing, on the run for her life, the king is still dead. So you know that even if you can take breaks from adulthood the only true resolution is to move forward and fix the future rather than hiding in the past.
@KateGray great article! Reading it was the first time I thought explicitly about the ambient power the Temple of Time exudes, specifically that while Ganon was destroying literally everything else in Hyrule: freezing Zora's domain, draining Lake Hylia, turning the Castle into a crater, throwing castle town into ruin--even he didn't dare damage the Temple of Time. It was virtually untouched in 7 years despite being right next to the King of Evil. Did he decide not to or maybe he couldn't?
@FaroreAbhorsen that's exactly what I was trying to get at! It's this strange, magical, powerful place that he can't touch.
Harry Potter has similar themes - the big bad man can't put his hands on Harry because he's protected by forces stronger than evil - and I think that's a fascinating trope, especially because the Temple of Time is mostly empty and we VERY rarely get to see the goddesses. It's all implied power in their absence!!
@Menardi I wish everyone had our mindset on graphics. Instead N64 graphics as a whole are just considered a joke these days whilst the pixel art that came before is hailed. When really, both look amazing.
Live by the sword, age by the sword.
TP had the most memorable moments for me.
First is entering the temple of time and the time travel jump.
Also the scene where ganon is imprisoned.
Otherwise using the hook shot for the first time in OoT and as the author mentioned the OoT temple of time were other amazing moments
@LXP8 It's a shame, really, there is no call for it. It's not like beautiful video games stopped being made between 1996 and 2001 (though, I think the GameCube era and the Xbox 360 era of "brown and bloom" is also a target for this type of thinking now, so I guess beautiful games were only made between the 1980s through the mid 1990s, and again starting from the early 2010s til the present day. That is, until we start putting down the graphics of games made today in 2041). It's utterly simple and misguided, and it's reinforced with basically every single game-related article ever written, usually in the form of a random one-off line such as the one in this article. Nothing more than an opportunity to fill white space and use adjectives that might possibly humor someone somewhere at the expense of some of the greatest games ever made, regardless of the topic at hand.
And yet no one complains about the timeline split this game created, in comparison to a certain other Zelda game...
Really enjoyed reading this. I liked the comparison of Link aging after pulling the Master Sword to our real life aging. I remember being truly terrified walking into the castle courtyard for the first time as adult Link, that horrible scream when the ReDead sees you. Looking forward to celebrating The Legend Of Zelda's 35th Anniversary and more of these columns!
This article was a very satisfying read so thanks for making it. I have similar feelings about that game since it was one of the first open world games I ever played when I was a kid. I was literally living in that game for a long time, and kind of wish that I could go back to that. Thanks for bringing back some nostalgia to guy who is still a kid at heart.
Fantastic article - and I think ‘tragedy’ is the perfect word to use here because for me OoT has always been a game about loss. Whether that’s your childhood, home or time - this evocative sense that you have lost something is no more clear than when you leave the Temple of Time. Botw toyed with a similar idea of ‘memories’ but never touched the same emotional highs.
Can you imagine a similar thing today in botw? The first few hours take place in Hyrule in its prime, then at the end you go to sleep and are transported to the post-apocalyptic Hyrule we spend most of the game in? Just imagine the impact that would have had.
Botw is a superior game in many respects, but this evocative subtext and feeling of loss and innocence will always been the crown jewel of Ocarina of time.
@Richardwebb I would love to see Hyrule in its prime! While researching this piece I found an image of BOTW's Hyrule Castle Town pre-apocalypse, and it made me realise that you can't really appreciate what you've lost if you never saw it in the first place. Plus, Link doesn't even remember, so he's fine with wasting his time catching frogs or whatever, so it does lose that emotional resonance that OOT has.
This definitely had a similar impact for me when I first played it and stepped out of the temple as adult link.
However, the Dark World in Link to the Past had a bigger impact. Because I was younger and it was unexpected. I already knew before playing OoT you switched between present/future, but I had no idea about the Dark World until I got there. Even the initial glimpse from Death Mountain before the 3rd dungeon didn’t clue me up as I was young and didn’t really understand what it was all about. It was only when I got to the Dark World properly and realised there were 5 (or was it 7?) more dungeons to get through I was like... WOW!
@Menardi Nicely put and every word is true!
Yeah, these are good points.
I think the issue — and I've argued this before on here — is that, culturally, we still talk about videogames as tech products, not art. That means we don't usually discuss aesthetics. And I don't mean in terms of apparent prettiness, but rather in terms of meaning, context, intention, mood, etc. You know, the kind of discussion that happens in response to films and paintings.
What happens with early 3D games is that it's difficult for people to analyze the graphics beyond the obvious fact that they're 20 years old. It's almost like the language doesn't exist yet to talk about certain videogame graphics as art.
Pixel art from the 2D era is shielded from this, to a degree, because it's become fashionable, nostalgic, etc, thanks to the indie scene. It's also so clearly different from modern AAA graphics that it skirts comparison. N64 and PS1 games don't enjoy the same luxury.
That said, the fact that the art design of these games often hinged on CRT displays with limited resolution (by modern standards) doesn't help matters. Yet there's definitely a lack of sophistication and subtlety in how we talk about this era in gaming, no doubt about it.
@Beaucine This is a great analysis, think you are spot-on here. I get the sense this notion that games are less "serious" as a media format will change over time as the field matures. Games are simply an expression of artistic vision like any other, deserves deeper consideration than the simplicity of opinion afforded to products ("This soda tastes better than that soda," "4K is a new technology, therefore watching a movie on VHS is an inferior experience," etc.)
Part of the problem, though, is that videogames have been used to benchmark hardware since, well, a bunch of MIT lads made Spacewar! for the PDP-1. So the idea of videogames as tech products — as simply software — continues to stick.
I do think the critical language is slowly evolving, fortunately. You have the academic space, with people like Jasper Juul, Ian Bogost or Miguel Sicart, who are on an entirely different wavelength altogether from most journalistic outlets. Or you have Tim Rogers, who focuses on games' internal coherence in his genre-defying, autobiographical, three-hour video analyses, rather than on how old or new they are. And even Digital Foundry Retro, though they obviously focus on the technological side of things, do so with a lot of respect for — and historical knowledge of — the technical limitations of each game's era and the creative and artistic decisions involved. I think these are some of the ways forward.
@Desrever Those ReDeads have the most horrifying😱 scream in any Game I've played.
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