November 21st, 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Japanese launch. To mark this historic Hyrulean occasion, we’ll be running articles throughout the week dedicated to the game, our memories, and its legacy. Today, Ollie sings the praises of Ocarina of Time’s mystical opening location, Kokiri Forest…
Before Ocarina of Time launched back in 1998, the Legend of Zelda franchise didn’t really provide players with a good opportunity to acclimatise to its world. Think about it: both NES games threw you into the middle of Hyrule with little introduction, A Link to the Past saw you almost immediately infiltrate Hyrule Castle’s dungeon, and while Link’s Awakening started off in the cosy confines of Tarin’s house, it’s not long before you’re on the beaches of Koholint Island, surrounded by Sand Crabs, Leevers, and Octoroks.
All of these were perfectly serviceable — heck, even great — openings, but you might also argue that they could prove quite daunting for new players. With Ocarina of Time, however, Nintendo knew that with the shift over to 3D (an intimidating new prospect itself in the ’90s), it needed to provide a safe environment in which to learn the basics.
Enter Kokiri Forest, a perfect opening playground rife with interesting things to see, characters to speak to, and techniques to master.
To briefly recap those opening moments, you are awakened within your home by Navi, the interminably irritating fairy who requests that you visit the Great Deku Tree immediately. In order to do so, however, you need to bypass Mido, a loyal, jealous Kokiri who guards the entrance to the Great Deku Tree’s glade. Mido states that you’ll need both a sword and a shield in order to pass, and so begins a short but thrilling jaunt around Kokiri Forest as you search for the Kokiri Sword and gather the 40 rupees necessary to purchase a Deku Shield.
As you make your way around the environment, the game teaches you everything you could possibly need to kickstart your journey through Hyrule. You’re taught how to lock onto NPCs and enemies, how to fight, how to crawl, how to jump across gaps, how to pick up objects, how to climb, and more.
What’s even better is that it’s just so damn fun! Many tutorials — particularly in the early days of 3D gaming — run the risk of pushing you into the dreaded realm of boredom, but Ocarina of Time simply says, “Here, go find these two items, and have fun.” Ultimately, while the game certainly includes signposts and characters to give you a helping hand here and there, a lot of the core mechanics feel almost self-taught as you hunt for those precious rupees.
A deep sense of wonder starts to creep in as you explore the forest and discover its secrets. See that hole in the wall? What would happen if you were to climb through it? And what about those rocks lying on the ground? Can you pick them up and break them? Can you cut the grass? The game is just begging you to experiment with its world before it casts you out into the vast landscape of Hyrule Field, and it gives you a solid foundational knowledge of how you’ll be able to interact with various aspects later on in your journey.
Much in the way the design of Super Mario Bros.’ World 1-1 primed players for a whole new type of gameplay experience, it’s frankly an ingenious way to introduce players to the world of Ocarina of Time, and one that has very much stood the test of time, with almost every subsequent Zelda game taking inspiration from it. You’ve got Outset Island in The Wind Waker, Ordon Village in Twilight Princess, Skyloft in Skyward Sword, and The Great Plateau in Breath of the Wild. Not all aim to achieve the same thing or are as successful, and not all protect the player from the dangerous creatures roaming about the land, but if it weren’t for Ocarina of Time’s Kokiri Forest, all of these games might have begun their stories in a much different manner.
So while Ocarina of Time is perhaps best recognised for its memorable dungeons, quirky side-quests, and mind-bending time travel mechanics, we shouldn’t disregard its excellent opening location. Kokiri Forest serves as a perfect introduction to the game and the many 3D adventures that would follow; a playground that offers up a tonne of fun with almost zero consequences for failure.
Except perhaps for that cheeky boulder — watch out, folks.
What are your memories of Kokiri Forest, and how do you think it stacks up next to other starting locations in the Zelda franchise? Let us know your thoughts with a comment down below.