The Legend of Zelda: Revisited and Revamped: "The Rebirth of a Legend?and a True Hero's Challenge"
Ocarina of Time: Master Quest
Ocarina of Time Master Quest (MQ herein) is a remixed and re-released version of the original Ocarina of Time which debuted on the Nintendo 64 in late 1998. MQ, however, is available as one half of Nintendo's bonus disc, available as a free promotion to those that preorder the new Zelda game due out in late March, Wind Waker. Officially, the disc was available for release to early adopters on February 16th; however some lucky customers (including this editor) received theirs' as early as the first week of February, whereas others yet may not receive them until Wind Waker ships. Regardless, this review will focus mainly on Master Quest, and will not delve into Ocarina of Time's many innovations and general impact on the gaming industry as a whole.
Ocarina of Time (and by association, Master Quest) is the ?earliest' Zelda game to occur in the Zelda chronology, taking place before, during, and after the ancient great war alluded to in the back-story of the last great (and relevant) Zelda epic, Link to the Past on the SNES and more recently on the GBA. In MQ, the world of Hyrule, and its residents, are much younger, and greatly changed (though hauntingly familiar) from what fans remembered of the previous games. It tells the take of a young (seemingly) Kokiri Elf boy named Link, as he embarks on a journey to acquire a fairy companion, Navi. Of course, these opening moments of his quest barely scratch the surface of the plights ailing the land, and at the prompting of the Princess Zelda, Link will eventually trek back and forth across all of Hyrule, and time itself, in order to set the world aright, as the ancient Goddesses first intended. This is also the tale of Ganondorf Mandorag, the Gerudo King of Thieves, and the realization of his ambition to gain the Sacred Triforce, artifact of the Goddesses who created Hyrule.
So what is Master Quest, then? On the one hand, it is quite simply a modified Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo GameCube. It is exactly the same story, with exactly the same locations to explore, secrets to uncover, and equipment to cleverly utilize. On the other hand, however, it is a throwback to earlier times, on multiple levels. For one, the game is genuinely difficult, more so than Majora's Mask, hearkening back to the frustration and accompanying sense of satisfaction of Link to the Past. Secondly, since it is a more difficult ?remix' of an existing game, one cannot help but recall the Second Quest of the original Legend of Zelda for the ancient NES. Master Quest, to be fully appreciated, should be viewed in exactly this light, and not as a completely new adventure, particularly since it is free. Thanks to this generous and unrivaled promotional offer by Nintendo, however, what was once dismissed as a tragically doomed 64DD vaporware expansion to OoT (Ura Zelda) is now finally available to Nintendo's and Zelda's greatest fans, as a thank you, no less.
For the record, MQ only changes OoT's dungeons, but it dramatically alters all of them. The three ?introductory' dungeons, the five main temples, and all of the secondary/optional areas, such as Under the Well, the Ice Caverns, and Ganon's Fortress all retain their same general layouts, but are rife with brand new battles, puzzles, and sequences of exploration. Ocarina of Time was not a difficult game by any measure, particularly when weighed against its two dimensional predecessors, yet it featured an almost perfect sense of pacing and progression. Meaning, it taught Link, the character and you, the gamer, simultaneously and slowly began to incorporate every single possible combination of skills and equipment into its gameplay, primarily through its ingenious dungeon layouts and puzzles. To that end, many believed that OoT began slow, and took too long to get involved.
Master Quest never pretends to coddle you. Since easily half of your game time and the more enjoyable half by far, will involve the dungeons and its challenges in some form, Nintendo opted to focus on them when implementing the game's revisions. The very first dungeon for example, Inside the Deku Tree, may actually kill you, and will definitely give you shivers in anticipation for all of the dramatic changes to follow. Along these lines, MQ does not disappoint. As mentioned earlier, the actual dungeon layouts have not changed, however, the puzzles and challenges that fill the rooms are almost completely reinvented. All of the items have been juggled about, and you will usually discover a dungeon's main treasures earlier on. The puzzles now tend to focus on those items more, and due to this fact, are much more clever and usually more difficult and rewarding. Lord Jabu-Jabu's Belly is particularly memorable? Mooo!
Surprisingly, Nintendo opted to focus more on puzzles and exploration (which now requires that you proceed through the temples in a completely different manner and order) and toned down the amount of pure combat you will be facing. This is not to say that the combat is easier. Nintendo has incorporated what combat there is into many of the puzzles, and when that was not possible, deliciously decided to throw poor Link against combinations of creatures usually reserved for moments much later in the adventure! Not to leave the lovely Gold Skulltullas out of the loop, every one of those tricky little critters that shows up in a dungeon, now does so in completely different locations. Consequently, they are now much tougher to find, and as you may have guessed by now, much more satisfying to collect.
It is interesting to note that many dungeons no longer require full exploration in order to complete. Quite a few of them leave entire areas open to optional exploration, keeping main treasures and small keys along a more central (though more difficult) path of discovery. Obviously, the rewards for exploration of said optional locations mostly include those elusive Gold Skulltulla tokens, though the new puzzles included in these areas are usually worth completing just for the fun. Some of the challenges are much more unforgiving now, requiring a completely refined logic and much deeper understanding of the nuances and depth of OoT's core gameplay rules, all of them.
The primary Ocarina of Time experience, that of unrivaled gameplay and what is considered to be the paragon of level design philosophies, is perfectly intact in Master Quest, even augmented at times. However, not everything is perfect in this remix of what is considered (by some) as last generation's perfect game. Technologically speaking, the graphics and music simply cannot hold up to what the GameCube currently offers its user base, though the sound effects are just as clear and impressive as ever, and the world building and resulting aesthetic design are truly timeless.
The music is of excellent composition, some of Koji Kondo's finest work and completely dynamic thanks to its MIDI nature. Yet it is N64 MIDI, and not quite at its finest even for its day. The classic Hyrule over world theme that plays during the disc's menu selections (before accessing either OoT or MQ) is stunning, and serves to further highlight just how limited the N64's audio system was. At least the soundtrack is epic, hitting a solid 80 songs, give or take, and encompassing the entirety of the emotional spectrum.
Graphically, the changes invoke a mixed reaction from this editor. They opted to remove the patented Nintendo 64 hardware trick now lovingly referred to as ?blur filtering? in order to bump up the resolution, causing the models to stand out much sharper and with better detail. However, this also succeeds in showing off how low poly some of these models are, and furthermore causes many of the game's already pixilated textures to look even more dated. Frankly, the game looks better on the surface than it did before, but many of its more brilliant cinematic moments look worse. To top it all off, the frame rate remains at its rather inconsistent 18-24 fps mark. The only true upgrade that was done comes in the form of greatly reduced fog, always a welcome change.
The controls were adapted quite intelligently onto the GameCube's controller. The four C buttons on the N64 pad have been mapped to the four cardinal directions of the C stick, with three of those buttons also available as X, Y, and Z. A and B are your context sensitive and sword buttons, not unlike the N64 version. The innovating Z Targeting feature has been faithfully and comfortably adapted to the L shoulder button, and R still raises your currently equipped shield. Two things that should have been tweaked, however, were not.
Playing the Ocarina and utilizing your inventory with the C Stick instead of the C buttons on the N64 pad could have been a very comfortable solution, but the game still requires a digital response, which is not completely compatible with the C Stick's analog nature. This means that to hit a note or access an item using the C Stick, your aim has to be dead on and the stick has to be pushed all the way. Additionally, the GCN analog sticks are much more sensitive than the N64 ones, and the first person controls (such as archery aiming) were not reprogrammed to take this into account. Unfortunately, unless you have very steady hands, your aim will stutter and skip in this incarnation of Zelda 64, at least until you spend a few hours to adjust. At best it is never as comfortable, smooth, or natural as aiming was on the N64 versions.
Purists and early adopters of Ocarina of Time on the N64 might be disappointed / surprised to learn that this iteration of MQ is based off of the N64's version 1.2. To clarify, the original gold cartridge release is v1.0. The subsequent grey copies that were available once the gold carts sold out are v1.1. And the little-known v1.2 cart (also only in grey) was the one to correct the infamous Sword-less Link Glitch, remove the controversial Arabic chanting from the Fire Temple music (resulting in a much more boring song), change the color of Link's earrings making them much harder to see (Miyamoto always regretted this game's art direction), and change the color of the blood that Ganondorf coughs up when defeated from red to green. Master Quest features every single one of the above listed unfortunate changes, though ultimately, they are minor gripes. Bottom Line
Ultimately, Master Quest is a recreated version of a Nintendo 64 gem, given out for free. As far as value goes, it cannot be beat, as you will be receiving a near perfect gameplay experience at no extra charge. A few technical problems mar an otherwise outstanding port, but the new gameplay included in this ?Second Quest' more than makes up for the game's occasional (and ultimately minor) stumbles. The challenge and added depth afforded by the new puzzles and dungeon layouts should have been included in OoT initially in some form, as the game now more closely resembles its predecessors in difficulty and variety. However, there is something to be said about getting arguably last generation's greatest game now, for free, with enough time to spare to enjoy it before experiencing what may be one of this generation's greatest titles. Here's hoping that this preorder program extends to other games, such as F-Zero GC. Who would complain at getting a GCN adaptation of F-Zero X, complete with the Japan 64DD only F-Zero X Expansion?