The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Structural analysis: Act II, Part 2
The Third Obstacle
Unlike the cutscene-heavy Midpoint, Ocarina of Time’s Third Obstacle is primarily focused around gameplay. The majority of the plot points within the obstacle focus on characters that have already been established and show how they’ve changed in Link’s absence. Both of the dominant themes, friendship and unintended consequences, are reinforced in small moments that occur between mechanical trials. These moments serve to maintain the story’s presence, even as gameplay limits the narrative’s forward momentum.
The Third Obstacle begins when Link returns from the Sacred Realm and reappears in the Temple of Time. As Link gets his bearings, a new ally emerges from the shadow: Sheik, the last of the Sheikah race. Sheik claims that Link will find the other Sages in five temples scattered around Hyrule: one in a deep forest, one on a high mountain, one under a vast lake, one within the house of the dead, and one inside a goddess of the sand. Although the locations are wildly different, the process of awakening each Sage is similar, both narratively and mechanically. Each time, Link will encounter an old friend—with one notable exception—and each time, Link will help them with a personal crisis brought about by Ganondorf’s rise to power. Helping these people will invariably involve a dangerous trip through a sacred temple, which is where the narrative weaves in the majority of its gameplay. Each one of these sub-stories has the added benefit of being self-contained, which means the player has some flexibility in which order they encounter them. The typical narrative drawback for this kind of branching is that the characters can’t refer to any single event until all of them have been completed, but Ocarina of Time’s isolated regions lend themselves to disconnected stories.
The first person in need of help, the Sage of Forest, is none other than Link’s childhood friend, Saria. To awaken her, Link returns to the same meadow where she taught him the song to soothe the wild Darunia. Sheik is waiting in the meadow when Link arrives. He reflects on the importance of childhood memories, emphasizing the theme of friendship, then teaches Link a song that will allow him to return to the forest with ease. Once Sheik departs, Link is free to clear out the family of ghosts inside the Forest Temple, and fight the demonic Phantom Ganon. When the phantom falls, a portal takes him back to the Sacred Realm to see the newly awakened Sage of the Forest, Saria. It’s a bittersweet reunion, as Link has grown so much while she’s stayed young, like all Kokiri. Saria swears she’ll do her duty as a Sage, leaving him with the words: “I will always be…your friend…” Once again, the theme of friendship is reinforced, as is the fact that Link’s time spent sleeping in the Sacred Realm has cost him dearly.
When Link returns to the mortal world, he lands in front of the remains of the old Deku Tree just in time to see a sprout spring from the ground. It’s a young, new Deku Tree, eager to assume its role as guardian of the forest. Its first act is to explain why Link has aged when Saria hasn’t: because Link isn’t really a Kokiri. He’s a Hylian, one whose ailing mother left him in the care of the old Deku Tree before she passed. This isn’t a particularly shocking twist, as Link’s been the odd man out among the Kokiri for his entire life, but it does reinforce the idea that Link’s destiny has been set since long before the game began.
The second Sage, the Sage of Fire, is Darunia of the Gorons. The Goron city on Death Mountain has been all but abandoned since Ganondorf assumed control, and the few Gorons who stood against him were locked in the Fire Temple. With the help of Darunia’s son, who shares Link’s name, Link is able to reach the heart of Death Mountain and the Fire Temple. Sheik appears again to comment on the importance of Link’s friendships and teach him a song for his ocarina, establishing what will become a pattern for the Third Obstacle. After Sheik departs, Link fights his way through the temple, frees the Gorons, and rescues Darunia. His efforts yield another trip to the Sacred Realm, where Darunia awakens as a Sage and thanks Link for his help.
With two Sages saved, Ocarina of Time’s settles into its established pattern. The third Sage, Ruto, currently presides over a kingdom in crisis. Her people have been frozen beneath the lake by Ganondorf, and Link must help her purge the curse in the Water Temple to thaw them out. She’s particularly adamant that Link be the one to help, since she’s been waiting seven years for him to return after he promised to marry her. The now-teenaged Link figures out what Ruto meant by the ‘Zora Engagement Ring’ she gave him all those years ago, which reinforces the theme of unintended consequences, but he’s given a reprieve when she awakens as a Sage and is no longer free to marry him.
With three temples down, Link’s next stop is the ‘house of the dead’, otherwise known as the Kakariko Village Graveyard. When Link arrives in the village, the buildings are all on fire and the sky is thick with smoke. Sheik is there as well, preparing to fight an evil presence in the well. When the evil emerges, it’s an amorphous, barely-visible monster that neither of them can best. It hurls Sheik aside with ease, knocks Link out, and escapes to the Graveyard.
Once Link comes to, Sheik reveals that Impa, Zelda’s old caretaker, is the Sage of Shadow and has gone to the graveyard to fight the newest evil. Sheik’s song takes Link to the temple beneath the graves, but Link can’t enter without the village’s treasure, the ‘Eye of Truth’. According to the villagers, an old man who could ‘see the truth’ once had a house in the windmill near the neighboring well, which is now completely dry. The Eye of Truth is hidden somewhere down in the sewers, but it’s not possible to for Link to get down that at his current size. To enter the well and find the Eye of Truth, he needs to be the size of a child.
The quest to open the Bottom of the Well is is notable for the way it reinforces the game’s theme of unintended consequences. It functions as a self-contained story, beginning when Link meets the owner of the windmill as an adult. The man is agitated and jittery because a child came into his windmill seven years ago and played a song that drove the windmill out of control. If Link takes out his ocarina, the man will even teach Link the song—which enables Link to go back and time and play it for him as a child, thus overpowering the windmill. This sequence creates a time paradox, as Link learned the song from the windmill owner, who in turn learned it from Link. This paradox is a solid example of an unintended consequence, as the young Link inadvertently becomes the one who ruined the windmill owner’s life.
Fortunately, Link’s plan works as intended, granting young Link access to the Bottom of the Well. He finds the Lens of Truth inside, which allows him to access the Shadow Temple and free Impa from the clutches of the spirits within. Impa awakens as a Sage, then promises that it won’t be long until Link meets Princess Zelda again.
With one Sage left to awaken, Link heads to the Gerudo Desert in the west, where the Spirit Temple is located. This segment of the narrative deviates from the pre-established pattern in the Third Obstacle because Link has no allies in the desert, which means the Sage is not someone Link knows. The Gerudo Desert is also unfamiliar territory, as Link was not able to previously access it as a child.
If the Gerudo were disconnected from the story as a whole, this segment would be out of place. The reason it works is because it provides necessary insight into the antagonist, as Ganondorf is a Gerudo himself. He’s the first male Gerudo born in a hundred years, which means he was destined to lead them the same way that Link was destined to leave the forest. The choices they make as they follow their similar destinies are what put them on separate paths.
When Link first enters the Gerudo Valley, he’s arrested for being a man in the Gerudo’s all-female city. Link escapes, earning their respect, and they tell him where to meet Ganondorf’s second-in-command, Nabooru. Unfortunately, when Link gets to the Spirit Temple, she’s gone. Instead, Sheik is waiting for you, where he teaches Link a new song and tells him that he must return to this place as a child. Following his instructions brings Link face-to-face with a younger Nabooru, who has no interest in talking to a child. Her mood changes when Link admits that he hates Ganondorf. As it turns out, she does, too. She believes Ganondorf’s methods are too extreme, as he steals for women and children and kills. To make Ganondorf pay, she devises a scheme to steal a treasure from the Spirit Temple and enlists the young Link’s help. Unfortunately, as soon as Link succeeds, Ganondorf has two old witches kidnap Nabooru. To set things right, Link returns to the temple as an adult and breaks the spell the witches have on Nabooru, which awakens her as a Sage. At long last, Link has overcome his final obstacle, which takes him to the next story beat: the Crisis.
The Crisis plot beat, the dark moment before the dawn, is the moment that Blake Synder defines as: “…the opposite of the midpoint in terms of an ‘up’ or a ‘down.’ …All aspects of the hero’s life are in shambles. Wreckage abounds. No hope.”¹ In Ocarina of Time, Link’s hope up to this point has been to reunite with Zelda, so the appropriate narrative course would be to take her away. This is exactly what happens, which leaves the narrative in just the right place to hit a proper Climax.
The Crisis plot point begins when Link has awakened the final Sage and returns to the Temple of Time to meet Sheik. The Sheikah applauds Link’s efforts, then relates an ancient Sheikah legend about the Triforce. According to the legend, the Triforce has three components: Power, Wisdom, and Courage. If a person’s heart is not in balance when they take the triforce, then it will split into three, and that person will only have the portion they most believe in. Because Ganondorf had an unbalanced heart, he only received the Triforce of Power, and he’s spent the last seven years looking for the other pieces. Link, the Hero of Time, is currently hiding the Triforce of Courage inside him. As for the Triforce of Wisdom, that’s being held by Sheik—better known as Princess Zelda.
Zelda has been in hiding for seven years, using the Triforce of Wisdom to conceal herself as Sheik. She apologizes for the deception, but it was the only way to hide from Ganondorf. She never anticipated that Link would be sealed away all those years ago and hadn’t planned for his absence. She also hadn’t counted on Ganondorf using Link as his ticket to the Sacred Realm. According to her: “All of this is an unfortunate coincidence.” To set things right, she gives Link the Light Arrows and tells him to combine them with the power of the Sages to defeat Ganondorf. At last, Link has everything he need to defeat the King of Evil.
As if on cue, an earthquake rocks the Temple of Time and a giant crystal forms around Zelda. Once again, Ganondorf has been following Link, and he’s got his prize at last. He steals Zelda away, leaving Link alone and reinforcing the theme of ‘unintended consequences’ through his actions. Once again, Link has led Ganondorf to victory, even though he never intended to do so.
With Zelda in Ganondorf’s clutches, the evil king now possesses two of the three pieces of the Triforce. Link, owner of the third piece, is the only one who can save her. By going after her, Link risks putting the complete Triforce in Ganondorf’s hands, but if he doesn’t, she’ll be encased in crystal for eternity and the world will only grow darker. To save Hyrule and its princess, Link must be willing to risk everything one last time.
Turning Point Two
Like Turning Point One, Turning Point Two bridges the gap between acts—this time, between Acts Two and Three. This second Turning Point is a brief yet significant moment that builds off of the momentum established by the Crisis and sets up the Climax. In Ocarina of Time, this moment features another literal threshold, this time in front of Ganon’s floating castle: a dreary, foreboding building that hovers over a bed of lava. As it stands—or floats—Link has no way to enter the castle to rescue Zelda, but the awakened Sages are able to build a bridge of light that takes him right to the front door. By crossing this bridge, Link transitions between a known world and an unknown world, and the story transitions into its final act.
¹ Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 86). 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.