[one_third]Link hides in the hedges to creep into Hyrule Castle, and later infiltrates a pantalooned pirate fortress in The Ocarina of Time…[/one_third]
It’s not until Gerudo Fortress, one of the very last areas of The Ocarina of Time, where Nintendo fully explores patrol routes and develop the systems born in A Link to the Past. The set up here is that Link must save a group of carpenters who have foolishly rushed into the thieves’ fortress in hopes of joining their ranks, forgetting that the Gerudo are an all-female race and only accept female recruits. It’s in this scenario where Nintendo creates a new blueprint that would be developed in later titles.
The area is a labyrinth-like fortress – with twisting corridors, multiple entry points, numerous guards patrolling the grounds and insides of the complex, and a new and viable mechanic that allows the player to go on the offensive in a stealth situation – and even features a dungeon the player is thrown into should they be discovered. It’s different, and turns a potentially drab sequence into something much more exciting.
For starters, close quarters combat is out of the question, as getting anywhere near the patrolling Gerudos will have you caught and thrown back into jail. Players have to use Link’s bow and hookshot to get anywhere. The bow and arrow permanently knocks out the guards, while the hookshot will only freeze them in place for a few seconds. While this doesn’t promote the stalk and prey interplay seen in other stealth games, the bow and hookshot complement the established “stay out of sight” mechanic central to Zelda’s stealth design and positions direct conflict as anathema to stealth.
The bow and hookshot position direct conflict as anathema to stealth.
The hookshot, however, is an unusual component of The Ocarina of Time’s stealth gameplay, as its use encourages you to move uncomfortably close to the enemy. With no unique effect to the guards except freezing them momentarily, using the hookshot is a crapshoot of risk with little reward. While this by itself seems unrelated to stealth, using the hookshot instead of the bow and arrow is a challenge similar to “pacifist runs” in other stealth games, providing more options to an otherwise limited stealth palette.
Once you manage to sneak inside the fortress, level design goes from intensely open and offering different points of attack to confined spaces and tight corridors. Careful shuffling around corners is required lest you be discovered. It’s only through judicious use of your bow and arrow will you be able to bypass the Gerudos and rescue the carpenters.
For every carpenter you rescue, you’re ambushed by a Gerudo and have to break out your sword in the traditional Z-targeting combat system. Whether this concession was to help the pace of this section (what is “pace” for a stealth game, anyway?), or simply to appease the players annoyed at the shift toward stealth gameplay, it does lend the Gerudo Fortress a lovely ebb and flow between the traditional mechanics of the game and the newly introduced sneaking.
Should you be discovered, or fail in these combat challenges, Link will be tossed into a jail cell with, strangely enough, all of his equipment on his person. A hookshot point provides an easy way to escape and you’re free to explore the Gerudo Fortress from the beginning. There’s a depressing lack of punishment with the jail cell that Nintendo could have easily remedied by taking away some, or all, of your equipment if you were caught, but the physical act of being dumped inside of a prison cell adds appreciated ambience to the experience. To see this one in action, skip to 1:50 in the video below.
[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″ video_id=”Lw2dr-n-IRM”]
Unfortunately, what both the Gerudo Fortress and Hyrule Castle lack in their stealth gameplay is any need to worry about the noise Link or his enemies make. The Gerudo let out a shrill scream whenever they’re pierced by an arrow, but none of their comrades come to investigate, nor do they notice one of their own lying unconscious on the floor below them. Similarly, Link can roll and shout with abandon in Hyrule Castle and no one will hear anything.
These inconsistencies, alongside the strange line of sight that’s never clearly defined, work their hardest to ruin the otherwise interesting stealth mechanics in a game that’s not designed for them. What The Ocarina of Time provided, though, was a solid base to work from in future Zelda titles.