November 21st, 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Japanese launch. To mark this historic Hyrulean occasion, we’ll be running articles throughout the week dedicated to the game, our memories, and its legacy. Today, Gavin ponders the pros and cons of remaking The Citizen Kane of Games™...
The remake. The remaster. The reboot. The revival. At this point, it feels like a couple of decades since these words entered common parlance when discussing pretty much any audio-visual entertainment, but in reality it stretches back farther, at least to the late 1920s when film studios started remaking silent cinematic classics as talkies.
These days, when your sequelitus has finally cleared up, you can expect a relapse in the form of a total franchise overhaul that captures the spirit of the original text but switches things up just enough to modernise it for a new generation. And if the reboot falls flat on its face? No problem — ctrl+alt+del and re-reboot a couple of years down the line — “We heard you!” And when sufficient time has passed for critical reappraisals to reframe past failures, you can then wrap everything up with a neat multiverse movie that adds a nice glaze of redemption and wrings juice from turkeys long since cooked. Wink at the fandom while you hand it over (hey there, George), and you’re all set for the next course!
While video games haven’t quite gone down the multiverse plughole just yet, old titles reworked and repackaged on a newer, better format are an everyday occurrence and can extract just as much cynicism from a seasoned gamer. Take Ocarina of Time, famously the Best Video Game Of All Time according to many gamers and critics, Meta- and otherwise. Following the N64 original in 1998, it was re-released on GameCube in 2003 alongside Wind Waker, and with some extra Master Quest material, before appearing on Virtual Console for Wii and Wii U, and getting a full 3DS remake in 2011 courtesy of Grezzo. You can play it on Switch, too, if you’re a Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack subscriber.
As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to play Ocarina in 2023. And yet! The desire to see one of gaming’s greatest achievements remade to take advantage of two-and-a-half decades’ worth of technological and design advancements is almost irresistible. Do we need an Ocarina remake? Not really. Would we play an Ocarina remake? Abso-bloody-lutely.
Capcom has proved not only the financial impetus but the artistic merit in revisiting and totally reworking past masterpieces
In many ways, remasters and remakes make far more sense with video games than in other media. We want to be able to play our favourites in the best possible light on our current machines, and while some might arguably get the cadence wrong (we’re taking bets on the next Last of Us re-release announcement), generally a remaster/remake is treated with less scepticism in gaming circles.
The arguments for an Ocarina of Time remake are easy to come up with, but they also don’t quite jibe with Nintendo’s ethos to ‘surprise’ as well as ‘delight’. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to put both Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD on Switch, but — so far, at least — they haven’t materialised. The 3DS version took off most of 64-bit Ocarina’s rougher edges in the visual and inventory-management departments with a handful of tweaks that make it arguably the best way to play (if you own a 3DS). There are small, sensitive improvements that could improve the original. No game is perfect.
However, sprucing up the visuals and tidying up the Water Temple and a few other loose ends hardly feels like reason enough to remake the entire game, does it? All those Unreal Engine demos are very pretty and shiny, but just giving Ocarina a lick of skin-deep UE5 and some nice HDR is a novelty that would wear off fast.
Despite what some people might say (we’re not even going to link to the brief discourse set off by a tweet a couple of weeks ago suggesting Ocarina’s a bit rubbish), even with the foibles of its vintage and its design being closely tied to a non-standard controller by today’s standards, Ocarina holds up very well. The impetus to ‘right its wrongs’ and make it ‘playable’ for 21st-century players doesn’t exist in the way it does for other classic games from yesteryear with off-putting controls or other antiquated elements.