Insert cartridge. Power on the Nintendo 64. Fail to load. Remove cartridge and blow out dust. Plug back in. Repeat.
I don’t remember the exact day my stepbrother’s charcoal gray console arrived in my home. In the summer of 2000, it was suddenly a fixture in my living room, a source of new and exciting entertainment for every member of my family. In a shoebox near the CRT TV, you would most certainly find copies of Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Super Mario 64, Snowboard Kids, Goldeneye, Donkey Kong 64, along with several other no-name titles.
And then there was Zelda.
Ocarina of Time had been out for quite a while at this point – though its existence was unknown to me – and Majora’s Mask had been recently released. We owned the classic cartridges of each; the pale gray Ocarina of Time and the flashy gold Majora’s Mask adorned with a holographic sticker. My six-year-old self had no idea what kind of summer I was in for.
The 64-bit processing console with its oblong controllers was my first official foray into the world of video games. My stepdad, stepbrother, and my mother took turns all throughout that summer trying their best to wade through the puzzles and defeat Ocarina’s bosses. I would watch quietly from the couch, enthralled with the colorful temples and melancholy melodies. I can clearly recall one fateful evening when, after many trying hours, my stepbrother and his friend had finally conquered the infamous Water Temple, only to have the entire console freeze at the moment of completion and erase all of their progress. I don’t remember them picking up the controller for a while after that.
So, it was my turn.
My stepfather was busy endlessly frustrating himself with Majora’s Mask during his playtime, so the save files in Ocarina were all mine. My nickname at the time was “Tuna” (I had a love for tuna fish sandwiches), so I happily typed in “Tuna” as my chosen name, smiling at the silliness of a Kokiri child referring to me as such. From there, my adventure began. I braved the musty dungeon within the Great Deku Tree, slaying Queen Gohma at its core. I sprinted across the vast (read: tiny) Hyrule Field, trying to dodge Kaepora Gaepora’s guidance. I met the mysterious princess Zelda and recieved instructions to further my quest. I aided the Gorons on their quest to free their delicious rocks from the Dodongo control. I was unstoppable. Surely Ganondorf would be no match for me at this rate.
But then the next step in the game was to climb Death Mountain. And the falling rocks that pummeled you along your ascent scared my 6-year-old self so bad I burst into tears and refused to continue on my journey.
I begged my mom to complete that portion for me, to just get me up the hill and past the scary rocks to see the Great Fairy, to no avail. I’m not sure if it’s because she just straight up didn’t want to, or if she was attempting to practice good parenting by making me fight my own battles. Either way, I remained afraid, and the Tuna save file went untouched.
Years passed with little to no interaction with video games, and the Nintendo 64 lay untouched. My mom and I moved to Vermont and then back to New Hampshire again. 2004 passed into 2005 and the end of my 5th grade year approached. And as the warmer weather crept in, I was struck with an odd feeling. Whatever happened to that Ocarina of Time game? Should I give it another go?
So I picked up that stupid, wonky, three-pronged controller (seriously Nintendo, why?) and gave it another shot.
And it was like everything I had ever been waiting for.
I passed through the beginning again easily, laughing to myself a bit as I finally climbed Death Mountain. From there my journey continued mostly unhindered. Mostly. Armed with the brain of an 11-year-old and the official guide book long lost, I was prone to getting stuck.
But it just so happened we’d recently acquired a new addition to the family – a desktop computer. We weren’t using computers in school much yet, and most of my experience stemmed from watching my friends attempt to show me AOL instant messenger and then yelling at their moms when they picked up the phone and stole the dial-up connection. But I’d heard whispers in the world that the internet could tell you basically anything. So might they have guides for the parts of these temples I was stuck in?
So thanks to Ocarina of Time, I taught myself how to use the internet. It was not easy going in those early days of the world wide web, but I managed to stumble upon one of the earliest iterations of Zelda Dungeon. I scrolled through walls and walls of text, discovering which wrong turns I’d taken, where Gold Skulltula and heart pieces were hiding from me, and secrets for beating the bosses. The current set up in our two-bedroom apartment was quite odd (my ex-stepfather was in the process of moving out), so the TV and computer were both in my mom’s room, right next to each other. I’d spend moments crouched in front of the TV, white-knuckle grip on the controller, and others scurrying over to the webpage I’d left open to tell me where to go next.
One of my favorite moments from this time is how hard I found the Forest Temple boss to be. I think it literally took me thirty-plus tries to defeat him, and when I did, I cheered so loud and excitedly, even my mother cheered with me, grabbing me in a tight hug. Finally besting the final boss brought on a similar feeling, and filled me with such immense joy, I knew one thing to be sure.
I loved video games.
I replayed Ocarina of Time over and over again, each time better than the last. I avoided Majora’s Mask like the plague however, finding the game’s spooky things strangely haunting. It wasn’t until my later teen years that I finally attempted to play the game, after acquiring the Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition for GameCube.
Ocarina of Time had gone untouched for a while now though, having replayed it so many times, and also being distracted by newer titles like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. But now it was the beginning of my senior year of high school, and we had been tasked with choosing our senior project topic. I think you know where I’m going with this.
I bullshitted my way into writing an Ocarina of Time walkthrough for my senior project. Which meant I essentially got to play video games for my final major project of my entire high school career.
Erin’s Edit: Her walkthrough was awesome. Like, she clearly had the superior senior project.
The memories of discovering those early walkthroughs of the games and how helpful they had been to child-me stuck with me. And I thought it would be a magical experience to create something others found helpful. Plus, I had a few handy tricks and shortcuts up my sleeve from my infinite playthroughs I thought others might find handy.
For the better part of my senior year, I spent my evenings kneeling in front of the CRT TV in my room, playing the game, then pausing to write my steps on pencil-yellow notepads. A few more steps in the game. Quick break to write. And on until I had filled two entire notepads with instructions.
I went far beyond the walkthrough as well, diving deeper into the game’s lore to write character descriptions, enemy descriptions and battle tactics, walkthroughs of side quests, a history of Nintendo and the game’s development, and more. It was like rediscovering my love of the game all over again and cementing it even further into my heart. In fact, I think this whole process deeply contributed to my love of world-building.
For some awful reason, I decided to present the thing in a scrapbook style format. Evaluators were confused and unimpressed, but I received praise from teachers for my meticulous adherence to the rubric. And so I passed. The behemoth binder it resides in remains in my closet. I still plan to one day scan the pages into my computer so I can print a slimmer version.
I took a break again from the game, wading back into its enticing world when the 3DS version came out. I’ve played it a handful of times since then, but it’s been several years now since I’ve touched it. The Nintendo 64 is long gone. The cartridges sit on my bookshelves, homages to a different time.
Even as I write this, remembering all the ways in which Zelda is part of me, I don’t have plans to pick the game back up any time soon. I’m a little burnt out on Ocarina, and eagerly await Breath of the Wild 2.
Despite all this, if you were to ask me what my favorite Zelda game is – hell, even just my favorite game – I would still answer the same.
Ocarina of Time.