To celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, we're running a series of features looking at a specific aspect — a theme, character, mechanic, location, memory or something else entirely — from each of the mainline Zelda games. Today, Kerry admits that she didn't always stick to the proposed path when playing one of Link's most famous adventures...
Did the Hero of Time triumph against his terrible foe, granting Hyrule a period of peace and prosperity? Or does history record his defeat, this unexpected event ushering in The Imprisoning War and all the calamities that followed? Or... did the Hero of Time make a beeline for the fishing pond by Lake Hylia and hope the whole Ganondorf/time travel/world-saving business was going to sort itself out while he was preoccupied with pole-caught piscines?
That less-than-heroic third scenario's how Zelda: Ocarina of Time always ends up playing out for me. One little building stuck in the corner of what (at the time of release) felt like the largest expanse of water gaming would ever see somehow slowly transforming from a place where I went to when I wanted a quiet break from Link's epic N64 adventure into the one place I really wanted to be whenever I turned the game on – and, at the height of my obsession, even when I turned on just about any other game too.
"Yeah this is great, but it's not fishing, is it?" I'd say to myself as I navigated F-Zero X's twists and turns or gracefully cannon'd myself through the air in Pilotwings 64, indifferent towards the gaming riches that lay before me. It took me a long time before realised why I kept coming back to this "pointless" sideshow in a title bursting at the seams with more productive pursuits: in any form and on any format, gaming is always demanding more. I've got to be faster, tougher, better, than I was last time. I've got to hunt down even more of whatever semi-hidden shiny thing I already collected before. I've got to finish the game. I've got to 100% finish the game. I've got to move on and buy the sequel and do it all over again.
The fishing pond isn't like that. The fishing pond is an oasis of untouchable and unchanging calm, a chance to unwind and to interact with at least one walled-off portion of one game entirely on my own terms and at my own pace – and it all begins with a simple wooden door stuck on one wall of an unassuming square building.
Unlike Lon Lon Ranch's leap-able fencing to the grassy lands beyond, Kakariko's open-village cucco-bothering, or many other picturesque play areas in Hyrule, there is only one way in or out of this secluded fishing pond, just one NPC to interact with, and only the slightest hint of the world outside peeking through the trees that line the edge of this little area.
It's a place without external distractions, and that means it's a place that allows you to focus on every beautiful detail present: the gentle sound of running water from the little stream feeding the pond, the bend of the rod, the lily pads floating aside as you wade through them, the lure darting through the water to the movements of the analogue stick, and the slow passing of time, bright blue days melting into dusky orange evenings to moonlit nights and back again.
It's a place without external distractions, and that means it's a place that allows you to focus on every beautiful detail present
For an area with not much going on (in the traditionally game-y sense, at least) it's a highly tactile environment, a place that will always respond to whatever I want to do but never need an out-and-in-again reset no matter what I attack-roll Link at or how many hours I splash about. Nothing happens here unless I want it to, and nothing can ever wander too close and disrupt this tranquil pool – there really is nothing to do here other than try and catch some fish.
I don't even have to be any good at it; whether I'm landing every fish that dares to come within 10ft of the end of my lure or if I'm having an off day so bad I'd have better luck diving in and trying to catch them with Link's bare hands. Because here, I'm not in a competition against anyone other than myself. I can enter this area with the burning desire to spend an entire afternoon trying to catch a legendary lunker, or I can be here just to watch the screen go wibbly as I stand in the middle of the lake wearing a pair of iron boots (blue tunic on, of course) looking ridiculous as Link sticks his face underwater to try and get a good look at the fish, the pond owner no doubt wondering what the heck I'm doing and asking himself if 20 rupees for an unlimited fishing session was really the best business model he could come up with.
But how could anyone resist gawping at those fish? They're so pleasantly plump with smooth underbellies and shining scales on top, all wearing an inscrutable expression hovering somewhere between blissful ignorance and utter shock. They'll dart away when I get too close, try their best to ignore me at the deepest part of the pond, and kick (or more accurately, flipping) up the earth as they struggle against the fishing line.
They don't, officially speaking, have individual (or collective) personalities – but it's hard not to declare one my own personal nemesis when a potential prize catch feigns interest until they're practically touching Link's sodden boots... before swimming away to the other side of the pond. And then there's the enigmatic Hylian Loach, the mysterious elongated silhouette who's definitely always sometimes there, but never quite interested enough in the lure to bite... whatever happens, all is forgiven when a big fish finally comes in, sometimes so big even adult Link struggles with their size, that prize catch of the day going in the tank on the counter as proof of my own little victory; a personalised memento of a fun time that'll still be there next time I return.
There are so very many good reasons to keep coming back to Ocarina of Time; the ingenious dungeons, seeing Hyrule fleshed out in full-3D for the first time, the inventive use of time travel, Epona, playing your own melodies on the ocarina, and so much more – but for me nothing beats this tiny area that, in the grand scheme of things, goes nowhere and does nothing. I may not know how many fish I've caught or how big the biggest one of them was, but I do know whenever I open that wooden door and pay my 20 rupees I'm exactly where I want to be.