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Ocarina of Time Randomizer First Impressions – Part Two: Light Arrows in a Box

Puzzles are an integral part of the Legend of Zelda experience. Whether exploring a classic dungeon like in A Link to the Past or solving a shrine puzzle in Breath of the Wild, the series caters to those who love to use their set of tools to poke at a problem until uncovering a solution. Even the boss battles are less about executing high-level combat techniques and instead focus more on figuring out the right moment to use the right weapon. Discovery, too, is a core tenet of the series. Hyrule is always a vast land with lots of unique locations to enjoy. By sea in Wind Waker, by train is Spirit Tracks, by wolf in Twilight Princess – every nook and cranny of the kingdom hides a little cave or a weird enemy or even a cow waiting to be milked. But once you’ve played a Zelda game a few times – especially an older, smaller scale one like Ocarina of Time – the sense of discovery and puzzle mastery begins to fade.

I’ve been playing Ocarina of Time since boyhood. As a kid I would roam the fields, explore the dungeons, redo the Ganondorf fight over and over again; I couldn’t tell you the number of hours I spent in that world. The things I couldn’t figure out for myself, I would read about in my guide, looking at the detailed portraits of characters and enemies while reading about Link’s adventures in Hyrule. And even into adulthood, I’ve replayed the game multiple times, usually once every year or two. While I would never claim to be at the level of ability of someone who speedruns the game or plays in competitive formats like bingo, if you asked me if I knew basically everything about Ocarina of Time I probably would have told you “yes.” To me it was a solved puzzle, a map fully explored that no longer held the promise of discovery. Good for a nostalgia trip but no longer able to offer a fresh experience.

Enter the Zelda Ocarina of Time Randomizer, referred to by some as ZOOTR. On Monday I shared my first impressions of the features of the randomizer: its quality of life improvements, the customization options, the robust hint system and the even more robust sets of options for creating a unique experience to enjoy. But for today, I saved all the details of what it was like to actually play the randomized seed that I generated. Because the real beauty of the randomizer is that it takes the familiar and makes it novel again. All of the previously discovered elements of Ocarina of Time get shuffled around and suddenly nothing is where it’s supposed to be. ZOOTR reconfigures the puzzle box and asks you to solve it again, giving you the gift of a new experience. Let’s dig in.

Nothing like a low poly Ganondorf to start off the post, I’m so great at blogging

My Settings

To set the stage for what exactly I was dealing with in my playthrough, let’s talk a bit about the settings I chose and define some terms. Because this was my first time ever playing a randomizer and I have no experience speedrunning OoT or doing glitched playthroughs, I chose to do glitchless logic. This just meant that glitches would never be needed to get an item, and items could never be locked in a place that would be impossible to reach. I started with many aspects of the world opened up in a way that isn’t possible in the vanilla game – I could leave Kokiri Forest without beating Deku Tree, enter Death Mountain without Zelda’s Letter, and enter the Gerudo Training Ground without having to sneak around their hideout and rescue the carpenters. This expanded the number of “sphere zero” checks available to me – that is to say, locations where I could find an item without needing another item to reach it.

There were many aspects of the world and how it functioned that I left the same. Dungeon entrances actually led to the dungeon they belonged to and warp songs actually warped to their vanilla locations. Song locations still gave songs, just not necessarily the song you normally got there. I wanted some degree of familiarity to keep me grounded. This meant that I also didn’t change where Link “spawns” when you come back after turning off the game, leaving him at his usual starting locations of his house as a kid or the Temple of Time as an adult. Now all of that may sound like I largely just made the game easier, so let’s get into the nitty gritty of what made it challenging.

In addition to the normal randomization which switches around the content of treasure chests, I also added shops, crates, and pots to the logic. This meant that any random pot or random crate in the game could have an item I needed to complete the run, and that each shop would carry one item that they didn’t normally have and that could be one of my required items. All of the dungeons and all of the trials in Ganon’s Castle would be necessary to make it to Ganondorf and finish the game. And while keys would be located on convenient keyrings, they wouldn’t necessarily be inside their dungeon and could appear anywhere in the region that the dungeon occupied. For me this felt like a decent balance for a first attempt at the randomizer: a few extra bits of chaos to add some challenge along with some conveniences to put more focus on the parts I was most interested in engaging with.

A Promising Start

Randomizer playthroughs typically follow a predictable structure based on what’s accessible at the beginning of the game. Checks can be sorted into “spheres,” or groups of checks, and in the beginning when you have no items to speak of the first thing you do is look for your “sphere zero” checks. These are the ones that don’t require anything else to do. So in my case this was stuff like breaking pots and opening chests in houses inside Kokiri Forest, checking the stuff in the Deku Tree and Lost Woods that I could do with just a sword, shield, and ocarina, and then heading to market town to participate in the games and activities near Hyrule Castle.

With potsanity turned on, one of my most exciting early checks was the guard house just inside Hyrule Market. You cross the drawbridge and then pop into the little building on the other side to a room full of breakable pots and crates. And boy let me tell you, my first pot room did not disappoint. I got the Mirror Shield, the Fairy Bow, and my Magic Meter all inside the guard house. The bow and magic meter are two of the three most required items in the game – along with the light arrows, they are the three ingredients you absolutely have to have in order to defeat Ganondorf in combat. And once I left town and checked Kakariko Village, I found the final piece of the puzzle. The light arrows were located in a crate in the Graveyard that normally contains a heart piece. Technically I now had everything I needed to defeat Ganondorf – but I did put on that pesky six medallion requirement to open the castle, so I still needed a lot more items before I was going to be able to finish the game.

As I found more items that expanded the spaces I could explore, I would use them to check places outside of sphere zero. I used bombchus to clear a decent chunk of Dodongo’s Cavern and to blow up fairy fountain entrances in different parts of Hyrule. Once I had a bottle I popped into the Ice Cavern to melt the Zora King’s ice prison, which opened him up for me to do the adult trade quest and ultimately find my bomb bag with the claim check. Early on each find seemed really promising and opened up new possibilities for me to explore. It felt remarkably smooth for a first randomizer playthrough – but of course there was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

Wait, There’s a Pot There?!

At some point I started to hit some serious repeated barriers that were preventing me from making meaningful progress in the game. While I managed to scavenge my hookshot, I couldn’t find the longshot in any of the places I had access to. There were also multiple locations where I needed access to the ability to produce fire in order to progress, particularly the Shadow Temple’s entrance. My inability to finish the Shadow Temple was locking me out of a Spiritual Stone, which I needed to access a new song; without Saria’s Song or the Minuet of Forest, I couldn’t reach the Forest Temple, one of the few dungeons I had all the tools to finish if I could just get there somehow. I began to suspect that I had missed some sphere zero checks, and so I finally broke out my spoiler log to see exactly what I had missed.

As I suspected I had indeed missed some sphere zero checks – naturally they were inside of pots, because I had not yet reaped the suffering I set myself up for when I put pots into the randomization pool. Din’s Fire was inside of a pot in a random house in Market Town. I had gone through Market Town to look inside the houses, but I had only done it during the day. As it turns out, there are different houses open at night, and in a particular house only accessible at nighttime Din’s Fire was just sitting in a breakable pot. I hadn’t had access to Sun’s Song when I originally did the check, so I would have had to wait over by the entry gate into Hyrule Castle for night to fall in order to do the check. Lesson learned for next time.

My longshot was not in fact a sphere zero check; it was actually locked behind a lot of gear, because it technically landed in an area where the easiest way to access it…was the longshot. Now my glitchless settings meant that a longshot could not be behind a longshot-exclusive door, and technically it wasn’t. But it was in a room of the Gerudo Training Grounds where reaching it from one side just required the longshot, but reaching it from the other side traversed a significantly larger amount of rooms and needed way more stuff to access. The way I ended up with it, I technically broke the logic of the run by using a trick to get past the longshot room. See, I needed a silver rupee that only the longshot can reach, but that particular room has a trick where you can collect that silver rupee by letting a wallmaster grab you and take you back to the entrance. As long as that silver rupee is the last one you get, the door will unlock and you can just walk back and cross the room, no problem. I don’t know exactly what my face looked like when I saw that longshot, but I imagine it was very grumpy.

Close enough

Go Mode

“Go Mode” is an expression that refers to the point of the randomizer playthrough where you have all the gear you need to finish, and so you shift from hunting items to finishing dungeons and defeating bosses. My run didn’t really have one clean “go mode” and instead took place in fits and starts. I finished dungeons in sets once I had particular combinations of items. The Fire Temple was my first proper finished dungeon, followed by the Deku Tree and Dodongo’s Cavern. These were somewhat out of order as I was meant to be able to access Shadow Temple earlier, but because I missed that sphere zero Din’s Fire check I ended up doing Shadow later and following it up with Water Temple. Once I had all three spiritual stones I finally learned Saria’s Song from the Ocarina of Time in the pool outside the market, which enabled me to head to the Forest Temple. Forest Temple unlocked the boomerang so I could finish Jabu Jabu, and then finally I rounded things out with the Spirit Temple.

After all of that I was out of “go mode” again for a bit because I still had a barrier to face in Ganon’s Castle. Multiple rooms in that location require the Fire Arrows, which I still didn’t have and I knew from a gossip stone hint was somewhere inside the castle itself. I also didn’t have the gold gauntlets, the final step in a series of progressive strength upgrades in the game. For the third and final time I referenced my spoiler log – it turns out that when I went across the kingdom opening all the secret grottos, I had skipped one because I did my big grotto search before I got Din’s Fire access. Din’s Fire allowed me to burn away a web I hadn’t been able to remove before, behind which was – you guessed it – a pot. I was now 3 for 3 on pots being the reason I needed to reference the spoiler guide.

Once I had the gold gauntlets I was able to get the fire arrows and “go mode” began in earnest. Turns out at that point in the randomizer things were pretty straightforward – after all, I had all of the equipment I would normally have for the Ganondorf fight including optional stuff like the Biggoron Sword, the bigger magic meter, and 17 out of my 20 hearts. The only thing I usually bring that I didn’t have was the double defense upgrade, but I’ve fought Ganondorf enough times that I didn’t really need that particular boon. The only thing that made the fight more challenging had nothing to do with the randomizer – my controller and the emulator don’t play nice together and it limits the precision of movement, which is a particular issue during platforming segments and when aiming the bow, slingshot, or hookshot. I probably missed like six light arrows and two or three hookshot launches during my Ganondorf fight, but despite the controller fighting me every step of the way I managed to complete my first run.

Final Thoughts

Overall I really enjoyed my first randomizer run. While potsanity ended up being the bane of my existence, I actually enjoyed that aspect of the run the most. I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I thought I knew most everything about Ocarina of Time. Turns out, I sure didn’t! Having to figure out where all of the secret grottos were to see if there were pots in them, learning what checks were only available as a child or as an adult, during the day or at night – all that stuff challenged me to learn more about the game. The randomizer reintroduced a sense of discovery to the game by challenging me to really look everywhere to find the tools I needed to succeed. It was a lot of fun, and during the last week or so it has been the primary way I have wanted to spend my time when I had free time to give.

With Wildermyth’s Omenroad DLC coming out tomorrow, that will probably be the main focus of my computer time for the next little bit. As such, I’ll be taking a break from the Ocarina of Time Randomizer after this initial run. But I plan to revisit it soon – maybe on stream? – and definitely with more stuff added to the randomizer pool. Do I know where all the cows are in this game? What about the deku scrubs? That might be my next step on my randomizer journey, along with fine-tuning some of the other settings I ended up having regrets about. I may also experiment with settings like having the dungeon entrances randomized or the warp locations randomized to see if I like playing with those settings or if they are just distracting.

Now I turn the conversation to you, adventurers. Have you played the Ocarina of Time Randomizer? If so, what did you think? Is there anything you found particularly fun, or that you would do different? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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