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.