by Carlos Gomez (aka The Lost Hylian)
Rediscovering the wonder of Ocarina of Time through the eyes of my son.
That first time you played through a Zelda game–do you remember it? Do you remember the excitement of your initial exploration and the exuberance of solving difficult puzzles for the very first time? Though I have always loved the replay value of titles in the series, I can say that you can only experience the game for the first time once… or can you?
When I look back at when Ocarina of Time was released, I remember being a gangly fifteen year old trying to make sense of the world. It was a struggle at times, to be sure, but not so much when making sense of Hyrule. This was the era of the Nintendo 64 which offered a three-dimensional retelling of the Zelda story. This rich new world created a depth not previously seen in video games. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, as the title consistently places on the various “Best Game of All Time” lists. Not bad for a game nearing 25 years of age at the time of this article.
It’s still one of my go-to games today, and I try to complete a play through at least once a year. I attempt to experience the magic that had captured my heart in what feels like ages ago. It’s always a treasure but never matches that first play through. Back then, everything was new, and I explored without any real direction (not so much now, as I essentially have temples and dialogue memorized). Needless to say, I haven't completed a play through this year but instead had a much more surreal experience that brought me back to the beginning. Like Link’s placing the Master Sword in the pedestal in the Temple of Time to flash back into childhood, so, too, did I place the game in my son's hands and transform.
For the first time in many years, it was like playing the game anew through the eyes of my son Apollo. I went from the experienced and wise adult Link back to the wide-eyed child Link. I was able to relive the adventure with a sense of wonder not experienced for years. I watched him stumble around Kokiri Forest, not quite certain where to go, which was a strong change from my fluid but repetitive play throughs. I found his wonder at each new discovery infectious, his chaotic changes of direction refreshing and his assessment of Navi being annoying and strangely accurate (we still love you, Navi).
While watching him, I began to remember how difficult some obstacles were during my very first play through. Whether it was simply gathering lost chickens or chasing down the Poes hidden throughout Hyrule Field, I had forgotten that feeling of figuring out ways to succeed. My play throughs, in contrast, had become simple clock work, the experience simply the reflections of a journey long ago completed. Yet with my son, each area explored offered new challenges as his skillset began to grow. I often found myself biting my tongue when he would unknowingly pass undiscovered treasures or hidden pathways and then cheer him on as he took down boss after boss.
As he hit his stride defeating them, I reflected on my own boosts of confidence on how it felt to vanquish the likes of King Dodongo. Each victory further boosted his confidence like his growing line of heart containers. He didn’t know that a true test awaited him… one not for the faint of heart or the easily dissuaded… a test that, to this day, puts fear in the hearts of the timid.
The Water Temple.
Often lauded as one of the most difficult dungeons in Zelda history, I must admit that I get a little anxious anytime I think about it or do a run through. Like an illness, I avoid it, and yet, like a rash, it will not be ignored.
My son, however, didn’t know any better. He charged straight in expecting the level to be cut down as easily as a jumping Tektite. We experienced gamers in the Zelda community know that he could not be more wrong. Now, we can all agree that the enemies in the temple were not said to be harder than any other, per say. No, it’s the relentless and repetitive nature of raising and lowering the water levels that inspires madness within us all. If you miss a key item after you’ve changed the water level, it could easily result in a backtracking nightmare. Several times I watched him put down the game and walk away to regain his sanity. It was at this point in his most dire straits that he reached out to me.
“Dad, can you help me?” he asked, and so I did.
Like the fairy poured from a bottle to bring Link back from the brink, I rushed in to give the much-needed assist. Now, before you game purists out there jump to the conclusion that I took over the game and denied my child the chance at achieving his own victory, I did not. I simply helped reset him to a previous mistake and gave him advice on a way forward. Remember, my dear reader, that the very first warning of the very first game in the franchise is this: “It’s dangerous to go alone!”
Thus, all it took was that little nudge, and he quickly regained focus finding his way to the temple’s heart and dispatching the boss Morpha. The sense of accomplishment shone in his eyes mirrored my own. From then on, it was a race to the finish, and as of this submission, I can say he has finally reached Hyrule Castle.
He is battle hardened and prepared. I don’t know if Link’s in-game pixels can move with swagger, but he definitely appears to with my child at the helm. I felt the same during my time climbing, swimming, and screaming “Hi-yah!” all over Hyrule. I knew way back then that Link would come out triumphant, just as I know the same will happen now. With my son at the controls, I can’t wait to see it and be a part of the moment with him.
So many times in both the AZP podcast and the blog posts, we have spoken of Zelda representing family. No moment has rung more true for me than this one. Before my very eyes, Ocarina has merged the two real life timelines of father and son. Adult and Child Link are separated by seven years, while twenty five spans between my first play through and that of my son. The magic of the game remains strong and has fed our bond. When it’s all over, Link will place the Master Sword back in its pedestal, and I will place the game back in its case. However, I take great comfort in knowing that it is not truly the end. There are many more adventures featuring Link both young and old. I look forward to experiencing them through the eyes of my child, who, in making me young again, has become my Hero of Time.
What about you? Is there a Zelda title that brought you closer to a child or parent? Please share your thoughts by reaching me @The_Lost_Hylian on Twitter, thelosthylian on Instagram, or check out my Facebook page, The Lost Hylian.