Let’s go back in time, shall we? How far back? Ten years? No. Fifteen years? Nope. Let’s go back… TWENTY YEARS!
November 21, 1998.
Can you remember where you were on this day? Probably not… unless you are a Nintendo 64 fanatic, like me. I remember this exact day, because it is the one in which The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in America. Now, my fellow gamers, do you remember where you were?
I was at my friend Joshua’s house, on the day in question, November 16, 1998. One of my best friends growing up, me and Joshua did pretty much everything together. From playing sports, to having sleepovers, to riding our bikes in summer, to having Nerf wars, to playing videogames… I could go on and on. The latter, being my absolute favorite. The reason I didn’t drink or do drugs in high school was actually because I became so obsessed with videogames (shoutout Matthew and Dan, too). I was all about having good, clean fun, and playing videogames with my friends was it.
Joshua was always one step ahead of me when it came to gaming though, and I was super jealous. I was jealous, but also not in the negative, vindictive way. It didn’t bother me, I just wish I had all the games he had when he did. You see, when I had a 13 inch TV in my bedroom, he had a 19 inch TV. When I only had a Sega Genesis, he had a Super Nintendo. When I had a Game Boy, he had a Game Boy Color. And so, when he had a Nintendo 64, it took me almost a full year to get one, and he had all the best games. To rub in it even more, Dan was the same as well. I couldn’t win wherever I went!
I’ll also never forget when Joshua first got a Nintendo 64, back in 1996 and brought it over to my house, along with PilotWings and Super Mario 64 one wintery weekend. WOW. I was hooked. I mean, legitimately, hooked. I just had to have this system. The graphics. The sounds. The controls. The views. The feelings. The hype. The camaraderie. Such fun. I was obsessed from that moment on. It is actually because of this weekend, also, that I remain loyal to Nintendo above all else whenever new systems come out or the pundits start bashing whatever new idea Nintendo is trying (and succeeding).
Nintendo is to gaming what Giannis Antetokounmpo is to the Milwaukee Bucks (Wisconsinite plug, here).
Without Nintendo, there are no videogames. There are no 3D graphics. There are no motion controls. There are no storytelling epics (Final Fantasy). There are no first person shooters (Goldeneye). There are no platformers (Donkey Kong). There are no sports games (Tecmo Bowl). There are no racing games (Mario Kart). I could go on and on, in explaining how Nintendo was first, but I don’t want to derail too much.
Joshua, and Dan, both had Nintendo 64’s before me, and I was in awe. Except, I could only play the games when I hung out with them (Matthew was the Sony Playstation loyalist). We did other things, of course, in summer by swimming, playing baseball, biking, basketball, paint balling, four wheeling, all kinds of fun things kids used to do outside, and then settle in at night by staying up and playing videogames. I had the time of my life by their houses, and those times still remain my favorite memories growing up. I truly mean that.
1998 brought the hype train in previewing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. There was an official Nintendo gaming magazine in production, and every month, we would all get it. Yes, Josh and Dan had the subscription before me, naturally. As soon as we all saw the preview in the pages, we talked about it and pondered what kind of adventure awaited us.
Back then, there was no internet (barely). There were no smartphones. The only way to learn or know of a game, was through Nintendo Power, renting the game from Blockbuster (remember that), borrowing from a friend or running a greater risk and just buying the game. Quick shout out to the other monthly mags, PSM (for Sony Playstation) and Electronic Gaming Monthly (more independent, covering all systems). Ok, there was internet back then, but it wasn’t even close to what it is now. You waited ten minutes to listen to an obnoxious dialing sound to connect to the internet and then waited another ten minutes to load up AOL, just to chat and let everyone know your “A/S/L.” Points if you know what I’m talking about. More of an annoyance, actually.
Yes, a magazine was the best way to get your gaming news and see screenshots of a game, not by viewing a full HD video online of what the game will look and play like.
The Legend of Zelda was going to be the greatest game to come out since… well, ever. It was being propped up as a Final Fantasy 7 killer (which came out a year earlier on PSone and sold a bajillion copies). Hell, it was being propped up as a PSone killer, if I’m being brash. There was no way this game was going to fail, and everyone who owned an N64 had to have this game. Have ye, what it takes?
November 21, 1998.
The school day ends, and of course, I’m heading over to Joshua’s house, both of us knowing full well he was going to have Ocarina of Time waiting for him. Yep. There it is, a gold cartridge, no less, just beaming in all its glory. It truly felt like that. We “oohed” and “ahhed” every line, every musical note, every scene, every area, every battle. Every time. I watched him play for a couple hours, asking a million questions, as if he was going to know the answers to them all. I had a habit of doing that, which at times probably bothered him, as he played. But if I couldn’t play, I wanted to know what it felt like. I wanted to be in on the experience as much as I could.
Finally, after a couple hours, it was my turn. You could create 3 separate “game saves” on one cartridge, and off I went! Still, to this day, there is no greater day one gaming experience, than that which I experienced on November 21, 1998.
The game had such a high and impossible to reach standard… and it fucking delivered.
Eventually, I would get my own copy, months and months later as a gift from my mom for becoming Confirmed in the Lutheran Faith, at our church. Even though I had played the game a ton at Joshua’s and Dan’s house, and had seen most of what the game had to offer, I could not wait. As soon as everyone was about to leave the party I had, I ran upstairs to play it. Once again, I was hooked. This cartridge was my own. I could play at my own pace, now. I could explore each area as long as I wanted. I could save Princess Zelda the way I saw fit. I probably logged a few hundred hours on that game. No joke. Straight legend.
I would end up becoming more than just a fan of the game, I would end up a fan of EVERYTHING The Legend of Zelda had to offer. I’m talking games, toys, posters, collectibles, soundtrack CD’s, shirts, you name it; if it was Zelda themed or related, I was all in on it. As I got older, not much changed. I still, to this day, stop and think about purchasing anything with the Zelda name or logo attached to it. I even went so far as getting a few Zelda related tattoos. No regrets.
Although I don’t game nearly as much as I used to, I still have only Nintendo systems and games. I will forever be loyal to them. I will forever hold those memories, not only of Zelda near and dear, but the memories of my friends as well. The times we shared, the stories, the laughs, the late night last eats, the early morning playing before we went home, the playing in between class and sometimes even during class, the waiting in line for midnight releases… those are the moments that we can never get back… and what I hold on to, twenty years later.