The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Structural analysis: Act III
In the Three Act structure, the Climax represents the release of all the tension that has been building throughout the narrative. Unlike its Midpoint and its Crisis points, Ocarina of Time’s Climax relies heavily on player interaction, as the player must take control of Link to fight Ganondorf. This syncs with Robert McKee’s vision for the climactic moment: “[It] must be “pure,” clear, and self-evident, requiring no explanation. Dialogue or narration to spell it out is boring and redundant.”1 Link’s triumph over Ganondorf is not something that requires extensive narration, as their conflict has already been adequately established. The Climax itself—the final battle—is the natural unfolding of the events that have come before.
Ocarina of Time’s Climax begins with Link entering Ganon’s castle. Once inside, he’s faced with six chambers of puzzles that must be solved in order for him to ascend the central tower. At the end of each chamber, he receives encouragement from the corresponding Sage, emphasizing the theme of friendship, and the Sage breaks their part of the seal on the tower. With all six seals broken, Link is able to climb the steps and come face to face with the King of Evil.
At the top of the tower, Ganondorf can be found playing an organ in a bright, expansive chamber. Princess Zelda hovers overhead, imprisoned in the crystal. As Ganondorf stops playing, Link’s piece of the Triforce glows in his hand. Ganondorf comments that he didn’t expect the missing pieces of the Triforce to be inside Zelda and Link, but now that they’re here, he’s happy to take them.
Waves of evil magic surround him, blocking Navi from getting close as he challenges Link to a fight. Although Link must fight without his fairy’s assistance, he’s able to triumph by reflecting Ganondorf’s own magic back at him. Falling to his knees, Ganondorf asks how he could have been beaten by a kid. Even though Link has become an adult, Ganondorf still sees him as the boy who defied him all those years ago.
The palace walls shatter and Zelda’s crystal breaks apart. She descends from the ceiling, no worse for the wear. She calls Ganondorf a pitiful man and laments that he could not control the power of the gods without a strong, righteous mind, but her musings are cut short when an earthquake rocks the ground and the tower begins to collapse.
With a three-minute timer to add both mechanical challenge and narrative tension, Link flees the tower with Princess Zelda in tow. When they reach the bottom, the entire building collapses, leaving a pile of stone. Zelda breaths a sigh of relief, but then something moves in the rubble. When Link approaches, the rocks burst apart and Ganondorf emerges. The Triforce of Power still glows in his hand. With a scream of rage, he calls on its power and transforms into a nightmarish beast: Ganon.
This is the final fight; the climax of both the story and the game. Zelda is cheering Link on from the sidelines and Navi can fight with Link once more. The most important people from his journey are with him, both in spirit and in person. Together, they face the source of all the evil that has threatened the world. Everything has been leading up to this moment.
Ganon begins by swatting the Master Sword out of Link’s hand. From a narrative standpoint, this leaves Link without his strongest weapon. Mechanically, the player may have several stronger tools in their kit, but none are capable of delivering a killing blow. That’s a small detail in the grand scheme of the game’s story, but it mitigates the ludonarrative dissonance that might result if Link could deliver the final blow without the sword at the center of the story.
Without his sacred blade, Link is forced to circle Ganon until he has an opening to run for the Master Sword. Retrieving the sword is what finally allows Link to bring Ganon to his knees. From there, Zelda uses her holy powers to pin the monster in place, giving Link all the room he needs to put the Master Sword through the demon king’s skull.
If the Climax is when all of a story’s threads come together, then the Wrap-Up is where the loose ends are tied off. Although the main focus of the wrap-up is often on the protagonist, Robert McKee argues for inclusion of the secondary characters, saying: “If a film expresses progressions by widening into society, its Climax may be restricted to the principal characters. The audience, however, has come to know many supporting roles whose lives will be changed by the climactic action.”³ Ocarina of Time follows McKee’s guidance by first exploring the Climax’s impact on the protagonists, then touching on its broad supporting cast before returning to the protagonists for the closing images.
As with many video games, Ocarina’s wrap-up begins after the player has taken their final action. The moment of transition occurs when Link pulls his sword from Ganon’s head. Zelda, calling on the power of the Sages, opens the door to the Sacred Realm and seals Ganon inside. Back in his human form, he swears revenge within the void, screaming that as long as The Triforce of Power is in his possession, he’ll have the strength to come back and fight Link and Zelda’s descendants.
As Ganondorf fades into light of the Sacred Realm, the scene shifts to Link and Zelda in a cloudy expanse. Zelda thanks Link for everything he’s done, and says peace will come to Hyrule for a time. She then laments how they came to this point in the first place, saying: “All the tragedy that has befallen Hyrule was my doing…I was so young…I could not comprehend the consequences of trying to control the Sacred Realm.” This is an about-face from her earlier remarks in the Temple of Time, when she said that what had become of the world was an ‘unfortunate coincidence’. This change in perspective represents the strongest moment of character growth in the game, as it shows how Zelda’s outlook has been reshaped by the events of the narrative. As a way of atoning for her mistakes, Zelda decides to give Link the time he lost when he was sealed away in the Sacred Realm. Using the Ocarina of Time and her power as the seventh Sage, she sends Link away, choosing to carry on as an adult herself.
Link’s departure from the Temple of Time represents the end of the primary story arc, but there are still loose threads that must be tied. In this case, the threads belong to the secondary characters. This is a common point for ensemble stories to revisit a wider cast. To make sure they all get a moment of screen time, Ocarina gives the whole cast a joint epilogue by showing them together at a party during the credits. Even the Sages fly overhead towards the end, where they land on Death Mountain to celebrate their victory as a group.
With the secondary threads tied off, the scene shifts to the Temple of Time, where Link emerges as a child. Now that the Master Sword set to rest, Link has completed the task given to him by the Deku Tree, which means he no longer needs Navi’s help. As church bells ring out over the town, she flies away, and Link leaves both the temple and his life as the Hero of Time behind. It’s only in the post-credits scene where we see him return to that life by returning to Hyrule Castle, where a young princess Zelda greets him in a mirror of their first meeting. The fateful encounter that set off the chain of events that ended with Ganon’s defeat is about to play out again, but the actions Zelda and Link took before have the potential to change everything. It’s with the promise of that change that the story ends, fading out to a gentle melody and the words “THE END”.
Ocarina of Time has been lauded for decades for its mechanical achievements, but its story is no less noteworthy. Its finely-tuned Three-Act structure gives the game ample room to explore the themes of unintended consequences and the power of friendship, which drive the conflicts and their resolutions. The simple framework also allows for a broad cast of distinctive, memorable characters who are shaped by their interactions with the protagonist. While Ocarina of Time is not a complex story, it leverages the simple structure to create a memorable narrative that has stood the test of time.
1 McKee, Robert. Story (p. 309). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.
2 McKee, Robert. Story (p. 313). HarperCollins e-books. 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.