Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Ocarina of Time, twenty years later

Twenty years ago, a young boy (of possibly indeterminate age) finally got his fairy and set out on a grand adventure.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of those time-honored classics, critically and publicly lauded as pushing the envelope and bringing an already popular series into three dimensions. Released originally in 1998, it was a hallmark game that I played when I was young (although admittedly several years passed before I finally beat the game). With it turning twenty, and seeing some other people enjoying it online, I felt compelled to revisit it.

The first thing I noticed is that I had become too used to polished modern graphics. Even after fiddling with my television settings (including trying different cord hookups for the N64), I just wrote it off as my version of Link (jokingly dubbed "Fink") being nearsighted. I later grew more accustomed to the old graphics, so it eventually stopped bothering me.

In terms of the story, Ocarina of Time felt very fairy tale like (no pun intended). A lot of the broader implications of what was shown never are explored - you're expected to just take them at face value. How bad was the war prior to the game that it forced people to flee Hyrule itself on fear of death? Why is Ganondorf so unapologetically evil in his dealings with the races of Hyrule? Why is there a torture chamber hidden under the second largest town in Hyrule? There are all kinds of world building details that are only hinted at, never addressed - the kind that many children would not think twice about and yet give me pause. The history of Hyrule is implied to have been bloody and brutal - but we never see that brutality, only the far more saccharine aftermath.

This even applies to Ganondorf's conquest of Hyrule. The seven year timeskip means that we don't know how terrible it was - all we know now is that the castle town is a burned, undead-infested husk of itself, the Zoras were all frozen solid, and almost all of the Gorons were locked up in a prison complex in the heart of a volcano - wait, why does that even exist? If we wanted to get Doylist, the real reason is the lack of technology meant that dynamic events like this could not really be shown (a trait that has persisted in the Zelda series despite the tech having moved way past the N64's limitations), but it's still jarring to realize how non-dynamic a villain Ganondorf actually is. Either he's already done something you can't prevent, or he fails to take any action at all.

While I'm admitted not satisfied with the fairy tale feel of the game, that's more a matter of me having grown past it. To children of the time, it must have seemed amazing, and for some of them that nostalgia factor leads them to praise the story to this day. It's fair though. Like, "Fink", we all have to grow up eventually.

Moving on from the story to the gameplay, it started off strong. There are many unique locations to explore, from the inside of a dying tree to the guts of a sick, fish...whatever Jabu-Jabu is supposed to be. The design of dungeons is highly varied, and each location manages to have the unique feel of actually having a genuine in-universe purpose other than being a dungeon for you to least, at first.

The thing you have to consider when addressing Ocarina of Time is the development cycle. They rushed the later part of development in order to make their planned 1998 release date, leading to two cut dungeons (a Wind Temple and an Ice Temple). This rushed development shows once you get into the final third or so of the game. Dungeons feel more shallow and less developed, the side quests at this point feel rough around the edges and are a pain to complete (I'm looking at you, Biggoron's Sword). And to touch back on the story for a bit, the one new character introduced during this frame (Nabooru) feels detached and not nearly as interesting. Maybe if she'd been introduced earlier...

To illustrate this in terms of gameplay, there's a puzzle in the Spirit Temple that in theory requires you to climb up a wall where the segments are sliding back and forth. The problem is at this point you have the Longshot item, which allows you to just rappel up past the sliding segments and skip the entire puzzle. And although that seems like a clever work-around, keep in mind there are other walls in other locations that they made the Longshot not work on, so why not do it here? And that's not getting into the heavily overused "collect the five silver rupees" puzzles, which get tiresome after the first few times. There's not much variety in them, but they keep showing up.

This applies to the themes of the later dungeons too, in the sense that they don't have a strong theme at all. Both the Water Temple and Spirit Temple feel more like gauntlets of trials specifically designed for the player, rather than an actual functional location twisted by evil powers. As for the Shadow Temple - that is an unholy (again, no pun intended) fusion of it's original dark concept (most of which probably got ported to the Bottom of the Well mini-dungeon) and the cut Wind Temple, with neither standing out thematically.

This doesn't make Ocarina of Time a bad game. I'd say, in fact, that it is still a good game, albeit one held back by the technical limitations of its time and its own rushed development schedule. But is it one of the all-time greats? That's a trickier question. While I cannot and will not dispute it being one of the most influential games of all time, it is one that doesn't quite hold up to other games with timeless gameplay and stories. It's very much worth playing at least once to see how it shaped the games that followed it - both in the Zelda series as well as others - but its replay value is very much a matter of your personal taste. And while I'm glad I replayed it this time, I doubt I will be revisiting it again any time soon...but we'll see.

Goodbye, "Fink". Goodbye, Zelda. Goodbye, Ganondorf And even...goodbye, Navi. It was fun spending time with you again, even twenty years after you made your debut, and maybe I'll see you (or your reincarnations) in the future. (Does Navi have a reincarnation? Who knows.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What my grammar says

Well, since I made this point a few times in my old posts, I might as well restate it for when I delete those posts. My view on this subject hasn't changed, even if the kind of blog I'm running has.

Grammar is a tricky issue, to be sure. A lot of people take great pride in being able to correct other people's mistakes here, often in a sarcastic and borderline rude manner. I won't hide the fact that I've been occasionally guilty of that myself. It doesn't help there are people who really honestly don't even try to be the least bit comprehensible when they communicate via writing.

But that's the key factor, being comprehensible. And most of us can write well enough (side note: it's tempting to say good enough there and see who spots it) to get our point across. At that point, little details like "mixing" up lie and lay, or not putting proper spaces around certain types of punctuation don't really matter.

English is a complex and confusing language as it is, and most of the rules I ignore are the little one-off things that would make anyone trying to learn our language tear their hair out. In fact, there are times a few of the weirder parts make me want to tear mine out. It's what happens when a language that grew out of Germanic roots had a bunch of people impose Latin-based rules on it. (No joke, this is what actually happened.)

This isn't a license to go wild with bad spelling and weird sentences. I'm writing so people can enjoy my stories, which they couldn't do if they can't even figure out what's going on. Even when I deviate from the normal grammar rules, I make a point to be consistent when I do so. So if I'm not putting spaces after an ellipsis, you can bet I'll do that for every ellipsis.

If anyone still objects, fine. I can't stop them. But they can't stop me either; I'll still keep approaching grammar as a set of guidelines instead of rules set in stone. And my stories won't suffer for it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A fresh start

Hello, my name is Chris Mitchell, and I'm really bad at updating blogs. (Note the date of the last post before this one.)

With that said, 2016 is underway, and I've decided that it's time for a fresh start. With it comes a new approach to blogging, one I hope more people will appreciate.

Looking back at a lot of my old posts, it's almost embarrassing how I kept trying to shoehorn in bad jokes and the like, while tending to be too brief about topics. Part of it was trying to run this blog while avoiding being too controversial or revealing too much about myself, which is a really dumb idea when you're trying to run a blog. I feel like I could have done so much better, and put much more time into this whole thing.

So, here's what I am doing. I plan on effectively rebooting this blog, by going in there in a few weeks and deleting all my old, poorly done posts. This post will be the first step of a new approach, where I try to be much more thoughtful about what I say here.

But I decided that there was so much more I wanted to talk about; and that this blog wasn't quite enough to do it. So, as you can see in the sidebar, there is a link to a second blog, one devoted specifically towards video games. You can click on and read more there about what I plan to do with that blog.

I will be updating both blogs simultaneously, although this one may not get too much attention. I'm leaning towards a couple of posts a month here; just enough to keep you up to date on my writing and my views on the writing scene. It'll be more along the lines of when I feel up to it.

That said, I am now on Twitter (a link is in the sidebar), so it should be easy enough for you to follow me and see when I post, both here and on the other blog. This hopefully will allow more readers an easier time to keep track of me, and make it easier for me to keep track of things I'm interested in. It's a win-win all around.

So, anyway, here's to a new journey, a new start, and hopefully a lot better than I've done before. No more flip side jokes to finish off my posts; just enjoy yourselves, and I'll see you all around.