The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Structural analysis: Act II, Part 1
The First Obstacle
Ocarina of Time’s First Obstacle involves a trip to Hyrule Castle, where the Great Deku Tree wants Link to meet Princess Zelda. Gaining access to the castle requires several smaller steps—talking to a farm girl, hatching an egg, waking the girl’s father, sneaking past the guards—but those steps do not move the narrative forward, so they do not represent entire obstacles. The Deku Tree’s dying command was for Link to meet Princess Zelda, which means everything that stops Link from doing this is part of the larger obstacle. In other words, if Link’s goal is to meet Princess Zelda, the obstacle is the sum total of everything standing in the way of that goal.
When Link finally gains an audience with the young Princess Zelda, she claims that she had a dream that hinted at his arrival. In her dream, dark clouds billowed over Hyrule, but then a ray of light pierced the darkness and a stranger with a green stone came out with a fairy. Since Link received a green stone from the Deku Tree—the Kokiri Emerald, a sacred treasure of the Kokiri—Zelda’s dream must have been about him.
Confident in her powers of prophecy, Zelda tells Link the story of the Triforce. According to the legends, the Triforce is a holy relic that can grant any wish, but granting the wish of an evil person will plunge the world into darkness. To ensure that no such fate ever comes to pass, ancient Sages built the Temple of Time to act as a gateway to the resting place of the Triforce, the Sacred Realm. To open the seal to the Sacred Realm, a person must possess four keys: the three Spiritual Stones and the Ocarina of Time. This is a large amount of information for Zelda to relate all at once, but she believes it is necessary due to the arrival of an evil man from the west, Ganondorf. When she shows Link the man across the courtyard, Link recognizes him as the same man from his nightmares.
Zelda suspects Ganondorf has come to Hyrule to obtain the Triforce, but her father will not listen to her because he does not believe in prophetic dreams. With nowhere else to turn, she asks Link to help her defend Hyrule. To do so, Link must find the other two Spiritual Stones that act as keys to the Triforce. In the meantime, Zelda will defend the Ocarina of Time, which is currently in her possession. Accepting this mission moves the narrative forward to the next narrative obstacle: recovering the Spiritual Stones.
The second Obstacle
Once Link accepts Zelda’s quest, she introduces him to her guardian, Impa. Impa instructs Link to head to Death Mountain, where the rock-people known as Gorons hold the second of the three Spiritual Stones. This helps progress the narrative and gives the player more mechanical obstacles, as the path to Death Mountain is not an easy one. Winning the trust of the Gorons comes with its own complications, as well. Their leader, Darunia, is in a terrible mood, and the only way to soothe his anger is with an uplifting tune on the ocarina.
After some prompting from Navi—the game’s unsubtle tool for offering clues on how to overcome obstacles, both narrative and mechanical—Link returns to the forest and learns a new song from Saria, while reinforcing the bond of their friendship. Playing this song for Darunia helps calm the irate leader down, and he grants Link access to the cavern where the Gorons keep their Spirital Stone. For clearing the monsters out of the cavern, Link is rewarded with the Goron’s Ruby, which brings him that much closer to his goal of gathering the keys to the Sacred Realm.
Acquiring the last Spiritual Stone follows a similar pattern, as Link uses his connection to Zelda to meet with another leader in crisis. This time, it’s King Zora, leader of the aquatic Zora people. His daughter is missing and he needs Link’s help to find her. A little investigation reveals that she’s been swallowed by Lord Jabu-Jabu, a giant fish who rests in a pond behind King Zora’s throne. By traveling into the fish’s innards, Link is able to rescue the Zora princess, and as thanks she gives him her most treasured possession: the cluster of sapphires she calls the Zora Engagement Ring. Link is too young to understand the implications of her gift, but he takes it anyway because it’s also the last Spiritual Stone: the Zora’s Sapphire. With this treasure in his possession, he’s completed his quest for Zelda and overcome the Second Obstacle, which shifts the narrative to the next plot beat: the Midpoint.
A narrative’s Midpoint can typically be classified into one of two types: the false victory or the false defeat. In Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, Snyder defines this divide by saying: “…a movie’s midpoint is either an “up” where the hero seemingly peaks (though it is a false peak) or a “down” when the world collapses all around the hero (though it is a false collapse), and it can only get better from here on out.”¹ The Midpoint in Ocarina of Time is a classic example of a false defeat, as it centers around the failure of young Link and Zelda’s plans to keep Ganondorf from reaching the Triforce.
The Midpoint in Ocarina of Time is comprised almost entirely of cutscenes, rather than gameplay. This string of cutscenes begins when Link arrives at Hyrule Castle after collecting the last Spiritual Stone. As he approaches the drawbridge, the sky grows dark, and soon the scene from his dream plays out in real life. The difference this time is in Zelda’s flight, as she notices Link while riding past and hurls something into the moat for him to retrieve. Before Link has a chance to see what it is, Ganondorf rides out of the castle behind her and demands to know which way she went. When Link refuses to tell, Ganondorf knocks him aside with a powerful blast of magic, then rides after his prey.
As soon as Link wakes up, he dives into the moat and surfaces with Zelda’s parting gift: the Ocarina of Time, final key to the Sacred Realm. There’s also a memory sealed inside the instrument, implanted by Zelda via the royal family’s magic. She instructs Link to use the ocarina and the other keys to open the Sacred Realm and reach the Triforce before Ganondorf returns. Link follows her guidance and heads to the Temple of Time, where he uses all of his keys to open the door in the back of the temple. Inside, he finds a sacred sword and draws it from the pedestal. Blue light surrounds him and the screen fades to white, at which point Ganondorf reveals that this was his plot all along: to trick the children into opening the door to the Triforce, so that he could waltz in behind them and take it for himself. As Link is overwhelmed by the power of the sacred sword, Ganondorf declares his plan a success, and Ocarina of Time marks its false defeat. This moment is also noteworthy for its emphasis on the game’s theme of unintended consequences. Although Zelda and Link had the best of intentions when they opened the Sacred Realm, their actions directly led to Ganondorf’s success.
The remainder of the Midpoint explores the direct aftermath of Ganondorf’s ascension and introduces the glimmer of hope that proves Ganondorf’s victory to be a false one. After Ganondorf takes the Triforce, Link is left in the empty void of space. A new voice calls out: “Link…Wake up…Link, the chosen one…” The endless white fades away to form a blue platform in a vast chamber. An old, heavy-set man in a robe stands on a yellow circle. He identifies himself as Rauru, one of the ancient Sages who built the Temple of Time to protect the Triforce. He then tells Link not to be alarmed, and says: “Look at yourself.”
The camera flips around to reveal a very different, very grown-up Link. He’s taller and more muscular, fitting the image of the hero that many have asked him to be. This is no coincidence. The Master Sword, key to defeating Ganondorf, can only be wielded by someone with the strength of a hero. Since Link was only nine years old when he picked it up, the sword sealed him away inside the Sacred Realm for seven years, only bringing him back when he was ready to control its power.
As Link digests this information, Rauru reveals what’s happened to the world in Link’s absence. Ganondorf did indeed take the Triforce, naming himself the king of evil. His dark power radiated throughout Hyrule’s holy sites and filled the land with monsters. Only the heart of the Sacred Realm, the chamber where Link resides, is protected from his evil influence. Luckily, the power of the other Sages is still alive in the world, and that power can be used to stop Ganondorf. This is the point where Rauru gives Link the task that will become his next obstacle: find the Sages and reawaken their power.
¹ Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 82). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
* Reference Run: ZorZelda. Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D 100% Walkthrough 1080p HD. YouTube, 2017.
** Reference Script: TheSinnerChrono. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Game Script, v01. NeoSeeker, 2008.