Categories
Editorial

Ocarina of Time Randomizer Helped Me Love the Game Again

It took me over a decade to beat the Deku Tree in Ocarina of Time.

I don’t know if it was reading comprehension problems or if I was just a dumb child, but for some reason, I never figured out how to break the spider web on the floor in that first room until years later. There was a huge world out there to explore, but my earliest Ocarina memories never left the forest.

Being stuck in that area for so long thankfully (and miraculously) didn’t deter me from seeing what the rest of the game had to offer. Now, I’ve beaten the game front to back a number of times, including two full 100% playthroughs. I’ve fallen in love with Ocarina of Time and consider it one of the finest games ever released. That last part certainly isn’t a controversial opinion, but it truly is a special title — one where its core design and aesthetics has been stuck in my mind forever. To this day, there’s no game that looks and sounds quite like Ocarina of Time to me (with the exception, of course, of its direct sequel Majora’s Mask). Even within the Zelda franchise, there’s something about Ocarina that always seems to suck me in more than any other title.

But there comes a point when you begin to fall out, in a sense, with the games you love. When I looked at Ocarina of Time over on my YouTube channel back in 2020, I examined it in a different way, picking apart its flaws and diving into what makes the game tick. It was an enlightening experience, not just in determining where my nostalgia for the game was masking its flaws, but also revealing just how much Ocarina is stuck in my brain. I can picture every movement, attack pattern, and sound cue for all the enemies and bosses in the game, and when you have that kind of memory, inevitably you forget to think about why it’s memorable. You just accept that that’s what it is; Ocarina is always a static experience, and although I adore it to pieces, its static, unchanging nature prevents it from wowing me anymore.

At least, until I discovered Ocarina of Time Randomizer. I’d heard about this modification for the game years before and even enjoyed some streams and playthroughs of it, but it wasn’t until last year when I finally made the plunge into trying it for myself. There was a hesitation in not wanting to mess with the memories I had of the game, but also a curiosity to see what modifying the adventure would bring to the table. Turns out, it’s not just a fun method of playing the game in a whole new light. It also helped me learn to love Ocarina of Time all over again.

What is Ocarina of Time Randomizer?

Setting up a randomized file is pretty easy, all things considered. The randomizer generates a seed that contains data on the item distribution and a patch that you can place over a ROM of the game to apply the seed. Essentially, this takes the game and shuffles around items that you find in the game’s chests or out in the world. For example, in the chest in Kokiri Forest that normally contains your first sword, you might find a different useful item like the Hookshot — or something less exciting like an arrow refill or a blue Rupee. You never know what you’re gonna get with the randomizer on until you open up a chest. (Unless you’re using hints, which are definitely helpful!)

Beyond changing the locations of items, there’s a ton of flexibility in how the randomizer can change the adventure. Don’t feel like being trapped in the Child Link section before getting the three Spiritual Stones? No problem; just set the Door of Time to be open all the time and become an adult whenever you please. Want to spawn at a random location on the map every time you boot up the game? You can do that. Want to create a confusing layout for Hyrule by randomizing which entrances and doors lead to which location? Change a simple setting and it’s good to go.

Now, I hear some of you already. “Wait, Ocarina of Time is a game with pre-determined item locations. Doesn’t making that all random ruin the game’s flow? Wouldn’t that make it possible for the game to be unbeatable?”

These are certainly valid concerns; you’d expect that a game as precisely designed as Ocarina would almost fall apart at the seams if the original balance is disrupted. But the Ocarina of Time Randomizer team has taken great care to address that problem. The randomizer is built on a comprehensive set of logic that ensures players will never get stuck on an unbeatable seed. The logic considers every setting you have enabled or disabled and determines places where specific items can’t be placed in order to be reachable. That way, you’ll never encounter an instance where, for instance, you need to play a song in order to get the Ocarina.

But that’s only if you want to play it that way. Like any other setting, you can just tell the randomizer to ignore its logic completely and just place items wherever it damn well pleases. So for the speedrunners and glitch enthusiasts out there who want to test themselves to employ all the techniques they can pull off in the game, you can set yourself up with the ultimate challenge.

That’s the basics of the randomizer covered, as going super in-depth on everything it can change would take far too long. I haven’t even mentioned how you can change some sound effects or the colors of items like Link’s tunic. You haven’t truly re-played Ocarina until you hear the Ganon battle theme on the title screen, honestly.

Instead, let’s talk about how Ocarina of Time Randomizer makes the experience comfortable even in its unfamiliarity.

Hyrule with a different coat of paint

The genius of randomizers is that the core experience isn’t altered; mechanically, this is still Ocarina of Time. It’s just the surface-level details and item distribution that’s different. Think of it like a remix; instead of getting an entirely unique game, you’re re-experiencing the same levels and encounters in a unique manner. Depending on what items you get first, you can go through the dungeons in a completely different order or blast through a section because you have already have super-powerful equipment.

You’re already likely familiar with how to beat these dungeons if you’ve played Ocarina of Time before, and all Randomizer does is make you go to different areas to accomplish each part of the checklist. This is the same Hyrule you know and love; you just need to search for each of your tools harder than ever before.

One aspect of the randomizer that’s important to note is how it trims out a lot of the fat that can inhibit people from trying out repeated playthroughs of the game. If you’ve played Ocarina before, you know how slow the text and cutscenes can be and how much of a drag it is to sit through them for the umpteenth time. The randomizer lets you skip those cutscenes if desired, cutting down all the time you spend waiting for the game to proceed.

It’s the quest to find where the important items are, then, that becomes the main focus of Ocarina of Time Randomizer rather than the game’s story. The base game had a fairly consistent set-up where you first needed to find the right items to solve whatever puzzles open the way to the next temple, then locate the important item inside the dungeon to complete it. Now, those items could be anywhere, giving any location where you can find an item an equal amount of importance.

This also means the sequence of progression you need to get certain items is completely turned on its head. With one seed, you might find the Megaton Hammer right in Mido’s house at the beginning of the game and can just grab it instantly. This makes searching for chests locked behind bombable objects much easier. In another, you might find it tucked in an otherwise optional chest inside a dungeon that requires three other items and a number of keys to reach. The journey to find everything you need to get the important tools becomes an engaging and stimulating experience because you have to look at the game from a whole new perspective.

A perspective that, for me, opened up my eyes again to how wonderful Ocarina of Time is.

The joy of re-discovery

When you know a game as intimately as I know Ocarina of Time, playing it again can almost feel just like you’re going through the motions. You know exactly what you’re going to find, so the sense of learning about what the game has to hide isn’t there anymore.

Ocarina of Time Randomizer brings that feeling of discovery back, even if you’re already more than familiar with the game. Every time you open a chest, no matter if it usually contains the best items in the game or would otherwise be skipped, you’re excited to see what it might hold. Finding something that opens up a bunch of new areas and item locations to check becomes a rewarding, gratifying experience — something that gets lost when you’re dealing with the stock item distribution. Even if you wanted to play a seed where all the items are in their default locations (which you can definitely do), the added quality-of-life improvements makes the game more tolerable to replay.

In essence, the randomizer turns Ocarina of Time into a fresh experience even for longtime players. Whereas other Ocarina fan projects like ROM hacks seek to create something new entirely (and they’re great at doing so, mind you), the randomizer presents a familiar game and challenges you to approach it from a different direction.

With that comes a benefit that you don’t usually get when playing a Zelda game; freedom to go in your own direction to find the tools you need. Zelda games are typically designed to have limited freedom regarding the game’s progression; most follow a pretty linear path that, once memorized, becomes second nature. Ocarina of Time Randomizer, alongside the other Zelda randomizers, gives you a more open adventure where you can plan out a route as you go along based on the items you find and what areas they open up.

In essence, the type of player you are helps determine how you go about a randomized playthrough. Perhaps you’re the type of person who likes to clear out all the checks you can reach in the overworld as soon as possible. Maybe you prefer to go through dungeons the instant you have all the necessary items. Whatever your playstyle, the randomizer caters to you and gives you the ability to re-discover this classic title.

Even the most dedicated of Ocarina players will find a new sensation playing through it with a randomly-generated item pool. And that’s what I think is truly remarkable about Ocarina of Time Randomizer: it makes you find something new and refreshing in a nearly 25-year-old adventure.

Starting your Ocarina of Time Randomizer journey

With the continuing development of the randomizer, there’s never been a better time to start your first playthrough. The people over at the Ocarina of Time Randomizer site are providing frequent updates and tweaks to the modification, adding new features and fine-tuning the game’s logic to accommodate for them. But even now, the tool is in such a comprehensively configured state that you can go super in-depth with the customization.

Obviously, knowledge of the original game is recommended to get the most out of the randomizer. I shouldn’t have to say that as I imagine people who haven’t played Ocarina probably have no interest in playing a remixed version of it first. But if you have that experience, I highly suggest that you look into it. The randomizer delivers a unique version of the game each time you boot it up, giving you near endless possibilities for delving through Ocarina of Time.

You’re not going to find what you’re looking for if you want a completely new project that uses the Ocarina of Time engine, but the randomizer enables you to dive into the game again with a new twist. And just like it did for me, it might help you rediscover why a game like Ocarina makes a huge impact in the first place.