Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Master Sword (Ocarina of Time)

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in last month's post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future.

#4 - The Master Sword (Ocarina of Time)

I was only seven years old when The Legend of Zelda and I first crossed paths in 1987. I don’t believe I ever truly owned a copy of the original Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge, but I sure had a copy on extended loan from a friend at several points in my childhood. Although I attribute “Final Fantasy” with pushing me towards writing, I do think The Legend of Zelda sparked something in me. This game was different from anything I had ever known. It did not boast a complex story like Final Fantasy would when I played it later on, but it did come packaged with unrivaled exploration and adventure. What I’m trying to express is that I grew up with Link, Zelda and Ganon. Their story is a part of me as a gamer, as a writer, as an explorer and adventurer.

The first copy I truly owned was in Animal Crossing!
Prior to this title, I viewed video games as simple entertainment, something to turn on and enjoy for a few hours. Legend of Zelda was something more, though. It wasn’t just monsters on the screen to shoot or stab, or levels to complete like games I’d played prior. It was like entiring a whole new world and it was the first time I found something of myself in a game. I enjoy being thrust into a world without much direction and left to explore and uncover pieces of the story as I go. As often as I say “I love a game with a good story” the simplistic approach found in Legend of Zelda and mirrored in great games such as Metroid (particularly the “Prime” trilogy) and Shadow of the Colossus is something I also greatly admire.

In the original title, the most powerful blade is called “Magic Sword” but many believe it to be what later titles would call the “Master Sword.” The legend surrounding the Master Sword would first grow stronger when A Link to the Past was released for Super Nintendo. In this incarnation Link must face an evil wizard who has usurped control of Hyrule Castle in an attempt to release the seal that has locked a god-like being named Ganon in the Dark World. In order to succeed Link would need to get his hands on the Master Sword, a powerful blade with the ability to reflect evil magic back at itself. It would require a test of character and he would brave three dungeons to retrieve three pendants in order to awaken the sleeping sword. This quest which ends in a symbolic moment of Link pulling the Master Sword from the stone in the Lost Woods would become an iconic representation of the Legend of Zelda from that moment on.

The Master Sword of Link to the Past
Link to the Past is one of my favorite games ever made so it was difficult to believe that moment in the Lost Woods between a boy and his legendary sword could ever be trumped. When Ocarina of Time hit shelves for Nintendo 64 in 1998, Nintendo really outdid themselves. Again we are taken further into the past of the Hyrule Kingdom. Again Link awakens to find himself thrust into an adventure he was not quite prepared for and rushes into danger without a moment’s hesitation. Link’s first dungeon is an attempt to free the guardian of the Lost Woods, the Great Deku Tree, from an evil curse that has been laid upon it. Though he releases the curse, the Great Deku Tree still withers, but not before giving Link the Spiritual Stone of the Forest and sending him to find Princess Zelda. Anyone who played Link to the Past may realize they are now holding one of the three stones required to awaken the Master Sword.  In an attempt to thwart the evil intentions of Ganondorf, King of Thieves, Zelda sends Link on a quest to find the other two spiritual stones so that he may enter the Sacred Realm and protect the sacred relic, the Triforce, from falling into Ganondorf’s hands.

When I finally stood before the Temple of Time with all three stones in my possession, I already feel like an accomplished adventurer. I have met the Goron people of the mountains, and the Zora people of the sea. I proved myself to them by braving the challenges they put before me and earned the stones necessary to enter the Sacred Realm. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I entered the Temple of Time, the gateway to the Sacred Realm, I stood upon the threshold of one of the greatest moments in gaming history. As I placed the stones on the altar, a door slides open revealing a large chamber. Before me is a sword stuck in stone upon a large hexagonal dias. The symbol of the Triforce is etched into the stone, as well as the dias. This young Link I command wraps his small hands around the hilt of a sword that is slightly larger than he is and pulls it free of its stone prison. The Triforce etched on to the dias begins to glow and then, if that weren’t enough, something unbelievable happens.

Master Sword in the Temple of Time
Ganondorf is there and he thanks me for opening the door to the Scared Realm for him. I was a pawn in his plans all along. The screen fades to white and when vision returns, I’m in a strange glowing chamber. An old man, Rauru, explains he is one of the Seven Sages (I’d heard of them in Link to the Past!) and I am in the Temple of Light in the Sacred Realm. He instructs me to take a good look at myself – I mean, at my Link and I’m astounded to see that I’m not the small boy from the forest, but a grown man. Pulling the Master Sword from the stone, opening the door to the Sacred Realm, placed Link in stasis until he was strong enough to wield the blade and become the Hero of Time. Now, it was time to set right what he and I had done wrong when we allowed Ganondorf to enter the Sacred Realm and claim the powers of the Gods.

I felt as if everything I’d done with Young Link was a long prelude to the real heart of the game. Now I had a goal and a purpose. Ganondorf had used his powers to destroy and corrupt the land of Hyrule and now seven years later he would have to face Link on near equal terms. What a great build up, and a great plot twist. It was an eye opening moment when I realized I had only scratched the surface of what this game was going to throw at me, and how I was not going to have to experience the entire game as the pint-sized hero, but as a full-grown warrior. I was truly blindsided by all this, and it was here that I realized not only was I now in command of a grown Link armed with the Master Sword, but I was actually playing the legend that had been built up in the back-story of Link to the Past. I was witnessing the King of Thieves, Ganondorf, claim victory over the Triforce and become the evil monster Ganon that I had fought many times before. I was playing the origin of it all.

Now I get to play as this guy? AWESOME!
Honestly, what an amazing moment to realize that not only were you instrumental in creating the villain of every Zelda game you had already played, but you were playing out the events you had heard as myths and legends. It is not a wonder to me why Ocarina of Time stands as one of the most highly acclaimed and influential video games of all time. In my opinion, it has not been outshone by any other title in the franchise and I think it would be difficult to do so. Someday I will build up the Courage to face my fears and play the Master Quest version and then I will truly be worthy of the title, the Hero of Time.


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