We all have things that were particularly seminal to our childhoods. Perhaps it was a favourite movie that made you laugh no matter how many times you watched it, or maybe it was a certain musician you listened to whenever you felt blue.
Invariably, our adult selves become the products of these things, of our childhoods. They are the things we hold up as being important to us, they make up aspects of our personalities, they inform how we behave and think about the world. And inevitably, they are the things we pass onto the next generation.
Being born in the late 90s, I had a favourite band and a favourite movie (Nirvana and The Fellowship of the Ring, in case you were wondering), but I also had Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank. I had video games, not something many generations prior can say. But even so, I missed out on a lot of good stuff: Metal Gear Solid, Halo: Combat Evolved, and perhaps most importantly, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
These classic games are often described as being crucial to the development of the industry we know and love today, and rightly so: they had innovative graphics, they defined genres, broke down barriers. Would we have Battlefield if not for Wolfenstein, or Mario Kart if not for… well, Mario Kart? Probably not. Certainly, the modern gaming world would be a very alien place without them. But as I recently found out when I played Ocarina of Time for the first time on 3DS, these masterworks of gaming are very much relics of their day.
As a kid, I completed Jak and Daxter countless times. The second I blasted Gol and Maia with white eco (that’s not a euphemism!) and watched the eponymous heroes doing their little victory dance, it was straight back to Misty Island to do it all over again. And when the HD collection came out on PS3, I replayed the whole trilogy. Twice.
The Jak and Daxter games are to me, the same warm reassurance that everything in the world will be all right that Ghostbusters or Back to the Future might be to someone else. And, in the same way that I would defend Jak and Daxter to the death because they meant the world to me as a kid, a lot of people will condemn me as an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about when I say I don’t like Ocarina of Time.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to judge games that were released almost 20 years ago by today’s standards, and that’s not what I’m doing here. It’s a good sign that games like Ocarina of Time have become dated: it’s proof that game development has progressed, a fact that was made abundantly clear to me when I finally donned the infamous green cap. But even still, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit disappointed.
I’ve heard countless stories about how great Ocarina of Time is. About how magical it is the first time you learn Epona’s song, how horrible the heartbreak is when the Deku Tree dies, how elating it feels when you finally get your hands round the Master Sword. But as a grown man experiencing them for the first time, these moments didn’t inspire that magic.
I think what a lot of people hold so dear to their hearts is not necessarily Ocarina of Time itself, but the memories they have of playing it as a kid; of waking up one Christmas morning and seeing an N64 or a GameCube sandwiched between a Furby and one of those dogs what does backflips. Memories of swapping dungeon secrets at school, or telling creepy stories about haunted cartridges in the dark with a torch held menacingly under the chin.
But without those memories, I’m not blinded by nostalgia towards Ocarina of Time in the same way that I am with Jak and Daxter. Epona’s song, the Deku Tree, the Master Sword, they don’t mean anything to me. The Water Temple isn’t something I remember with a rueful acceptance, I see it for what it is: a tedious slog.
Nonetheless, I can appreciate the significance of Ocarina of Time, and believe me, I do. In the same way that the Lord of the Rings books inspired generations of elves, wizards, and orcs to go on epic fantasy adventures, so too did Ocarina of Time lay a lot of the brickwork for the games that came after it; particularly open world RPGs, my favourite genre.
So maybe one Christmas morning, Ocarina of Time was, in fact, the best game ever made (and if in your eyes it still is, that’s totally cool with me), but it’s not anymore. And maybe you’d say Jak and Daxter suck by today’s standards too, and maybe you’d be right. But then again, you’re just an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
(I wrote a similar, slightly more in depth, article on video game nostalgia, particularly in relation to Call of Duty 4’s upcoming remastering, which you can read here.)