For Better Or Worse, Ocarina Of Time Feels Like Coming Home

There’s a comforting wave of nostalgia. Then, slowly, the creeping sense that everything seems a little bit smaller than you remember. You wake up on the same bed, hear the same voices. Everything looks similar, but different. Enough to create that empty dissonance, a timely reminder that time doesn’t stand still; it pushes forward. With or without your permission.

For better or worse -– playing Ocarina of Time feels like coming home.

I haven’t been back here in years. That’s the desk I studied on, my decrepit laptop tucked away in the corner like a museum exhibit. A dusty collection of board games and books lay tucked underneath my bed. In the corner a television –- who knows if it still works –- that’s the TV I used to play Ocarina of Time the first time round, back in 1998.

And strapped across my shoulder, my hand luggage. Inside, among other things, my 3DS and a copy of Ocarina of Time 3D -– a game that has come to mean so many different things to so many different people.

In 1998, at 17, the game seemed somewhat timely. I obsessed over it, probably not really aware that I somehow related to the adult Link –- having just left High School, straight into University, a bit clumsy in the adult body I was being forced to inhabit. Wondering where the time went.

But aged 30, playing the game again on a different device, in the house I grew up in, with updated visuals –- proof again that time had passed and things are constantly in flux –- I was starkly aware of the parallels.

In Ocarina of Time Link is frozen in sleep for seven years. When he awakes his world is different. The same, but different. The dual world formula is borrowed, of course, from the game’s predecessor, but the idea of a world transformed by time is far more poignant and relatable than A Link to the Past’s Dark World. This is a world alive with a sombre sense of remorse; alive with the decisions you make and their consequences.

As Link you journey to places you’ve already visited as your younger self, constantly aware of the lost years. Malon, your childhood friend, was a child when you left but now she’s on the verge of adulthood, Zora’s Domain – where you used to swim –- is covered in a sheet of ice. Everything’s the same but somehow different.

In a borrowed car, I slowly drive around my home village, grasping for memories, in search of things to recognise. Everything’s the same, but different. My old high school -– the same location, but entirely rebuilt. The field where I spent hours playing football, in a state of disrepair – no nets, outlines faded. Kids don’t really play there any more.

I take my wife for a walk -– ‘this is where Douglas used to live’, ‘this is where I walked the dogs’, ‘I used to meet Neil here’– but the faces are slightly different and I don’t really recognise them anymore. She points at old school photographs -– ‘which was the girl you used to like?’ She giggles. ‘That one,’ I point, smiling. ‘I have no idea where she is now.’

You wonder about the choices you made. As Link you can actively go back and transform your present, but we don’t have that luxury. We only see the consequences of our actions manifest, sparse and unlimited — far from the intricately designed set of circumstances in Ocarina. Things aren’t that simple.

I turn on Ocarina of Time. In the windmill a man is frantically winding a music box. In a bit of a time paradox he teaches you a song, which you then go back in time and teach him, six years earlier. It makes no sense, but it’s fun nonetheless — to have complete control over your actions and their consequences. It’s part of what made the game feel so rewarding in the first place.

But even Ocarina itself can’t escape the effects of time. As I lie playing, legs dangling awkwardly off the bed I outgrew decades ago, I’m struck by how small the game feels. Hyrule Field, once so expansive, now feels restrictive and flat. Dungeons that once lit my imagination up like a Catherine wheel leave me jaded and uninspired. Everything feels just a little bit smaller than I remember.

For better or worse, Ocarina of Time feels like coming home.


    Some very evocative writing, Mark. I feel exactly this way when I put in one of the old gems (MGS, for example).

      One of my favourite moments in gaming ever - and I almost mentioned it in the piece - was in MGS4 when Snake goes back to Shadow Moses. That's a moment that forces you to remember that time has passed, and makes you remember what you were doing when the original MGS came out, what you were like, etc.

      I thought that was just an amazing moment.

        Are you bracing yourself for the nostalgia overload of MGS2's inclusion in the HD Collection?

        I think what made this part of the game so poignant, was that without warning you are suddenly standing in shadow moses...EXACTLY how you remember it, pixelated graphics, same Genome soldiers and their patrol paths you had memorized years before.

        Just as it feels like you're riding a bike you haven't touched in a decade, suddenly everything comes back to the present. The cameras that caught you off gaurd the first time you played are rusted and broken. The spotlights you were so eager to avoid are long since dimmed and that little vent you climbed through on the second floor, after your first test of 3D stealth is no longer nessecary.

        MGS was an amazing game, and comming back to something I have such passionate and enjoyable memories about was somewhat emotional. Even the tongue in cheek humor about swapping the disks got me a little emotional, counjuring up a feeling similar to driving past a childhood friends house years later and seeing a different family living there.

        That whole part of MGS4 was one of the major reasons why MGS as a series is, in my opinion, one of the few video games I would consider art in the same vein as film.

        I had a similar experience at that point in MGS4 (I forget where) when they flash up the overhead/soliton map of that first hangar from Shadow Moses. As soon as the map flashed up, i recognised it immediately. Despite the time that has passed, I still remember where the guys patrolled, where the cameras were, the vents, footprints in the snow, etc. Put a smile on my face immediately.

        I also loved those flashbacks you could watch during cutscenes.

        As a fellow 30 year old gamer myself, I find myself more subjective to this kind of thing. Sounds obvious, I know - but it's kind of cool flashing back to late high school, MGS and hiding in the snow from Sniper Wolf trying to figure out how to get her without having my head taken off.

          The easy answer to that question is to use the Nikita Missile launcher, hold triangle after firing a missle so you can control it first person.....makes that whole battle insanely easy (although I didn't figure this out until my like 8th playthrough.) :P

    Bravo! This is the reason i come to Kotaku. thank you Serrels; you've made my day :D

    Incredibly well written article Mark and you've managed to put into words the feeling I get when playing this game. Well done. I'm glad you're back

    You sir... are amazing!

    It's different for me - having never played Ocarina of Time, it feels very much like going back in time to a bygone era of gameplay. Certainly it's fun and there is heaps to do and see, but much like old games, sometimes it's best to remember, rather than revisit.

    Oh, and great article - more articles like this please.

    I hope that due to these parallels you are able to travel back and fourth between 1998 and 2011

      Ahahaha! My old bedroom is like the Temple of Time...

        only with more tissues and baby oil

    That's a super write up Serrels! :)
    You have no idea how often I sit and think about crazy time paradox stuff like you speak of in this article. Really rings true to me in many many ways. There's something special about coming home. It's strange, but it can never be what it was once you have left it, but when you return, something about it still feels so very right.

    Dear god, while the main page of Kotaku was loading, part of the background was black, so all I saw from the title was "For Better Or Worse, Ocarina Of Time Feels Like Coming", and I was all "UM. WHAT." I know you love OoT Mark, but gosh.

    reading that made me remember my childhood and the memories and excitement ocarina of time gave to me, thank you for writing this.

    Brilliant piece. I feel a similar way when trying to replay games I loved 10, 15, 20 years ago.

    That was amazing, mate - i should kiss you when i'm up there this month! :D

    +10 Nostalgia
    Very cool article

    Wow just wow. I am glad your back dude, your articles are just awesome.

    Nice piece Mark, thanks for the read.

    having a scottish background myself and spending my last year in my primary and first year in secondaray there i had a smiliar expierence when i went back a few years ago having been gone for 7 years it was nostalgic and kinda sad too as things fade and to a shadow of its old self or get re done.

    I felt ripped off though when i found my old high school had been torn down though i was looking forward to checking it out again.

    Good piece of writing Mark something i think we can all relate too.

    Time. What a bitch. The one solace I have is that while we are forced to grow old, we don't have to grow up. Not entirely anyway, thank you videogames.

    Great article.

    Also, have you tried driving at 88mph hour in a Delorean?

    Football doesn't have nets Mark, you silly duffer!

    Brilliant article nonetheless, and a very emotive one too, as those that deal with nostalgia generally are.
    Love it.

    This article is very well written!!! I wouldnt want to adjust anything. thanks

    *applause* No, of course I'm not crying, what are you talking about?

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